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I’m a huge “F-word,” and you probably are, too!

I'm a huge "F-word," and you probably are, too!.

Book Review: A Garden of Cucumbers by Poyntz Tyler

A Garden of CucumbersA Garden of Cucumbers by Poyntz Tyler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At 964 5th Avenue today, you will find a dermatology office at the bottom of a large residential tower. The number itself is not to be found, but there are both odd and even numbers along the same side of the street, which faces the east side of Central Park. 8 East 78th Street is around the corner, number also unmarked, a four story building. They appear to have been there well before 1960. On the other side of 78th Street, is the James B. Duke Mansion, which since 1958 has been the home of New York University’s School of Fine Arts, so the idea of a mansion at this location in 1960 is not altogether implausible, although there is nothing resembling the mansion shown in the film Fitzwilly, which is based on this novel.

I saw that film prior to 2003, when I moved to New York. I asked the Indianapolis Public Library to buy a copy of the VHS when it came out, which they did, which would have been around late 1990s. I found it in the Critic’s Choice Video catalog not long after buying the early John Williams “Original Motion Picture Score” (which in those days meant that the music was rerecorded for the album rather than the performance used in the film) on a $2 cassette at Meijer that I played until parts of it were worn out (I have since purchased the Film Score Monthly CD).

The book is recognizably the basis for the movie. I did not remember Mr. Buckmaster from the film, although he was played by Cecil Kellaway (I have not had a chance to re-screen the film for writing this review–someone uploaded it to YouTube recently, but it’s very pixelly and nigh-unwatchable). In the novel, Mr. Buckmaster is really the main character. Mr. Fitzwilliam is the romantic lead, but he doesn’t get nearly as much page time as Mr. Buckmaster, although he is one of the novel’s major characters.

The one review of this I found that was written recently found the humor dated, while I found myself laughing aloud at numerous points (no pun intended). There are some references you might have to look up, and the characters have some classical education and make casual references to mythology, but the most dated part of the book is probably the funniest–in order to pull off the the big Macy’s heist (which is Gimbel’s in the film and more directly involves Fitzwilliam) is to trap people in the subway system to distract from their crime by putting tokens in every turnstile slot in the IRT and BMT in Manhattan so that no one can exit. Since no one would expect a free ride, the insertion of their token would keep the turnstile perpetually locked for exit. I have exited a turnstile after someone swiped their Metrocard on the other side. They thought they lost their swipe and were unhappy until they got through, but sure looked at me like a jerk. Perhaps the people who set up the Metrocard system were aware of this book and thought it better to risk this than to have exiting customers crash into entering ones. They get the Boy Scouts from Garland’s troop to do this in the local stations, who think they are making it easier for homeless people to get to family in the suburbs. That the homeless guy mentioned is an alcoholic didn’t bother me so much since before Reagan, most homeless people were alcoholics.

The book has a lot of fascinating characters, who tell tales of interacting with real-life people (hence their inclusion in the character list–I didn’t include simple name drops). The credits list shows Pierre and Garland in the film, too but I didn’t remember them, although I do remember the entire household staff working together as a team. Pierre is a very important character in the novel, and his story is very amusing, especially given my experiences with Occupy’s anarchists and my reading of the Engels/Lafargue correspondence and how anti-socialist laws were always in response to crimes committed by anarchists, rather than socialists.

