Really, New York Times Magazine?

Every week I read through the “One Page Magazine” in the NYT Sunday Magazine and have the same reaction.  Really?  It’s come to this?

The Meh List
By Greg Veis

Not Hot, Not Not, Just Meh.

1. Rob Schneider (except in “The Waterboy”)
2. “Best of” albums
3. Chocolate-covered cherries
4. Having a Gmail photo
5. “Ladies drink free”
6. Newt, post-candidacy
7. “The Firm”

Additional reporting by Samantha Henig

This piece required “additional reporting”?

Lucking out/ real bitter? James Wolcott’s memoir

As a kind of followup to the Kael bio, I also read the James Wolcott memoir,  Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York.  I somehow did not realize that Wolcott (whom I associate with Vanity Fair) began his career and was generally known for years not only as a Village Voice writer but as a sometime rock critic.  (“Somehow” because I was a devoted reader of the Voice, especially its music section, in the early & mid 1980s, not long after his time writing for it.) Walcott dropped out of Frostberg State U. in Maryland as a sophomore after he sent a piece of his to Norman Mailer, who promised to put a word in for him to a Voice editor once Wolcott graduated.  Wolcott proceeded to quit school on the spot and move to NYC and eventually, through persistence/ refusing to go away, parlayed that recommendation into a job answering phones, from where he began to do some writing.  Pretty soon, at age 19-20, he was covering the nascent punk rock scene — he published one of the first raves about Patti Smith, well before the release of Horses — and covered television as a regular beat (not to mention the band Television, along with Talking Heads and other CBGBs bands). He soon became a protege/buddy of Pauline Kael’s (he became somewhat notorious for a later Vanity Fair take-down of her followers “the Paulettes,” which was taken as apostasy and an act of betrayal –one of her other rival proteges labels him a “self-promoting asshole” or some such in her biography; he does not discuss this in the book but it came up in the Fresh Air interview); became obsessed with the New York City Ballet; and he also dedicates a section of the book to Times Square pornography in the 1970s.  He doesn’t push this too strongly but there’s an implicit thread in the book in which Wolcott charts his own experience as a fan, critic, and consumer of these different parallel art forms and media (punk rock, movies, ballet, porn), within all of which in this period the representation and expression of bodies, sexuality, physicality, gender transformed.  Wolcott is very much a critic and an observer; he refers in passing to his own sex life, for example, but greater emphasis is placed on the represented bodies and lives he wrote about.  As “semi-dirty” in the title hints, Wolcott portrays himself as a watcher, a bit prudish and reserved even in the grimiest occasions in Times Square or the Bowery or otherwhere in a NYC that was close to falling apart entirely:

It wasn’t just the criminality that kept you laser-alert, the muggings and subway-car shakedowns, it was the crazy paroxyms that punctuated the city, the sense that much of the social contract had suffered a psychotic break.  That strip of upper Broadway [where Wolcott lived] was the open-air stage for acting-out episodes from unstable patients dumped from mental health facilities, as I discovered when I had to dodge a fully-loaded garbage can flung in my direction by a middle-aged man who still had a hospital bracelet on one of his throwing arms.

By and large he managed to side-step the garbage and keep himself more or less clean (not a drinker or much of a drug user).  Wolcott is an aesthete and a literary stylist — you have to have patience for his kind of elaborate sentences to enjoy the book — and you get the sense of this style as something he developed, in part, as a protection against the threatening urban scene.  (He talks about giving up on punk rock in the late 70s when it became too much about bad politics, skinheads, vomit, and spit– you can feel a visceral distaste.)

I was just checking out the customer reviews of the book on Amazon.  One person comments:

For anyone even mildly curious about New York, movies, punk, journalism, writing, ballet, or the Times Square of the “Taxi Driver” era, this book should not be missed. Think of it as Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” only with real intellectuals as opposed to fake ones.

