Monday, October 5, 2015

pressure off

Really great pop music artists who have a flowering of creativity in their youth sometimes come out with something decades later that's kind of a renaissance — the old spark is back, this time with a lifetime of mastery behind it. (Willie Nelson's "Teatro" is a prime example.)

Right now I'm listening to Duran Duran's "Pressure Off," a song that has all the Duran gestures and an infectious energy. Delighted!

Monday, September 7, 2015

the trifecta

Today, I got it in my head to write a poem. But a dreadful urge to make it perfectly constructed, flawless — tight, yet free and easy sounding — caused a waking nightmare like a stomach-ache to start inside me.

Could I do it?

Oh, sure, I was able to, back in my super-smart teen sighing days, when I could just let fly with mopey tributes to some nerd-girl crush, and have it come out word-perfect, with faultless scansion, rhyme, and big emotions: gushing, chiming masterpieces of teen alt-romance.

But that’s all past. I’m halting. Now I just want to impress, but don’t know how (I’m such a mess). Should I rhyme? Should it be quick, spiffy couplets of tetrameter, or a balanced and classic sonnet? Or both?

Today, I got it in my head
To write a poem. But a dread-
ful urge to make it perfectly
Constructed, flawless — tight, yet free
And easy sounding — caused a wak-
ing nightmare like a stomach-ache
To start inside me. Could I do
It? Oh, sure, I was able to,
Back in my super-smart teen sigh-
ing days, when I could just let fly
With mopey tributes to some nerd-
Girl crush, and have it come out word-
Perfect, with faultless scansion, rhyme,
And big emotions: gushing, chim-
ing masterpieces of teen alt-
Romance. But that’s all past. I’m halt-
ing. Now I just want to impress,
But don’t know how. I’m such a mess.

Today, I got it in my head to write
A poem. But a dreadful urge to make
It perfectly constructed, flawless — tight,
Yet free and easy sounding — caused a wak-
     Ing nightmare like a stomach-ache to start
     Inside me. Could I do it? Oh, sure, I
     Was able to, back in my super-smart
     Teen sighing days, when I could just let fly
With mopey tributes to some nerd-girl crush,
And have it come out word-perfect, with fault-
less scansion, rhyme, and big emotions: gush-
ing, chiming masterpieces of teen alt-
     Romance. But that’s all past. I’m halting. Now
     I just want to impress, but don’t know how.

Ha! I've been wanting to do that since my senior year in high school, when I thought it would be a blast to write an essay for Mr. Naegelin's English class, totally understandable as modern prose — no high-flown rhetoric, no thees and thous, no reversed subject and predicate, none of the markers of "poetic" poetry — but perfectly renderable in verse.

A few years later, in Professor Ann Miller's English Poetry Since Burns class, I thought that it would be even cooler to write a poem in rhyming couplets of tetrameter that was also perfectly renderable in pentameter. Better yet: sonnet form!!

But I didn't do it, either time. It sat there, as a cool idea that occasionally came to my mind, as decades came and went.

Just over and just under thirty years later, today was the day. The trifecta!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

heart and soul

As I sometimes do, I'm thumbing through Alec Wilder's terrific book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950. He mentions Hoagy Carmichael's song "Heart and Soul," which you'll recognize as the song Tom Hanks and his mentor play on the giant piano in the movie Big, but undoubtedly you knew it well before that. Wilder actually goes into this.

   What does fascinate me and has never been explained is how it came to be more popular with small children than "Chopsticks." I have never known a home with contained both children and a piano in which "Heart And Soul," without the release, was not the principal pianistic effort. And it was always for at least three hands. The rhythm was almost always a form of "shuffle" rhythm and more often than not the bass line was scalar and in dotted quarter and eighth notes.
   The copyright date is 1938, and I first found children experimenting with it around 1950. Even though it had been a great hit, it never did become much of a standard song. So where, oh where, did the children come across it a dozen years later? How did it manage to spread over the face of the nation? If there is an even faintly reasonable answer, I'd be very grateful for it.
I've often had the same question. What could possibly be the explanation?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

the bad "such"

From an article by someone named Edwin Lingar:
Like many self-identified American Christians, I grew up calling myself such while adhering to few of the precepts and never going to church. 
There it is! That use of the word "such," that always hits me as ... what? not quite wrong. Maybe "undergrad" is the word. That use will show up in an opinion piece in the local college paper (or in Salon, whose sloppy editors let in so many amateur-hour flubs that it's hard to believe there are editors at all).

But here's the deal: I've never seen it used by any writer that's really good, or in any publication that's at the top. It's a usage that seems to belong only to smart 10th-grade poets, but really should be out of their system by college. It's one of those things that the writer thinks sounds good but is really an indicator to the audience that the writer is trying to reach for a rose and getting a thorn.

There's one use that's even worse, and more pretentious: instead of "you're a rascal!" or "you're quite a rascal!" or (ramping up the lit-snob appeal just a bit) "you're quite the rascal!" or even "you're such a rascal!", you often see 10th-grade-poet-types going for "you're such the rascal!" In a just world, this would set off actual alarm bells and sirens.

Such things are often the subject of humor — think of the fun Jon Stewart had, and Jimmy Fallon still has, with the Jersey use of "classy" — but I've never seen the "such" poked fun at that way. Wouldn't it be just right in the mouth of some dowdily-dressed book-club prig in "Girls?" I would definitely chuckle at such.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

goodbye, red

NO!! I just found out Red Lane died about a month ago!! Great songwriter who wrote dozens of hits, mostly mid-charters, and always underrated.

I associate him with the hybridized pop country music of the Seventies and Eighties. Generally, the tangy swing of traditional country is more appealing to me, but Red wrote some great stuff. He wrote Waylon Jennings' "The Eagle" and BJ Thomas's "New Looks From An Old Lover," but here's my absolute favorite of his. It should go down as one of the great American standards.

Rest in peace, Red.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

ginger, mary ann, and the rest

Mary Ann: I don't see how you can exercise in that dress anyway, it's so tight. I'm surprised it doesn't cut off your circulation.
Ginger: Honey, in Hollywood, the tighter the dress, the more the girl circulates.

