Friday, November 30, 2012
I love Esquire magazine. No, that’s not accurate. I despise and am in awe of Esquire magazine, which is full of clothes and men’s jewelry I neither want nor can afford, and unavailable plasticky women barely out of their teens. I am amazed by the fact that Esquire has been peddling The Great American Fantasy (TGAF) for 80 years and is still successfully doing so with a publication that is two-thirds ads and one-third cotton candy lite.
TGAF is alive and well and, I suspect, hasn’t changed that much since 1932, when Esquire first was published. There are other mags, of course, which pander to the American Fantasy. Playboy did, for decades, and when the going got more graphic, liberated and free of three-syllable words, so did Penthouse and Hustler.
For the more constructive among us, The Fantasy might be a backyard gazebo or a motorized bicycle. I remember once subscribing to Popular Mechanics only because it promised an article on building your own sport car from junkyard parts. I don’t know if anyone actually built one of these hot-rods, but my friend Kevin and I did spring $20 for a set of detailed PM blueprints of a one-man hydroplane. We built it out of two-by-fours and marine plywood, painted it blue and white and bolted 40 horsepower Johnson outboard to its rear. We ran it and it was scary fast, skimming the water like a dragonfly. We totaled it when the throttle got stuck and it flew from water to land and hit a tree. Really. I had to bail out of the boat (we’d named it, appropriately, Insh’ Allah) and in the process lost my glasses, which made the 90-mile drive back from the Chesapeake Bay almost as hazardous as the boat ride.
There’s a plethora of car mags with the million dollar Bugattis; hunting and fishing mags with thirty-pound muskies and 20-point bucks shot with home-made blowguns; home decorating mags with professionally shot photos that will never approximate a reader’s home; health mags with buff and oiled bodies that have never tasted meat; travel mags that encourage visits to African war zones; impossibly-rich-people mags…
And then there’s The New Yorker, in a class of its own. I give The New Yorker subscriptions to a very select few folks whom I care for deeply.
Most magazines have a voice to promote the fantasy.
Home and travel magazines gush. You are there with them, amazed at the sights before you, be it a top-of-the-line Bertozzoni convection oven or the coast of
Do-it-yourself mags have a homey quality. We’re all guys figuring out how to wire the new garage door while having a few beers.
Esquire is smart-alecky, read-this-and-you-too-might-verge-on-cool. But really, deep down, it’s pretty much worthless.
The New Yorker promises a different fantasy: erudition. Read these articles and you will not only be
Gotham cool (which is way better than Esquire cool) and in the know, you’ll be
privy to information seldom disseminated. The cartoons are for urbane folks who
get it, whatever the it may be. The teeny tiny print of the Events columns
reinforces our belief that we’re being invited to a very special soirée, an
event restricted to important people, readers like us.
If I had unlimited time and money, I would subscribe to hundreds of magazines. I would learn to keep bees and turn a lathe. I would get welding tips, build specialized bat-houses, sail wooden boats, and search for sunken treasure. I’d play my guitar a lort better and recreate Van Halen licks while cooking a turducken. I might—and this bears further thought—want to work for a magazine about magazines.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
For decades prior to his death last year, Art Buchwald's column Explaining Thanksgiving to the French ran in The Washington Post on Thanksgiving Day. I am told the Post is not running it this year, so I will.
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World (le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians (les Peaux-Rouges) and eat turkey (dinde) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing thePelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn (mais). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez très vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui êtes pain comme un etudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable a etre emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'étonnement et la tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres?Pourquoi ne vient-il pas auprès de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fête and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
Monday, November 19, 2012
So there was this Hotmail account I opened a while back and forgot about. Not unusual; at the time, my regular account was on the fritz and so for a week or two I was using the new one, then when the old one started working again, I promptly forgot my Hotmail presence.
I checked it this morning, and there were 472 messages which I assume means I am a popular guy, a fact originally ascertained in an earlier blog about me and Google. What amazed me about the messages was their wonderful variety, and the fact that some people out there really do care about me and my well-being. Why else would they encourage me to:
- Sign on to SeniorPeople Meet.com (which I find a tad insulting)
- Sign on to JDate.com, though I’m not Jewish
- Sign on to Christian Mingle, which sounds a little bit risqué
- Sign on to Asian dating and for all I know, Senior Aging dating
- Sign on to a couple of other services that promise nights of delight with women who live in my very own neighborhood and are invariably blonde and a third my age.
- A free fifth tire if I bought a set of four
- An amazing array of printer supplies—paper, cartridges, cables and wireless thingies
- An almost free education at the University of Phoenix (I like the symbolism. The phoenix [me] rising from my own intellect-free ashes)
- And also from Florida Tech University, an online concern that promises me a raise, which I could well use
- A staggering array—and I mean thousands—of free coupons.
- A membership to Curves, even though I’m a guy and I don’t think they’d let me through the doors.
