Friday, December 27, 2013


Jonathan Franzen has nothing to say, yet needs to produce, and therefore has to grasp about in the shallows for tools more familiar to middle school brats than literary fancymen in order to churn out a trite revision of an artist when he should, instead, turn his lazy two-bit microscope upon his own tired-ass cultural hangups.

Or at least that's what I think.

Unfortunately, for I was having such an exasperation-free day, I came across his base attempt to summarize Edith Wharton for us in a 2012 issue of the New Yorker.  This is truly simple stuff.

He says that her privilege as a member of an aristocratic and well-monied family makes her difficult to like, and puts her at a "moral disadvantage".  A MORAL disadvantage?  This woman was born during the Civil War into a puritanical society in which women were treated as chattel, but Franzen feels oppressed by all the stuff that she could buy to decorate her house with.

Next, he throws her a bone, and says that the moral repugnance of her income is lessened by the fact that she was plain of appearance.  That's right, she's not hot.  He doesn't want to fuck the dour-faced novelist, standing in her turn of the century cabinet cards, with her corset and lapdogs.  The unspeakable horror of this non-babe status humanizes her, it ratchets her down slightly from "rich bitch" to "ugly bitch," making her entirely more acceptable and less threatening to him.  Would you ever publish something that revealed your stunted, insecure little parts like that?  This article has nothing to do with Edith Wharton.  It's about Franzen and his lack of emotional sophistication as a writer and a thinker.

JF, you need to sit down.  Regardless of one's opinions on Wharton, who by modern perceptions can be anything from a stuffed shirt to a pioneering hero, this article is pathetic.  It's lazy, written by a resentful Beavis incapable of formulating hypotheses worth sharing.

Anyway, she's taken to task far more often than is sensible or fair when you compare the tidal waves of forgiveness lavished on many male writers of comparable fame who do come with biographies that strongly temper their credibility.  Perhaps people are made insecure that she still seems to be everyone's boss.

Because who in the bloody goddamned fucking hell would read this:

“The young man was sincerely but placidly in love. He delighted in the radiant good looks of his betrothed, in her health, her horsemanship, her grace and quickness at games, and the shy interest in books and ideas that she was beginning to develop under his guidance. She was straightforward, loyal, and brave; she had a sense of humour (chiefly proved by her laughing at his jokes); and he suspected, in the depths of her innocently-gazing soul, a glow of feeling that it would be a joy to waken. But when he had gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were only an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.”

and respond with "Yeah, but have you seen her pixxx?"

Edit: I decided to look into the fallout of Franzen's odious bullshit and found some far better responses to him than I am capable of at this time.

Victoria Patterson dispenses with him in a way that is diplomatic, authoritative, and interesting.  To be able to eviscerate someone in a kind way, a humane killing, must be an incredibly valuable skill to have.  I wouldn't know.  LA Review of Books "Not Pretty: On Edith Wharton and Jonathan Franzen"

Marina Budhos wonders why Franzen was unable to see the similarities between himself and Wharton.  Probably because one must be in heavy denial of one's own flaws in order to achieve such a level of schmuckery.

Not Sexy Enough
Every time I hear Marion Harris' version of Tea For Two (more often than you'd think; it's 1934 over on 8tracks), I think of Big Edie Beale singing along to an old recording in her squalid bedroom.  She's obviously transported at one point and really gets into it, reliving her prior glories.

This scene was one of the most memorable for me.  Big Edie shaking her arms at her daughter saying, "Dance to that waltz! How can you resist that?"

I love music of the 20s and 30s, but some songs are just way too adorable and saccharine or goofy for me to handle, and Tea For Two was one of them.  Rarely do I want to hear a song that you can tap dance to.  Still, Grey Gardens changed my mind and I quite like it now.  I think Doris Day is the reason why I couldn't deal with the song, originally.  Although I think she's an under-appreciated actress, she was often styled in a way that created an almost toxic combination of cuteness and squareness.

The real DD seems to be a bit of a badass.  Yes, be.  She still lives.

DD 1950

Marion Harris 1924

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I miss this.  I tend to pick topics that are hard and ultimately probably unrewarding, but are nevertheless things that I MUST KNOW.

Current topic: What (if anything) stood on the land that now hosts my office building?  We are in a residential area that has a really curious mix of housing, age-wise.  We are just a couple of miles outside of the original Phoenix city limits, so it's reasonably likely that there was something there in the 19th century or around the turn of the century.  It could have been orchards, farmland, perhaps a mix of the three with a dwelling, etc.  We are close the the state hospital (formerly: The Insane Asylum of Arizona), too, which was located on a sprawling acreage that included orchards, grain crops and vineyards, but I have no real concept of how large 160 acres is, so I can't tell if we are close enough to have been part of that, or if the hospital ever even got rid of any of that land.  I haven't found a map of the hospital from that time.  Sidebar, the hospital also has its own cemetery with graves dating back to 1888.  Want to see!  It seems pretty securified there, though, and like many places, probably won't let me in.

Obviously, the reason I want to know is because of THE GHOST.  I mean, the alleged ghost.  I haven't seen shit and that is fine.  But continued conversations with someone who claims to have seen it indicate that it wears a giant, oddly-shaped hat the likes of which your great-great grandmother was probably into.

There are precious few early Phoenix maps that are of any use for this.  The Assessor's office doesn't seem to have any historic property info.  Do parcel numbers change, ever?  How can we keep track if they change them?  I can't seem to find anything about the previous zoning or address situation of any given parcel.  The current residential developments around us cannot be original - they're inexpensive 40s and 50s builds, some of which appear to have been built to house airport personnel.  And one street over, we have much earlier homes.

Because we are so close to the original city center, and not far off the path people used to get to Tempe, and because we are right smack in between the downtown area and the hospital (which was pretty impressive at the time and therefore a bit of a landmark), it seems likely to me that there could have been a few scattered homes in the vicinity of our office building.  Perhaps more than a few.  I'll find out eventually.

1890s hospital administration enjoying their "lake" hole

Saturday, December 7, 2013


I just love that Robrt Pela at the New Times.  He is an outspoken and prolific preservationist who has gotten inside many of Phoenix's shuttered historic buildings downtown.  He expresses adequately the outrage that I feel about beautiful things being torn down and replaced by repugnant mundanity.

Last weekend, my dad, brother and I were thrown out of the Westward Ho after trying to sneak in to explore.  I thought we had made it after one of the residents negotiated the front buzzer for us, but a security guard quickly intervened.  He wouldn't even let us check out the lobby in which we were standing, and no amount of polite explanation (my dad) or angry-child outbursts (me) would change his mind.  He wouldn't even let me take photos.  Outrageous.

Robrt Pela made it in as described in this descriptive but photo-short article.  

This site has photos that seem recent.

This crappy site has some interesting pictures of the "tunnels" and a short video including some interior shots.

I'm just excited that so much of it has been preserved.  Unfortunately, there is no touring of the building due to "liability," which - fine.  But whose stupid idea was it to turn that building into a home for the old and disabled, thus closing it to the outside world forever?  Was there not a more appropriate, public use for such a building?

I'm not really aware of interesting WH trivia, and I've rarely heard it discussed among the old, native or history crowds.