A friend, quoting that line, says, "I've recently rediscovered Gilligan's Island and I am finding it really funny now that I am old enough to appreciate the old-school writing and comic performances."

I think I remember having the same impression sometime in the late 90s when it was on somewhere: macroscopically it's incredibly stupid, but microscopically — the little funny lines and zingers — it's bubbly and clever.

Of course, for decades, sitcoms were seen as just that: a vehicle for microscopic hilarity — great comic actors doing their thing. (Think "Three's Company," which was never macroscopically worthy of the terrific John Ritter, but nonetheless gave him plenty of comic scope.)

Alas, poor Yorick.

We're re-watching the entire run of "Seinfeld," and recalling that this is exactly the show's great innovation — they carefully constructed plots that blew up at just the right moment, like in a great comic play or movie. And then they carried plot elements over from show to show, and even season to season, and you were expected to remember. (Of course, the most important feature there was probably the VCR, which allowed you to brush up on demand, so a show didn't simply evaporate after it was aired; and, crucially, you could arrange to never miss a show: if you had another engagement you could just tape it. Revolutionary, when you think about it!)

Maybe I'll go back and do the whole run of "Gilligan" sometime. All those actors were great pros with real credentials. I remember being impressed with especially the penumbral character actors in "Bewitched" for the same reason.

My bones aren't marrowless, if you know what I'm saying.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

whole tone spontaneity

We regularly sing instead of speaking. A life in arioso!

Greta just went into Cate's room with a balloon and sang, "Mayyy - youuu - pleeease - blowww - thiiiis - uuuup?"

The weird thing is that she sang it right up the notes of a whole-tone scale!! We all usually default to diatonic (think white keys on a piano); what on earth caused her to do something that unnatural, and, for the untrained, quite difficult?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

prostitution and covenant

Here's an article about a guy who auctions his virginity as documentarians film a movie about it. A girl was auctioning hers, too, but that's less surprising, as is the difference in starting bids. Yeeeesh! So much to say here. I guess one reason for the disparity is purely mechanical: a man could have a satisfying time with a completely inexperienced woman, but a woman almost certainly won't have a satisfying time with a completely inexperienced man.

Deeper, though, is the main issue in my opinion, and that is common sexual economics. Sex is, for many many people, something that women provide for men at some price: it's up to the woman, then, to decide what she's "worth," and it's either a hamburger and movie, or willingness to hold hands in public, or willingness to commit to being a boyfriend, or a fortune of several million dollars, or $70 an hour, or marriage and no less. All up and down the scale, though, this is a prostitutional model of sex — and it's one that I encountered in youth programs at my church! Naturally, at church, the prostitutes were encouraged to be as expensive as possible, not giving away their virginity when they could sell it for an ultimate price: a man's possessions and life in marriage. (This was invariably pitched to girls: guys were never seen as prostitutes, because, naturally, guys are the customer.)

Completely out of the blue, then, comes our model of marriage: the covenantal model — so different from the prostitutional model in every way. People just don't understand it. The other day Catherine and I were having dinner with a friend, and talking about marriage and cheating, and he just couldn't understand how hugging and kissing and having a candlelight dinner could be as worthy of fury/divorce/murder/complete dissolution of marriage as actually sleeping with someone. Catherine and I both feel that emotional cheating is just as much a betrayal as sexual cheating, and arguably more. But when your view of sex is the prostitutional model, and you're talking with someone who's on the covenantal model, it's like one person's playing chess and the other's playing checkers: same board, same talk of "pieces" and "moves," but there just can't be a game till the game itself is discussed openly.

The covenantal model is foreign even to most Christians, I've reluctantly and sadly concluded. But it calls, more and more insistently and gently to people all around us who are weary and heavy-laden.

Maybe the most disturbing thing in the article is what goes completely unsaid: [1] that sex might be worth something other than money; and [2] that in the brutal gladiatorial entertainments of reality TV, it's always and only the gladiators who are destroyed — if you don't count the incremental coarsening of conscience in every audience member.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

yyz isolated bass track

A friend alerted me to this cool recording of just the bass track from Rush's song "YYZ" from their album Moving Pictures.

The interesting thing about this is that the isolated track shows that they were recording it not only live but in the same space. They're miking the bass amp, and the mic picks up the drums and guitar.

Especially interesting is the cymbal bleed: usually you roll off some of the highest frequencies of a bass track but these are all there, or at least not rolled off completely — that's how you get the nice edge from hitting the string against the pickup, one of the signature bass timbres of this album.

Also, you realize that the bass amp is right in the room, picking up those guitar and drum sounds — not in an isolation closet somewhere. Back then, you often had the band in one room (if it was a rock-n-roll band), but they were listening through phones, and the guitar and bass amps were off somewhere stuffed into closets. Doing it this way, though, actually in the same room, gives you that indefinable open-air feeling. Nice!!

 (Also, notice that they cut out Alex's [still rather inexpert] 16th-note Van-Halen-ish fill when they punched him in. Hah!)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

end-of-a-movie-fy your statement

Here's how to End-Of-A-Movie-fy any statement. Say the thing, then say a person's name, then say the thing again. Does it work? You better believe it.

Viz: You better believe it, Barry; you better believe it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

states' rights and textbook learning

Some friends of mine were discussing this article in the Washington Post, about Texas teaching standards for the War Between the States, and whether they should have talked more about slavery as a cause of the war, or just states' rights and sectionalism. What's amazing is that this lengthy, in-depth article makes no mention of the glaring fact about the states'-rights argument: that is, that the Southern states were very much against states' rights to, for instance, ignore the federal Fugitive Slave Act. One main reason for secession is that the Southern states were furious that the federal government didn't trample on states' 10th-amendment rights by forcing the return of escaped slaves to their owners. 

Not to mention, of course, the states' 10th-amendment rights to not recognize slavery to begin with, so that if you're vacationing in Pennsylvania and you bring your valet with you, your valet might not come *back* with you because that person is regarded as a free citizen by the state of Pennsylvania.

Needless to say, that particular states' right was hated by the Southern states, and the fact that the federal government turned a blind eye and didn't enforce it under the full faith and credit clause was another reason those states wanted to secede.

So, the states'-rights issue is a complete load of bunk: any true believer in our 10th-amendment rights would be (however dejectedly) in favor of those actions regarding the Fugitive Slave Act and the full faith and credit clause. (Just as a true believer in states' rights who hates marijuana and prostitution nonetheless affirms Colorado and Nevada, respectively, in their rights to decide for themselves.)

But of course they weren't true believers in states' rights, then or now. Not that you'd ever know that from reading a textbook.

On the other hand, demand from school the person you are today: could they produce that person? There's a reason they call graduation ceremonies "commencement" — it's when your education finally begins.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

a declaration for the ages

On other holidays, we honor our country's veterans; on other holidays, we memorialize those who have died in serving; there's also Armed Forces Day, and lesser-celebrated holidays for the various branches of the military and for various recent battles and victories.

Today, though, we honor an un-military group who did an un-military thing: they published a document, ink on paper, claiming some things to be self-evident that weren't self-evident to most of their international audience. They claimed that all are equal, and they have — by dint of their very existence, not by fiat of the state — the right to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness. Perhaps more audaciously, they claimed that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, something they no doubt saw to be true of dictatorships as much as free lands. Every one of those assertions was controversial, and many have a hard time swallowing them even today — sometimes we ourselves have a hard time swallowing them.

But there they are, ink on paper, sent out into the world to change it. It's inarguable that they themselves saw those rights as available in their completeness only to white male landowners, but no matter: those words rang nonetheless. Over the years our republic has chipped away at the barnacled understanding of those words, the rough-hewn stone that covered the true polished shape of liberty, with much pain and with much howling. The pain continues, and the howling too, and there is still rough stone left, but our edifice is far more an edifice of freedom — of those radically-stated rights — than they ever could have imagined.

Take a moment to pray, sing, breathe gratitude for these people and their vision, and vow to continue chipping away, making those words true all over again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

a great dinner reminded me

When Jesus of Nazareth was asked for a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, he didn't answer with blue cloudy mist and harps and wings — he answered with images of a happy feast. Every strum of the harp may recall Hollywood heaven, but every family meal with people laughing and talking and enjoying great food recalls the real thing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


I've been wearing Oud, Maison Francis Kurkdjian's bewitching 2012 fragrance, lately.

Given a name like "Oud," you might think that this fragrance is the smell of oud, the unusual resinous Asian wood whose unduplicable smell has been valued since the time of the Sanskrit Vedas. Well, there *is* oud in Oud, but oud isn't the smell of Oud. The rush of saffron-flower — a burst of late-afternoon sunshine — followed by cedary, leathery, incensy smells, with a quiet but distinct trace of patchouli (a smell I usually find repugnant, as does Catherine, but which we both find just perfectly framed here), and swirls of half-hidden pepper and pine, is all held together by just the right amount of resinous Laotian oud.

It's like making a stew with fruits and vegetables and meats, and then making it all come together with just a touch of paprika, and then calling the soup "Paprika." You can see why when you smell it, but it's not really even the main part of the fragrance. Maybe it's more like calling this picture "Red":

Perfect, right? Some artist would name it that, and you'd immediately know why. The exact right red in that hat suffuses the entire picture with meaning. It's a perfect metaphor for the way oud operates in Oud.

This is one of those newer fragrances that revive an older trend from the 70s and early 80s. You're always in dicey territory when you do that, because nostalgia can go both ways. I lent a sampler of Cuir to a friend whose wife couldn't abide it because it reminded her of the going-out-of-date fragrances of her childhood, and couldn't get past it. Similarly, Catherine, though she liked the smell on paper, always ended up thinking "old man from the 1970s," which isn't a thought every husband wants to call up in his wife. (Bonus: a gay friend teases me to no end about wearing a cologne called "Queer.")

But Oud is simply beyond that. It's definitely in the musky world of men's colognes from that period, but updated to feel utterly modern. To my nose, it doesn't smell nostalgic at all: less like Ford's new Mustangs than like the new Thunderbirds, every line and contour justified and all else sent away.

It settles down into a very subtle glow that just smells like incredibly great-smelling skin, and stays that way for hours. Very very complex, as it's made from several notes that are themselves complex, it's divinely hard to pin down in the mind: celestial, dark, smooth as hand-rubbed mahogany, masculine, satiny, powdery, sensual.

This is the first fragrance I've been really excited about in a long time. Catherine is too. She can't stop sniffing and nuzzling. Near-perfect.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

the movie slide game

I just realized that a favorite pastime is gone! They used to show slides before the movies started in theaters: the game was to try to read the entire text — every word — on a given slide before it went to the next slide. A fun contest, now obsolete!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

a mad men ending

Catherine and I have only just watched the first episode of this final season. (The second airs tonight but we won't watch it for a few days.)

I have, though, come up with a great final scene for the series. Don gets out of the car, wearing one of his outfits that signals he's in California, and goes into some place (restaurant, hotel, something). The person brightens with recognition and greets him, "Right this way, Mr. Whitman."

Friday, April 10, 2015

'get hard' and sex

Tonight we saw "Get Hard," the movie about a white-collar criminal's attempt to harden up for a real (non-Club-Fed) prison. It's a negligible movie, but Catherine was so in the mood for something fun that she was thoroughly entertained, and *that* was quite entertaining to me.

It in no way passes the Bechdel Test — it's so un-Bechdel that the only actual female character is a cardboard first-prize fiancee, a near-total waste of Alison Brie's razor-sharp talent. Interestingly, there were two movies previewed that passed the Bechdel Test in the *preview*. And, not surprisingly, they look like actual good movies.

The main message of "Get Hard" is that there's nothing worse in the entire world than prison because prison means gay sex. What could be worse than gay sex prison? They may have gyms and yards and cells and cafeterias but the main thing is lots of gay sex, which can only be avoided by being protected.

As we were going out to the car, I chirped the remote to remind us of exactly where the car was, and Catherine, half-jokingly, said, "Male privilege." I can chirp my car remote because I don't mind everyone around knowing where my car is, because I'm a man. Interesting!

