Hard old caliche

She buried him the next morning.
Digging in that hard old caliche.

What you got ain’t nothin’ new.
This country is hard on people.
You can’t stop what’s coming.
It ain’t all waitin’ on you.

That’s vanity.

— from “No Country for Old Men” (2007)
. . . . . . .


Garry Shandling is still alive

Judd Apatow announced on Twitter that he’s working on a documentary about the life and work of the late Garry Shandling. I’m happy about this, and I hope Apatow makes a great movie. Garry Shandling was a uniquely talented writer and comedian. He always made me laugh and think, and he deserves every accolade Apatow might bestow upon him, in telling his story.

Of course there already is a great documentary about Garry Shandling. It’s called “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive,” and it was made by Jerry Seinfeld. It also happens to be Season 7, Episode 4 of the web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” posted January 20, 2016, two months before Shandling died in Los Angeles, at the age of 66.

I rewatched “Garry Shandling Is Still Alive” not long after reading the news of Shandling’s death. I was convinced then, as I am now, that the episode was a farewell, and Seinfeld and Shandling knew it when they made the show. The result is a lovely, funny, touching 20-minute film which should be viewed by anyone interested in the great American comedy produced in New York and L.A., in the 1980s and 1990s.

. . .

At the beginning of the episode, when Shandling first greets Seinfeld, Garry hugs Jerry and blurts out that he loves him. Seinfeld, rigid and unemotional, seems surprised by what Shandling says and does. When I first watched the show, I thought Seinfeld left that part in because it’s somewhat funny – Seinfeld’s stiffness, I mean. But a viewer must really be paying attention in order to notice Seinfeld’s reaction to the embrace (his face is barely visible).

I think it may have been left in for another reason: Seinfeld knew Shandling wasn’t well. After all the two men go out of their way to explain Shandling’s poor appearance. It’s an undiagnosed hyper parathyroid gland, Garry says, and the symptoms mirror the symptoms of being an older Jewish man. Puffiness, lethargy, wanting a divorce even though you’re not married. Pretty funny.

The episode meanwhile nimbly presents Garry’s biography: electrical engineering major at the University of Arizona, writing for “Sanford and Son,” starting his stand-up career at The Comedy Store in L.A., first appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and the creation of “The Larry Sanders Show.” Garry and Jerry visit their old haunts, including the TV production lot where they both worked, at the same time, in the 90s. “We used to run this town,” Seinfeld says, as they leave a studio building.

There is a genuine, loving warmth that pervades the entire episode, but it goes deeper than that. At one point Seinfeld, in a rare moment of self-pity, talks about the comedian David Brenner’s death and laments the loss of all the material Brenner spent years working on. Life and comedy, you see, are painfully ephemeral. In response Shandling tries to explain, in his best Buddhist manner, the value of their common vocation. “That material, and your material, is purely a vehicle for you to express your spirit. And your soul. And your being. And that’s why you’re fantastic.”

But Seinfeld isn’t buying it. “So, it doesn’t have any value beyond that?”

Shandling is incredulous. He sarcastically agrees with Seinfeld. Yes, he says. “It doesn’t have any value. Beyond you expressing yourself spiritually – in a very soulful, spiritual way. It’s why you’re on the planet! God, open up the sunroof! What year is this?” It’s another very funny exchange and an interesting moment, because Jerry wanted and, I think, needed Shandling to convince him of this.

. . .

Seinfeld rightly abhors sentimentality in his work. What might have appeared as nostalgia the first time I saw “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive” is really, I think, an attempt by Seinfeld to put Shandling’s career in context. The title of the episode is a play on Garry’s trademarked kvetching, but it was also given that title out of a sense of defiance perhaps, and with an irony that is apparent only now.

Seinfeld’s documentary is a proper valedictory, one friend to another, one great performer to another, and thankfully we all get to see it.

. . . . . . .

