Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More “On Language”: Safire and the Russians

The universe seems to have more to say about readers, reading, and language: I learned that William Safire died on the day I began to learn Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil Service, known as the Vespers. For two decades the former was the touchstone for the care and proper handling of this English language that we so callously abuse, misuse, and torture to varying degrees, and the latter is one of the great achievements of twentieth century music and an enormous challenge to sing in the Russian language.

In a cosmic connection, Safire’s New York Times obituary says, “In 1959, working in public relations, he was in Moscow to promote an American products exhibition and managed to steer Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev into the “kitchen debate” on capitalism versus communism.” Imagine that.

The American Autodidact

I did not follow Safire’s political career. I never read his Op Ed columns; in fact, I didn’t even know he wrote them. To me he was the master of the “On Language” columns and nothing more. I was drawn to his aura of compositional authority and his care of and love for the lowliest of details of grammar, syntax, denotations, connotations, usage, trends, even portmanteaux (a particular column that has stuck with me, and I found with the clever title “Listing to Portmanteau”.)

He wrote about one of his greatest errors of all time in a column about copy editing mistakes. He had run into a bad error in print and shared it as an example of a copy editor having a bad day. He then said (I’m paraphrasing, because I can’t find the article):’ I made a copy editing error once. And it’s on the moon. In bronze.’ I never laughed so loud. He had added A.D. to the date of Armstrong’s walk, as though it were B.C., July 16, 1969, A.D. A.D. means Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, and goes before a date (this being before BCE broke into common usage).

Safire died from pancreatic cancer, that horrifying certain death sentence of all the cancers. Our language will miss this great watchman.


The Russian Soul


My childhood was tinged by the Red scare. The days of “duck and cover” under your desk were over, but the Russians were still the evil empire to be feared. And yet, there were the artists, who could not be denied: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff. Such towering intellects. They have to be, living inside their language. Nouns decline in 6 cases in singular and plural. From Wiki: “Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. This distinction is found between pairs of almost all consonants and is one of the most distinguishing features of the language.”


I have never sung the Russian repertoire. The Vespers piece follows the Russian Orthodox Service: Come, Let Us Worship; Lord, Now Lettest Thou,; Rejoice O Virgin; My Soul Magnifies the Lord; The Great Doxology; To Thee the Victorious Leader. It was written in 1915, during World War 1, before the revolution that broke apart Russian life.

The edition we sing is transliterated above the original Cyrillic, and even with that the combination of letters is very difficult for the English speaker.

Blagoslova, dushe moya, Ghospoda. Bless the Lord, O My Soul.

Still, it is a thrill to wander for a bit in this extraordinary language, to touch the mind of Rachmaninoff, the exquisite pianist, the student of Tchaikovsky. He died in Beverly Hills in 1943, from melanoma. He is buried in Kenisco Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, in the company of Wendy Barrie, New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, Anne Bancroft, Billie Burke, Paddy Chayefsky, Lou Gehrig, Danny Kaye, and Ayn Rand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading Comprehensions

Since you are visiting this blog, you are a Reader, someone who actively enjoys reading, and thereby reading comprehension. One of the great joys as a Reader is understanding subtleties of language, straight out, or the complicated systems of signs and signifiers to the signified as described by Ferdinand de Saussure, the venerable father of linguistics.

And so some potpourri thoughts on things I’ve read, or read about, recently.

Dan Brown. Yeah, We Need to Argue With Success

The long-awaited actual sequel to The Da Vinci Code went on sale last week. It sold 2 MILLION copies in that first week, combined hardcover, audio, and electronic in the U.S., U.K., and Canadian markets alone. That’s an astounding number of readers.

I have not read his prose, and only barely watched TDC on tv, but I’ve been reading a bit about the books and the phenomenon. Seems he likes to play with facts, beyond the legitimate fictional tale he is spinning. This site tracks some of his lapses in fact-checking, particularly resetting the Illuminati, which was an Enlightenment-era secret society, into the early 1500s. In my mind, if you want a secret society of scientists to vow revenge against the Church for “crimes against scientists like Galileo and Copernicus,” then you make one up. You don’t borrow an actual secret society from more than two centuries later that had no such agenda.