It hit me that men are so afraid of prison because it's the only place where a man is as likely to get raped as a woman.

Friday, March 27, 2015

the importance of shoes

A friend sent me this article on the importance of shoes. Too many men simply pay no attention to their shoes, either in buying or in keeping them up. My dad always wore good shoes, bought them for me, and showed me from an early age how to use a shoe-shine kit and keep my shoes looking spiffy. (My mom has fond memories of her German father doing his shoe-detailing routine daily. It was part of his entire air of rectitude.)

I have to say that once we decided that Greta and Clara were going to be our only two, I had a moment of sadness that I'd never bring up a son to enjoy all the accoutrements of manhood — the necktie knots, the importance of shoes and collar stays and good tailoring — that I always enjoyed. Of course, there's no guarantee that my son would value those things, so there's no sense sentimentalizing it.

The article goes a bit adrift when bringing in the choice of shoes that seem to the author inappropriate. After all, I've seen rhinestoned sandals with cocktail dresses that were a delightful choice. One gets the idea that this author would have disapproved of the first gents to wear tuxedos, though no doubt he does himself now. And he's on slippery ground in calling for hiking shoes for hiking, dancing shoes for dancing, and presumably never any mixing or borrowing: in a society in which a man wears a lounge suit to work and then comes home and changes into laboring-men's work clothes to lounge, that's a bit tone-deaf, right? If sailor suits were only used by sailors when sailing, we'd lose one of the icons of childhood, not to mention one of the icons of cheerful femininity.

But he's on much firmer ground in exhorting us all to enjoy our black lace-ups and take care of them. I've had my Florsheim Imperials for coming up on two decades and they look spectacular. It's my firm conviction that one of Greta's or Clara's sons will wear them with joy, just as I wore my own grandfather's gorgeous kangaroo-hide boots ... for dancing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

sympathy for the devil

Some friends and I were discussing (lowercase) sympathy for the devil, specifically in relation to Milton's "Paradise Lost," which is a seminal text in English on the topic: Milton allowed us into Satan's Satanic reasoning, and it looked awfully familiar.

William Blake famously said that Milton's writing of those scenes was so alive precisely because he was "of the Devil's party without knowing it." He couldn't help but make Satan sound more interesting than boring old God, because he, being so sinful, had some natural ... err, sympathy for him. Later critics repeated Blake while reversing him: Milton did know that he was of the Devil's party, and knew that you and I were too; he deliberately made Satan persuasive so we wouldn't kid ourselves about whose side we're really on. (Whether his trick was intentional or not, Milton's aggressive Protestantism, which held that we are all completely incapable of good without direct intervention from God, would absolutely track with that interpretation.)

This all got me in mind of one of the Rolling Stones' most notorious songs. I remember hearing that the Rolling Stones were Satan-worshipers (an allegation that was diluted by the fact that virtually all popular musicians were, in the eyes of many youth ministers in the 80s). Mick Jagger is even on record as saying that, because people thought of the song that way, later heavy-metal acts got in on the action, and that song is the genesis of an entire heavy-metal trope. It bears mentioning that in that same interview Jagger brushed off the idea that the song indicated anything like Satanism on their part — proof for many that he was indeed a Satanist, because that's exactly the tricky sort of thing a Satan-worshipper would do.

As usual (I'm looking at "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "Bohemian Rhapsody"), the religious-minded critics of that song quite simply couldn't have really listened to it. At least, if they had, they might not have perceived what's there in black and white, instead trusting what they think they know.

Before we get into it, though, allow me to rewrite the song, or rather write my own song, with lyrics that could very well be forwarded in one of those horrible emails that your uncle sends around. I'll even cast it in doggerel form just to make it more realistic. The goal here is to write something that would give a more traditional view of Satan, something like a pop-culture Screwtape Letters, in which Satan introduces himself and reveals to the presumably skeptical listener that he's the dark power behind all the evil of history — a poem that your youth minister could have gotten behind, a song Carmen might sing. Let's give it a shot:
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
I made sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank

I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse —
Or I'll lay your soul to waste.
I like the references to Soviet Communism and WWII, which we think of in such human terms, but which we must realize have their roots in the spiritual world. I especially like the subtle and damning theology of "I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys?' when after all it was you and me." Bam! Says it all, right? The sin in the world doesn't come at us; it comes out of us, to use Jesus of Nazareth's startling phrase. The evil that plagues history isn't some accident or flaw: it comes from Satan, and you and I are in league with him.

By now, you've figured out that those are the lyrics to the real "Sympathy for the Devil," by the Rolling Stones. That doggerel isn't an inexpertly-rhymed email forward or a Carmen spectacular: it's the original song.

So that's "Sympathy for the Devil?" Why on earth didn't every youth minister in the land latch onto it as a perfect bit of pop-culture theology? How could anyone look at it and conclude that these people are God-is-bad-Satan-is-good occultists? Certainly they weren't exemplars of sober and spirit-filled living, but few pastors went after Jerry Lewis. What's the deal? These guys succeeded in a rock-n-roll samba worthy of Screwtape himself.

Rule number one: before you criticize a song, pay attention to what the song is actually saying. You might be surprised.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

leaf work

Our yard man has steadfastly refused for the past 5 years to include our back driveway/parking court​ in his sphere of duty. (It bears mentioning that this was a stable back when the house was built! The pleasures of old homes!) I've steadfastly refused to let him off the hook, leaving the leaves to pile up till he can't in good conscience leave them unnoticed.

Well, gents, he won. Yesterday I decided to clear all that stuff away, and quickly decided I wasn't going to be the one to do it. The girls and I struck out up and down the street till we found some 10-year-old-ish boys bicycling around. I offered them a few bucks to come to the job. Their parents, from their porch, gave the OK and expressed enthusiasm that their boys were going to earn an honest dollar, but they didn't have a rake. Since we didn't either (we, after all, have a yard man who has a rake), I went to our next-door neighbor, a quiet older man who takes care of his mother, and borrowed *his* rake, took it to the boys, and brought them out back, where they worked for a good hour and a half.

