One Year of Sweet Talking

It’s been one year since the first post went up here at Sweet Talk. For all the esoteric terrain that we’ve covered here, we’ve done amazingly well in this first year. In terms of traffic, we’re certainly doing better than my expectations, which I had thought were fairly optimistic.

But more importantly, I’ve had the privilege of blogging alongside 14 extremely smart, well read, and creative writers. All told, we’ve put in 350 posts on

Oh, and maybe a post or two about rhetoric or virtue ethics—here and there!

If I may say so, the growth of Sweet Talk is a testament to what makes us Jews so successful in general. I’m talking, of course, about guilt. My mother, though Jewish, is not a stereotypical Jewish mother, but I tapped into my roots in order to “encourage” people to post. Whenever a Sweet Talker hinted that they were relaxing and enjoying their free time, I did whatever I could to make them feel bad for not posting. The secret is to make getting invited seem like a privilege, and then to hint that I was very disappointed when the posts didn’t start coming shortly after invitation.

I think the results speak for themselves.

More seriously, the greatest accomplishment of Sweet Talk has been to bring together a group of truly incredible people. More than creating a joint outlet for us all to write on—we’ve all had blogs and other places to write here and there—connecting with one another has been very rewarding. For all of us—I hope! Outside of the virtual walls of Sweet Talk we discuss everything and anything, trading jokes and barbs. I know that if Sweet Talk becomes something that lasts—as I intend for it to be—people will come and go within this group, and individuals’ contributions will go up and down. But I’m grateful for every one of the bonds that was strengthened through the joint effort of getting this off the ground, regardless of what the future holds for anyone’s part in it. The bonds will last, either way.

I hope to bring on many more contributors this year. Many have already accepted invitations but have demonstrated a remarkable resilience against my guilting. This has also kept Sweet Talk a bit of a sausage fest, as the women who have shown an interest in writing here have shown greater prudence in prioritizing their lives over posts for which the compensation is guilting about doing yet more posts. Funny how that works.

Our hope when we set out a year ago was the create a conversational blog, where a high percentage of the posts were responding to one another. It’s hard for me to quantify it, but my gut says that perhaps as much as a third have ended up being direct or indirect responses (or reactions) to one another. And that’s pretty damn good, if I may say so. I hope we can keep it up. On a couple of fun occasions, one or two Sweet Talkers were on a tear in terms of putting out posts, and it fired up a few of the rest of us. That sense that we’re all contributing to something together, but having fun toying with different ideas in an environment where we won’t be attacked for it, is what we all wanted going on. So far, that’s what we’ve had, and I intend to do whatever I can to maintain that.

If that sounds good to you, please feel free to email me and we can talk about making you a Sweet Talker yourself! We’re always looking for more people to join in our conversation.

On Drinking Single Malt Scotch

College is a wonderful place to learn the medicinal value of fermented beverages and distilled spirits. To avoid debt, I took on a few jobs at a time, weaving them as the warp to my class schedule’s woof. One of those jobs involved some physical labor which would have made OSHA disintegrate in the heat of its own outrage, but the abuse was overlooked because we were teen-aged students needing the dollars; moreover, we enjoyed the adventure. One aspect of that job had us navigating the underground tunnels looking for leaks in the steam system. Pressurized steam is invisible, but a steam leak is usually audible. The thrill of the terror of possibly not hearing the leak was invigorating.

I went to a small religious school in Chicago, which is, I might suggest, a beer drinking town. I suppose that doesn’t make it terribly unique, but beer it was for our aching muscles and joints–also for the realization of the possibility of actual bodily harm, which youth, in its wisdom, suppresses until after the battle. The good people at the Miller Brewing Company had just introduced a fine concoction which they named “Miller Genuine Draft.” Pitchers of this golden elixir were available at an affordable price at a Madison Avenue bar which was not particular about enforcing the draconian and prohibitory drinking age laws, so we expressed our love for MGD, as it was known, by purchasing gallons of it at a time. On my twenty-first birthday, we celebrated by buying a pitcher of the more expensive Miller Brewing Company product, Leinenkugel’s Red.

