Out, Darned Spot!

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In 1807, Thomas Bowdler published The Family Shakespeare, “in which nothing is added to the original text; but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.” And no, the famous line isn’t changed to “Out, darned spot!” but rather “Out, crimson spot!” which in fact is a bit of an improvement to the original text as it makes it perfectly clear to younger people that Lady Macbeth is referring to the king’s blood.

There are two major editions of The Family Shakespeare; the first one was largely or entirely the product of Harriet Bowdler and omitted a few plays (Romeo and Juliet chief among them) entirely because they could not be thoroughly sanitized without becoming incomprehensible. It was published anonymously, because Harriet did not think it appropriate for women to have their names on a public document. For the second edition, Dr. Thomas Bowdler put his name on the book and reversed some of Harriet’s more enthusiastic changes, in addition to restoring the deleted plays. Readers who are curious about the Bowdlers and the critical response to The Family Shakespeare can read more here.

As with Rudolf Diesel, society has paid Thomas Bowdler the supreme compliment of lower-casing him; one can occasionally read that something was “bowdlerized”, meaning that it has had the offensive (or exciting) content removed. The massive changes in social norms over the past fifty years means that we’ve changed what and how we bowdlerize; today we focus more on violence than sex, where the Greatest Generation censored sex more than violence.

The newest chapter in Dr. Bowdler’s legacy, however, isn’t about sex or violence; it’s about a word.

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Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil

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I am very proud to be a Contributing Editor for Road&Track magazine today. It’s not because I’ve written our Performance Car Of The Year feature for each of the four years we’ve done it, although that is one of the things that, as Belle&Sebastian sings, they can write on my grave or when they scatter my ashes. It’s how we handled a situation that was deeply upsetting and embarrassing for all of us at R&T — and how we broke the rules of the business in doing so.

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They Say The Darkest Hour Is Right Before The Dawn

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Had to make a late-night run through some old stuff at TTAC and I came up this. It seems crazy, but just a little bit less than four years ago, many days at our (not so) little (at the time) car site had image upload panels like this.

As both a professional and an amateur storyteller, I get a little upset sometimes thinking about how many great stories are just lost to humanity because everybody involved is dead, silent, illiterate, or just plain uninterested in sharing the details. The story of Bertel’s Last Days at TTAC has the potential to be a truly memorable tale. It’s got everything — big ears! war crimes! strippers with broken teeth! crazy old dudes attacking other strippers!— but nobody who was there at the time is ready to talk just yet.

I’ve decided that I’m going to save the story, with every last juicy detail, for the day when I leave the auto-journo game, either by choice or by force. On that day, when I can’t earn a buck any more writing about cars, I’m going to open up my Franklin Planner, read all my notes, and share something that isn’t exactly the greatest story ever told — but it’s far from being the worst.

Somebody Tell Me What’s Going On Here

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No way this is for real. This broad looks like an owl. I’m concerned that this is what signals the Last Trump. No relation to Donald; the “last trump” is found in the Bible. When Revelations was translated, what they called a “trumpet” or “trump” would be more like what we call a “bugle” nowadays.

This weekend, we got three podium finishes (two thirds and a second) at the NASA Autobahn race south of Chicago. It was a fantastic, but utterly exhausting, two days. Watch this space as we resume regular service tomorrow!

Turns Out We Weren’t Stealing From Prince’s Mom After All

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Back in 1986, there were apparently quite a few people sneaking around the build site at 5622 Riverside Drive. Separated from Riverside Green by a deep thicket of uncultivated trees and shrubs, the massive new home was going up slowly but surely. Truckloads of stone, wood, and other materials arrived daily. Some of that wood was plywood. You could use it for ramps and whatnot. Your humble author, it must be admitted, participated in a small amount of Bernie-Sanders-style liberation from the capitalists, securing a half-sheet of plywood for a sloppily-constructed ramp that launched me and brother Bark into the air about fifteen times before collapsing into instant garbage.

