Wednesday’s Word: draw

Some of the things you can draw.

bath

And that’s not all. You can draw water from a well or draw water for a bath. If you have a regular job, you likely draw a salary. If not, you may buy lottery tickets and hope to draw a winning number. If you do win some money it might be wise to draw up a will. You can draw straws and if the outcome is not so good for you, it can be said you drew the short straw.

There are all sorts of draws in the world of sports. In hockey it is a face off. In baseball, if the pitcher throws four balls, you’ve drawn a walk. There is a football play called a draw which is a running play that is designed to fool the defense into thinking you’re going to pass. In golf, a draw is a shot that hooks to the left (if you’re right-handed).

Face-off
The draw. (John Macarthur)

Sports played in a tournament format will sometimes have a draw to determine who plays who. If you get a particularly easy or difficult opponent, it is said to be the luck of the draw. Popular teams or athletes are good draws and when they play they are likely to draw a large crowd. And if a game or match ends in a tie? You guessed it.

stadium
(Andrew Gearhart)

Draw can also be a thinking person’s word. If you are honing in on something, you are drawing a bead on it. You may draw a comparison that will help you draw a conclusion. But you might also draw a blank, which means it’s back to the drawing board.

And with that, the end draws near for this week’s Wednesday’s Word.

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A Century of American Art

from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art

Stag at Sharkey's
Stag at Sharkey’s, George Bellows, 1909
Wood Interior
Wood Interior, Emil Carlsen, 1910
Holiday on the Hudson
Holiday on the Hudson, George Luks, 1912
A Woman's Work, John Sloan
A Woman’s Work, John Sloan, 1912
Markwippachj, Lyonel Feininger
Markwippach, Lyonel Feininger, 1917
Fifth Avenue, Childe Hassam
Fifth Avenue, Childe Hassam, 1919
A Paramount Picture, Reginald Marsh
A Paramount Picture, Reginald Marsh, 1934
Go Down Death
Go Down Death, Aaron Douglas, 1934
Gray Scramble
Gray Scramble, Frank Stella, 1968
Blue Rational
Blue Rational, Al Loving, 1969
Tea for Two, Robert Colescott, 1980
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Wednesday’s Word: jerk

You know you’re a jerk if you are:

–an annoyingly stupid or foolish person (Merriam-Webster)

–a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person (dictionary.com)

–a dull, stupid, fatuous person (vocabulary.com)

–a person regarded with contempt, esp. a stupid or ignorant person (Collins English Dictionary)

Or, if we go to the Urban Dictionary, we find some more specific types that qualify under that heading:

— a person who does not use their turn signal.

— final stage of evolution of any male who spent at least one year dating in America, no matter his origin (very likely entered into this crowd-sourced dictionary by a woman)

— mandatory mindset for self-survival within corporate America 

There are other definitions of jerk, I just chose to focus on the most colorful one. Commonly, jerk is used as a verb to describe a quick, sudden movement. You may jerk your dog’s leash when you see he’s about to investigate a dead varmint. Or a magician might jerk a tablecloth out from under a set table without breaking any dishes.

soda jerk
soda jerk

In the Caribbean, jerk suggests something to eat. It is a style of cooking, usually meat, that involves a dry rub and a wood fire. If you’re lifting weights, a jerk gets the bar up skyward. 

What’s curious about the word jerk is how it can be transformed by adding a few letters here and there. A tearjerker is so sad it literally makes you want to cry. Usually this is used to describe a book or movie.

There is no consensus as to whether proper usage is jerkoff, jerk-off or jerk off. I’m going to use it as one word. The most literal definition involves male masturbation. But it is commonly used as a more venomous variation of jerk. 

Jerk can be used a bit light-heartedly in a teasing, playful manner. But there is no such ambiguity about the intent if you step up to the more pointed jerkoff.

Jerkwater is a dismissive description of something, usually a town or place, as being insignificant. Jerky is a dubious looking piece of dried meat that you chew on, A jerkin is a  tight-fitting men’s jacket. (In fact, in all its various definitions, jerk is a very masculine word.)

For example, circle jerk. The dictionaries willing to touch this one describe it as group male masturbation. But I’ve always used it in a completely different way. A circle jerk is a corporate business meeting in which a group of participants sit around a conference table and each competes to hold the floor to describe to everyone else what a brilliant job they are doing. (Likely the same on Zoom.)

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Time Traveling the World at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Hunchbacked figure vessel
Hunchbacked figure vessel, Panama, 400-900 AD
Budda
Buddha, 600’s, Thailand
female torse
Northeastern India, 1000s
Nataraja
Nataraja, Shiva as the Lord of Dance, 1000s, South India
Japanese screen
Thirty-six Poetic Immortals, Tatebayashi Kagei, 1700s, Japan
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco, Bernardo Bellotto, 1740, Italy
Interior of the Pantheon
Interior of the Pantheon, Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1747, Italy
The Secret Life
The Secret Life, Rene Magritte, 1928, Belgium
Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbre
Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbre, Max Ernst, 1944, Germany
Perseus's Last Duty
Perseus’s Last Duty, Max Beckmann, 1949, Germany
Fountain of Blood
Fountain of Blood, Malangahana Ngwenya, 1961, Mozambique
Lot’s Wife, Anselm Kiefer, 1989, German (you can’t tell from my photo, but this is a painting the size of the entire wall)
Treasure Box, Ai Weiwei, 2014, China
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Wednesday’s Word: moon

First of all let’s get the most obvious definition out of the way. Merriam-Webster offers the most complete, if not the most interesting: “the earth’s natural satellite that shines by the sun’s reflected light, revolves about the earth from west to east in about 29¹/₂ days with reference to the sun or about 27¹/₃ days with reference to the stars, and has a diameter of 2160 miles, a mean distance from the earth of about 238,900 miles, and a mass about one eightieth that of the earth.”

And the second most common definition, moon the verb: “expose one’s buttocks to (someone) in order to insult or amuse them.”

Leaving visions of that aside for the moment, what’s more intriguing than the mere definitions is the concept of moon as it is expressed through various moon idioms. The moon is everything and it’s infinity. It can be surprisingly attainable as well as wholly unreachable.

moon
(Image by Stefan Keller)

If you are over the moon, you’re wildly happy. Maybe someone you love has just surprised you with a marriage proposal or you just got a dream job you never expected to get. But if you bark at the moon, bay at the moon, or cry for the moon you’re seeking something you’re not likely to get. 

Shooting for the moon implies a long shot, maybe betting on the horse in the race with the longest odds. Doing so means you’re reaching for the moon. You might promise the moon, in which case you are likely offering the moon on a stick.

Many moons ago is a long time in the past and a labor of many moons is going to be a long time to come. If you are mooning away the day, you’re likely not doing much and you could be chided to keep out of the moon. Mooning over movie stars or sports heroes is likely as unproductive.

re

The moon has served as a symbol through the ages. In Greek mythology the crescent moon represents the feminine moon goddess Selene, goddess of female empowerment. Roman mythology views the crescent moon at a bow, used by Diana, goddess of the hunt. In China, the moon is the ying to the sun’s yang, the female moon and the male sun providing a balance.

Ying Yang

In most cases, the symbolism of the moon is distinctly feminine. The University of Michigan Dictionary of Symbolism has this to say:

“The moon is a feminine symbol, universally representing the rhythm of time as it embodies the cycle. The phases of the moon symbolize immortality and eternity, enlightenment or the dark side of Nature herself. It might reflect inner knowledge, or the phases of man’s condition on earth, since it controls the tides, the rains, the waters, and the seasons. It is the middle ground between the light of the sun and the darkness of night, and thus often represents the realm between the conscious and the unconscious. In astrology, the moon is a symbol of the soul, and in the horoscope it determines the subject’s capacity for reflection and adaptation. It also provides analogy for the stages of human development: the new moon is infancy, the crescent is youth and adolescence, the full moon is maturity and pregnancy, and the waning moon represents the decline of life, sleep.”

And then there’s:

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Polka Dots in the Gardens

Kusama at the New York Botanical Garden

Yayoi Kusama is a 92-year-old contemporary artist from Japan. Known mostly for sculpture and installations, her works are currently on display at the New York Botanical Garden. The NYBG exhibit, titled Cosmic Nature, is focused on the natural world. Originally trained as a painter, Kusama was a follower of 1960’s counter-culture and at one time organized “happenings” with naked participants painted with polka dots. Lots of polka-dots in the new exhibit…but no nudity.

Starry pumpkin
Starry pumpkin,
Ascension of polka dots on the trees.
Ascension of polka dots on the trees.
Kusama-inspired flower garden
Kusama-inspired flower garden
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Wednesday’s Word: juke

Dancing in a Memphis juke joing

What are these folks doing? They’re juking. Where do you go to juke? A juke joint. What makes them juke? The jukebox.

The word juke is a Gullah word. Gullah is a Creole like language with West African roots that was spoken in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina. While play for pay devices were invented in the late 19th century and began to become popular in the late 1920’s after new models allowed for a much wide selection of songs to be available, the name jukebox didn’t come into play until the 1930’s. Why the name? Likely because of their popularity in the juke joint.