Performance anxiety requires something a little stronger. My boss was a nice, rather muscular lady who enjoyed wearing coveralls and screaming unprintable epithets at us young men to ensure we were earning our pennies. At any rate, she was of Polish descent, and we were living in one of the Polish strongholds of Chicago, so I was introduced to cheap vodka, which was readily available, and I learned, through it, how to scream those same epithets with efficient effectiveness to mitigate anxiety. Continue reading “On Drinking Single Malt Scotch”

Encreasing the Dominion Through Prison Time

What makes Aaron Schock’s departure so disturbing is the almost entirely dropped kayfabe, and we all know what happens when a society drops kayfabe. I remember remarking at the time, considering his penchant for fantasy, that if I were Schock I’d sprint out of the closet, claiming as many of the letters in the acronym as I could for the sake of jury sympathy. But, no, he didn’t do that. He simply resigned, and is resigning himself to a term in prison. This will never do.

He’s practically broadcasting that the whole thing is a sham of grabbing fistfuls of money which belong in the public treasury, putting government prosecutors on hold for a couple of years, lying and obfuscating while laundering the money into numbered accounts in various offshore “banks” just before a plea deal is reached to either avoid jail altogether or to procure a minimal sentence, to keep up appearances, then emerging quietly from prison to be escorted to a deeee-luxe apartment in the Chicago skyline to party with fellow-thieves until age or decorum prevents.

The trick, of course, is putting government prosecutors on hold for a couple of years, and this is where Schock is embarrassing the whole lot of us, like Karen Hill, when she visited Henry in prison, throwing contraband into the open so that the prison guards had to do quite the two-step to keep up appearances. In a euvoluntary exchange, Aaron, one must give and take, and you have not given the sovereign his necessary encrease of dominion to earn your lifelong vacation, that is, after a quick character laundering through the prison system, where you can publicly repent. The public would have gladly returned a wink and a nod.

We need moar laws, dummy. I hope they throw away the key.

Proto-emo Has a Mid-Life Crisis

Adam Gurri and I were chatting over a recent post of his, and I found myself saying things that sounded like something an adult might say. Open in my tabs were the complete works of Tool, a Dead Milkmen song, and one from the very arcane My Dad Is Dead. Until very recently, in my mind’s eye, I was still wearing Ocean Pacific short pants and my Vans skateboarding shoes, riding the boardwalk down by one of the white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, banging on the door of a cop’s car to see if he’d harass us (those were the days), then taking off down the culvert with my friends.

This same ideology I took to college in Chicago, where it is very cold, and I learned to be very disappointed, riding the Green Line through the Cabrini Green development, thanking God for my luck in not being born there, cursing with the same mind my luck that I was only lower-middle class and not destined for the Gold Coast. Fortunately, records were being churned out at an incredible pace, reinforcing these childish notions. Tons of records. Great records. One lashes out in futility against downtown Chicago, and one is rewarded with another great Pale Saints record.

You’ll notice in the comments section a note by Virginia Postrel that this has been done before, citing 1936. Adam Gurri will reflexively cite the Gutenberg Press, and so forth. I imagine there was a similar crisis when someone invented a faster way to bake a cuneiform text. The children have children and are forced to think about childhood. The trick, of course, is to avoid repristination, that is, creating for someone else a present that is the hoped-for past. Auto-recursion, you see, will trap your children, and they will lash out in futility against the cold downtown in disappointment until they learn to lash out against you.

The occasion for this meandering post is an offhand remark made by the admirable Spivonomist about our shared worldview. He coined a lovely phrase, in application also to me, “sarcasm across the chasm.” See, in my mind’s eye, though I have been a professional for twenty years now, I have only just recently dressed myself in grown-up clothing, putting off my Vans and putting on brown or black oxfords, as the case requires, learning to listen a tad more while speaking a lot less. I said “learning.” The enraged futility can only produce so many endorphins, and I no longer associate them with happiness, just a feigned world-weariness. It’s not even real. Banging on the cop’s car door wasn’t anything in the way of genuine indignation: the records told me to do that.

Like the HAL-9000, I can tell you exactly when I became self-aware, almost to the day: it was summertime, 1986; I was 13 years old. Madonna was on the radio, and I eschewed her music (but not her body) for an obscure, angry, little frontman from Athens, GA, the great Michael Stipe of R.E.M., well before he started trying to write lyrics to be understood or even deciphered by the public. My sister took the cassette tape out and put Rainbow Brite in, and I struck her, and therein realized the freedom afforded by anger.

Alas, the wheels will grind anger out, slowly and finely, to make a flour for a delicious cosmic cake. Many who have stooped to drink from the sweet Pierian do not have the time or the money to drink deeply “enough,” whatever enough may be, considering the impossibility of being an expert at anything these days. Narrow expertises can be mastered in short order, through much tribulation, but are quickly discovered as insufficient for a career. That’s where crass politics steps in, the jostling of shoulders for a place at the trough to change the world forever, and occasionally talent prevails (does it? Everything tastes like ash nowadays), but more likely failure and disappointment will rule, and another great record will reward.