And then there is Dan’s prose. I ran across an article in the Telegraph where a young poet named Tom Chivers details 20 of the Brown’s worst sentences, with comments. It’s worth reading the whole list, but this is my favorite:

#10. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4:
“Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.”

Did they hit him with the kaleidoscope?



Tim Chivers, he's a Reader. His deadpan comment just made my day.


John Wells Just Didn’t Get The West Wing Fans


Reading extends to the semiotics of film and television. I’ve been watching the Bravo reruns of the exalted series The West Wing in the morning. Seeing the whole series compressed like this underscores the decline that set in when Aaron Sorkin left and John Wells took over as executive producer. In the episode “Gaza,” Wells tampered with a small detail that spoke volumes about how he thought the WW fans couldn’t “read” their own show.

TWW often played with time conventions, starting an episode at the end of a day, and then the next frame says 7:10 a.m., and you know they mean that morning and that you will see what led up to the first scene.

And then Aaron Sorkin left, and John Wells and company decided they needed to over-explain conventions that had worked well for 4 seasons. And so the "Gaza" episode. It starts in the settlement, with Fitz, Andy, and Donna on a fact-finding mission. In the intro before the credits, the SUV with Donna and Fitz blows up. It’s very dramatic.

The next frame is in the west wing, and the chyron says 7:00 a.m. BEFORE THE EXPLOSION. I remember people going crazy about this on TWOP when it was first on, and seeing it anew, I understand wherewith the outrage and the need to mock Wells.

Then, after the credits, and a scene back in Gaza, the action returns to the west wing, with a chyron 8:00 a.m., DAY OF THE EXPLOSION. OMG. Did Wells really think that no one could follow such simplistic playing with time? (Imagine what Wells would do if he took over Lost.) And even if we did get confused, he just told us it was the morning of the explosion. Clearly John Wells is not much of a Reader himself.

And Then There’s Grammar

Here’s a very problematic sentence in the current New Yorker, from no less than David Remnick, in his Talk of the Town about Rod Blagojevich.

“The American political memoir comes in many forms-—the magisterial catalogue of heroic achievement, the backward glance at a modest beginnings-—but none of these sub-genres have thrived with more repetition and variation than the cri de Coeur of the indicted-but-not-yet-convicted office-holding grandee.”

With only 2 examples set off by dashes, “none” should be “neither.” I wonder if Remnick had 3 examples when he wrote it, then one got cut for space and no one realized that the predicate subject of the next clause had to change.

More importantly, “have thrived” should be “has thrived,” no matter how you parse it. None is singular, “none has thrived” is the underlying sentence.

Whoever is copy editing this TOTT pieces isn’t a Reader, not as we here understand it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Light that Finally Failed

I agree with Edward Copeland, attention must be paid: Guiding Light aired its final episode yesterday, Friday, Sept. 18, 2009. It had run continuously for 72 years—-an actual lifetime-—five days a week, 52 weeks a year, first on radio, starting in 1937, then on television, beginning in 1952. It was the brainchild of Irna Phillips, a force of nature generally credited with creating the soap genre, with later show running by the soap opera royalty of Agnes Nixon and Douglas Marland.

I didn’t watch any of the soaps, but I grew to appreciate them when I edited a book for the day job, Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera. [A highlight of the book is I reprinted three pieces about radio soaps by James Thurber from the New Yorker.] Generally considered the lesser stepchild of nighttime drama, soaps are actually storytelling in its purest form. They are tales spun out over decades, not just seasons. They unfold like “real life” every week day. There is never a repeat. When you think about it, that’s a staggering creative achievement.



Their plots enter realms of the absurd, but that does not alienate their viewers. Why? Because they offered a deeply strong sense of virtual community, long before the internet. The bread and butter of the storylines are rooted in family and friends and deal with common issues of health and love. That’s what brings viewers back day by day. And implicit in the genre, going back to radio, is the feeling that you are not watching this alone; you can almost sense everyone else out there, following along.