The Gullah word juke translates to “bad, wicked, disorderly.” The term juke joint was applied to what we might today call a dive bar. Mostly they were in the South, in rural areas or at highway crossroads and were predominately frequented by African-Americans. Typically they served up music and dancing. Some also served as brothels.

juke joint
Bubba’s Juke Joint, Natchez, La.

Today the word juke has many other meanings, but mostly they involve music and motion. Later in the 20th century the juke joint became urban. Chicago was noted for its juke joints and gave rise to a new generation of juke music. 

Perhaps the second most common usage of the word juke is in the sports world, particularly in American football. A football player will use a feint or juke to deceive a defender into thinking he’s going one way when he in fact goes the other.

football

The top-rated definition in the Urban Dictionary offers some alternatives:

  • To defeat an opponent by using subtlety, cleverness, or a trickery. To force an opponent between choosing between two negative options (both of which benefit you). 
  • To steal from someone else. 
  • To dance while grinding one’s ass against another dancer’s pelvis. This slang is common in Chicago. 
  • To stab another person. This slang is common in South London.

For more regional slang:

Gang slang used by the Jamaican Posse that means to rob or hold up or rip someone off.

And, oddest of all, the author claims this to be common slang in Northeastern Pennsylvania: 

“a lower-class white person who has indoor furniture (typically a recliner) on their front porch that they commonly use for ~12 hours a day to oversee the neighborhood happenings. They are usually old, with poor hygiene, smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking cheap beer and/or bottom shelf liquor.”

A number of products have adopted the juke name. Nissan offers a small SUV called the juke. Juke Magazine was an Austalian music industry newsletter published in the 1970’s and 80’s. There’s also a rock band from Australia that goes by the name of Juke Kartel.

Let’s get back to the music:

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Around the World Starting in Tribeca

The 2021 Tribeca Film Festival

France

Roaring 20’s

A lovely tour of Paris. You can see the city in the background as the camera focuses on people talking. There’s two guys talking as they stroll along the Seine. A man and woman talk as they ride the metro. Another pair talk on a Vespa ride to Montmartre. The conversation passes from one pair to the next as they cross paths. Mostly they talk about themselves.

There’s a guy who’s picking up his friend’s sister and he freaks her out by telling her she’s hypnotized. A 30 something man and woman talk about pornography and he admits to filming himself. Perhaps most bizarre of all, a woman in a wedding gown talks to a seemingly abandoned infant in a carriage. She tells the poor tyke how she liked the idea of doing celebrities’ laundry until she encountered smelly briefs.

I can explain the title. In a conversation between two young women, one comments that decades start in the 20’s, ‘like the roaring 20’s.’ Hence we’re just starting a new decade now. I can explain little else. Is this perhaps a snapshot of how weird life has become after the pandemic? This is a unique film and a creative idea, but to be honest, I wasn’t that far in before I found myself hoping that each new chit-chat vignette would be the last. But the background was pretty.

Sweden

The Stockholm Syndrome

You might not suspect Sweden of being a racist society. You might not suspect Sweden of being a repressive society. You might not suspect Sweden of having an unjust criminal justice system. That’s because you might not be a famous rapper from Harlem.

This is the story of A$AP Rocky. It’s actually two stories. There’s the story of Rocky’s life beginning with his mom showing his baby pictures. He talks of starting to rap at age eight and of how his brother steered him away from gangs, that is before he got shot on the street corner where they lived.

The other story is about Rocky’s 2019 gig in Stockholm. He and two members of his entourage got into a street fight with two guys who were following them. Rocky was arrested and tossed in jail. There’s no bail in Sweden and he was deemed a flight risk. He spent 30 days in solitary, no calls, no visitors.

Guess who gets involved? Trump. Seems Kim Kardashian picked up Rocky’s cause and got her husband Kanye West to talk to his buddy Trump who made some noise about making some calls. The whole thing ends with Trump being pissed that Rocky doesn’t thank him for getting him out. He didn’t really, he probably just made it worse.

He was eventually found guilty of assault and sentenced to time served. Turns out that if he was ruled innocent Sweden would have to pay for lost income. Know how much a month’s missed nightly shows would amount to for a world famous artist on a European tour?

Rocky is a compelling personality, articulate and honest. His is an interesting story and that makes for an interesting movie. There’s some good footage of his live performances as well. And, oh yeah, he goes back to Sweden.

Israel

Honeymood

Noam on his wedding night, sandwiched between the world’s most annoying bride and the world’s most intrusive parents.