Cure diabetes, psoriasis, high blood pressure, athletes’ foot, toenail fungus, halitosis, bad eyesight, poor hearing, hair loss, acne, impotence, and drooping breasts. Really. Without surgery or exercise…
- Start melting my fat away with raspberry ketone, or even better
- Blast it away with foods that kill fat, or perhaps
- Romance it away with saffron, who is either a spice or a girl. And finally, I can
- Buy a sort of male girdle which, when I put it on, will obviate the need to blast or melt anything at all. Nothing against saffron, but being a pacifist at heart, I think I like that option best.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. I have not yet availed myself of this wealth of products and information, but I’m pretty sure I will in the near future. So keep those messages coming, folks. Don’t know what I’d do without you…
Monday, November 12, 2012
My parents died decades ago. They were good people who’d both fought in the Big One, and when they came to America, the country was still a land of welcome, wonders and innovations. They left Europe behind, abandoned the sooty streets and grey buildings of Paris to find a yellow clapboard house in the suburbs, with a yard and a driveway and an outbuilding for the garden tools and mower that my mother—being a city girl—did not know how to use until she was shown. They spent a bit more than 25 years here, became citizens who voted and appreciated what the land had to offer, and then they returned to France with what I think was a sigh of relief. Not that there was anything wrong with the States—there wasn’t—but they were French to the core and wanted to be in Paris where as newlyweds they were improbable radio stars, the main characters of the GI John et Janine show, where Janine saved the day and GI John, a not overly bright American soldier, basked in the love of his wily French wife.
We all anticipate our parents’ death, but when it comes and make orphans of us, it’s never quite what we expect. My mother died in 1992 at the American Hospital in Paris where some 46 years earlier, she’d given birth to me. My father died in the States four years later. He never fully got over his wife’s passing.
I always thought somehow one or both would send me a sign from Over There, but they never have. In fact, their total silence is almost disturbing. Almost everyone I know who has lost parents has told me that at some time they felt the parents’ presence nearby, reassuring in times of sadness or stress. Some have said the presence was almost physical; they were touched or kissed or hugged by long-gone family members, and were never quite the same afterwards. Call it a spiritual experience, or a miraculous moment if you believe in such.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was certain one or the other would come to advise and reassure. After all, they both went through it too—my mother died from hers, my father recovered from his—and they must have had words of wisdom ready to go. My father was stoical about his diagnosis when he was in his early 50s. He had weathered a war; people had shot at him and he had shot back and I always had the impression he would be ready to go at any time. My mom panicked over his illness but bore her own with amazing courage. She was playing bridge with her cronies up to the end, never letting on that she was in frightful pain. In fact, I’m not sure she ever told my father the full extent of her illness, or that she’d been diagnosed with liver cancer, a killing version of the disease. Though she knew her death was impending, for good or for ill she opted stay silent almost until the end.
But no. There’s been nothing, not a word or touch or breath, not even an intimation that there may be something out there. I guess that 21 years ago when I spread my mother’s ashes on the green grasses of the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and followed the same ritual for my father years later, well, that was it. Whoever and whatever they were was subsumed by the greater universe. Whatever individualities existed simply ceased to.
That’s strange to me. I’m not religious but I’d like to think something—other than the fading memories of us that are held by others—remains after our death. And maybe it does and I simply haven’t been privy to it. Whatever. I suppose if they’re up there and want to get in touch, they know where I am better than I know where they are….
Thursday, November 8, 2012
I’ll try to be modest about this, but, well, humility be damned, the fact is I have about 40 pages of Google devoted to my humble self. I didn’t even know I was this famous. It comes as a total surprise, and unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I thought I’d say a few words…
First and foremost, a big shout-out to the Google elves who labored through the seasons to gather this wealth of information about me. Thank you, elves. I am unworthy. I don’t know how you found out about the interview I gave following the Algonkian Writer Conference held in 2004, and why the interview is posted more than eight times. Perhaps you thought I voiced some truly meaningful things, but I think it more likely that the redundancy elf may have taken time off that day.
There’s the standard stuff listed—books published and for sale on Amazon for a penny plus shipping; a couple of Washington Post stories from the last millennium; some World Bank documents from the decade I spent there; and a review I wrote of a cheaply made slide guitar. There’s where I live, and since I am a member of a couple of car clubs, what I drive.
I was fascinated by the entry titled Meaning of Thierry Sagnier if only because this is something I have spent months, no, years, trying to figure out. Imagine my excitement as I clicked the site—someone had done their research on the meaning of me—and my subsequent disappointment at the tag: No Results. Does this mean Google has decided there is no meaning to my life? And how did Google know I’ve felt this way from time to time? Does this mean my occasional feelings of less-than are vindicated?
I also discovered I am a supplier of manufactured precast concrete products in Sarasota, Florida. This took me by surprise. I have a vague inkling as to what precast concrete is, but it’s obvious I have been leading a double life, unbeknownst even to myself, messing around with cement and other hard substances.
I was pleased to see my European heritage was represented. There are numerous entries in French, and some, I am sad to say, lead to impostors. Gonzales Sagnier Thierry lives in La Rochelle, a port city in France, and appears to be an attorney. Another Thierry Sagnier lives in Aubagne. He is 39 and seems to be in much better shape than me, but I have a lot more hair. My most surprising find was a porn site with revealing shots of actresses Melanie Thierry and Ludivine Sagnier. I was not featured.
I really didn’t count the entries, but I estimate that, at ten per page and some 40 Google pages, there are approximately 400 of them. That’s downright scary since I am unable to conceive of 400 interesting things about myself.
As much as I appreciate my blogs being mentioned and disseminated, I’m beginning to wonder what’s next. Google, I know, is trying to gather as much information as possible on every one of its users. We—Googlers—individually and together are a multi-million dollar database. I know that, using Google Map, I can check on whether my car is indeed in my driveway. I suppose that within a year or two, I should be able to see whether I left the stove on or forgot to turn off the shower.
In a way, I suppose, we have come full circle, back to the villages or neighborhoods of our ancestors, where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and there was very little privacy to be had. Now, it’s on a worldwide basis.
I’m not sure this is good. I am toying with the idea of creating an alternate personality and seeing how quickly Google can catch on. I have a feeling the elves aren’t quite as smart as they think they are.