Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ruby Tuesday

Or, Songs in the Key of Ruby, Part Deux: Dream on Me Edition

Last week, we launched a series of posts aimed at "exploring the colorful cultural heritage of the new dog in Roxie's World, the adorable Ms. Ruby, whose name, with its sassy, slutty connotations, has figured into many a crooner's tune. Really -- Lots of them!"

Today, we offer the second installment in the series with a smackdown between the glorious Ray Charles and the (to us) obscure Uncle Walt's Band on the mellifluous "Ruby," the theme from a 1952 film, Ruby Gentry, starring Charlton Heston and Jennifer Jones. The song was composed by Heinz Roemheld, with lyrics by Mitchell Parish. It's a dreamy, haunting sort of song that makes you want to take a pretty woman by the hand and lead her out onto the dance floor for some suave cheek-to-cheek action while a tuxedo-clad waiter brings a couple of fresh dry martinis to your little round table. That is definitely the vibe conjured by Charles' smooth-as-silk version:

Uncle Walt's Band plays it a little more down-homey, but their take on the song is also easy on the ears. It'll make you want to take a pretty woman by the hand and lead her out onto the dance floor while some dude in a tee-shirt brings a couple of longnecks and some fresh peanuts to your table:

Which do you prefer, music lovers? And what are your all-time favorite songs or other pop-cultural tributes to critters named Ruby? It's the first day of summer school, and the new kid in Roxie's World has a lot to learn. Help us teach the young dog some new tricks about herself!

(Many thanks to the devoted but previously unknown reader who de-lurked to send us the Uncle Walt's Band version of "Ruby." We appreciate your dedication and your musical taste. And the Texans among us are delighted to discover a hippy band that recorded a live album at Austin's fabulous Waterloo Ice House. Thanks for reading -- and writing!)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Act Your Age

Lede of the Day: She is 74 years old, and she is ripped.

Photo of the Day (Or, Visual Proof that the Lede of the Day Is Fully Justified):

(Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph, Washington Post. Wa Po caption: [Ernestine] Shepherd instructs a body-building class in Baltimore. 5/29/11. Full photo gallery here.)

Tomorrow's Wa Po magazine has a cluster of features on women and aging, including DeNeen Brown's profile of Ernestine Shepherd, who was a self-described couch potato into her mid-50s, when she and her late sister Mildred started working out together in response to weight gain. Twenty years later, Shepherd holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest female bodybuilder in the world and tells classes full of huffing and puffing students decades younger than she is that, "Age is nothing but a number." Point taken, girlfriend.

Read the story before you tuck into that vat of Memorial Day potato salad you're planning to devour this weekend. It's mostly feel-good, female-affirmational stuff, but a) what's wrong with that? and b) the story also has the poignant subtext of the relationship between the two sisters. Of the other pieces in the cluster, the commentaries on aging while female by four women of different ages (the youngest being 33) are a little too full of lines like "Groomed eyebrows are an absolute key" to be worth our time, but, hey, wevs, wimmin. Naomi Wolf weighs in with an essay aimed at demolishing the myth that women experience aging as a process of existential loss tied to changes in physical appearance by asserting that she and the women she admires are doing just fine and the men in her social set who bring much younger trophy chicks to dinner parties are looked upon with pity rather than envy these days. 'K, Naomi, thanks for clearing that up for us.

Ernestine Shepherd, we do hereby declare you our Feisty Old Broad of the Holiday Weekend. Thank you for your chiseled abs and your sweaty persistence and your dedication to the dream you shared with your beloved sister. Long may you run -- and lift and squat and sculpt and teach. PAWS UP to you from the hard-working, lifestyle-adjusting middle-aged broads of Roxie's World.

(Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph, Washington Post. Wa Po caption: [Ernestine Shepherd] runs at least 10 miles every day in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore.)

Peace out, darlings. Wherever you go and whatever you do, may the official start of your summer be sun-drenched and pleasure-filled.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Songs in the Key of Ruby

Grades are in. Let's dance!

To honor the official conclusion of the Semester That Would Not Die (and Is, In Some Tedious Yet Important Respects, Still. Not. Over), we do hereby inaugurate a new series dedicated to exploring the colorful cultural heritage of the new dog in Roxie's World, the adorable Ms. Ruby, whose name, with its sassy, slutty connotations, has figured into many a crooner's tune. Really -- Lots of them! We'll make our way through as many as we can before, you know, we forget we launched the project and turn to our usual summer subjects of food, movies, and travel.

"Rock 'n Roll Ruby" is a little ditty written by Mr. Johnny Cash in 1955 and recorded by Warren Smith in 1956. (Read the story about Cash handing the song off to Smith and the band, The Snearly Ranch Boys, at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, AR, here.) We especially like this song because in this instance Ruby is not a slut or a siren but the source of a prodigious energy that captivates the crowd in the juke joint and "satisfies [the] soul" of her male companion. She can't not dance, and once she starts her joyous rockin', we scream for more as a way of tapping into those vital energies in our own uptight selves. Ah, sweet Ruby, how my soul needs what you reach in me!

We'll pause here for 2:54 to give you a chance to brighten up your Tuesday morning with some toe-tapping rockabilly fun. Ready? Set? Click!

Groovy, yes? For purposes of comparison, take a listen to Cash's stripped down, country version, which we also quite like:

Rock out, little darlings, and, whatever you've got to do today, here's hoping it satisfies your soul.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Please Don't Settle for Happiness"

Please don't settle for happiness. It's not good enough, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison said in her remarks to graduates this past Saturday at Rutgers University (graduate alma mater of both the English profs of Roxie's World, btw). “Of course you deserve it," she went on to explain, "but if that’s all you have in mind -- happiness -- I want to suggest to you that personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice -- that’s more than a barren life. It’s a trivial one.”

Commencement will finally be held tomorrow at QTU. We have no idea who the speaker is (oh, this guy -- are you fricking kidding me?), but we pass along Morrison's words, so much wiser than the usual graduation folderol, especially for those among our less aged readers who are about to be unleashed upon the world with their undergraduate degrees. Bless you, darlings. Go forth and do good. We are so very sorry that the world awaiting you is such an utter mess and that your prospects for gainful employment in it are so disturbingly remote, but Morrison is right: The journey will go better for you if see it as a pursuit of meaningfulness -- or of integrity or truth, the other alternatives Morrison suggests to Jefferson's emphasis on happiness -- rather than as the pursuit of something as banal and self-centered as happiness. (Morrison's critique of Jefferson's inclusion of the "pursuit of happiness" among the inalienable rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence begins at 4:28 in the video of her address at Rutgers.)

Think about it. Do you think the waves of pro-democracy activism that have swept across the Arab world in recent months were sparked by a desire for happiness? Similarly, do you think the brave Freedom Riders who put their lives on the line fifty years ago this spring to integrate buses and trains deep in the American south did so to support the cause of happiness? (Follow that Freedom Riders link and watch that new PBS doc. It's riveting.)

We are by no means opposed to happiness, and we are pretty sure Toni Morrison isn't either. Still, we've got a hunch that happiness should be a by-product or a consequence of the pursuit of those other, loftier ideals and not the object of the pursuit itself. If you are searching for meaningfulness -- in your work, your relationships, your way of moving through the world -- then we suspect you will end up feeling happy, at least most days, if by happiness you mean feeling satisfied with the general direction of your life and energies. However, if you focus on happiness primarily and lose sight of those larger-than-self aspirations, we worry that you'll wake up some morning twenty or thirty years from now and go, "Geez, man, is this all there is?"

Don't mind us, kids. We're just grouchy old broads who get a little high-minded and tender-hearted this time of year. Here ends the sermon on the speech. We now return to our regularly scheduled grading so that all those Happy Turtles strolling across all those stages over the next couple of days can have their accomplishments certified as legit, official, and diploma-ready. Peace out, and srsly: Congratulations, graduates. Dogspeed to each and every one of you.

(Image credits: Morrison picked up here; Peanuts here.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Love, Virtually

Today is Goose's birthday. She is spending it, as people tend to do these days, sitting at her computer being swept up in a tidal wave of greetings and good wishes from friends all over the planet by way of Facebook. It's an amazing thing, really. Every time you look at the screen, someone else has tapped out a quick huzzah, a kind thought, a slightly bawdy bon mot -- pals, colleagues, students, nephews, long-lost classmates still deep in the heart of Texas. You bask in it. You respond as you can, happily wearing your fingers out in the effort to acknowledge acknowledgment.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a friend has euthanized a beloved dog today, which we also learned through Facebook. Moose paused in the birthday doings to tap out a brief but heartfelt condolence message, knowing how much such messages have meant to her on certain difficult days in the recent past. Birth, death, love, loss, celebration, sorrow: The meaningful moments and events of our real lives are now habitually shared and extended into the virtual spaces of Facebook, Twitter, Blogger (when it's working), and other social networks. Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing -- a fact of life, like weather and furloughs?

So much of the analysis of the social effects of new media technologies seems to fall on an emotional continuum from mild alarm to flat-out panic. As in: Uh oh, kids like robots. What if they start preferring them to the company of humans? Or: OMG, the computers are taking over! Someday soon, there'll be no need for humans at all! And of course: Holy crap! We are all going to be unemployable because eventually every single one of us will have been photographed drunk in a pirate costume and we will never -- NEVER! -- be able to get those photos down off the Intertoobz!

Meanwhile, down in Durham, geek gal (and Facebook friend) Cathy Davidson went to the farmer's market this morning, took a photo of a garden shed being turned into a tea house, posted the photo to Facebook -- and then wrote a lovely little blog post that inspired the thoughts in this here little post. Davidson muses on the question of whether life has a become a reality show, what with all this techno-mediated sharing, all this instant narrativization, the steady -- incessant! -- stream of call and response. Davidson decides that, on the whole, the sociality of Facebook, despite valid concerns about privacy and the marketing of data, is a good rather than a bad thing, a satisfying and genuine way of connecting. She relishes the snippets she gets of friends' lives and the opportunities to share emotions and experiences across distance. We love that, too -- the ranting and the raving, the silliness and the sorrow, the photos of animals and food and parties and trips and kids and projects and flowers and funny signs and departed loved ones. It's crazy, yes, but it is also glorious, and we love it as Clarissa Dalloway loved "the triumph and the jingle" of a busy London street on a fresh morning in June.

That may seem an extravagant comparison, but what the heck. It's a holiday in Roxie's World, so extravagance is the order of the day. Have a spectacular weekend, actually and virtually. And here, for the Facebook haters among you, is a photograph, already shared via FB, of the astonishing cake Goose's students made to honor her birthday. Yep, that is a chocolate cake in the shape of a Lady Terp, and the number 21 suggests it's forward Tianna Hawkins, though we are not sure the cake makers were aware of that. Wevs, kids -- I'd have to say this ranks as one of the more impressive efforts at paper-writing avoidance in the history of grad school, dontcha think?

Happy birthday, Goose! And remember, lovelies: For every drunken pirate photo floating around in cyberspace, there is at least one tea house-in-the-making and one truly astonishing cake. Don't let the odd ugly tree blind you to the beauty of the forest. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Regarding a Certain Photograph

Oh, darlings, I know we are very nearly the most unproductive blog on dog's earth these days, but, well, my typist continues to be ridiculously busy with her day job and maniacally dedicated to her Lifestyle Adjustment Plan. (How well is that going? So well that Goose has taken to quipping, "My girlfriend is like the new iPad -- Look at her sideways and she disappears!" She exaggerates, slightly, though it's true someone in Roxie's world will be forced to go on a major-league shopping spree the moment her grades are turned in.)

Anyhoo, I know you are all dying to know what we think about a certain instantly iconic photograph taken in the White House Situation Room last Sunday night while Navy Seals were -- Is there a delicate way to say this? Nah! -- blowing Osama bin Laden's brains out.

(Photo Credit: Peter Souza, White House, via)

My typist has spent the better part of a week gazing at images and collecting links (thank you, Dog-Eared Book!) and trying frantically to find a photograph that she swears exists of LBJ with his hand over his mouth that she thought it would be fun to compare to Hillary "Oh, gosh, I think I was stifling a sneeze" Clinton's gesture captured for posterity and the amusement of the chattering classes. Moose never found the perhaps nonexistent photo of LBJ, though she thinks the one below, of the president listening intently to a tape sent from Vietnam by his son-in-law Captain Charles Robb, is similarly unusual to the one of Clinton in showing the emotional toll of what a leader is called upon to absorb on a daily basis. The difference, of course, is that we don't see LBJ's face in this photo. Oh, and, you know, that when male leaders show emotion it's proof of their humanity, whereas when women show emotion it's proof that their lady parts make them far too sensitive and unstable to rule the world.

(LBJ in the Cabinet Room of the White House, 7/31/68. Photo Credit: White House Photo Office, via, but you'll need this serial number to find it: B1274-16.)