Mr. Buckmaster is much greedier and less honest than Fitzwilliam in the film, who is presented there as the mastermind, but also tailors his crimes so that only rich people are affected, and any complaints they have would cause them to lose face, since it would involve publicly saying that they didn’t donate to one charity or another. This element is barely hinted at in the book and may originate with screenwriter Isobel Leonart. Buckmaster began his career whining that in the Great Depression that only the poor had money. He comes across as a spoiled right-winger. Unlike Tyler, he is a Republican, and the right-wing element had probably crept quite a bit into the Republican Party by 1960. Republicans today deny it, but the party was originally very far left and opposed private property rights, not just slavery, at the time of its founding. While Fitzwilliam is charmed by Buckmaster’s bible charity, even that resulted from a heist that was supposed to fill the household wine cellars but came from a subservient taking the wrong delivery truck. While in the film, Fitzwilliam is all about allowing Miss Woodhouse (her name in the film, probably because a socialist named Victoria Clafin Woodhull ran for President of the United States under the Equal Rights Party in 1872, and they thought grafting the charity aspect onto the character might offend people) to keep up her charity giving (again only hinted at in the book). Mr. Buckmaster is clearly in it to maintain the lifestyle. He doesn’t mind being a servant in a mansion in which he has a big apartment and everything he could want. Fitzwilliam and Juliet (who is Miss Woodhull’s maid, not secretary, in the novel) want to get out of the racket before they get married, fearing it might encourage their future children to steal. Many chapters are vignettes in which he persuades the well-defined other members of the household staff, or his brother Roderick, who has a front with a Philadelphia thrift shop called Saint Dismas (the penitent thief) to commit crimes, and demonstrating how he is the mastermind by having thought of so many possibilities for the scheme not to work, although sometimes they are still bungled, although, being a comedy, the climactic one with Pierre turns out to be all right in spite of all the complications, and things turn out for the better, anyway. The character was probably untenable as the lead in a mainstream comedy in 1967. Fitzwilliam and Juliet are sort of a Claudio and Hero re: Much Ado About Nothing by comparison to Mr. Buckmaster’s role in the novel.

The book is tempered in its politics apart from its overt references to devotion to the Republican Party. Tyler does not want to politicize the scandal of members of the gentry regularly committing shoplifting, fraud, etc., so in may seem a little soft to contemporary readers who want a skewering of the rich. They may find it disappointing that Victoria Woodhull’s biggest vice is having visited the 21 Club during prohibition. I thought the resolution in the film seemed too abrupt, but the plot about her dictionary for the illiterate (really a bad speller’s dictionary, but the term appears enough times) and how it resolves, as well as the issues with Pierre, tie the novel up really nicely (and comedically), with the usual novelistic jabs at Hollywood schlock, and of course includes the wedding of the juvenile and the ingenue.

I’ve seen that this book is available as a print on demand. I had the fortune of reading a first edition, although the lack of a dust jacket made the plain yellow cover not worth scanning.

Quotes Scott Liked

“Juliet is so beautiful,” Mr. Buckmaster agreed, “that her being a maid is a reflection on capitalism.”
Poyntz Tyler, A Garden of Cucumbers
“To Pierre,” said Mr. Buckmaster, “the Communists are of the Right. The far Right. He refers to them as ‘those goddamned Bourbons.’ Pierre is an anarchist. That’s why he’s so happy in his shoplifting–he feels it helps undermine the state.”
Poyntz Tyler, A Garden of Cucumbers

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Protest Against Aguila Shelter Violations by Zishun Ning

Mark and I followed the tall guy chewing gum and the bearded guy onto the subway at the Jackson Avenue subway stop, shaming them as slumlords and child murderers every time more people got onto the train. Mark got off at 125th Street, leaving me alone with them. The tall guy got off at 96th Street, and the bearded guy got off at 42nd Street. I supplied them with plenty of details (unfortunately, I had not remembered Juan Sanchez’s name–the little boy who ate the rat poison), but people were asking me to spell Aguila and typing it into their smart phones. The two men said nothing, but looked like they were having the worst day of their life as Mark and I (and later just I) berated them about things they knew to be true (although from some of their murmuring to each other, they weren’t necessarily sure).