I should point out that we weren’t normally the stealing types, but the house under construction was so far out of our experience that it seemed like it didn’t belong in reality. Who builds a massive cathedral of a home right next to a bunch of duplexes and multi-family dwellings, anyway? On the upward curve of a road where people regularly did 70+ mph, making it sheer murder to try getting in or out of the place?

Never in our various visits to the site, both thieving and merely touring, did we see a young dental student nosing around the place. But there was such a fellow…

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Don’t You Recognize A Fellow Astronaut

It’s a nasty paradox: in order to write a lot, you need to read a lot. For the even vaguely competent author, reading serves to recharge the creative batteries, said batteries then being discharged in the course of writing new material. But the more you write, the less time you have to read. Which, in turn, makes it harder to write quickly and well. Which eats up your time. Which prevents you from reading. You get the idea.

For the last two years or so, I’ve chosen to deal with this by increasing the intensity of my reading and post-reading consideration. In practical terms, that means that I’ve entirely stopped reading the auto media. I read my fellow contributors in R&T because I want to see where the magazine is going, and I’ll very occasionally re-read a magazine from twenty or thirty years ago for nostalgia purposes, but other than that — nada zip zero. Don’t ask me if I’ve read the latest whatever from Jonny “Caviar” Lieberman or Dutch Mandel or Brett Berk. I haven’t. I don’t have that kind of time, and if I had that kind of time it would be more productively spent hanging out with my son, fighting with my Pro-Spot P100, or staring at a blank wall.

This is what I do: I read the New York Review Of Books, the Atlantic, Lapham’s Quarterly, and (sssssh) Vintage Guitar. About once a month I’ll read something from the 18th or 19th C. just for the purposes of keeping that slight patina on my grammar and sentence construction. That’s about all I can manage, pathetic as it is.

I mention all of this to explain why it took a Tweet from a reader today for me to notice Pete Dushenski taking a reasonably solid crack at me almost a month ago.

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I Met A Traveller From An Antique Land

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About an hour ago, while I was playing my lunch gig, a friend of mine emailed me: ” I never knew two poets wrote identical poems in a friendly competition.” The poems, and the competition to which he refers, were inspired by a passage in a Greek history book. The better-known of the two is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias”, but the competing poem, written by Horace Smith and given the same name, is also not without merit.

With a lazy afternoon ahead of me, I thought I’d give the competition a long-past-due third entry.

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“You might say he was a gentleman thief.”

We’re big Anthony Wilson fans here at Riverside Green, or at least I am. Anthony has a new record out, entitled Frogtown. It features him singing as well as playing guitar in a variety of styles and it was produced by Mike Elizondo, who has worked with everybody from Dr. Dre to Fiona Apple. I bought the double LP and I think it’s brilliant.

The track “Arcadia”, posted above, was inspired by a fascinating tale of wine counterfeiting.

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I Guess This Product Liability Attorney’s Childhood Was Different From Mine

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I try to be simultaneously proud and critical of my Aspie tendencies, but there are times I’d give just about anything to be “neurotypical”, and those times have become considerably more frequent since I first got Internet access back in 1989. As a kid, I’d amuse myself by reading encyclopedias and the like front-to-back for no real reason. No surprise, then, that I can lose whole hours at a time following hyperlinks on the Web if I’m not careful.

Example: Last week, I decided to look for a picture of a “Battlestar Galactica” toy I’d had as a child. About forty-five minutes later, I’m reading the most fascinating-slash-disturbing lawsuit verbiage I’ve ever seen.

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“When night comes and the wind blows in over the grass you’ll come home.”

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My favorite “Internet writer”, the man known only as Delicious Tacos, lost his best friend. It was a Los Angeles death by narcissism; my right to own a pitbull doesn’t stop at your pet’s life. Intellectually I know how DT feels; I can remember crying over animals as a kid and even as an adult. I’ve had nine cats in thirty-five years. Somehow, when my son was born all my empathy for animals was switched off like an overhead bulb in a locked closet. I used to get upset just reading about abused animals. Today I could probably twist a kitten’s head off with my bare hands then have a Frosty. There’s not much room in this three-sizes-too-small heart. Something arrives, something else has to leave. But if you’ve ever slept next to me then you probably know that already.