Another less appreciative reader observes,

Just can’t imagine many general readers caring about office politics at the Village Voice, fringe critic Lester Bangs, punk rock at CBGSs, why ballet makes him woozy, the seamy 70s porn scene, Wolcott[‘s] relationship with movie critic Pauline Kael…

Ha!  I guess I was a perfect reader for this, as just about all of those topics interest me to some degree.  (This reader does not mention Wolcott’s discussions of Ellen Willis and Robert Christgau, a power couple in counter-cultural journalism in the early 70s; especially indelible is an account of Christgau walking around his and Willis’s tiny downtown apartment in tight red speedos.)  As an occasional writer for the Voice’s music section in the 1990s, I was fascinated by the account of earlier days at the paper, and I thought Wolcott evocatively captured the special feeling of the Voice in the days before email, when all copy had to be dropped off on paper in a physical file.  Human presence, embodied personalities, were so much more central to the operations of publishing, criticism and writing, all of which, Wolcott suggests, have now become much more “lonely.”  When I was first doing freelance writing circa 1991, this was just beginning to change and I too remember dropping by the Spin offices to leave my copy (offering opportunities for schmoozing/ gossiping) or sitting down with Voice music editor Joe Levy to line-edit my reviews (of American Music Club and the Go-Betweens — those are the first two I remember); I recall those sessions as an intensive education in journalistic writing that I expect is difficult to come by today.  (I never did meet Robert Christgau, although he was around.)  Wolcott’s example shows that counter-cultural/arts journalism in the 1970s was a place where an (exceptionally) smart lower-middle-class kid without even a college degree could get an apprenticeship and eventually transform himself into a well-known writer and intellectual.  This is no longer true — that arts weekly journalism institutional space no longer exists.  Blogs to some degree have replaced it, but serious/rigorous arts criticism as such offers much less of a career opportunity these days (to understate it).

[btw, Wolcott comes up several times as well in Will Hermes’s new book, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever, which I’ve so far only skimmed a bit.]

There’s a funny/poignant moment when Wolcott speculates about what might have been if he had specialized and chosen a stronger focus, as a critic, on literature, rather than covering such a wide range of topics.  “I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had found true fruition in book reviewing and taken up literary criticism as my sole vocation, putting aside childish things” (he means here primarily writing about t.v.).  Next line: “I bet I’d be real bitter now.”

Slight ambiguity there: does he mean “real bitter” as opposed to just slightly bitter?  The title of the book underlines Wolcott’s sense that he was very lucky in his lucked-into career, but does he feel lucky now?  There’s an elegiac feeling to his story of, among other things, the decline of the Voice and of arts journalism and reviewing generally (film critic J. Hoberman was apparently just laid off from the Voice as I write this, by the way, eliminating one of the last remaining great arts critics there).  I’m not sure how secure Wolcott’s present position is (he is among other things a blogger for Vanity Fair), but he obviously feels something has been lost both personally and for the intellectual scene more generally.

Of course, there are other explanations for an elegiac sense to the book, such as Wolcott’s references of the coming onslaught of AIDS in the early 1980s, at the end of his narrative.  On a more personal note, his friendship with Kael also has a bittersweet feel, at least for a reader coming to his book from the Kael biography, which explains how she cut him off following his publication of the “Paulettes” piece in Vanity Fair.  I was a bit surprised he does not address this falling out, perhaps because it is still too painful?  or possibly simply because it occurred outside the 70s time-frame of the book, although Kael is such a major mentor figure here that it feels odd not to mention it.

Vampire Weekend, Lil Jon, the Dalai Lama, & the Oxford Comma: a fuller consideration


You have probably by now heard all about this week’s dust-up, kerfuffle, brouhaha, call it what you will, about the Oxford Comma:

By Associated Press, Published: June 30

LONDON — A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.Catch the difference between the two previous sentences? An “Oxford comma” was used before “and” in the first sentence, but is absent in the second, in accordance with the style used by The Associated Press.
Guides to correct style differ and the issue became heated on Twitter after reports of the Oxford comma’s demise.
But have no fear, comma-philes: the Oxford comma lives.
Oxford University Press, birthplace of the Oxford comma, said Thursday that there has been no change in its century-old style, and jumped into the Twittersphere to confirm that it still follows the standard set out in “New Hart’s Rules.”…
The kerfuffle at least answered the musical question posed by indie band Vampire Weekend: “Who gives a —- about an Oxford comma?”

