Posts Tagged ‘paul rudnick’

In last week’s New Yorker

June 19, 2017

Before even having a look at this week’s issue, I want to make some notes about last week’s unusually good issue.

First of all, I hope Rachel Aviv has a really good therapist. She consistently does in-depth, long-term reporting on some of the most grim topics in American society, exposing herself to endless accounts of trauma and abuse. Her story “Memories of a Murder” is a perfect example. In the tiny town of Beatrice, Nebraska, a 68-year-old widow was raped and murdered in 1987. The crime remained unsolved for two years until a farmer who enjoyed watching crime shows on television took on the job of unpaid private investigator and with the expert advice of a local psychologist succeeded in concocting a story that resulted in the arrest and conviction of six small-town residents, several of them mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Years later a DNA test showed that the blood and semen at the crime site belonged to a juvenile delinquent whose grandmother lived in the same building and had subsequently died of AIDS.  The point of Aviv’s long, absorbing article is that detectives and psychological professionals can be so attached to a narrative that they can convince innocent people that they committed crimes they had nothing to do with. (Online the title of the article is more pointed: “Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit.”)But it’s also a dismaying tale about the ignorance and preconceptions that face outsiders in a small town.

To balance out the grimness, there’s David Sedaris writing about his alcoholic mother (“Why Aren’t You Laughing?”) and another brilliant Shouts & Murmurs piece by Paul Rudnick, “Jared & Ivanka’s Guide to Mindful Marriage.” My favorite: “Family is everything. We treasure the special moments, like the time our kids used their crayons to make Jared a construction-paper subpoena. We have game nights, when we play such favorites as Pin the Tail on Whoever’s Out of Favor, Let’s Dress Jeff Sessions in Doll Clothes, and Who Can Hug Mommy Without Touching Her Hair?”

I got through college without having to read “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” Esteemed classicist Stephen Greenblatt, in “The Invention of Sex,” makes him sound even more entertainingly bizarre than I imagined, with his account of a spiritual orgasm shared with his mother and his fixation on how “some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. ‘Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together.’ Others, as he personally had witnessed, could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could ‘produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.”’ ”

What else? Zadie Smith writes a beautifully detailed and empathetic profile decoding the work of a young black British painter and writer named Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (“A Bird of Few Words”). I enjoyed reading Andrew Sean Greer’s short story “It’s a Summer Day,” though I couldn’t help noticing that it’s the second piece of fiction the New Yorker has published in a month that centers on a writer winning an obscure prize. I admire critic-at-large Kelefa Sanneh’s music writing, though his essay “The Persistence of Prog-Rock” indulges in some historical revisionism. When I was growing up, contemporary bands like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were viewed as “art-rock,” a different flavor but related to Zappa and the Mothers, David Bowie, and other arty rockers. And my memory is that the term “prog-rock” was never used in those days. It’s been tossed around familiarly only in retrospect by the people who weren’t even alive then.

Quote of the day: MARRIAGE

June 19, 2012


It’s so easy to point a finger and to ask, How could I, as a loving mother, have let my eighteen-year-old daughter, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, marry Osama bin Laden in 2000? Well, all I can say is she wasn’t getting any younger.

Maybe I wasn’t the best role model, because, after all, as a teen-ager, I went to my prom with Idi Amin. Of course, nowadays everyone remembers Idi only as a demented homicidal despot, but back then he was just a kid in a powder-blue tux, offering me a lovely corsage, which I thought was the sweetest gesture until I realized that it was made from a human hand. But Idi had such a crush on me and we ruled triumphantly as Prom King and Queen, after the other, elected couple disappeared; I was also voted Most Popular, Nicest, and Most Likely to Own a Slave.

The women in my family have always been attracted to powerful men. I once asked my grandmother if it was true about her and Hitler, and she got all misty-eyed and murmured, “That was a very long time ago, before the little mustache. But we had the best time together, taking long walks, doing watercolors, and talking late into the night about how someday he would rename Poland in my honor and call it My Really Pretty Girlfriend. He was such a puppy dog, but I have to be honest, when it came to writing me love poetry he was no Josef Stalin.”