Wisdom fits in here, somewhere, not the “good judgment” wisdom, but the “I’ve suffered through this once or twice before” wisdom, the one that begins to tolerate imperfection and recalcitrance. I’ve heard that there is a wisdom that learns to distinguish between those who are imperfect and the imperfection they foist on us, in order to be able to fully love an imperfect person, but I’m nowhere near achieving that kind of zen.

YouTube has made it easier to revisit my childhood, even so far as to re-watch the television commercials which delayed the gratification of Saturday morning cartoons. Nevertheless, there remains a measure of nostalgia, and I like it. Endorphins do, indeed, flow, but they now create a lens for observation of things I might have been through a few times, at once making my sarcasm more delightful and also less-used. The wistfulness of nostalgia is gone for me, and I’m glad of it. Now nostalgia buffers that enraged futility which is so much a driver of idealism and ideology into something more useful. In my circles we say, “approaching an anxious world with a non-anxious presence,” as impossible an ideal as any, but far more self-aware of its limitations than anything that seeks to actively affect the world.

When I riffle through my record collection, I am more inclined to turn each one over individually, looking over it, and I can feel myself yield up a kind-of smile, recalling the context of acquiring that particular record, whom I was dating, the measure of fear I had toward the world–more inclined to do that than to listen to the music lest I discover that it is not as great as I believed it to be.

Happily putting on oxfords for the young people: this is the reward in being ground out slowly and finely. It goes on even after abject failure, poor lass.

The Il/legitimacy of Whacking Shillelaghs

As a red-blooded American of generations stretching to yore (yes, even to the Mayflower, doubly-so. There is even a genealogy published on the Duke surname entitled Double Cousins, relating that relationship on that boat), it makes my teeth grind to work amongst the descendants of the Loyalists who fled from the Shot Heard ‘Round the World to reside in Canada, in defiance of God’s Will for the manifestation to the world, once and for all, of the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Every Fourth of July (a.k.a., Independence Day), I am reminded by many of my close friends who are Royalists that insurrection is illegitimate, and quoting St. Paul, the Apostle to us Gentiles, sent by Christ himself, ungodly.

And so I quote the Declaration of Independence, pausing especially over each item of the list of grievances against The Tyrant, with the implied question underlying that recitation, “Are you really invoking the Holy Apostle against free people under his God to redress wrongs done by such vile and capricious tyrannical behaviour?” (One uses the English spelling in order to concede rhetorical points [a gambit, I know] toward the end of converting the ungodly; all things to all people, as The Apostle says)

It so happens that the lore of my family includes an explanation for the surname: when the Plantagenets were displaced from their rightful claim to the English throne, my ancestors were likewise disenfranchised of their ancestral lands and exiled. Therefore they took the surname Duke in defiance of the usurper Tudors, murderers and rapscallions all. We fought against the horrible consequences of this regicide, that is, the onset of the House of Hanover, invited to the throne because the Tudors had failed in its kingship so miserably for so long, blaspheming God by invoking His name in laying claim to Divine Right, even more so when they abandoned the One True and Holy Catholic Faith for the expediency of adultery (and other crimes against nature), even while eschewing the important reforms demanded by Luther and his followers.

Thus we fought, in the body of Charles Duke, against George III, under the Fleur-de-lis of the Catholic King of France. For which valor we were rewarded by the Constitutional Congress of the United States with lands stretching from Virginia around the Appalachian Mountains into Western Georgia, which we held, as its merchant pioneers until Sherman’s March to the Sea, when we were again disenfranchised, this time for our sins against humanity (which crime I am ashamed to name here).

Therefore, I have an affinity for the Irish, especially with regard to their identity as ever-pugilistic resisters of the English throne. The House of Hanover merely continued the vice of the House of Tudor, which is conscription of its subjects to fight its unjust and tyrannical wars against the free peoples of the earth. My best pals in the Buffalo region are a group of Irish fellas who play Irish folk music with traditional instruments as the band Crikwater. After listening to some of the more rebellious bardic offerings, and fueled with the delicious elixir made by the good folks at Guinness, one is overcome by the desire to reclaim lost ancestral lands by any means necessary.