This must have been one of those occasions where a million people at once (myself among them) thought it would be at least mildly clever and apt to reference the Vampire Weekend song (“Oxford Comma”).  I wonder if it shot to the top of the iTunes download charts this week.

I had never paid close attention to the lyrics to the song.  First of all, although by some standards I could probably count as a “punctuation obsessive,” as this A.P. piece rudely puts it (I prefer “comma-phile”), I’ll admit didn’t precisely know the definition of an Oxford comma.  But I took the concept to stand for snobby/fussy/elite punctiliousness among the educated/preppy classes… a perfect objective correlative for Vampire Weekend, as they style themselves as auto-ethnographers of that world.

Here are the full lyrics:

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?/ I’ve seen those English dramas too/ They’re cruel/ So if there’s any other way/ To spell the word/ It’s fine with me, with me

Why would you speak to me that way/ Especially when I always said that I/ Haven’t got the words for you/ All your diction dripping with disdain/ Through the pain/ I always tell the truth

Who gives a fuck about an Oxford climber?/ I climbed to Dharamsala too/ I met the highest lama/ His accent sounded fine/ To me, to me

Check your handbook/It’s no trick/ Take the chapstick/ Put it on your lips/ Crack a smile/ Adjust my tie/ Know your boyfriend, unlike other guys

Why would you lie about how much coal you have?/ Why would you lie about something dumb like that?/ Why would you lie about anything at all?/ First the window, then it’s to the wall/ Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth

First the window, then it’s through the wall/ Why would you tape my conversations?/ Show your paintings/ At the United Nations/ Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth

“Oxford comma” turns into “Oxford climber;” punctiliousness about obscure grammar rules associated with social climbing and Anglophile snobbishness.

Wiki tells us that:

on January 28, 2008, Michael Hogan of Vanity Fair interviewed Ezra Koenig regarding the title of the song and its relevance to the song’s meaning. Koenig said he first encountered the Oxford comma (an optional comma before conjunctions at the end of a list) after learning of a Columbia University Facebook group called Students for the Preservation of the Oxford Comma. The idea for the song came several months later while Koenig was sitting at a piano in his parents’ house. He began “writing the song and the first thing that came out was ‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?'” He stated that the song “is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.”

Someone here explicates the line “Why would you lie about how much coal you have?:

Lying about how much coal you have can easily be done through the omission of an oxford comma.

An oxford comma is the comma right before the and in a series.

I have 100 pounds of iron, 50 pounds of steel, and coal.
I have 100 pounds of iron, 50 pounds of steel and coal.

In the first example, the amount of coal is not specified, while in the second example there are clearly 50 pounds of coal. By omitting the oxford comma, you can let people think that you have 50 pounds of coal, even if you do not, as the oxford comma is often viewed as optional.

But why would you lie about how much coal you have? why would you lie about something dumb like that?

What worries me a bit about this analysis, however, is that when I Googled “Oxford comma, steel, coal” in a few variants, I kept getting references to Vampire Weekend and none to the steel/coal sentence as a classic one used to explain the grammar rule in Britain.  Perhaps I needed to go further down the Google pages, though.

Reading through old comments on the song’s entry on songmeanings.net, one oft-debated crux relates to the references to “Lil Jon” (the rapper) — or is it the former Australian Prime Minister?

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, was know as both Honest John and Little John. He very vocally supported Bush’s War On Terror, even going so far as to make a speech at the United Nations.

Possibly there could be an allusion there, but probably not, because “First the window, then it’s to the wall/ Lil Jon, he always tells the truth” is a citation of these Lil Jon lyrics from his huge (but crude, NSFW, sorry) hit, “Get Low:”

Get low, Get low, Get Low, Get Low
To the window, to the wall,
To the sweat drip down my balls

To all skeet skeet skeet skeet goddamn
To all skeet skeet skeet skeet goddamn [? or something]

So as someone commented (sorry I’ve lost this reference already), the line “To the window, to the wall, to the sweat drip down my balls” does not need an Oxford comma because “Lil’ Jon, he always tells the truth,” that is, unpretentious, crude American speech conveys its meaning very effectively.  It doesn’t really matter whether or not there is a comma after “to the walls” (although I actually am not sure what “meaning” that line conveys, but perhaps that’s the point, that meaning per se often matters less than rhythm, rhyme, and feeling).