It starts when Eleanor makes him carry her over the threshold of their hotel room multiple times until he gets it right. Before you know it, they’re out on an adventure to find her ex because she thinks he is with his ex and she wants to return a ring his former fiancé returned to Noam as a wedding gift. In the interim they had managed to swallow the ring in a Roomba. Confused? From the honeymoon suite Noam ends up in his parents kitchen eating leftovers from the wedding ceremony.

The movie is good for quite a few laughs, although the laughs run out before the movie does. It also starts to stretch the imagination in terms of how something of the sort could realistically play out. This is by no means a romance. The trials, tribulations and emotions of a much longer term marriage seem to play out here in a single night. Can’t help but think it would have made a great short.

India

Last Film Show

Samay is a young boy, maybe 12 or 13, in a remote area of India. He helps his father, who sells tea out of a shack at the local train station. Every day Samay’s mom packs him a lunch and sends him off to school. But Samay doesn’t go to school. He heads for the village cinema where he has a deal going with the projectionist. He gives the projectionist his lunch and in return is invited into the projection room, where he not only can see the movie but can see how it all works.

Samay passes on that knowledge to his crew back home. They figure out how to reflect light and after raiding a junkyard they build their own hand-cranked projector. This is a feat worthy of Edison! Splicing together some stolen film, they put on their first film show in an abandoned building that is part of what they call the ghost village. But at the same time, the last film show is taking place at the real village cinema. It’s going digital. The heavy projectors and equipment is trucked out to a furnace where it is melted down to eventually become silver spoons. The films themselves, stored as they are in cans, are taken to some type of recycling center, pulled from the cans and reels and boiled in a vat to eventually become bright colored plastic bangles.

This film is a tribute to the movies. Maybe you have to see through a child’s eyes to understand the magic of the cinema. Here’s a boy who never went beyond his local village and suddenly he discovers a whole world on that big screen.

There is also some nostalgia. About a time when the film was celluloid, wrapped on a reel and stored in a metal can. About a time when a person had to take the reels one by one out of their cans, mount them on the projector and thread the film into it.

Samay was a dreamer and in the end he has a dream. He’ll make movies. Though he may be a little sad to find everything is digital. A cool story.

China

Ascension

Life and work in China. Mostly work. It’s as bad as you might expect: regulated, repetitive and relentless. There’s fabrics, components, plastics and meat. Sewing, stamping, assembling and packaging.

This is a cinema verite feature. There’s no narrative. Some dialogue and bits of presentations. I’m generally a fan of the style, but it did leave some questions unanswered. Like what exactly were those female mannequins with the enormous breasts that the workers were screwing heads onto.

It is not all about manual labor. We get an inside look on some assorted training classes. One trained potential influencers to pitch products online. Among the products was a kind of glue stick for fastening extraneous hairs to your head. A business etiquette course instructed as to how many teeth you should show when you smile (the correct answer is eight). A session that appeared to be intended to train bodyguards included a lesson in eating watermelons. This isn’t comedy folks, they’re dead serious.

Ascension is magnificently filmed. I streamed it but would have loved to see it on a big screen. So many pictures truly worth a thousand words. There is something of a score but much of it is like the background music you hear on corporate videos. I don’t find this to be a very compelling view of China. The “Chinese dream” is damned capitalistic and socio-economic inequality is a thread underlying so much of what we see.  Every now and then you catch a glimpse of somebody whose eyes seem to be screaming out ‘WTF?’

Wu Hai

A very different Chinese movie about money. In Wu Hai everybody owes somebody. Either you’re running from a debt collector or trying to collect from a debtor. Some characters are doing both. It all stems from an investment Yang Hua made with a partner in the development of a dinosaur park. The investment was more than just everything he had, so he mortgaged his apartment and car as well. The park never happened.

Amidst scenes of road rage and marriage rage there’s some peace when the scene shifts to Yang Hua’s wife’s yoga studio where they hang from the ceiling in slings and gently rock to new age music. And for humor there’s the scene where a debt collector tries to stick his foot in an elevator Yang Hua has just entered. Yang grabs the foot, the door closes and he finds himself riding up clutching a prosthetic leg.

The power of this movie is the cinematography. Whether it’s the landscapes and sunsets, or the dizzying city and driving scenes, the visuals are haunting and beautiful. The pictures themselves are so captivating, irrespective of the story and the dialogue.

This is not what you would call an uplifting story. This is all anguish. We watch distrust turn to hatred, hatred turn to life and death violence. In the end, it is the story of how one man destroys his life and that of everyone around him.

