IMG_7779if someone finds a copy of this at a decent price, I want!

What do kids want?


And MY Christmas shopping is done.

My little niece Deirdre already has a pretty rad aesthetic going.  Very much into this scene:


Seamus on the other hand has been having some trouble at school.  Luckily I found a book that should help.

IMG_7875This year we want to make Giuseppe really feel like part of the family.  I know he’s sometimes a high-strung kid so I got him:


Caddie and I always have fun doing a little project together over the holidays, so I got her:

IMG_7872Caddie’s crazy about the Cape Horners and Down-Easters.  Think she’ll also be into the new knits:


Ian’s my most intense nephew – the kid is like a mini-Kierkegaard.  I think he’ll be into:

IMG_7874On the other hand, I know Amy’s been kinda stressing a little lately so I picked her up:


IMG_7888Not as easy as it sounds, unfortunately.

Tim is quite mature for his age, but you don’t want to weird a kid out.  He’s been asking me a lot about Zola lately so I grabbed him:


I don’t think he’s read Nana yet, let alone got into the debates about which is the real original, but who knows.

Phil loves ancient Rome so I picked up:


Hope I am not jumping him ahead in the Testament of Man series.  I KNOW he’s finished Children of Dune but not Heretics Of Dune so duh I got him:


Ezra kind of freaks me out, actually.  He’s kind of a junior Machiavelli or something.  But, whatever, I guess you can just help him along, so I got him:

IMG_7882I just hope he directs his ambition in a healthy way.

As for Fred?  Kid needs a positive male role model in his life.



Carla in Texas writes:

Dear Helytimes, I found your blog because I have a news alert set for my hometown of Balmorhea, Texas (go Bears!).  I am a retired educator with the BISD now living the sweet life AKA retirement.  Had to write after I LOL’d about your description of Ron’s lizard & reptile show, Ron is a very sweet man an admired eccentric we all love him in our community .

Bone to PICK with you: you are way off on Vertigo.  I first saw it when I was ten and it scared the DAYLIGHTS out of me.  AS for sexy WRONG AGAIN that movie gets me horny as hell.  [TMI, Carla?]  Not Kim Novak — JAMES STEWART.  Are you kidding?  He we a bomber pilot who flew over 200 missions. [20 says wikipedia].

You are right though about Midge.

Keep writin’,


Thanks Carla, and thank you for reading.

Please address all letters for the HelyTimes mailbag to helphely at gmail dot com.

Kennedy Exaggeration

From The New Yorker blog:

In 1962, the Trillings were invited to the White House for a dinner honoring that year’s Nobel laureates. Jacqueline Kennedy, Trilling wrote, was “a hundred times more beautiful than any photograph had ever indicated”

Start reading about the Kennedys and you’ll never stop.

… the greatest thrill I had in my life was when the President’s wife, Mrs. Kennedy, addressed a corwd of about 600 people at this Michelangelo School when he was running for the senatorship against Lodge, and the gracious lady stood up before the big crowd and the Italian people, the elderly people, were there, didn’t know who she was, and when she opened her mouth and introduced herself in Italian, fluent Italian may I say, as the wife of Senator Kennedy, all pandemonium broke loose in the hall.  All the people went over and started to kiss her, and the old women spoke to her as if she was a native of the North End.

So says William DeMarco, JFK’s first campaign manager, in this oral history you can read at the Kennedy Library.  DeMarco says this happened during the campaign against Lodge, 1952.  Is his memory off?  The Kennedys didn’t get married until Sept. ’53.

Things like this come up all the time if you get deep in Kennedyana.  How could it not?  The basic facts of his life are absurd. While he was president he essentially raped a nineteen year old.  He could’ve easily died of various ailments before World War II, during which he ended up stranded on a straight-out-of-cartoon desert island:

Massive insurance but if you haven’t seen Errol Morris’ eight minute documentary The Umbrella Man do yourself a favor.

(Cartoon swiped from here)

One of my bitch older sisters

emailed me just to mock me by saying she got to go see the dinosaur footprints out in western Mass.

which I’ve NEVER SEEN.

I’m telling you: they’ve been doing shit like this to me my whole damn life.  

Vertigo Sucks

1) I like many old movies.  

Many of them* are “still” good, even though now-movies are faster louder and full of incredible innovations.

2) The cause of encouraging people to enjoy old movies is hurt when we pretend bad old movies are good. 

If you’re on the fence about old movies, and you hear about one that’s supposedly good, and then you watch it and it’s boring nonsense, you might conclude “old movies are boring and shitty.”

3) Vertigo sucks.  

It is boring to watch.  The plot is ridiculous and implausible, multiple times over.  This plot is explained in tedious, boring ways.

I absolutely concede that Vertigo might have been AMAZING when it came out in 1958, full of crazy innovations and sexiness.  This shot, say – still very cool:


As cool as the paintings on old rides at Disneyland.

4) People pretend Vertigo is good for some reason.  This is destructive.

It’s possible that these people just have different taste than me.