Aguila is merely the service provider to the shelter. The landlord is the Podolsky family, which got a big write-up in the December 2013 issue of New York Magazine:

Picture the Homeless will be having a sleepout in front of CEO Stuart Podolsky’s $5 million condominium at 117 East 57th Street on Thursday, August 20. Please join us and get a big crowd. We will be there from 5 PM until some time in the morning (except those of us who live in shelters and have to be back by 10 PM curfew). You might get a glimpse of David Copperfield, who lives a floor below.

Interview with mü

This interview was recorded May 7 and posted on August 8.


This is the article mentioned that got me fired even though the marketing director and both clients liked it:

This is the compilation of quotes from Rocky reviews mentioned:

Here is my review of Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash:  The Killing of the Creative Class

Here is my interview with Coffee with the Homeless.  She revised her assessment after I complained:

I have never publicly posted my exit exam response on Joe Dante, although he read it via Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog.  He said most of my ideas he had read before, but that I was the first to point out that he was doing a running commentary on American gun culture.

Review of Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth:

Book Review: Novels I of Samuel Beckett (MurphyWattMercier and Camier)

Novels I of Samuel Beckett: Volume I of The Grove Centenary EditionsNovels I of Samuel Beckett: Volume I of The Grove Centenary Editions by Samuel Beckett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I purchased the four-volume The Grove Centenary Editions of Samuel Beckett Boxed Set in 2007, I went straight to the second volume, having read all of Beckett’s plays and then The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 on the recommendation of my unreciprocated college crush, Katherine E. Ellison, who had also recommended to me the Trilogy of Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953). I didn’t know much about these early books, which on glancing through, look startling conventional by comparison to the later books, although the principal characters are mentioned near the end of The Unnamable drawing all the books together (except the later How It Is, which came out in 1961). At the end of Mercier and Camier, Watt meets the title characters, and Mercier mentions having known Murphy. Watt makes a statement that seems to obliquely refer to The Unnamable, which was yet to be written in 1946 but probably would have been well known to most readers when the book was finally published in 1970. These three books all have a wit and charm and even the weirdness of the later books despite their more conventional form.

Murphy is the most amusing of the three books. It is told in third person about an eccentric and suicidal fellow trying to put together a respectable life and not doing a good job of it. He wants to marry his lover, Celia Kelly, but her grandfather, Willoughby, who is elderly and confined to a wheelchair, is proud of her that she is able to support herself through prostitution! That this is the 1930s is readily apparent, since a guy can walk into a hospital and get a job as a nurse without any special training. The world seems more open to possibilities then than it does now, if the story is at all realistic, which it probably isn’t. Murphy is eventually successful in his suicide attempts, surviving one that is especially bloody but rescued by his landlady, but the book ends with the Kellys flying a kite in the park. The book has a comic tone throughout, lightening up its overall dark story. It’s a shame that the most recent issue of this book has a green cover, since such a big deal is made that lemon yellow is Murphy’s favorite color, and the previous edition of this book did, as well.

I had thought the cover of the collected volume was some sort of metaphor for Murphy, but it is a concrete, if upside down and backwards, representation of an abstract painting in Watt’s room when he is moved to the second floor of the mansion in Watt, which is the most difficult of the three novels here. In many ways, it is a literary breakthrough in dealing with the minutiae of everyday thought, but it goes to far, often lapsing into tedious Shrödinger’s cat lists of possibilities, such as what Watt’s employer could wear on his feet at any given day, often unmatching. I recently wrote the Wikipedia article on catalogue arias, and these do seem like they could be good material for setting, but I don’t think Beckett’s estate would ever allow that as long as copyright laws protect it. It’s a bit dry at times, which doesn’t mean it’s not often laugh-out-loud funny. The book is narrated in the first person minor by Sam, a servant in a neighboring house who rescues Watt from a hole in a barbed wire fence, who is probably meant to be Beckett himself, although as English majors we are taught never to assume such things. Watt narrated his story in pretty intense detail to Sam, since it reads like third person limited omniscient, and Sam barely appears in the book. I really messed up on adding the characters because there’s a giant family I thought sure was only Watt’s reverie that are pretty well shown to be real people by the end of the book. I am surprised man and dog aren’t poisoned by the concoction Watt makes, however. Watt himself is a milk drinker, although often assumed to be a drunken derelict by those who see him, even though he is said by those who know him to never touch alcohol. I found it ironic, considering I’m still living in a homeless shelter, drink a lot of milk, and never drink alcohol. The book begins and ends with Watt coming and going to the house via foot and train, and incidents at the station. His arrival is strange, but he seems to be welcome, if not expected, and his departure seems random, as if he just decided he didn’t want his job anymore. Weird detail about the length of the station master’s arm is memorable for a totally gratuitous mention of the glans penis.

