Two bookstores on Court St. in Brooklyn, a dog, and a policeman's beard.

I wondereth wondereth wondereth wondereth wondereth who.

Tonight I went out to Community Books, on Court St. The store owner, a bearded man in his 40s, is always off doing something, re-arranging buckets to catch the rain that falls from the ceiling, or petting the German Shepherd that appears from time to time among the paperbacks.

When you are ready to buy your books you wait towards the front and eventually he comes up; then he goes behind the counter and is engulfed by stacks of paper rising two feet above his head. Your transaction occurs over a sloping valley cut in the papers; there is a good deal of reaching involved. Community Books is a fine independent new-and-used bookstore, gruff and chaotic. I cross my fingers each time I go in and hope the store survives the Barnes and Noble tidal wave.

After I entered the store I picked up a new Kazuo Ishigoru novel, When We Were Orphans. The cover featured a wide array of ochres, an ambiguous period photograph, and elegant type - this grammar of elements combining to cry out hey impressionable middle-class person! look! sophisticated book! look! make you look much smart! in the pidgin designerese of literary trade paperbacks. (I can hear the worn-out editor: “make it beautiful, make it sell, nothing too crazy.”)

Still, the cover is not Ishigoru's fault, and I pushed the front matter away with my thumb, looking forward to the first sentence. It is: “It was the summer of 1923, the summer I came down from Cambridge, when despite my aunt's wishes that I return to Shropshire, I decided my future lay in the capital and took up a small flat at Number 14b Bedford Gardens in Kensington.” I thought, No, I can't take one more sentence of this, and shelved the book.

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.

— Ezra Pound

— Ezra Pound

Disappointed, I wandered farther back into the stacks, and suddenly came on a treasure: The Policeman's Beard is Half-Constructed, for $4.95. I've wanted this book for a decade. Except for the introduction, the entire thing was written in 1984 by a piece of computer software called RACTER (although, knowing a bit about natural language generation and having played with RACTER, it seems likely the prose was helped along by nonmechanical means). I opened it at random and read:

He is quiet. He is Paul, the man I chant about, and he is quiet because his pants are very long. His pants are long and his vest is short. He sings at morning and at night. Is this not comical and unfortunate? I fantasize that Paul is both happy and unhappy, and I think that he sings because his pants are long. And his vest indubitably is short.

Such is Paul. I gladly paid through the valley in the stacks of papers and walked over to Court Books, a few blocks away, another independent bookstore, but more up-to-date and very clean.

Later, at Carroll and Court, a well-dressed woman came towards me walking a beagle. At first it looked as if the beagle's head were terribly misshapen. I thought, it's got elephantiasis. It's an elephant beagle. But then Occam's Razor kept that hypothesis from lasting, so I squinted and saw that in the beagle's mouth was a stuffed bear, held tightly but lovingly. The beagle was taking its bear for a walk.

The woman on the end of his leash recognized my laughter at the beagle/bear interaction and smiled at me, shrugging a bit, and ah, there I was, humming along again, all my itches smoothed out by a dog with a doll. It doesn't take much, but it's got to be there.

Why doth a dog preff forth his tongue upon hif own most intimate areaf? Becaufe it if hif wont!

.  .  .  .  .  

See also: Walk with Friend up Clinton St. and Back , about a walk up Clinton St. with my neighbor. Bridge and River Consecration, about a walk up Court St. to the Brooklyn Bridge. Voice of the Future , fiction about training an artificial intelligence. The bedroom and the world outside, an essay about working for an AI firm in Israel.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents