Stuff I’ve Been Reading

“I Just Can’t Believe It’s Me”

A fascinating post from the indispensable The Mystery Train blog. Just follow the links. It has to do with Elvis, naturally, but Troy linked to an article, a profile of Elvis, that I had never seen before (will wonders never cease). It has been so much fun writing about Elvis, and meeting all of these other Elvis bloggers.

Toute Mon Amour

From James Lileks. Needs no introduction. Just follow the “Next” arrows.

Baby Daddies and Dandy Scandals

A really fun piece about the history of royal sex scandals. An example of the engaging writing style:

It was the first time that a Prince of Wales had given evidence in open court, and by all accounts he comported himself in a manner befitting a dissolute future monarch.

Since 1979, Brian Murtagh has fought to keep convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald in prison

I have been fascinated by the Jeffrey MacDonald case ever since I read Joe McGinniss’ true crime classic Fatal Vision. I follow along, through all the parole hearings and appeals. My belief that he is guilty has not been shaken. Errol Morris (a filmmaker I admire) has just come out with a book that supposedly throws doubt onto MacDonald’s guilt. The whole Helena Stoeckley thing and other matters. This Washington Post piece is devastating to Errol Morris’ “case”. It basically decimates it. It’s a long article, but well worth it. In the final section, we have one of the most chilling “riddles” I have ever heard of:

Here’s a riddle: At the funeral of her sister, a woman meets a man and falls in love with him. But she never asks his name and loses track of him, and when the funeral is over, he is gone. No one can identify him.

Two weeks later, the woman murders her brother. Why?

All essential facts are known to you. Any guess?

The answer: Because she thinks the man might come back for the brother’s funeral.

This is said to be a primitive psychological test to detect sociopathy. A sociopath, who is amoral and makes decisions solely based on his own needs, supposedly would see the answer immediately.

Would Jeffrey MacDonald get it right? Joe McGinniss thinks so. “Fatal Vision” finds ample evidence in MacDonald’s behavior alone.

Read the whole thing.

Poetry Makes You Weird

I simply tell my disgruntled students about the first time I read, as an undergraduate, these lines:

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons—
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes—

I had often witnessed beams of dull December light with a melancholy I didn’t understand. Dickinson’s flash clarified my feelings: In the impoverished glow of the cold time were heavy reminders of brightness I desired but couldn’t possess. But this affliction had fever, intimations of future heat that was luminous, like hymns.

Dickinson’s verse spelled out the abstruse, made the strange familiar. In this new intimacy, however, was a novel astonishment: The chilly light from that day onward exposed the enigmas of longing, both tormenting and radiant. Her poetry left me amazed—caught in wonderment as well as labyrinth.

The essay is worth reading in its entirety but it was that section that called to me. “the heft of cathedral tunes” is a terrifying image to me, for some reason, chilly, austere, and gigantic … and when I was having what I gently refer to as my “crackup” in 2009, I saw a “slant of light” on the kitchen wall the morning after I moved in, and thought: “Uh oh. Probably am gonna have to move.” Like I said, I was not in my right mind. But when I saw that slant, I thought I heard the “heft of cathedral tunes” and felt something ominous rise up. That’s how poetry can get under your skin if you let it.

Hello Sailor! The Nautical Roots of Popular Tattoos

As military enlistment escalated prior to World War II, the American Navy caused another inadvertent boom in tattooing. Decades before, the U.S. government had issued a pamphlet with a passage requiring incoming recruits to fix any obscene tattoos, which primarily meant drawings of nude women. During the ’40s, this passage was a godsend for tattoo artists, as young men scrambled to censor their bodily markings so they could enlist. “It’s been just like old-home week around here since Pearl Harbor,” said Charlie Wagner, the famous New York tattooist. “Could you imagine how a store clerk would feel in a town where everybody’s clothes wore out at the same time? That’s how I’ve been feeling. For going on 50 years, I’ve been turning out tattooed ladies, most of them naked, and now all I do is cover them up.”

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