Mercier and Camier is probably the most accessible and Waiting for Godot-like of the three books, in that it focuses on two character rather than one, and has numerous exchanges that allowed me to complete it in less than four days of commutes. The last page notes that the English version is a fourth shorter than the French version (Beckett himself was the translator). So little happens in the title characters’ journeys that lists of incidents after every two chapters are really quite helpful in recalling what happened. The book starts claiming it was witness by the unnamed narrator, possibly Sam again, but with nothing explicit, although, as mentioned, the two do meet Watt at the end. Inspector Francis Xavier Camier, short and stout, is best friends with Mr. Mercier, tall and bearded, who dislikes his wife, and the two are described as younger old men, I’m guessing late 50s-early 60s. The book was written in 1946 and the characters were around at the turn of the century. The opening of chapter four really reads like the two are a gay couple, although I wonder if I’m reading too much in. One of my graduate school colleagues said that when he showed Astaire and Rogers movies to his media students, they would assume that Fred Astaire and Edward Everett Horton’s characters are gay, but this actually has them naked under bed covers at the house of a woman named Helen in whom neither seems to have any but platonic interest.

The two do have major encounters with police at three points in the book. The second is extremely brutal and unprovoked, and the cop’s head at the end of the encounter is described as like part of a shell peeling off the egg, although the prose is such that one can’t be sure if they invoked what in the United States would be Plummer v. State. They are never punished, which may have had something to do with its initial rejection, although sales of Murphy were the publisher’s official reason for non-acceptances. The use of F and C words, and the graphic description of dog fornication at the beginning, make me wonder if Beckett ever submitted it to Viking, which published his mentor, James Joyce, whose use of F and C words in Ulysses resulted in a winning court case. Colm Toíbín’s introduction has quite a bit of Beckett biography as well as details about his own court case dealing with obscenity. In spite of some of the vulgar language, it is hard to see any of these three novels as the least bit obscene by contemporary standards.

When Watt meets them at the end of the book, he’s not very much in character, drinking three rounds of alcohol and smashing Camier’s walking stick, which is an heirloom, causing Camier to reflect upon how little the two ever talk about each other, and probably leads to his separation from Mercier at the end of the book.

All three books made me laugh out loud at intentional humor, while also reading as both profound and spare. They seem like great books to be read aloud, even if you wouldn’t want kids around. While Beckett’s most serious devotees generally find Beckett’s novels superior to his theatrical work, they do have a definite theatricality to them due to his very deliberate use of language, impacted by the fact that he had started writing in French and translating back into English because the English language is so much bigger and full of loan words, and felt that his writing was too poetic in English. It still seems to me poetic in English, and my knowledge of French makes me want to get an untranslated copy. Reading Beckett is like reading few other novelists’ work, distinctive even in a less radical form than the subsequent four novels, and quite a different voice, I believe, from Joyce (although, as I write this, I have read only Finnegans Wake and a few stories from Dubliners, including “The Dead,” although I have purchased the Norton A Portait of the Artist as a Young Man and expect to read it soon). I have now read all of Beckett’s novels except the omitted Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which was published posthumously and not included in this collection, although the edition made available at the time of this edition had a cover that looked almost uniform with these editions, unfortunately no longer easily available.