Some of soap opera culture seeps in to the broader stream, like the days of General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. GL’s equivalent was the romance of Josh and Reva (Robert Newman and Kim Zimmer). They had the classic couple chemistry that catches fire and sets them apart from the literally hundreds of couples that populate daytime. Like Rachel and Ross their fate for television eternity was a huge open question for the finale. I’m glad to report that the current producers awarded their loyal fans with a generally happy ending across the board. The Reverend Rutledge, on whose desk the original lamp of guiding light sat, would be pleased with the final scene at the lighthouse in Springfield.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

HBO. You Can’t Imagine What They’re Up To

They are drowning a mime in a river under the thumb of a thug little person. Surprising, isn’t it.

While linear narrative is antithetical to HBO’s whole endeavor here, I will employ this now quaint device to tell my little story.

For just seventy-two hours there is cube at Gansevoort and Little West 12th Street, a story cube that is toying with ideas of narrative and storytelling, brought to you by HBO and the talented people at BBDO.

What’s most remarkable about this imaginative cube is that it exists at all. Let me be clear: HBO went to BBDO for a “promotional event” that doesn’t promote any of their specific product. The cube does not give promos of the upcoming HBO season. It is an entirely original piece of nonAristotelian storytelling, branded for HBO, but not of HBO.

HBO commissioned a BBDO campaign to embody “the HBO philosophy—to be the preeminent source of entertainment experiences that change perspectives, defy expectations, and challenge the status quo.”

In this day and age, that any corporate entity is thinking and creating in the abstract is astonishing.


The Cube features two films, each two minutes long and each played twice successively. The one story is The Affair, the other Heist. You move around the four sides of the cube and see different perspectives of the same story. And there is an even bigger picture, as characters from the two stories overlap. I didn't see the connections that well, but I didn't give it enough time. It's an updating and advancing of Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, which makes me a fan right away.

Like Brigadoon, the cube will shortly disappear. (It will however reappear in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.)

For those geographically challenged, the Cube microsite offers tantalizing content. It supplements the perspectives on the cube, although it is complete without that experience.

The interface is excellent. You are entering a world of fragmented story pieces that you can navigate in numerous ways, thereby changing how the story unfolds. I cheated a bit by navigating from the “check your progress” tree, rather than the more organic links within this Tholian web of scenarios and documents.

There are memorable moments: A mime drowned in a car as a little person and goon look on, while a child sleeps peacefully with his teddy bear to the strains of the less familiar parts of the Blue Danube, surrounded by oodles of bears and a woman with a counting machine . . .

All right, so I’m still trying to figure out how the Yamamoto Bank fits in with the teddy bears kid. I love the mime eulogy--Fellini meets Twin Peeks—-but I don’t see the plot point yet. It’s intriguing, and requires a lot of thought from the viewer. This is not a passive viewing experience.

I do wonder about the missing emotional connection. The fragmented story pieces make it hard to connect with a character, which is one of the underlying tenets of good storytelling.
But this is the 21st century, and it’s a brave new world for storytellers.

In these generally discouraging times, I am happy to know that the corporate entity that brought us The Sopranos, and The Wire, and my favorite, Deadwood, is willing to spend money to experiment, to let professional imaginations wander into new possibilities, like scientific R&D that does not pay off in the short term with a commercially viable deliverable but opens up the entire future.

HBO knows storytelling is that important. Huzzah.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Larry Gelbart and Jay Leno: Send Out the Clowns

Thirteen years ago I edited a book for the day job on stand-up comedians that was published by Harry N. Abrams. We asked Larry Gelbart to write the intro for the book, which he kindly did. In the library cataloging of the book, he is listed as the editor. C’es la vie. If I’m going to be upstaged by anyone, I’m happy it was Gelbart. He was professionally warm and encouraging to work with.

For the same project, I answered my phone fairly late one Friday night, and it was Jay Leno, (making his own phone calls). We had asked him to contribute a small piece about his influences or about an important tv comedy memory. We had already received short great pieces from Phyllis Diller, Jack Carter, Dick Gregory, Bill Maher, Lily Tomlin, Richard Belzer, Mark Russell, Don Rickles, Shelly Winters, and Jonathan Winters.


