Once there was a picket fence
Of interstitial excellence.

An architect much liked its look;
Protected by the dark he took

The interspaces from the slats
And built a set of modern flats.

The fence looked nothing as it should,
Since nothing twixt its pickets stood.

This artefact soon fated it,
The senate confiscated it,

And marked the architect to go
To Arctic — or Antarctico.

— Christian Morgenstern

Brush Work


Near a streetcorner in Winslow, Ariz., trompe l’oeil artist John Pugh has painted six windows. On an upper sill perches an eagle, and in the lower windows is reflected a girl in a flatbed Ford — presumably slowing down.


In 1980 Pugh received a commission from his alma mater, California State University, Chico, to paint a mural on the side of Taylor Hall. Shortly after its completion, a woman who worked across the street called the administration to ask when the wall would be repaired.


With his mural Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life at San Jose’s Cafe Espresso, Pugh created a convincing extension of the restaurant’s interior. Everything within the brick proscenium — the alcove, sculpture, painting, stairway, cat, and woman — was painted by hand.

After the mural was completed in February 1997, a male patron tried to introduce himself to the woman and complained to a manager that she was giving him the “silent treatment.”


In 1859, Harvard treasurer Henry G. Denny sent out an appeal for funds to buy books for the college library. Among the replies he found this:

Dear Sir,

Enclosed please find five dollars, for the object above described. I would gladly give more, but this exceeds my income from all sources together for the last four months.

Y’rs respectfully,

Henry D. Thoreau

Edifice Complex


On visiting the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Douglas Adams was impressed at how well the 14th-century structure had weathered the passage of time. His Japanese guide told him that it hadn’t weathered well at all; in fact it had burned to the ground twice in the 20th century.

“So this isn’t the original building?” Adams asked.

“But yes, of course it is.”

“But it’s been burned down?”



“Many times.”

“And rebuilt.”

“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”

“With completely new materials.”

“But of course. It was burned down.”

“So how can it be the same building?”

“It is always the same building.”

“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise,” Adams wrote. The essence of a building is its design, the intention of the builder. The materials may decay and be replaced, but these are only instantiations of a persistent idea. “I couldn’t feel entirely comfortable with this view, because it fought against my basic Western assumptions,” Adams wrote, “but I did see the point.”

From Last Chance to See. John Locke asked: If I keep patching holes in my sock until none of the original material remains, is it the same sock? And see Ship Shape.



For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For [he] keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin & glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him & a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually — Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

— From Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, written between 1759 and 1763

The Conch Republic

Image: Wikimedia Commons

On April 23, 1982, the Florida keys seceded from the Union. Frustrated that a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint was obstructing the main artery to the mainland, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow opted for a lighthearted public relations campaign: He proclaimed his “Conch Republic” a separate nation, declared war on the United States, surrendered one minute later, and applied for $1 billion in foreign aid.

Since then the republic has maintained an uneasy peace with its giant neighbor. On Sept. 20, 1995, when an Army reserve battalion forgot to notify Key West of local training exercises, Wardlow mobilized for war. He sent letters to Bill Clinton, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and secretary of state Warren Christopher, and his militia engaged La Dichosa Bakery to bake Cuban bread with which to pelt the convoy (“our historic weapon of choice for dealing with Federalist Forces”) and Key West Lager “to provide the beer.”

By 10:50 p.m. they had received a fax from the battalion’s leaders stating that they had “in no way meant to challenge or impugn the sovereignty of the Conch Republic.” An official surrender ceremony was held two days later.

Inside Out

Every great work inspires variants. Here are the opening lines of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not:

You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

We sat down and one of them came over. ‘Well,’ he said.

‘I can’t do it,’ I told him. ‘I’d like to do it as a favor. But I told you last night I couldn’t.’

‘You can name your own price.’

‘It isn’t that. I can’t do it. That’s all.’

And here are the opening lines of Lynn Crawford’s To Have Not and Have:

Few understand it here late in the evening in Oslo with the divas wide awake still opening, closing doors after even fuel company planes fly in fuel for the fires. Well, I navigated to the walkway extending from shore to the Sow’s Ear café to drop off brandy and there were several divas awake spooning meals out of bowls. But when I got inside and leaned on the bar, there was one running from me.

I continued standing and several more ran from me.

‘Hey,’ they carolled.

‘I can do it,’ I told them. ‘I told you this morning it was impossible. But I can do it for a fee.’

‘We name your fee.’

‘Agreed. I can do it. And something else –‘

This is an example of antonymy, a technique invented by the French experimental writing group Oulipo in which each designated element in a text is replaced with its opposite.

A simpler example: “To not be and to be: this was an answer.”