But I don’t think so.  That’s how much I hated Vertigo.  I believe it is either 1) old people who remember seeing Vertigo in 1958, and having their minds blown, which, fine I totally concede or 2) people who for some micro-cultural reason have bought into liking Vertigo as some kind of status indicator or something.  Possibly uncharitable, I know, but understand: I hated Vertigo.

I don’t even not like Hitchcock.  I would say Rope is 2x better than Vertigo.  Psycho is better than Vertigo.  So is North by Northwest which also doesn’t make a ton of sense.  Rear Window is way better than Vertigo.


1) I only just saw Vertigo a couple days ago, maybe I would’ve liked it more if I saw before I’d seen, say 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, and The Counselor.

3) I’m wrong all the time

But I think this is an important cause.

Vertigo was voted in first place in Sight & Sound‘s 2012 poll of the greatest films of all time, both in the crime genre and in general, displacing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane from the position it had occupied since 1962.

Ok: lists are stupid, deliberately provocative, Sight & Sound is a British magazine so maybe they are biased, and also who cares, and maybe, as Sight & Sound editor Nick James says, it might just be that critics love j. o.’ing to the idea of disguised/impersonated movie stars (paraphrasing).

The problem is that Citizen Kane is good.  I think if you’d never seen Citizen Kane tomorrow and you watched it it would still be interesting.

By hyping Vertigo to youths, we encourage them to watch a boring piece of shit, and their conclusion will be “don’t trust the fuckers who say old movies are good.”

5) Don’t believe anyone who tells you Kim Novak is “sexy” in Vertigo.

The sexy one is tragic, confused Midge.







Nice work boys.


Wilson got his start doing a survey of all the ants in Alabama.

There’s the question of, why did I pick ants, you know? Why not butterflies or whatever? And the answer is that they’re so abundant, they’re easy to find, and they’re easy to study, and they’re so interesting. They have social habits that differ from one kind of ant to the next. You know, each kind of ant has almost the equivalent of a different human culture. So each species is a wonderful object to study in itself. In fact, I honestly can’t…cannot understand why most people don’t study ants.


Plus look at the wild coolness on Bert Hölldobler:


Bert Hölldobler:



a Veteran’s Day return to form from The Met’s Artwork Of The Day.

Last owner: Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York, by 1936–died 1967

Online you can really stick your nose in it:



Extremely good old article from The New Yorker for Veterans Day too.

Helytimes: filtering the filters.

The Fields Of Athenry

One Saturday afternoon in the East Village Boyland drank a couple beers and played this song a bunch of times and wouldn’t shut up about how great it was.

There were a couple of possible responses to this and I picked the correct one which was to drink a couple beers and agree with him.


Years later I was in Ireland.  Dublin with RCK, then I rented a car and drove to Galway and points west.


On my way, I passed by signs for Athenry.


It looked boring.  I took a picture for Sean but I never showed it to him.  Why disappoint him?

IMG_0186It would not have surprised him anyway.

“Kiss her now!”

I gotta read this new book by the amazing Tyler Cowen:

In the book, you write that algorithms might urge us to go out with apparently unlikely partners—they might even guide us during our dates, monitoring our heart rates and sending us text messages like “Kiss her now!”

Maybe most of the time it won’t go very well—you’ll get rejected quickly or you’ll look like a fool—and it’ll feel wrong to us. But if that risky behavior increases your chances of connecting with the right person quickly enough, before they end up meeting someone else, it might nonetheless be good.

And there will be Luddites of a sort. “Here are all these new devices telling me what to do—but screw them; I’m a human being! I’m still going to buy bread every week and throw two-thirds of it out all the time.” It will be alienating in some ways. We won’t feel that comfortable with it. We’ll get a lot of better results, but it won’t feel like utopia.

(reminding me of: Boyle’s horrifying impression of a fourteen year old girl about to get kissed.  painting)


Most people who write about inequality write in a tone of moral outrage, and make suggestions about how we might reverse its growth. You seem to have deliberately avoided that; you’ve written about it in purely predictive terms.

I do, in numerous places, point out things we might do to make inequality problems less severe. (Mostly we’re not doing them.) But I think that to dispassionately lay out the facts is often the best first thing to do, to open up that dialogue—to step back first, and view things more analytically, and then to apply our judgments.

Vollman vs. Munro!


Robert L. Caserio, a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University who has studied Vollmann extensively, thinks Vollmann deserves a far greater audience: “When I consider Vollmann’s gigantic energy and global reach, and consider that feeble, ill-writing Alice Munro has won a Nobel Prize, I am staggered by how pathetically shrunken our standards of magnitude have become.”

from this Newsweek article about William Vollman.

A personal counterpoint to that:

  • I tried to read  Vollman, many times, because he seems brave and his projects are fascinating. (Going out of my way to be nice here even though Vollman has said he does not read the internet)
  • The Ice Shirt is interesting and ambitious (Jean and Hubbs got it for me for my birthday!) but I found that it was so wrapped up in elaborate Norse dream visions and stuff as to be unreadable (and I’m pretty into pre-Columbian North America)
  • Ditto Imperial.
  • Riding Towards Everywhere – a book about hobos, mind you – I failed to finish.