When that day comes wherein the Plantagenets are restored to the throne of England and my ancestral lands are restored to me, along with my titles and all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, I will reconsider the benefits of monarchy. Until that day, I will, every Fourth of July, aim my bottle rockets (which are illegal in New York State) across the Niagara River at the statue of General Brock (who was killed by a plucky bunch of American drunks who were bored one chilly morning), firing them at his memory and in defiance of the usurper Queen of England.

Some Seeds Planted Never Bear Fruit

It is the 25th anniversary of the release of Reading, Writing And Arithmetic by The Sundays, one of my favorite records (absence of the Oxford Comma notwithstanding). I will not make the case that it is one of the greatest records ever produced because I am well-aware that I was a tender lad of seventeen years when the record was released, and I had just met a very fair lass who was very tall and lithe and had very straight brown hair. She was also the premier DJ at the local teen dance club, where I was not allowed to go because the roads were too icy but she liked me anyway and we started dating and working together at the YWCA, and oh!

Records were still awesome in 1990, just before digital storage swallowed analog whole, with music still designed and produced for two sides, five songs a side, maybe a sixth on side 2 (I preferred side 2 to side B because B-sides were for singles, and I had consciously rejected pop music for the haute couture of LPs). When I spied the curious black and white cover featuring what looked to be fossils, with the simple print “The Sundays” on it, I bought it, put it on my turntable, and began to participate in the baring of a young woman’s soul for the very first time.

David Gavurin’s austere arpeggio-style guitar accompaniment is reminiscent of early R.E.M. records, but the tones he chooses are a mellow medium for Harriet Wheeler’s pen and ink vocal stylings, which wander up and down, in and out, lighting and darkening things of the female spirit beforehand unknown to me, and it was just in time for help in understanding this fragile little girl whom everyone loved and bounced around and wanted to play their favorite dance song. She’d oblige if it was Throwing Muses or Pet Shop Boys, or, later, Cocteau Twins. You know, all the greats. Yes, I bought all those records, and they are beautiful to me because of her.

I was raised steeped in the ideology that men and women were, except for obvious biological characteristics, indistinguishable in attributes. It was taught to me in school (I swear this is true and not a metaphor) that the differences in the times of the 100-meter dash between men and women were a correlating measurement to the oppression of women. For example, a nation’s women who ran the 100-meter dash one second slower than their men were living in a nation less oppressive than a nation’s women who ran the 100-meter dash two seconds slower than their men. Soon, and very soon, all oppression would be overcome, and women and men would run the 100-meter dash together (cf. G.I. Jane).

To hear Harriet Wheeler plaintively ask me if I know that desire is a terrible thing, the worst she can find, but she relies on hers, framing it as a particularly female experience with “I kicked a boy till he cried,” was liberating. To hear it supported by a man accompanying so attentively was inspiring. This thing men and women have is mostly inexpressible, passionate, wild, and unbridled, which means that we create pain in our midst, and the pain wants expression, adding another layer to the inexpressible fires, till she climaxes.

The thing about vinyl records on a turntable is the ending. “Joy,” right after “My Finest Hour,” is followed by a moment of that wonderful vinyl sound, which is almost indescribable, then a bump, the mechanical wizardry engaging the gears of the turntable, lifting the needle from the turntable to return whence it came, heard aurally through the same speakers as were, moments ago, the rhythms of her joy, surrounding us in warm, vibrant tones. It is a much more satisfying denouement following our climaxing with her in joy than the clanking of a CD changer within a metal box over there on the shelf or the strict digital silence of file storage devices.

Reading, Writing And Arithmetic achieves climax. Unfortunately, the following productions, although good, do not bear the fruit hoped for by the planting of this first record. Who knows why? Sometimes seeds planted do not bear fruit, no matter how magical they are.


What João Knows

João have you heard about the new theory coming out of Prussia by that Copernicus guy?”

Teixeira, you spend too much time with your head in the clouds, why do you worry about these things?”

“João he says that we have been thinking about the earth and the sun all wrong, that actually it is the sun that is the fulcrum of the universe, and that all the planets and the stars revolve around it.”

“Teixeira, let me put your mind at ease. Think about this astrolabe. No matter where you are, you can just look into the sky, find the angle of that planet there, then go to this almanac and figure out exactly how far north or south you are. I can tell you right now that we are exactly three hundred miles south of Salamanca, right on line for Lisbon. Every one of the calculations in that almanac was done knowing that the earth was the fulcrum of the universe, and that the sun and all the planets orbit around it.

The that’s how you know it is the truth. It just works, every time, whether you believe in it or not”