My sister was in fact preëngaged to Saddam Hussein, and I hate to say this but she did once tell him, “I can’t marry you until you give me a diamond, a condo, and a nuclear warhead.” Things almost worked out until the United States invaded Iraq, Saddam went on the lam, and my sister threw up her hands and began seeing Kim Jong-il. “I’m sorry,” she told Saddam in an e-mail, “but I need some stability.” Personally, I always thought that Kim looked like a chubby flight attendant for a budget airline, but as my sister explained, “Every morning, he makes the entire Army chant, ‘We love our Supreme Leader and his fiancée is so hot!’ ”

When Amal first started getting serious about Osama, I cautioned her, saying, “But he already has two wives,” to which she replied, “You mean two fat wives.” As a teen-ager, Amal had covered her walls with posters of Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, and Justin Timberlake, because, as Amal put it, “Justin is the tyrant of all media.” We would watch “Friends” together, but when I swooned over David Schwimmer, Amal scoffed, “Sure, he’s cute, but where are his ruthless bodyguards?” My mother’s favorite program was “The Golden Girls,” because it portrayed an ideal fundamentalist household, starring, as my mom would sigh, “that handsome Bea Arthur and his many devoted concubines.”

When Amal began thinking about marrying Osama I begged her to keep her options open and so she began dating Muammar Qaddafi. I was wary of Muammar because, with his curly dyed-black hair and his glittery wardrobe, he reminded me of a storefront psychic. But Amal insisted that, when it was just the two of them, hiding out from rebel forces in a culvert, he could be quite the charmer and that sometimes he’d let her shoot coffee cans with his solid-gold revolver. “It was so romantic,” she confided. “I felt like Lynne Cheney!”

But the heart wants what it wants, and Amal eventually returned to Osama. Her bridal shower was a dream and Amal received Kevlar lingerie, some racy photos of women driving, and a gag apron printed with the phrase “Tell your other wives to cook.” On her wedding night, Amal wondered aloud, “Do you think that I’ll ever get to meet him in person?” But a few weeks later she was flown to an undisclosed location and at last began her married life. I felt just like Kris Jenner, the mother of all those Kardashian girls. I recently contacted Kris and I asked her, “When your daughter Kim made so many mistakes and the entire world turned against her, what did you do?” And Kris responded, with so much warmth and wisdom, “All the morning shows.”

— Paul Rudnick

In this week’s New Yorker

March 23, 2012

The Style Issue features several articles that reveal in great, sometimes disheartening detail how things are made these days:

* John Seabrook’s closely observed story about Ester Dean and the phenomenon of “top-liners,” the people who create the semi-coherent, fragmented, not-quite-lyrics that accompany hit singles these days…and make beaucoup bucks at it;

* Jonah Lehrer’s entertaining profile of Roger Thomas, in-house designer for Steve Wynn’s over-the-top Vegas hotels, whose obscenely luxurious decor apparently boost casino income exponentially;

* Ian Parker’s preview (“Expletive Not Deleted”) of the forthcoming HBO comedy series “Veep,” whose British show-runner Armando Iannucci apparently keeps a stable of writers onhand who specialize in supplying high-volume zesty swearing for his hit shows (such as the BBC’s “The Thick of It”). The series stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president who refers to her bumbling staff as “the Keystone Cunts” and in one scene is heard to say, “Well, God bless the President. he is really a great man. but he is busting my fucking lady balls here.”

Another highlight is the latest of Paul Rudnick’s laugh-out-loud Shouts and Murmurs pieces, this one a take-off on recent books touting the superiority of French women in all things. “To maintain my figure, I eat only half portions of any food, always arranging it on my plate in the shape of a semicolon. For exercise, at least once a day I approach a total stranger and slap him. And late each afternoon I read a paragraph of any work of acclaimed American literary fiction, which makes me vomit.”

Speaking of fiction, there’s also a story by Antonya Nelson, “Chapter Two,” that trafficks in the misrepresentation of what AA meetings are like, with what has become a fiction cliche, the supposedly sober character who drinks on her way to and from meetings. Yawn. It’s been done.

In this week’s New Yorker

July 21, 2011

An especially good magazine, starting with another delightful Barry Blitt cover, and a leading editorial in Talk of the Town by George Packer — about the budget battle in Congress — that I would like to copy and circulate to every member of the freshman Republican cabal. (Does that list exist somewhere close at hand?) Actually, every piece in Talk of the Town is pretty great this week, including a rare Gay Talese item about one of those Manhattan locations that are death to restaurants. But the best of the lot is Lauren Collins’ hilarious piece about Chris Bryant, a gay Member of Parliament previously unknown to me who was one of the first to directly challenge the Murdoch empire that is now crashing down:

At Westminster Hall, Chris Bryant indulged in a moment of goofy release when asked if Murdoch, after everything that had happened, would still be able to intimidate British politicians. He held two thumbs together, forefingers up, in a W shape, and then turned them upside down: “Frankly, now it’s like ‘Whatever, Mary.’ ”

Is it because I grew up in a trailer that I read every word of Alec Wilkinson’s piece about tiny houses, “Let’s Get Small”?