From the other corner:

  • I once read an Alice Munro story, selected truly at random from the probably full yard of Alice Munro books on the shelf at a public library in Victoria, British Columbia.  When I was done I had to wipe tears off my face with a coarse Tim Horton’s napkin.  I put the book back and was like shit that was just one I picked at random, maybe not even a good one of these, of which there are – 200?

Anyway, no accounting for taste, huge respect to Vollman, whose latest thing was dressing up like an old woman named Dolores I just think Prof. Caserio came off sounding a bit catty.

(Vollman from Wiki, Alice Munro photo from here)

(readers should know I have a possible positivity bias towards Alice M. because I won £200 betting on her, through a London intermediary, to win the Nobel Prize)

Everything is something.

IMG_7241The bartender, a friend of my cousin’s, said that the drive from Fort Davis to Balmorhea – forty miles or so – was “some of the prettiest state highway driving in all of Texas.”

Sold, obvs.


I don’t think my pictures do justice to the Wild Rose Pass.  In fact, I know they don’t.


I was distracted listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, which I’d never listened to:

I would say “Atlantic City” is my favorite song on this album.  I was never super-into Bruce Springsteen.  But: respect:

Initially, Springsteen recorded demos for the album at his home with a 4-trackcassette recorder. The demos were sparse…

Springsteen then recorded the album in a studio with the E Street Band. However, he and the producers and engineers working with him felt that a raw, haunted folk essence present on the home tapes was lacking in the band treatments, and so they ultimately decided to release the demo version as the final album.

Complications with mastering of the tapes ensued because of low recording volume, but the problem was overcome with sophisticated noise reduction techniques.

“Nebraska” itself is an interesting song, about Charlie Starkweather:

The song begins with Starkweather meeting Fugate:

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just a-twirlin’ her baton
Me and her went for a ride, sir…and 10 innocent people died

Springsteen was inspired to write the song after seeing Terrence Malick’s movie Badlands on television. The portrait in the opening lines of the girl standing on her front lawn twirling her baton was taken from the movie.

Starkweather himself was [supposedly] influenced by James Dean:

After viewing the film Rebel Without a Cause, Starkweather developed a James Dean fixation and began to groom his hairstyle and dress himself to look like Dean. Starkweather related to Dean’s rebellious screen persona, believing that he had found a kindred spirit of sorts, someone who had suffered torment similar to his own whom he could admire.

Charlie Starweather killed eleven people.  Ban movies, I guess.

Fort Davis:


From 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail …

During the Civil War,Confederate States Army troops manned the fort which was attacked on August 9, 1861 by MescaleroApaches. The native warriors attacked the garrison’s livestock herd, killed two guards and made off with about 100 horses and or cattle.

At Fort Davis they have an audio program, where they play announcements of the sort that would’ve been heard on the parade ground, years ago.  The day I was there the audio program was a list of ceremonies and salutes to acknowledge the death of former president Andrew Johnson.  Gun salutes every hour, and then at sundown.

In the reconstructed barracks, I came upon some National Park Service Personnel discussing the site, and the reproductions they’d used of guns and quilts and so forth.  They got quiet and respectful when I came in, and said if I had any questions they would answer them.  Then they got back to joking about how someday someone would sell the reproduced guns on eBay as “authentic!  from Fort Davis!”


A poignant obituary:


At lunch a guy came up to me and mistook me for Dave.  “You look just like Dave  – in profile!”


A house I saw in Balmorhea.  I sat right down in the middle of the road to take a picture of it.


In Balmorhea there’s a spring:

Between 20 million and 28 million US gallons (90,850 cubic meters) of water a day flow from the springs.

That’s crazy.

There was a sign nearby offering snorkel rental:

The cienega now serves as a habitat for endangered fish such as the Comanche Springs pupfish and Pecos gambusia as well as other aquatic life, birds and other animals.

I did not take a picture, because you can’t take a picture of everything.  But here’s one from the Texas Parks Department:


Later a friend of mine described the drive from Marfa to Austin, seven hours away.

“The first time I did it,” he said,  “I was bored because I thought it was nothing.  But then, as I got used to it, I realized everything is something.”


In Fort Davis I wanted to visit the rattlesnake and reptile museum.  I walked in, and there was no one there.  So I walked around.  A Spanish language radio station was playing.  Then, as I was leaving, I realized it cost $4.  I only had two singles or a twenty.  I debated what to do.  I left the two dollars, and figured that was good enough since no one had been there to explain the various lizards and scorpions anyway.

But then, driving out of town, I thought, “Steve, you know better.  This man went to all the trouble of collecting these snakes.  All he asks is four dollars.”  In my heart I knew it was right.  So I got change and went back.  The snake man was there this time, and he thanked me for my honesty.  He’d been watching my car the whole time, he said.