2000 Notebook: Transition XVI
8 May 2000
How To Lose Weight through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way)
Quite some time ago I read a story about an author’s disastrous book promotion tour. In each city, he’d walk in and stand behind a table stacked with eighty copies of the volume he was promoting. He usually sold around eight autographed books during a two-hour shift.

He spent his time studying what the customers who walked by his table were buying. He took notes, and used his research to create the title for his next volume, How To Lose Weight through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way).

After telling that story for years, I decided to see whether the anecdote was true. I went to several of the largest Internet booksellers without success. I finally found a single reference—“Colin McEnroe’s bizarre How To Lose Weight through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way)”—from a merchant selling out-of-print books.

I was incredulous; it seemed impossible that How To Lose Weight through Great Sex with Celebrities (the Elvis Way) didn’t achieve the commercial success it should have enjoyed. What’s the world coming to when appealing to the lowest common denominators no longer works?

Oh well, times are hard all over.

9 May 2000
An Organ of Human Progress
Leo Tolstoy began the seventeenth chapter of his book, What Is Art?, with an interesting proposition: “Art is one of two organs of human progress.”

I stopped reading there. With so many other favored organs from which to choose, I didn’t want to know the identities of those that do not contribute toward human progress.

10 May 2000
It’s All Russian to Me
One day when I was twelve or so, a grey-haired woman greeted me from her porch as I was on my way to school.

“What are you studying today?” she asked.

“Spanish!” I proudly answered.

“I took Spanish when I was your age, and now I can only remember three or four words,” she replied with a laugh.

I can’t remember what I said in reply, but I clearly remember thinking she was crazy. Obviously.

Predictably, now I can only remember three or four words of all the Spanish I “learned” in two years before I switched to studying Russian.

My Russian’s not much better than my Spanish, but I use it whenever I’m in a situation where English isn’t spoken. Whether it’s in a Greek taverna, a Thai restaurant, or a German delicatessen, I always use Russian. It doesn’t make much sense, but when I’m surrounded by people speaking a foreign language, it seems only right that I shouldn’t speak English either.

Here’s the best part: speaking Russian always works!

The secret is to avoid eye contact, mumble very, very softly, then skulk away at the first opportunity. Sov-siem horro-show!

11 May 2000
Art and Evolution
Geoffrey Miller has just wasted a lot of his time and a lot of other people’s money writing a five hundred and twenty-eight page book, The Mating Mind. Miller’s basic premise is that the more creative one is with art and language, the better one’s chances are of getting a date (and breeding, if it comes to that). I can’t believe he needed five hundred and twenty-eight pages to say what any sallow-faced art student could have explained before reaching the bottom of a cup of espresso.

And anyway, Orson Welles said everything there was to say about art and evolution ages ago: “If there hadn’t been women, we’d still be squatting in our cave eating raw meat, because we made civilization to impress our girlfriends.”

I became enthralled with art about the same time puberty hit. I always thought that was a coincidence, perhaps affected to some degree by my observation that the girls in the art department were cuter than the girls in the orchestra. And now Miller tells me I made an evolutionary choice!

I can’t imagine many artists spending thirty dollars to read scientific theories that support what they already know. I think Miller may have a best seller with cretin readers, if their is such a thing. With any luck at all, dragging women out of bars and into pickup trucks by their hair will become a thing of the past once the first contemporary cave man gets a better reception by asking, “Care to come up to my studio and look at some etchings over a glass of wine?”

12 May 2000
My Kind of Expert
I listened to a brief news item on the radio that described a program for teaching young children about practical numeracy. The reporter was skeptical; that’s his job description. He asked the expert whether it was practical to teach elementary school kids about finances.

The expert promoting the program was reassuring; that’s her job description. She confirmed every detail of the program had been considered carefully, then added, “We need to ensure that we’re not overloading tiny brains.”

I wish there were more experts like that. My tiny brain is overloaded more often than not.

13 May 2000
William Klein’s Cautionary Tale
I read a nice interview with William Klein that served as something of a cautionary tale.

Like many people, I first became aware of Klein’s work through his 1956 book, New York. (For the record, the full title is Life Is Good And Good For You In New York: Trance Witness Revels.) The photographs were made around the same time I was, and not a few of them have held up better than I have. Since then, Klein has made a variety of work in different media.

The eclectic approach has been good for Klein, and not so good for his reputation. Although he could have made a lucrative niche for himself by staying in the photographers’ ghetto, Klein didn’t enjoy a monogamous relationship with the camera.

And then there was his, ahem, attitude. His wife Janine said, “All the important people, he was never polite to them, even those he liked. Maybe to prove something ... He never played the game.”

Klein’s past seventy now, and apparently very aware that much of his work is underrated, when it’s rated at all. He cites the example of Man Ray, who he met after moving to Paris decades ago. “He was ripped off, poor guy, he should have had a career that was recognized. He was very angry toward the end. Felt he’d been ripped off, and he was right. He died without a penny to his name. A shame.”

I had no idea May Ray died penniless. I hope Klein was as wrong about that as he was when he said May Ray’s career wasn’t recognized. Nevertheless, I think I understand Klein’s feelings. It must be horrible to believe one’s achievements haven’t really been widely recognized in too many decades.

It’s at times like these that I take pleasure in my anonymity. No one’s going to hear my name in thirty years and exclaim, “David Rinehart’s still alive?!” No one, that is, except those who were at Elyse’s party last night.

14 May 2000
The Bottle in Question
Life has taught me many lessons, but perhaps none as important as this: never underestimate the educational value of cheap wine.

I received my most recent enlightenment from the juice of the grape after reading the label of a bottle of French vin de table. The wine was unremarkable (that’s vin de table, I suppose), but the label was fascinating. The alcohol content was listed as “10+2%.”

I could understand “ten plus/minus two”; I imagine it’s difficult to guarantee an exact, fixed percentage in every bottle. But ten plus two?

The formula befuddled all my learned friends. One suggested that the wine might continue to ferment after bottling, a proposal that was pooh-poohed out of hand. After all, this was vin de table. Similarly, another friend suggested that differing amounts of sediment might affect the alcohol content from bottle to bottle, but Amir similarly discounted that hypothesis: there is no sediment in industrial wine.

Amir’s observation led to the most likely explanation. The wine may be the product of an unusually honest vintner, who separated the natural alcohol content (ten percent) from the added alcohol (two percent).

The mystery of the ten plus two vin de table will probably remain unexplained. No one can find the bottle in question; it may have been a collective hallucination. (It may or not be a coincidence that ten plus two people were at the party in question.)

15 May 2000
Salmon Mouse
I opened a can of cheap salmon from Korea, and found a mouse nestled between the three small pieces of fish. The mouse was, of course, quite dead. (A mouse could not survive more than a few seconds inside a can of anything, but for some reason I felt compelled to state the obvious.)

I put the contents of the can on a plate for the lab cats’ dinner. They ate every molecule of salmon, but didn’t touch the mouse. What tongue control!

I opened another can of cheap salmon from Korea, and put the mouse-free contents in my soup. The salmon in this can was probably no more healthy and free from contaminants than was the salmon now in the cats’ bellies, but the absence of an unfortunate rodent made the fish seem more palatable.

After I finished lunch, I contemplated the dead animal. The mouse’s limp presence was unexplainable, useless, a nuisance. Life can sometimes be that way.

last transition  |  index  |   next transition

©2000 David Glenn Rinehart