Looking for some serious analysis of the Obama admin photo? Go read Caleb Crain, who finds the image of Clinton's "grandmotherly hand" covering her mouth to be "strangely beautiful" and deeply affecting. Go read Marco Bohr, who does a marvelous job of reading Obama's figure and the weird optics of the photo, which make the commander-in-chief seem remote and slightly out of focus during one of the most important moments of his presidency. Or, if you're tired of staring at that picture, go see what Nick Mirzoeff has to say about Osama bin Laden's TV-watching habits.

What's that you say? Your grades aren't done either? You're far too busy to geek out on optics and yet another one of Hillary Clinton's body parts? I hear ya, kids, and I feel your pain. For you, we've got two more images and a very simple question, which you may answer in comments:

Which of these two photoshopped images of the Sit Room photo made you laugh harder: Superheroes or We Are the World, We Are Poor Princess Beatrice in that Ridiculous Hat?

Discuss, my pretties. Those grades will be waiting for you after you've changed into a dry pair of pants. Peace out.



Monday, May 02, 2011

The Truth Is in the Typo

Brought to you by the American-made blog that once declared, "Close Reading: It's Patriotic."

Look closely, please, at this image of the second paragraph of Dan Balz's story in the print copy of today's WaPo that was tossed on the lawn of Roxie's World this morning:

(Photo Credit: Moose, 5/2/11)

The front-page story, headlined "A moment of national unity at a time of deep divisions," ran underneath a photograph of what the caption termed "revelers" who "descended[ed] upon the White House on Sunday night upon hearing of Osama bin Laden's death" (at the hands of U.S. forces in Pakistan). In the online version of the story in "Today's Paper," the United States is described as "a country still scarred by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001," not as a country still scared by those attacks, as we see in the above.

My typist had two reactions to this typo as she made her way through the dead-tree edition of the paper and her first cup of coffee this morning. The first was to go all Scathing Online Schoolmarm on the poor Post for the appalling state of its "editing" in the age of No Copy Editor Left in the Joint. She similarly snorted a couple of days ago while skimming one of the eleventy billion stories on the Royal Wedding when she read that William and Katherine will henceforth be known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge "at the bequest of Queen Elizabeth II," which, since Her Majesty does not appear to be dead, must be a clever portmanteau formed from request and behest, don't you think? Good grief, Moose howled, Doesn't anybody actually read this stuff before it goes into print? (Incredibly, two days later, the latter error persists in the online version of the wedding story.)

Moose's second reaction to the description of the country as "still scared" by the 9/11 attacks was to think that Balz had accidentally gotten it right the first time and to feel disappointed that the error was corrected in subsequent editions. I mean, really, the proof that we are still a nation half-crazed with fear is all around us. It's the odor you smell, along with stinky feet, in every airport. It's the nagging doubt you feel every time someone intones the phrase, cooked up in the immediate, panic-stricken aftermath of 9/11, homeland security. It's the desperate bravado you glimpsed on the faces of the young people who raced to the White House and other public places to puff out their chests and chant, "USA! USA!" late on a Sunday evening. To many, that was a no doubt discomfiting spectacle, a jarring complement to the president's somber, measured announcement of bin Laden's death, which even the non-Obamaniacs of Roxie's World admired for its lack of triumphalism or any sense of vengeance at long last attained.

You can hardly blame the kids, though, for going a little Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead upon hearing the news. For most of their lives, Osama bin Laden has been the bogeyman stalking the corridors -- and skies -- of the nation's fevered, fear-addled mind. Whereabouts unknown but capabilities all too well understood, he might have been anywhere, planning to strike again at any moment. And so he was in effect everywhere, controlling, if not our every move, then certainly some of the more regrettable ones -- in Iraq, in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, in Florida -- over the past decade. You can't blame the kids for wanting to dance upon the grave of the man who brought such fear into their young lives. No. You have to blame the grownups who stoked those fears and used them in pursuit of their own selfish ends.

The tricky thing about a bogeyman, though, is that killing him won't eliminate the fears he set into motion. You don't stand a prayer of overcoming your fears until you admit you have them. And that, my frightened little chickadees, is why you must acknowledge that the truth is in the typo. Put down your flag, take a deep breath, and say it with me:

We live in a country still scared by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And the death of one man, no matter how evil, won't do anything to change that.

Feel better? I sure as hell do. Thank you, and goodnight.