Jay was calling to say that it isn’t his thing to write about what he does. Comedy is his job, but he just does it, he doesn’t think about it. He was very pleasant and straightforward, and no matter what I said I couldn’t talk him into sending something for the book. Maybe if I had impersonated Larry Gelbart, Leno would have stepped up to the plate for us.

Put me in the “I don’t get Leno” category. I vaguely remember when he first appeared on Carson, and he was a funny, observational stand-up. But I felt no attraction to his show. The one time I deliberately tuned in was for Hugh Grant in 1995, to see what he would say after his prostitute arrest. Jay opened with “What the hell were you thinking?” with just the right inflection. I thought it was a good moment for him.

I watched his first Jay Leno Show. He mumbled through his monologue. I liked Seinfeld in the tuxedo, and he was pretty funny. Institutionalizing the headlines has made what was once a mildly cute idea into a forced-laugh cringe thing. He did face Kanye, about his nonsense at the MVA. But what audience is interested in Seinfeld, dopey headlines, and Jayzee? Is Leno trying to play to the rap yearnings of the stodgy middlebrow? This is what NBC is pinning its future on?

Let’s go back to the other end of the comedy spectrum. Larry Gelbart. The funny, elegant, effortless intellectual.


In tribute to his passing, here’s an excerpt from the intro, where he waxes philosophic, like any good comic. The opening may seem a little shocking given the circumstances, but I think he would appreciate the unexpected gallows humor of it all.

“Take my life. Please. There was a time when, if I wanted to catch the work of a stand-up comic, or a monologuist as they were called then, I would have to go through the trouble and expense of traveling to a nightclub, a vaudeville house, or a house of burlesque. I would have to sit through endless hours or acrobats and ecdysiasts, of hearing G chords and ogling G-strings, until the band finally hit “Fine and Dandy,” and the guy with the padded shoulders and the porkpie hat came on to stand in the spotlight and tell the audience all about the funny thing that happened to him on the way to the theater that night.

Snip

It seems the most inevitable and fortuitous of marriages: television and the practitioners of stand-up comedy. . . .The TV monitor forms the perfect frame for the human face; in close-up, the scale is life size.

Snip

Today’s practitioners of comedy differ greatly from those we’ve laughed at in the past. One branch of the current crop of stand-ups, those influenced by the new three “R’s”—rock, raunch, and race—make it very clear that there are no longer any bounds, there are no barriers, and very often, little or no taste at all. They act as so many lepidopterists, pricking our shared pomposities and pretensions and pinning us to the wall, by whatever mean necessary, with fair language or foul. And who are we to yell “Foul,” we who are arrogant enough to believe that there is life on no other planet, while guaranteeing through our ignorance and indifference that before too long there may not be any on this one either. If you would judge the moral climate of our society, listen to our behavior as it is blown back into our faces with such relentless and accurate comic force."


In good conscience I can recommend this book for anyone who is interested in comedy. Besides the whole of the Gelbart piece (which he entitled "Send Out the Clowns), there’s an interview with George Plimpton, and articles by Elvis Mitchell, Douglas Copeland, Anne Beatts, Tony Hendra, Mel Watkins, Merle Kessler, Dennis Leary, and Patricia Marx, with great photos. (Hmm, Gelbart really knew what he was doing, gathering such a great group of writers for his book :) You can get one on Amazon starting at $.06. Such a deal.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11: My Story

I’ve heard it said that the indiscriminate nature of the attack transformed all of us on that island into victims of attempted murder, but I’m not at all sure that geographic proximity to the catastrophe confers this status on me or anybody else. Let’s not forget that when it all happened I was a rubbernecker in Midtown, watching the same television images I’d have watched in Madagascar. . . . If ever, out of a wish to appear more interesting or simply to make conversation, I’m tempted to place myself closer to those events—I only have to think of the waving little figures who were visible for a while and then not.

Netherland, Joseph O’Neill

O’Neill’s postcolonial, updated Gatsby, multilayered novel about an Englishman and his family in New York brings the attacks to a personal level of an average New Yorker. His character’s experience happens to mirror my own: I was in midtown, at work, watching on tv. Witness is a sincere form of honoring a memory. And so for the 3,000 who lost their lives, I offer my witness of their last day.

