Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Everyday I Have the Blues #10
Monday, September 29, must have been an extraordinary day at The Times, what with the bailout package collapsing and stock markets swooning. Just look at the lead story on the first page of Tuesday’s Business Day, “The Banking Crisis Trickles Up,” and let your eye travel down until it stops just above the fold. There you will see HEAD W. SANDWICHKICKER TAG, underneath which are two lines of what we call in the business Greeked type. Oops. Of all the things they hate in the newsroom, a big goof in a headline or caption is right up there at the top of the list. Maybe it was corrected in a later edition. I hope so.

But that’s not what gave me the blues. It was a story in SportsTuesday about Charles “Chongo” Tucker, a rock climber who lived in Yosemite Park: “His Roof Is the Sky” by Michael Brick. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I rarely read a sports story. It’s not a very Addison thing to do. This story piqued my interest, though, and I read it from beginning to end, stopping only to puzzle over two sentences.

The first was this one, on the first page: “Rumors of his whereabouts began to trade around the big rocks and rope-walking fixtures of the Western states.” Huh? Rumors traded? “Hold on a doggone minute, Mr. Brick,” I said to myself. “Rumors are not independent actors, no matter how much you may want them to be, and they’re not traveling around the West on their own.” The sentence reads as if he wanted to construct it without any people, who would be the ones trading rumors as they climbed the rocks. Why he’d want to do that I haven’t a clue but it didn’t work for me.

On the next page, Mr. Brick tries to strike another literary note in describing Chongo: “Leathery skin, knowing eyes and a dilettante’s smile gave him the cabalistic twinkle of a movie pirate.” Leaving aside the dilettante’s smile, which I still have trouble imagining, I was baffled by the cabalistic twinkle. If the second meaning of “cabala,” according to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “a traditional, esoteric, occult, or secret matter,” then is a cabalistic twinkle “a way of looking at someone that implies possession of esoteric or occult knowledge,” a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean? It could be but just what was twinkling? His whole face? Just his eyes? If they’re already knowing how are they radiating cabalistic knowledge at the same time?

It’s a pity no one had the time to wrestle his meaning out of Mr. Brick when the story was being edited. Except for those two clunkers it’s a good story.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Everyday I Have the Blues #9

Last week, The Times published an obituary of Norman Whitfield, the Motown Records songwriter and producer. As a dedicated follower of obits and a fan of Motown’s golden era, I read it with great interest until the last sentence in this paragraph stopped me cold.
For all his renown as a composer, Mr. Whitfield was even more prominent as a producer and arranger. He was known especially for his work with the Temptations; he produced many of their recordings for Motown, including the album “Cloud Nine,” whose title track earned the group a Grammy in 1969. He also helped usher in the era of psychedelic soul, producing the work of artists like Edwin Starr and the Undisputed Truth.
Look at the name of the second artist. If the group’s name is Undisputed Truth, then that is what it should be called. If the group called itself The Undisputed Truth, then “the” should be capitalized, the same way The New York Times styles its own name. Sheesh.

NOTE: And the same thing goes for The Temptations.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Everyday I Have the Blues #8

David Pogue had me awfully confused today. In his State of the Art column, “Nontechies, This One's For You,” he threw what looks like a comma splice into his review of the Peek.
The power cord ends in a micro U.S.B. connector, alas, you can’t recharge the Peek from a computer, as you can with a BlackBerry or an iPod.
I had to read that pesky sentence two or three times and I still don’t know why he didn’t either put a semicolon after “connector” or just split the darn thing into two sentences. If anyone can explain what he was doing there I’d love to hear it.
“Nontechies, This One's For You,” by David Pogue. Page C1, The New York Times, September 11, 2008.

NOTE: Read the comment for David Pogue’s response.