Overdue

In 1975, firefighters were checking a Greenwich Village apartment building when they entered the flat of 58-year-old attorney Joseph Feldman and discovered more than 15,000 New York Public Library books “piled to the ceiling, covering the stove and filling the bathtub and sinks,” according to a New York Times report.

Feldman, who didn’t even have a library card, explained, “I like to read.” Twenty men removed the books in seven truckloads. A library spokesman said Feldman might be charged the standard fine of 10 cents per book per day, up to the cost of the book, but I can’t find a record of the final judgment.

“Never lend books, for no one ever returns them,” wrote Anatole France. “The only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.”

Roadtown

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Musing on the housing problem in 1909, Edgar Chambless dreamed of laying a modern skyscraper on its side and extending it into the country. This two-story “continuous house” would be “a workable way of coupling housing and transportation into one mechanism,” with a monorail in the cellar, farmland on either side, and a path on the roof for cyclists and roller skaters.

“The Roadtown is a scheme to organize production, transportation and consumption into one systematic plan,” Chambless wrote in a 1910 manifesto. “In an age of pipes and wires, and high speed railways such a plan necessitates the building in one dimension instead of three.”

Chambless’ friend Milo Hastings promoted the idea in magazine articles, and the American Institute of Architects recognized it in a 1919 contest to present “the best solution of the housing problem.” Thomas Edison even donated the use of certain patents. Alas, though Chambless promoted his dream until his death in 1936, it never got off the drawing board.

“‘Declined With Thanks’ in Chinese”

The following is said to be an exact translation of the letter sent by a Chinese editor to a would-be contributor whose manuscript he found it necessary to return: ‘Illustrious brother of the sun and moon: Behold thy servant prostrate before thy feet. I kowtow to thee, and beg that of thy graciousness thou mayst grant that I may speak and live. Thy honored manuscript has deigned to cast the light of its august countenance upon us. With raptures we have perused it. By the bones of my ancestors, never have I encountered such wit, such pathos, such lofty thought. With fear and trembling I return the writing. Were I to publish the treasure you sent me, the emperor would order that it should be made the standard and that none be published except such as equaled it. Knowing literature as I do, and that it would be impossible in ten thousand years to equal what you have done, I send your writing back. Ten thousand times I crave your pardon. Behold my head is at your feet. Do what you will. Your servant’s servant. The Editor.’

The Literary World, March 23, 1895

Rigor Mortis

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Image: Flickr

When Victor Noir died in a Paris duel in 1870, sculptor Jules Dalou reproduced the fallen journalist in bronze — a bronze that seems unusually hard in the trousers, if you see what I mean.

That feature has made the statue a sort of fertility shrine for Parisian women. It’s said that kissing Noir’s lips, leaving flowers in his hat, or rubbing his, um, press credentials will bring a husband, enhance one’s sex life, or ensure fertility.

Whether that’s true is open to question, of course — but when the cemetery installed a fence around the statue in 2004, local women reportedly protested until it was removed again.

All in the Family

A gentleman was chiding his son for staying out late at night, and said: ‘Why, when I was your age, my father would not allow me to go out of the house after dark.’–‘Then you had a deuce of a father, you had,’ said the young profligate. Whereupon the father very rashly vociferated: ‘I had a confounded sight better one than you have, you young rascal!’

— Paul Emilius Lowe, ed., After-Dinner Stories, 1916

Mr. N. was on bad terms with his wife, and his eldest son was by no means a favourite; for when he paid a visit to his father, the old gentleman turned to a friend, and said, ‘Now you shall see me kill two birds with one stone. William, go and tell your mother, from me, you are a son of a b—-h.’

The Nic-Nac; or, Oracle of Knowledge, 1823

Perspective

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“If you can count your money, you don’t have a billion dollars.” — J. Paul Getty

“Nobody who has to ask what a yacht costs has any business owning one.” — J.P. Morgan

“A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich.” — John Jacob Astor

In a Word

acephalist
n. one who acknowledges no superior

“In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.” — Bertrand Russell

Big Love

This is the first screen kiss, shared in 1896 by May Irwin and John C. Rice in a scene from the play The Widow Jones.

Accustomed to stage dramas, many viewers were shocked at the closeup. “Neither participant is physically attractive,” wrote reviewer John Sloan, “and the spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other’s lips was hard to bear. When only life-size it was pronounced beastly. But that was nothing to the present sight. Magnified to Gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting.”

Only 30 years later, John Barrymore would bestow 127 kisses on Mary Astor and Estelle Taylor in Don Juan.

Low Tech

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This is inspiring: In 2005 the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted the cardboard box.

“I think every adult has had that disillusioning experience of picking what they think is a wonderful toy for a child, and then finding the kid playing with the box,” said chief curator Christopher Bensch. “It’s that empty box full of possibilities that the kids can sense and the adults don’t always see.”

In the same spirit, the museum honors alphabet blocks, rocking horses, teddy bears, and jump rope alongside Monopoly, Etch A Sketch, and other registered trademarks.

Among the 44 toys in the hall of fame, the most sophisticated is the Nintendo Game Boy. The simplest, charmingly, is “the stick.”