In a Word

n. an idler

Watts Towers

“Let each man exercise the art he knows,” wrote Aristophanes 2400 years ago. That spirit inspired Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia, who spent 33 years building the Watts Towers in his spare time.

“I had in mind to do something big and I did it,” he said. He started work in 1921, and by 1954 he’d created 17 interconnected structures, some nearly 100 feet tall. His materials included broken pottery, scrap metal, bottles, bed frames, and seashells, and he assembled them using hand tools and window washers’ equipment.

Rodia finally gave up and left after repeated vandalism — local rumors said the towers were antennae for communicating with the Japanese. But when the city actually broke a crane trying to knock them down, it changed its mind and preserved the site as a state historical park.


“I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room.” — Blaise Pascal

“Does a One-Legged Duck Swim in Circles?”

Recent winners of the Foot in Mouth Award, presented each year by the British Plain English Campaign for “a baffling quote by a public figure”:

  • 2005: Welsh politician Rhodri Morgan on the police: “The only thing which isn’t up for grabs is no change, and I think it’s fair to say it’s all to play for, except for no change.”
  • 2004: M.P. Boris Johnson on the television program Have I Got News For You: “I could not fail to disagree with you less.”
  • 2003: U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a news conference: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns–the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
  • 2002: Actor Richard Gere: “I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I’d think, ‘No, actually I am a giraffe.'”
  • 2001: English artist Tracey Emin: “When it comes to words, I have a uniqueness that I find almost impossible in terms of art–and it’s my words that actually make my art quite unique.”
  • 2000: Alicia Silverstone, quoted in the Sunday Telegraph: “I think that [the film] Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it’s true lightness.”


“She is now in the vile embrace of the Apollo of the evening. Her head rests upon his shoulder, her face is upturned to his, her bare arm is almost around his neck, her partly nude swelling breast heaves tumultuously against his, face to face they whirl on, his limbs interwoven with hers, his strong right arm around her yielding form, he presses her to him until every curve in the contour of her body thrills with the amorous contact. Her eyes look into his, but she sees nothing; the soft music fills the room, but she hears it not; he bends her body to and fro, but she knows it not; his hot breath, tainted with strong drink, is on her hair and cheek, his lips almost touch her forehead, yet she does not shrink; his eyes, gleaming with a fierce, intolerable lust, gloat over her, yet she does not quail. She is filled with the rapture of sin in its intensity; her spirit is[Pg 16] inflamed with passion and lust is gratified in thought. With a last low wail the music ceases, and the dance for the night is ended, but not the evil work of the night.”

From the Ball-Room to Hell by T.A. Faulkner, Ex-Dancing Master, Formerly Proprietor of the Los Angeles Dancing Academy and Ex-President of Dancing Masters’ Association of the Pacific Coast, 1892


“Actors are crap.” — John Ford

Extra Credit

On Sept. 15, 1963, at the height of the racial violence in Little Rock, a Miami schoolteacher forwarded the following essay to Dwight Eisenhower. Russell is blind.

How to Stop Trouble
By Leah Russell, age 12

If I were president, I would have all the children blindfolded and send them to school. I would also send some of the colored children and have them blindfolded. I think that all of them would have a lot of fun and there wouldn’t be any fights. Probably after they got to know each other there wouldn’t be any more fights or anything like that.

Eisenhower wrote back, asking the teacher to tell Leah that “she has already grasped one of the great moral principles by which we all should live.”

Orbison Illusion

An optical illusion. The diamond and the bounding rectangle are square, not distorted, as they appear.

In a Word

adj. yellow-haired


“Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” — Steve Martin