* * * * * * *

The sky was piercing blue and sparkling that Tuesday morning as I walked to the subway. You could not help but note it. I had just recently returned to work after a relapse of a csf (cerebral spinal fluid) leak in late August. I was so happy to be out of bed.

When I got to the office, I saw a young guy at the elevator whom I didn’t know. It’s a small company, so that was unusual. It turned out it was his first day in a new position. He looked unsettled. In elevator chatter he said, “I saw an accident this morning. A plane flew into the World Trade Center.” “Oh,” I said, “that happened to the Empire State Building in the forties.” The first moment of the sickening day. It’s why we turned the tv on.

We were slow to process the reality of the attacks. We had a public event scheduled that night with Bob Costas. Even after the second tower fell, we were talking about whether or not we should cancel the event. We didn't want him to be angry with us for canceling him. Looking back, I see it was the shock of what was happening, wrenching everyone out of “business as usual” but with such disbelief that we couldn’t see the obvious.

We closed the office around noon. We didn’t know if there were going to be more attacks, and midtown felt vulnerable to me. I considered it might be safer to stay in my office, but I wanted to be home. The subways had been shut down, so I started walking. The 53 blocks isn’t a terrible haul—people in Brooklyn and Queens and the suburbs had much bigger travel problems—but I was afraid the exertion would further aggravate the csf leak that I had just gotten under control. The buses were still running, and I got on something going north that cut down the walking a bit. I had never been so happy to see my front door.

These were my days with The Talented Mr. Ripley, and that evening he was on my doorstep. We went up to my roof, where sadly, we could see the cloud of smoke from Ground Zero, more than half the length of Manhattan away. We watched the tv coverage, until we could watch no more. And then, Mr. Ripley sat down at the piano. He is an extremely accomplished pianist with a startling ability to improvise. He played through some jazz standards, with the saddest of sad blue notes. He segued into a medley of patriotic songs, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “America the Beautiful,” all in minor keys. He played Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring like a dirge. He played through the most sacred of hymns. Music filled the apartment where we could no longer summon words from the emotional exhaustion of the day. He played for a long time. In the morning, he played again, yearning and striving for hope with lush, huge improvisations on “Morning Has Broken,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “There Has to Be a Morning After.”

The office reopened on Thursday. The mayor asked people to go back to work, and so we did. I remember overwhelming dread at the thought of getting on the subway, countered by a strong sense of not letting the terrorists take any more of our lives away. Down the stairs I went, with just enough numbness to overcome the fear. I remember how palpably nice everyone was to one another. The usual apathetic coldness most New Yorkers exude in mass transit was replaced by a general sense of softness.

Now it’s eight years later. We are no closer to understanding or reconciling with the Muslim/Islamic element that resents who we are, how we live, and wants us dead. I think that’s why there’s been so little real healing. It’s an open wound, with a constant threat of relapse.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Day at the Races, a Night on the Camp Grounds


I’m off to the races tomorrow, to Saratoga Springs, New York. I don’t follow the sport, but my travels are taking me to the Amtrak station in Saratoga, and so I’m just popping over to see the time-honored end of the season at the track. It seems I’m stumbling into a piece of racing history. A horse name Rachel Alexander may go into the record books:

“What a gal!

She’s soundly beaten the boys (twice), completely overwhelmed her peers, and Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, 3-year-old Rachel Alexandra lines up against the older fellas for the first time as she looks to re-write racing history yet again and stake her claim to Horse of the Year honors in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes.

The Brooklyn Bridge had only been open a few years and Grover Cleveland was president of the United States when Lady Primrose won the 1887 Manhattan, then a 1¼-mile race on dirt, as the last 3-year-old filly to beat older males in a Grade 1 dirt route race in New York.”


The stop is enroute to a weekend at Brandt Lake in the Adirondacks. Friends got married here 5 years ago, and the lakeside gourmet cookout and midnight bonfires were so fabulous that we’re all getting together again for the food!

Labor Day is so late this year that it feels like it will be October when I go back to work next week. It’s autumn in New York; it’s good to live it again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dressing for Success, But on Whose Terms?