New Jersey

India Sweets and Spices

Alia is a 19-year-old UCLA student coming home to New Jersey for the summer. Home is a wealthy Indian-American community where the families take turns each week hosting massive and lavish dinner parties. It’s gossipy, pretentious, class-conscious and ultimately fake. Not an environment easily tolerated by a modern, active, socially-conscious 19-year-old.

Clearly this is not the first movie about young Indian-Americans rebelling against the traditional and unbending ways of their elders. At one dinner party, Alia puts down her beer to note “at least with our generation women can get as shit-faced as men.” But this movie goes beyond the usual laughs about the parents, aunties and uncles and their obsolete beliefs and lifestyles.

When Alia discovers her father having an affair it sets her off on a journey of discovery about her mother, her past and her marriage. It is at times infuriating and at times heartwarming. The portrayal of the relationship between this opinionated, temperamental teenager and her guarded but ultimately insightful mother is pretty special. Hard to say too much more without spoiling it. Sophia Ali is brilliant as Alia. This is a film worth watching.

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Wednesday’s Word: rag

rag
(Image by Tekton)

A rag is a piece of cloth or fabric. But not the kind you might use to make something with. Rather a rag is what you might use to wash your car, dust your furniture or mop up a spill. You might also use the term to refer to an article of clothing, the kind of clothing which may well soon be cut up and used as a rag.

Turns out there are some much more imaginative, though somewhat crude, uses of the word. And what better place to turn for crude definitions of a word than the Urban Dictionary. Here’s a few::

— To rag someone is to have sex. Not exactly a loving term either

— The overwhelming feeling of regret, anxiety, guilt and shame often accompanying a severe hangover.

— Slang for the scrotum or balls.

(There’s more, but they’re offensive.)

A rag can be a man. Think a shortened version of ragamuffin, a person with a tired, shabby, disheveled appearance. A rag can be a bandana, or a do-rag, which is a tight-fitting cloth cap.  And let’s not forget the rag doll.

rog doll
(image by David Lopez)

Rag is also a type of behavior, and a massively annoying one at that. If you’re ragging someone you might be making fun of them, you might be admonishing them, or you may be tormenting or playing jokes on them.

Back when we used to read newspapers, some were dismissed as rags. The use of the term started in England in the 19th century and was used to refer to newspapers that were printed on very poor quality paper. Later the term was used as a dismissive statement about the quality of the content. You might call the New York Post a rag. Or what also comes to mind is the outrageously gossipy tabloids found on the supermarket checkout line,

Scanning several dictionaries I found a number of other definitions, most of which I knew little about:

rag
(Image by Hakeem James Hausley)
  • Any of various hard rocks
  • A large roofing slate that is rough on one side
  • An outburst of boisterous fun
  • A week at British universities during which side-shows and processions of floats are organized to raise money for charities
  • A ragged edge (in metalworking)
  • A sail, or any piece of canvas.
  • To break (ore) into lumps for sorting.
  • To cut or dress roughly, as a grindstone.

But amidst the shabby clothes, the shabby people, the shabby behavior and the shabby journalism there is a much more upbeat rag, a musical one. I’m a big fan of Scott Joplin’s “rags,” upbeat musical compositions played on the piano that were popular during the Ragtime era in the U.S. Hence the name. One of his more popular rags was “The Entertainer” which was the theme song from the movie The Sting.

And for a musical conclusion to this long post about a little word, here’s a song that makes liberal use of that word:

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The Modern’s Most Modern

NIght Light, Joan Semmel
NIght Light, Joan Semmel, 1978

Selections for the New York Museum of Modern Art collection, 1970 to present

Highrise of Homes, James Wine
Highrise of Homes, James Wine, 1981
Trust visions that don't feature buckets or blood
Trust visions that don’t feature buckets or blood, Jenny Holzer and Lady Pink, 1983
Stanton near Forsyth Street, Martin Wong
Stanton near Forsyth Street, Martin Wong, 1983
Watchtower, Sigmar Polke
Watchtower, Sigmar Polke, 1984
PInk Panther, Jeff Koons
PInk Panther, Jeff Koons, 1988
Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?, Louise Lawler
Does Andy Warhol Make You Cry?, Louise Lawler, 1988
Walking House, Laurie Simmons
Walking House, Laurie Simmons, 1989
Martin, into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself, Martin Kippenberger
Martin, into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself, Martin Kippenberger, 1992
Entity as Information Zoom, Gordon Kipping, 1995
Entity as Information Zoom, Gordon Kipping, 1995
Untitled, Lucy McKenzie
Untitled, Lucy McKenzie, 1997
Untitled, Boris Mikhailov
Untitled, Boris Mikhailov, 1998

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