As they worked, Greta and Clara came out to help/hinder, got to know the boys, tried to get them to play, jumped on the trampoline, fussed with a ball. Catherine came out and introduced the first cascarones of spring. (Greta's raison d'etre in spring is cascarones, and she's been talking about them for weeks.) The boys got a couple and exchanged a look that made it clear their victims would be each other.

13 bags of silty leaves, a fairly-well-cleaned-up driveway (I'll handle the remaining silt and leave the bright confetti), an ice-cold Coke for the boys to top it off, and a standing invitation to the trampoline, and I felt much more connected and grounded in our community, our little neighborhood with such a mix of people.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the first 4000 days

Today, Catherine and I walked, talked, dined, smiled, hugged, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and each other, on the 4,000th day of our marriage. Four thousand days! We're old pros now, and we loved thinking up what we'd say to our younger selves 8000 days ago about what was to begin in their future: a beautiful lifetime together, who knows how long — a marriage of true minds.

Monday, March 16, 2015


I tried on Cuir for the first time today. Part of the Les Nombres D’Or series of fragrances by Mona di Orio. It came out in 2010; always good to try relatively new fragrances, if only to see what they're making and wearing these days. You don't want to be one of those people who stopped everything at the age of 28. So I treasure the fragrances of my youth — YSL and Platinum Egoiste and Kouros — but I occasionally try new stuff too.

Cuir is (as you may have expected if you know any French) very leathery. Zow! It's like it's 1977 all over again, except edited for modern tastes. Smoky, dusty, spicy, absinthey, and *completely* opposed to the watery-citrus smell of a college hangout on Friday night. Mellows out to a purer sandalwoodiness. Masculine, soberly intoxicating, well-balanced and daringly imbalanced. Not sure if I would wear it regularly, and it still hasn't passed the wifely gauntlet, but what an interesting side trip! It's like wearing a tuxedo at a campfire.

Friday, February 6, 2015

yea! we're nerds! oh, it's just me

True story: we were having a conversation about some weighty issue, and someone said, slightly ironically, "Let's talk about something more important. Did you hear the latest news about Gwyneth?"

I was delighted and surprised, thinking I'd found a kindred spirit ... till I found out they weren't talking about the opera diva Dame Gwyneth Jones.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

pawing into history

On this day in 1469 Johannes Gutenberg died. Gutenberg, the first developer of a reliable movable type printing press, helped bring on, um, everything including this blog.

I was just reading that his black ink is still superdark and glossy after over 500 years, as if it were brand new. Never faded. To this day, no one knows quite how he did it.

Then I got to thinking about this guy, the monk who was writing this page when, apparently, his cat got into the ink and then walked across the page, just late enough in the page's progress to keep it, and not doing quite enough damage to justify starting the page over.

We all think this picture is about the mischievous nature of kitties, but really it's about how this monk saw a repeated impression of the same shape multiple times stamped in ink ... and for the millionth time in history didn't put it together.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

song juxtapositions

There are different ways to sit around and think about one band doing another band's music: one is to find the common ground (on a Rush tribute project, "Limelight" should be done by the Dave Matthews Band); another is to come up with a loopy assignment and make it fit (Foreigner's "Cold as Ice" done by the Beach Boys? Perfect: piano riff now done by Wurlitzer organ, bass "ba-dump, ba-dump" doubled by loose toms; add some sleigh bells in there).

Just today I thought I'd like to hear Mumford and Sons do some 70s glam rock. First band to my mind was Queen, and then I immediately landed on "39," from their "Night At The Opera" album. Obviously! If Dar Williams's fans can get her to do "Major Tom," surely Mumford & Sons's fans could get them to do "39."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

an ironic fate

I just found out something absolutely shocking. (Shocking at least to me, a person of delicate sensibilities.)

What do you know about Mithridates? Many know the story of the king of Pontus who developed an immunity to various poisons and was an inspiration for the Dread Pirate Robert's greatest showdown.

If you're like me, you mainly know about him through A. E. Housman's poem "Terence, This is Stupid Stuff," in which the speaker defends his morose poetry as a way of inoculating himself against the evils of the world:

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Hm. How did old Mithridates die? I actually never bothered to ask, nor, I'm ashamed to say, did I ever pay much attention to the actual plot of Mitridate, re di Ponto, the opera by the 14-year-old Mozart, instead just listening to the pleasant music the one time I heard it.

So, today, I just found out how he died, and I'm gobsmacked. No screenwriter (or opera composer) would dare to have come up with this fate. He was finally defeated by Pompey, and instead of being paraded around in defeat, in those death-before-dishonor days, he and his family protected themselves against rape/slavery/worse by entering a suicide pact, killing themselves ... by ... poison!

That's not all: wife and daughters keeled over as planned, but — as planned — the man himself didn't. He was last in line to drink, according to the morals of the time, and there wasn't enough left to overpower the immunity he'd spent his life building. Finally, he asked his friend to end it by sword so he could die with honor.

Like all of us, he'd protected himself against the wrong thing the whole time.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

bummers come in threes

Monday, January 12, 2015

black keys

Right this very minute, Greta is picking out tunes on the piano. She always tries to figure out her favorite songs — at the age of 3 she hammered away until she had "Ode to Joy" perfectly — and right now, on Monday, January 12th, she's picking out "O God You Are My God," starting on C, thus putting it in the key of F​. Black keys haven't been on her radar, so for a while she got stuck on the "I" of "I will ever praise You." But — one of my favorite sounds in the world, the rounding of a corner — a Bb! Haaaa!

She's now getting through the third line, through "learn to walk in Your ways," pretty perfectly, and stops, saying, "aaaah, this is impossible!!" I say, "you just did it!" And the painful and joyful job of joining civilization continues.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

here comes the bride or o tannenbaum

Here's how to play my new game 'Here Comes the Bride' or 'O Tannenbaum'?:

• Whistle or sing the first four notes of (your choice) "Here Comes the Bride" or "O Tannenbaum."
• The other person guesses which one it is.
• Then you tell them whether they guessed right.

Barry: ♩♩♪♩
Cate: ... "Here Comes the Bride?"
Barry: Wrong again. It's O Tannenbaum.
Cate: Dang it!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

empathic power and politics

Salon, as part of a series in which notable women share their wisdom, ran a piece by Anne Lamott, a favorite writer of mine, favorite partially because she doesn't hide her demons — the very subject that she hits on in the piece.

The whole thing is really about forgiveness. It's wonderful, but there's one phrase she uses that works like a bell tied to a preacher's wrist whose sound completely overtakes the sermon. Doesn't drown out the message — it's just than no one's going to really pay attention to it.

Almost no one: her close audience is made up of people who share most of her political views and they won't even hear the bell. They'll just hear a penetrating sermon on forgiveness, with real wisdom and insight. Others will hear a very marred piece; others will only hear what they perceive as a gratuitous and unnecessary political potshot that undoes the piece.

I don't think she intended it as a potshot. The "as told to" nature of this series means she was speaking extemporaneously or nearly so, and probably we just have an example of her ideology leaking out. Naturally, the editors put it in the headline.

That leak, and the thought process it revealed (that Tea Party people are the most hateful on earth), and the reaction it's gotten, from liberals and conservatives and centrists, got me to thinking about empathy. Not sympathy, the ability to see a person's problems, but empathy, the ability to share for a moment a person's point of view and feelings. When you do that, you can begin to see that there can be another point of view, another way to feel about whatever's going on.

The ability to imagine a different set of conclusions from the evidence the world gives you turns out to be one of the keys to life — and we're all guilty of inability in that area to various degrees.

Liberals often can't imagine why you'd ever want to restrict the rights of women and take away the measures that have helped minorities and make laws that burden the poor unless you are simply hateful and bigoted and repressive.

That leaves them unable to understand someone who wants to protect fetuses and have a meritocratic level playing ground and let the free market reign.

Meanwhile, conservatives often can't imagine why you'd ever want to snuff out the lives of the unborn and give minority students better grades than they deserve and restrict the trade that brings prosperity to all, unless you are simply hateful and repressive and don't care for human life.

That leaves them unable to understand someone who wants to lessen the instance of abortion by measure rather than fiat and give some people the academic and professional tailwind that others have always had and put reasonable harnesses on forces that tend to destroy if unharnessed.

When people have such different reverences, they begin accusing each other of opposite blasphemies, and then very little dialogue can actually take place at all.

One giant step we could take would be to make it so that, politically, we need each other a bit more: the scourge of gerrymandering, in which people from both parties have spent generations carving us up into like-minded districts where primaries and their purity tests matter more than actual elections, is a massive contributor to this talking-past-each-other effect, and, if reversed, could contribute greatly to a healing process in the way we try to appeal to and persuade each other.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

when and how to start piano lessons

Being an expert in all things musical (or at least perceived that way), I often get questions when it's piano-lesson time for people's kids. I've accepted that I'm not really a great teacher, but I can steer kids toward good ones, and give some advice based on my experience.

A friend writes:
When did you begin piano lessons? And knowing how musically gifted your family is in general, was it a requirement for you, or did you just naturally gravitate toward it (i.e., were you a modern day Mozart)? I would love for my boy to learn, but I don't want to introduce it too soon (or too late).
     And I don't know if it's better for parents to push kids to practice or to hope they will want to intrinsically. I had a couple of years of lessons as a kid, but most all of that knowledge has vanished and now I wish my mom had pushed.... And — last question — is it too ludicrous for me to contemplate taking lessons again at my age?
Piano: was it a requirement or did I naturally gravitate? Hm — both. All three of us took lessons, and it was very much a requirement. Just part of a good upbringing because everyone should learn to play an instrument. (We also had to play on the softball and basketball teams. Less of a triumph for me, but Paul and Rich took to it.)

Allow me to set your mind at ease about when to do it. You pretty much can't mess that up unless you somehow prevent your child from taking. It's not too soon or too late. Naturally, if the kid is 4 or 5 there's going to be a different approach, but by the time school starts a moderate amount of school-like discipline and the idea of practicing aren't that foreign. I recall that we had to practice 30 minutes a day. Had to, had to, had to — non-negotiable.

That said, I had two older brothers who took lessons, so I saw them playing and wanted to play myself. I got up on the bench and started farting around with notes and melodies. That interest, coupled with a natural talent, convinced my parents that I could start lessons at 5 rather than 6, which is when my brothers began.

I've got to say I wasn't a great student. I ended up practicing far more than 30 minutes a day — in Jr Hi and High School more than an hour usually — but hardly any of it was on the stuff I was supposed to be doing. Instead I just did what I felt like and what I was drawn to. So my teacher always thought I wasn't quite living up to my potential; nevertheless, the skills did build up one way or another and I was gigging professionally by fourteen.

All of which is to say that if your kid really takes to it there's not much you can do to stop him. (Think of the phenomenon of the 10th-grader who shuts himself in his room and plays the same Jimi Hendrix tune for 9 hours, till he can nail it.) And even if he doesn't take to it that way he'll still be learning valuable stuff that, we now know, is like learning a new language, along with mathematical and systematic brainstretching, a sense of accomplishment, comfort in getting up in front of a crowd, hand-eye coordination, pleasure in being able to do something pleasing — on and on! Good things come when you learn an instrument.

As far as taking lessons yourself, my guess is it would all come flooding back. You should do it! I have fond memories of standing there watching my mom play through Chopin books and "100 Piano Favorites" books when I was a kid. Really cool to see her calling forth such sounds from the piano, and easy to assume that I would someday do the same.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"I don't understand," she said mondegreenly

Just got through with a hilarious conversation about Taylor Swift's song "Blank Space," in which she sings "Got a long list of ex-lovers; they'll tell you I'm insane," but tons of people hear something like "All the lonely Starbucks lovers...."

Haha!! There have been a couple of articles about it. They only give us half-baked ruminations on mondegreens. But they don't really tell you why you misheard the lyric.

The main reason is that she disobeys the laws of English lyric-writing. A pop song should rhyme and scan seemingly effortlessly. When you have to put THE acCENT on THE wrong sylLABle in order to make it fit the musical phrase, you'll always murder the phrase.