In 1992 D.A.Pennebaker was granted unprecedented access to the strategy sessions of the Clinton campaign led by communications director George Stephanopoulos and lead strategist James Carville. From that came The War Room, a timely, important documentary, capturing a historical moment when media would be the centerpiece of a campaign strategy, rather than the issues themselves. The producer of the film was R.J. Cutler.

Flash forward to 2007. Cutler himself now gains unprecedented access to . . . the hallways of Vogue to look at how Anna Wintour bullies her staff into producing the phone-book sized September issue. Hmm. Does this fall from the important to the frivolous say something about Cutler, or does a country get the docs that it deserves?

I saw September Issue at a screening that included many of the junior staff of the magazine. They screeched in knowing delight at the bon mots of the Vogue players—Grace Coddington, Andre Leon Talley, and the queen herself.

The film is slick and diverting, without revealing much about Wintour. Cutler edited it to have an odd opening gambit: Anna on camera saying that “people” mock fashion because they are afraid of it. I don’t know too many people who bother mocking fashion---indifference is the more likely reaction. But this anecdote establishes Anna as the kid in school who was most afraid of being laughed at. And isn’t it those childhood fears that are at the root of many power-mad bosses?

Cutler’s portrait of Wintour is not unflattering; it couldn’t be, since she certainly signed-off on the final cut, but there are unflattering moments. For instance, Anna’s 60-year old worked-on skin looks amazing, until the camera sits on her hands and neck in the car, the age indicators that peels and knives can’t repair.

The film is most interesting in presenting the creative director Grace Coddington. The Welsh one-time model started at Vogue on the very same day as Anna. Grace has a lot of power at the magazine, but Anna can overturn anything she says or does, and she does. An entire photo shoot of twenties styles, for example, which Grace directed and which was exquisite, Anna throws out. That’s a lot of money blown on a simple power play.

One thing that struck me about Cutler’s film is how joyless this “fabulous” world of Vogue is. Grace comes the closest to seeming to enjoy the artistry of her creations, but then it’s slashed by Wintour. Reality is a bitch.


Vogue September 2009
This film piqued my curiosity about the current Vogue enough to send me to the magazine stand for the first time in 20 years. The September issue hasn’t changed discernibly in all that time (except for the celebrities over models on the cover). The ads go on for 240 pages before the articles begin. Many of the ads are artful and beguiling, selling sensibility and lifestyle more than specific items of clothing. Other ads feature the ghouls, that strange place that fashion goes when it rejects all beauty norms and goes for bizarre hair and frightening maquillage.

There are still the extreme thin bodies. And that is still dangerous to girls, women of all ages.

Is this world of high fashion— that is reality for a few and a fantasy for many—noxious? Does it seduce women into dangerous ideas of self image, and toward financial ruin trying to buy this year’s $1,000 purse? The fictional account of Anna’s world spoke more directly to this theme. The Devil Wears Prada offers more of a look at the effect of the billion dollar a year fashion industry on individuals than the documentary does.

That’s a lot of money, a lot of jobs. And there’s the silver lining, as the 18th century philosopher/economist Mandeville captured in his poem, The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits:

“whilst Luxury
Employ’d a Million of the Poor,
And odious Pride a Million more.
Envy itself, and Vanity
Were Minister of Industry;
Their darling Folly, Fickleness
In Diet, Furnityre, and Dress
That strange ridic’lous Vice, was made
The very Wheel, that turn’d the Trade.”

(Everything I ever learned worth knowing I learned from Paul Fussell.)

When In Doubt, Wear Red
Wise words from Bill Blass. At its best, Vogue inspires personal style without inflicting hardship or pain. And that’s what’s important to more people, personal style, not impersonal fashion.

For a sartorial fix these days I go to The Sartorialist, a great blog by Scott Schuman. He photographs actual people on the streets of New York or Milan or Paris wearing smart, exquisite, inspired outfits. It’s really not a question of money, although sometimes an accessory is from the high end stratosphere. Mostly it’s just excellent, imaginative combinations of textures, colors, patterns, and good grooming. When I see these ensembles, it makes me want to try, just a little harder, the next time I get dressed.