Paul Rudnick’s Shouts & Murmurs piece, “The Pope’s Tweets” is predictably LOL. Here are a couple of sample tweets from the Pontiff:
Michele Bachmann is not Satan. Satan doesn’t have split ends.

Someday I’d like to put on slacks, a cardigan, a little straw hat, and sunglasses, and go see “The Book of Mormon.”

Who knew that Calvin Trillin, mostly a food writer, covered the civil rights movements (“the Seg Beat”) for Time magazine once upon a time? His reminiscence of covering the Freedom Riders (“Back on the Bus”) moved me tremendously, as accounts of that historic struggle generally do.

I was mildly interested in Jane Kramer’s profile of contrarian French feminist Elisabeth Badinter, but early on it became clear that she’s one of those social critics who can dish it out but can’ t take it. Badinter refers to a talk she gave at Princeton as her “worst experience….a total execution.” But Kramer reports:

The American feminist scholar Joan Scott, at the Institute for Advanced Studies, heard the talk. She told me, ‘Badinter was saying all sorts of banal things about how the French were sexier than Americans, better at sex, how American women washed too much, how they were embarrassed by bodily odors, by oral sex. We asked hostile questions, like, ‘How can you say these things off the top of your head?’ That it was traumatic for her is very odd. We were simply distressed by her talk.”

I don’t know why, but I also ate up every word of John Cassidy’s piece about hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio. The guy sounds like a dick, and yet I respect his hard-headedness and self-questioning: “I believe that the biggest problem that humanity faces is an ego sensitivity to finding out whether one is right r wrong and identifying what one’s strengths and weaknesses are.” His motto is “Pain + Reflection = Progress.”

Good piece by Paul Goldberger on Zaha Hadid, an architect whose work interests me. Check out her new Riverside Museum in Glasgow (photo by Iwan Baum):

All told, a densely rewarding issue, anything but light midsummer reading. Although with a perfectly timed Jack Ziegler cartoon:

In this week’s New Yorker

November 28, 2010

Trust Alex Ross to turn me on to some fascinating corner of contemporary classical music previously unbenownst to me. Now I know something about Swiss composer Georg Friedrich Hass, whose Third String Quartet, Ross says, “makes such extreme demands on players and audience alike that at one concert in Pasadena listeners were required to sign a waiver absolving the venue of legal responsibility….”

The work is subtitled “In iij. Noct.,” a reference to the Third Nocturn of the old Roman Catholic Tenebrae service for Holy Week, which marked Christ’s sufferings and death with the gradual extinguishing of candles. Haas, who grew up in Tschaugguns, a Catholic village in the Austrian Alps, asks for total darkness during performances of his quartet, the score specifying that even emergency lights should be covered.
In September I saw, or didn’t see, a performance [by the JACK quartet] at the Austrian Cultural Forum, on East Fifty-second Street. When the blackout began, I initially felt a fear such as I’ve never experienced in a concert hall: it was like being sealed in a tomb. No wonder the members of JACK usually try out a brief spell of darkness with each audience, to see if anyone exhibits signs of distress. (Indeed, one young man sheepishly got up and left.) yet the fear subsides whne the music begins. The perfoemrs who are positione din the corners of the room, seem to map the space with tones, like bats using echolocation to navigate a lightless cave. They have memorized the socre in advance, and it is an unusual document: Haas sets out eighteen musical “situations” — with detailed instructions for improvising on pre-set motifs, chords, and string textures — and a corresponding series of “invitations,” whereby the players signal one another that they are ready to proceed from one passage to the next.
Often, the music borders on noise: the strings emit creaks and groans, clickety swarms of pizzicato, shrill high notes, moaning glissandos. At other times, it attains an otherworldly beauty, as the players spin out glowing overtone harmonies. Toward the end comes a string-quartet arrangement of one of Carlo Gesualdo’s Responsories for the Tenebrae service (“I was like an innocent lamb led to the slaughter…”). That music is four hundred years old, and yet, with its disjointed tonal language, it sounded no less strange than the contemporary score that surrounded it. Weirdness is in the ear of the beholder.

In another direction altogether is “Nutty,” Paul Rudnick’s latest bit of comic ephemera — definitely good for a chuckle.

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