For instance, if she were to write a boppy melody that goes, with a steady BOM baBOM BOM baBOM BOMba, "GOT a LONG LIST of EX LOVers," the exact same phrase would be perfectly understood.

Or, conversely, if she kept the same melody and rhythm but changed the lyrics to "Got a longish list of exes" (admittedly a terrible line), then the scansion of the music would match the natural accents of the phrase and you'd understand it.

As it stands, she's constrained herself to say "Gotta long lst-OV-x-LOV-rs"— English is especially strict because of our tendency to assign any non-stressed syllable a schwa sound (that "eh" or "uh") rather than the vowel's normal value. So, speaking it, you'd say "LONG LIST əv EX LOVərs," something very different from the song's "LONG ləst OV əx LOVərs".

Yeouch! "LONG ləst OV əx LOVərs"?!?! Madness!!

That is why your brain goes to the trochaic "Lonely Starbucks." It's the closest thing you can land on.

So, in the language of scansion, the melody, which goes "badaBAAdump BAAdump BAAdump," asks for four trochaic feet in a row (or a pyrrhic and three trochees), but her lyric, "Got a long list of ex-lovers," consists of a pyrrhic, a spondee, an iamb, and a trochee.

got a | LONG LIST | of EX | LOV ers.

Catherine suggests replacing my awkward suggestion with "Got a longish list of lovers." PERFECT!!

got a | LONG ish | LIST of | LOV ers

Swift is pretty much a pop genius, but even pop geniuses can have off days. The best pop songs just pop right out of your mouth, with the spoken inflection matched perfectly by the rhythm and melody. Most "mondegreens" in modern pop result from the songwriter's failure to do that.

Also bothersome: the Nashville girl suddenly goes Cockney with "They'll tell you oim insane." Where on earth did she get that??

My experience tells me some misguided enunciation coach (called, wrongly, "diction coaches" for some reason), heard her "ahm" on the first take and told her to fix it. That's doubly funny because one of the nudgy things that nudges our ears toward "Starbucks" is the long history of r-dropping in American pop music, which is strongly influenced by singers from r-dropping areas, who also "ahh" out our "i" sounds. Ironic!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a remarkable spaniard

This week, a true original died. Thursday, the Duchess of Alba gave in to pneumonia at the age of 88, in her 14th-century castle in Seville. Her full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart, Silva, Falcó y Gurtubay. No wonder people just called her Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba.

But she wasn't just that. She was also the 15th Duchess of Aliaga, the 4th Duchess of Arjona, the 11th Duchess of Berwick, the 17th Duchess of Híjar, the 11th Duchess of Liria and Jérica, the 11th Duchess of Montoro, the 12th Countess-Duchess of Olivares, the 17th Marquise of the Carpio, the 10th Marquise of San Vicente del Barco, the 16th Marquise of La Algaba, the 16th Marquise of Almenara, the 18th Marquise of Barcarrota, the 10th Marquise of Castañeda, the 23rd Marquise of Coria, the 14th Marquise of Eliche, the 16th Marquise of Mirallo, the 20th Marquise of la Mota, the 20th Marquise of Moya, the 17th Marquise of Orani, the 12th Marquise of Osera, the 14th Marquise of San Leonardo, the 19th Marquise of Sarria, the 12th Marquise of Tarazona, the 15th Marquise of Valdunquillo, the 18th Marquise of Villanueva del Fresno, the 17th Marquise of Villanueva del Río, the 27th Countess of Aranda, the 22nd Countess of Lemos, the 20th Countess of Lerín, Constabless of Navarre, the 20th Countess of Miranda del Castañar, the 16th Countess of Monterrey, the 20th Countess of Osorno, the 18th Countess of Palma del Río, the 12th Countess of Salvatierra, the 22nd Countess of Siruela, the 19th Countess of Andrade, the 14th Countess of Ayala, the 16th Countess of Casarrubios del Monte, the 16th Countess of Fuentes de Valdepero, the 11th Countess of Fuentidueña, the 17th Countess of Galve, the 18th Countess of Gelves, the 16th Countess of Guimerá, the 21st Countess of Modica, the 24th Countess of Ribadeo, the 25th Countess of San Esteban de Gormaz, the 12th Countess of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the 20th Countess of Villalba, the 12th Viscountess of la Calzada, and the 29th Lady of Moguer.

All that makes her not only the grandest grandee in the world (with more titles recognized by an existing government than any other person on earth), but one of its great landowners: if you planned it out the right way, you could walk from Spain's eastern border to its western one without ever stepping off her property.

Her marriage to a (lesser) noble in the 40s was Spain's last great feudal wedding, and one of the century's most dazzling — her jewelry alone was worth 15 million in today's dollars. But, for such a pedigreed figure, she was unbound by the restrictive rules of her class and time. After her first husband died, she married her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest; more scandalous, he himself was an ilegítimo, a bastard, having entered the priesthood in the first place by the old path of having been left on the church doorstep. The public was shocked; Cayetana, no respecter of persons, went right ahead. When he died, and she planned to marry a civil servant 25 years her junior, her family rebelled, no doubt concerned that he was in it to rob them. Her response was to simply sign over all their inheritances to them early, and marry the man. At the wedding, the 85-year-old countess/duchess/grandee kicked off her shoes and commenced to dance flamenco.

She loved dancing; she owned Christopher Columbus's first map of the Americas; she wore giant floppy hats, bright hippieish dresses, and fishnet stockings. By dint of various aristocratic fine-print, she was free to enter Seville Cathedral on horseback with impunity, didn't have to kneel before the Pope, and, whenever she ran into the Queen of England, the Queen had to curtsy to her.

No doubt a flawed human being, she nonetheless got the answers right again and again. Under that resolutely frizzy crown of hair was a brain that understood that her power and privilege could buy her the freedoms that few women of her place and time could enjoy, but which we should all aspire to — not the puny freedoms of riches and leisure that we too often settle for, but the real freedoms of the human spirit: to see people for who they are and love them and associate with them regardless of what others think, to recognize love when it comes your way, to do a stomping dance when you feel like it (and to put in the work so that you're in shape to do it).

When you preserve the Glory of Spain by gathering it in such concentration and then squandering it so happily, there's a name for it: kenosis.