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Callahan Calumny

I’ve made numerous other posts about the Callahan inspection ( , ), so I won’t detail what it is here.

The most recent Callahan inspection at Bowery Mission Transitional Center was done on August 4, 2015. The previous week, we were asked to clear our floors for cleaning and waxing. The top three floors were to be done Monday, the bottom three floors, Tuesday. I made sure everything was cleaned up, off my floor, and in my locker on Monday. Tuesday, I had to take out my suitcase and what I keep on top for laundry day, getting dressed, and taking my shower, you know, basics of living. Louis Dingle and Rob the underwear ripper, the maintenance guys, came to my room while I was in the shower, told me when I was going back to my room from the shower that I didn’t follow directions, and ignored my explanation, provided to them at 9:34 AM, so it’s not as though I dragged this ridiculously late in the day. I told them I made an effort to clear the floor the day before and that it would be ready for them when I finished dressing. Did they come back? Of course not.

The day of the Callahan inspection, they don’t do laundry, so I have to wait it out until Friday, the other laundry day for the third floor, and they locked any bathroom they didn’t want the Callahan inspectors to see, including all of them on the third floor. The remains of the water pouch I reported in Hopes & Fears for example, was coated in Spackle and the bathroom locked until the Callahan inspectors left. The shower directly across from my bed, where they painted over the mold on the shower floor and was still sticky on the flip-flops I wouldn’t own were I not homeless (since I have them for the sole purpose of shelter showers) after three days of being out of order, was locked, as were all the others, as noted in the article. They told the inspectors that the locked bathrooms were occupied, whether they actually were or not.

They went for nastier food than usual this week, with hot dogs on Monday and Wednesday (after pork sausage at breakfast, which I also won’t eat) and Chef Boyardee ravioli that one of the staff members said tasted like feet on Tuesday. I had to draw off my savings to pay for food because both my SNAP and public assistance money have run out. Of course, the Callahan inspections don’t deal with idiots like Samuel Dennis who insists that there aren’t any desk jobs and therefore that I can’t use the computers in the job center. I don’t know if this extra-bad food had anything to do with the inspection. As I think I mentioned earlier, Bowery Mission Transitional Center does not make residents leave during the inspection, unlike any other shelter where I have stayed.

On a bulletin board in the lobby, where residents can easily see it, but underneath a glass pane with a locked frame, there is a letter at least ten pages thick listing all of the violations of an Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) inspection of the shelter, Christian Herald Housing Development Corporation, doing business as The Bowery Mission Transitional Center. All we can see is the cover letter, which tells us nothing particularly useful. I imagine whatever the outcome of this most recent Callahan inspection will have no effect on how the shelter does business.

Because the staffing service has not been able to consistently place me in its one-day assignments (apparently standard for proofreading temps), I am not counted as working, even though I am on-call, so my case manager told me that I can expect to be transferred within the next month or perhaps even sooner. That will probably mean no more private room, no more not being forced to leave the building between 8 AM and 5 PM, and perhaps putting my tablet in storage. Of course, if you’re a right-wing nut job, you think that I choose that.

CAFR SCHOOL: How Corporations Are Funded By Taxpayers

Originally posted on REALITY BLOG:

As a lowly young man full of ideas that would have changed the world; and naively believing that I could implement them, I often wondered at how large corporations became so wealthy and attained such incredible amounts of capital for their projects, warehouses, office buildings, investments, and for their global expansion. Why were the tallest buildings in every city I visited always topped with a bank logo? Why were the names of every city’s sports arenas and concert halls being replaced with oil/energy and other corporation names and logos, even though the taxpayers paid for their construction? And after many failed attempts to start up my own small business ventures that would revolutionize the world, I gave up trying to play in the big boy markets, because I couldn’t get my hands on the big boy money. I realized that some unseen hand would not allow me to compete, though I could never figure out just whose…

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