Madrid at dusk


I found the above photograph on my hard drive today. I took it in Madrid—maybe three or four years ago. Vague recollections: I was at a cocktail party and there was a balcony with a great view of the city; on that evening, a fantastic sky at dusk. I recall spending a lot of time outside, in the company of others, but looking mostly toward the horizon and at the traffic circle below. And, apparently, taking pictures. I didn’t remember the photos. Yet I know for certain I took them.

My memories of the city of Madrid are equally fuzzy. I’ve been to the Spanish capital twice —a decade or so apart. It has a quality that is hard to pinpoint. For me Madrid is like Chicago: a big, important city which is also small and a little boring. There are, however, Madrid memories I’ve retained for safekeeping: seeing for the first time Goya’s “The Dog” at Museo del Prado, exploring the exterior and interior of Atocha Station, and visiting—north of the city—the wondrous El Escorial, where deep inside, in golden sepulchers, are the remains of centuries of Spanish royalty.


Tiempo de vida

Marcos Giralt Torrente’s memoir Tiempo de vida won the Spanish National Book Award in 2010. It was published in English this fall by Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton Books. The translator is Natasha Wimmer.

I reviewed the book for The Los Angeles Review of Books (2014-12-07):

AFTER HIS FATHER’S DEATH in 2007, Marcos Giralt Torrente read sundry memoirs “for inspiration,” as he prepared to write Tiempo de vida, his award-winning book about personal loss and the final years of Juan Giralt’s life. His writing had stalled and he’d failed repeatedly to come up with new ideas. “I finally accepted that all I could write about was my father,” he states in the book’s opening section. That’s a common sentiment from memoirists who publish accounts of the deaths of loved ones. But Giralt Torrente was conflicted about how to go about his task.

The full review is here.

Blogger, podcaster, carburetor

At the beginning of his very first podcast new podcaster John Lurie talks about the word podcast — a portmanteau of pod (as in Apple’s iPod) and broadcast.

“So here I am,” Lurie says, “I’m not on the radio. I’m not on the TV. I’m on a podcast. Which I think is a terrible word. Podcast. PAHD-cast. And even if I quit right now and walk out of this room, I will have been a PAHD-caster. My record will say…I have been a PAHD-caster. There’s got to be a better word. ”

Of course he’s right. I might say the same of blogger-ing (blogging, I know). “So here I am. I’m not in a magazine. I’m not in an online publication. Even if I quit right now and walk out of this garret, I will have been a BLAH-ger. My record will say…I have been a blogger.”

Technological advances have added a lot of words to English (and all languages), and most of these have a mechanical, automotive quality. At least that’s how I hear them.

Blogger, podcaster, carburetor.

Tweep, crowdsource, radiator

Hashtag, alternator.


I’m leasing a 2015 Hyundai Phablet.

There have got to be better words.


Alienation is for everybody


While searching for something else I stumbled upon an essay* Thomas Merton wrote in 1968, and this quote. It still applies today – only a thousandfold:

“Modern literature is by and large a literature of alienation, not only because we are painfully living through the collapse of a culture but because today we have more culture and more civilization than we know what to do with. There are not only the simple, beautiful, wild, honest ceremonial masks once affected but the Kwakiutl Indians…but today we smother under an overproduction of masks and myths and personae. We all have to try to be fifty different people. We all can refuse some of the more absurd and unacceptable roles, but not many can refuse as much as they would like to, and no one can refuse them all.”

Later on Merton states:

“The culture built on death: the convergence of affluence and death wish, the root of our tragedy.”


*The title of the essay is “Why alienation is for everybody.”

Add to shopping cart


I’m writing something (to be published here shortly) and it brought to mind these words from Richard Rodriquez. I remember reading them in Harper’s Magazine, and telling a friend that they could stand as the Quote of the Decade (if there were such a thing) for the Aughts:

“So what is lost? Only bricks and mortar. (The contemptuous reply.) Cities are bricks and mortar. Cities are bricks and mortar and bodies…Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it, too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a cafe table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the ‘New Establishment’ issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London; they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want five-star bricks and mortar and do not disturb signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (add to shopping cart), they will do it.”