Farewell, Cayetana, nobody's duchess, a spirit as free as ours were all created to be.

My favorite story? When she was 62, a lifetime of rebellion against society's rules found its peak: she curtsied to the Queen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

meat and buns and supply and demand

If you want to be thoroughly confused about the free market, consider the strange case of Kim Kardashian. There is, after all, hardly a shortage of pictures of women's naked backsides on the internet. How on earth does she get this kind of attention for something with which the market is so glutted?

I feel the same way about Sports Illustrated every year: it's nothing other than marketing genius that somehow makes a legion of people wait in eager anticipation for the release of ... a magazine with pictures of models in swimsuits.

With the McRib, McDonald's is basically a commodities trader: whenever pork prices fall below a certain margin, they roll it out and make money, benefitting additionally from the scarcity. No mystery there. But imagine a situation in which every year McDonald's introduced ... a hamburger, and people went nuts, even though they and every other hamburger place paper our world with hamburgers. We could only conclude that it's some sort of sorcery that's overriding the usual laws of supply and demand.

All this makes me hungry for Girl Scout cookies. Dang it! It's not February! How in the world will I get hold of the exact same mint chocolate cookies that are always available everywhere in every grocery store? Oh well, I'll just have to wait.

Monday, November 10, 2014

i loved your kids

I worked with teens at our church from my own teen years until almost the age of 40. I'd love to gather all their parents somehow and say, "I loved your kids! And, whatever your experience with them was, I feel fortunate because I suspect I got their best. As an adult who had no temporal authority over them, I got their deepest and truest thoughts, their most uninhibited laughter, their fresh insight. I loved every minute of it."

I got probing questions about the big-brush issues like how we know there even is a God at all, and the most fine-point issues like whether the Salmanticenses were heretical, and all in between. I got the most direct please-help-me pleas like "I've started doing drugs and I'm not sure my parents know but I'm not sure I can quit," and roundabout inquiries about whether this or that constitutes rape or whether I think smoking marijuana is a sin. (I derived great pleasure from dispensing guidance that, if followed, would lead kids toward a long, healthy, Christ-loving future with no baggage, without ever nagging or resorting to because-I-said-so.)

Most of all, I just got to see them being themselves, trying on different selves to be, and interacting with each other.

God designed these people to be choosing careers and getting married and establishing households and bearing children during their teen years; we have placed a near-impossible burden on teens by denying and delaying those steps. Nearly every clucked-over pathology attributed to teens can be traced to the frustration of those very real — biologically-mandated — urges to live in one's own space and deal with the opposite sex and take care of babies and escape parental authority and make one's own decisions.

Merely respecting them, respecting the fact that they are fully people, respecting their interests, respecting this burden society has placed on them, will buy us all much. I always tried to do so with the kids I worked with, and, goodness, I hope I can remember to with my own children, which as we all know isn't guaranteed.

Meanwhile, I cherish those generations of kids, now adults with their own kids. I loved getting up early in the morning for them, staying out late with them, ingesting probably half a ton of semi-good food with them at EZs and Alamo Cafe, studying and studying to bring solid and memorable teaching to them. Most of all, I loved your kids. I saw many of them at their best, and I loved them.

Friday, September 26, 2014

a star wars epiphany

Wow. A thought just crossed my mind. I was thinking about how the best Star Wars movies were the ones where Lucas remained in charge but left the screenwriting and directing to others (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) — and it hit me.

If there are lucky stars out there, thank them profusely that George Lucas wasn't an amateur composer.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


This summer I went into a completely new salon, introduced myself to a stylist, and said, "Do something stylish." I do this every so often, just to stay fresh (with mixed results). I didn't even tell her how I normally do it. She ended up giving me a sweep-back slickish cut that made me look like a character on "Suits"... plenty dashing, but then after a week or so Catherine said I looked like a televangelist.

So then I went to another new person and said I wanted something stylish. This one gave me a shorter, spikier look that befits a musician (it's what you'd expect of the contemporary worship guy at, uh, St Thomas Episcopal, for instance). Nice middlingly stylish cut. She said, "This makes you look like a very handsome older man, who looks young." Hey I'll take it.



It's New, It's Now:

Friday, September 19, 2014

hugo energise

The past couple of days I've been wearing Hugo Energise, a several-year-old fragrance from Hugo Boss. Apparently, experts and critics think it's ho-hum, but I think I like it. Nice peppery and fruity smell right up front, and then it mellows to a warm spicy, slightly chocolaty smell. After a few minutes, though, there's a powdery thing to it that's extremely synthetic and industrial-smelling. Hm. Don't like that. But it doesn't stay that way.

Overall, very pleasantly manly, just off-center enough to be non-cliché, probably very good for fall and winter.

Monday, September 15, 2014

busy beaver

Greta gets numbers. I think she'll end up being like her mother that way. She's like me, too, in that she gets the poetry of numbers, even if she doesn't quite understand them natively yet.

She debuted a song that she wrote the other day, called "Busy Beaver." Yep — a reference to the busy beaver, a "Turing machine," really a theoretical way of producing mind-bogglingly high numbers. Greta just can't get over the mind-bogglingness of busy beaver numbers, and regularly tries to compare them to real-life sizes and distances.

So, a new song that brings together her love of God, her love of music (listen to that nice pop melody! when she sings it, she does a very pop-music dropped "r," so that it's "Busy Bea-vehhh"), and her love of numbers, all in one place.

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

eau de lacoste L.12.12 blanc

Recently I'm wearing Eau de Lacoste L.12.12 Blanc. When it first goes on it smells very typically guy-ish, that sporty citrusy smell that dominates dorms across the land (though it's on the grapefruity side, so that helps). But after a few hours it mellows into a sweet woody smell with just a tinge of something distantly flowery that makes it fairly distinctive — but only fairly.

I'm not sure it passes the distinctiveness test, which is really my only test for a fragrance. Sure is nice and clean and pleasant, though. If L.12.12 Blanc went to high school with you it would be that guy on the tennis team who's athletic and "popular" but also actually popular — nice to everyone and pretty smart and fun and great to hang around with. Terrific August fragrance.