Another crux relates to “I climbed to Dharamsala too/I met the highest lama/ His accent sounded fine/ To me, to me.”  Liddiloop explains that “Dharamsala is a village in Northern India which has been, since the early 1960s, the capital-in-exile for Tibetan refugees fleeing persecution in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and yes, the Dalai Lama lives there, and is the ‘highest Lama’ referred to in the song. He is known for his idiosyncratic english which is far from fluent, but loved by many – so i reckon the singer is pointing out that you don’t need to be word perfect in order to get meaning across…”

So the speaker links Dalai Lama and Lil Jon as speakers of improper, non-standard “weird English” that is preferable to the fussily grammar-obsessed language of the snotty interlocutor, presumably the singer’s English (or maybe Anglophile, just back from a year abroad?) girlfriend whose “diction drip[s] with disdain.”

Other cruxes: the “coal” — is this simply a reference to the sentence about steel and coal commonly used to illustrate the Oxford comma, or (also) a figure for wealth, possibly diamonds?  The chapstick: suggesting that the girlfriend is almost OCD in her fussy obsessiveness and concern with appearances?

Thinking about this has given me a fuller appreciation for the wit, density, and allusiveness of Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, and of the complexity and cleverness of their self-positioning in reference to prestige codes.  Also codes and implications of nationality and foreign travel, e.g. Oxbridge vs. Nepal vs the United Nations, different kinds of cosmopolitanism and the knowledge or wisdom it can but will not necessarily bring.  (One subtext: Vampire Weekend are often criticized or mocked for being too Ivy League, too “white,” pretentiously cosmopolitan in the way they draw on Afropop, etc.  So you can see why they might want to ally themselves with Lil Jon here — but as ever, they are smart and self-aware about that desire to achieve authenticity, too.)

Skeet skeet skeet goddamn! (Or is that skeet, skeet, skeet goddamn?)

Hanif Kureishi on the Kama Sutra

Hanif Kureishi on the Kama Sutra in the Guardian, great piece!

It suggests that the gentleman should keep away from lepers, malodorous women and anyone with white spots. It is arch, comical and amazing – less Byron and more the sort of thing that Jeeves would have said to a priapic Bertie Wooster had Bertie been Indian and PG Wodehouse without the sense to omit sex from his books. It states, for example, that “intercourse with two women who have good feelings for each other is known as the ‘combination’. The same with many women is called ‘the herd of cows’.”… If it turned out that the woman was also consulting a similar manual then the two characters in this drama would be playing roles that would ensure they’d remain outside the experience. Both would be in a fixed place and the relationship would merely be an exchange of fantasies….Like Alfred Kinsey’s reports at the end of the 1940s and early 50s, the Kama Sutra tries hard to turn passion into science.

A genuinely useful self-help guide to bearing pleasure might have to contain advice about putting up with the envy, contempt and hatred of oneself as well as of others, along with any self-disgust, guilt and punishment that may follow. It would be an education in determination and ruthlessness and, to a certain extent, in selfishness and in forgetting….It might be important to recognise that our pleasures have to be guarded from our own aggression, much as our freedoms are.

R.I.P Owsley Stanley/ Kid Charlemagne

Another great NYT obituary, this one for Owsley Stanley, “Artisan of Acid:”

Owsley Stanley, the prodigiously gifted applied chemist to the stars, who made LSD in quantity for the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Ken Kesey and other avatars of the psychedelic ’60s, died on Sunday in a car accident in Australia. He was 76 and lived in the bush near Cairns, in the Australian state of Queensland.

Owsley Stanley, left, with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead in a 1969 publicity photograph.

Mr. Stanley, the Dead’s former financial backer, pharmaceutical supplier and sound engineer, was in recent decades a reclusive, almost mythically enigmatic figure. He moved to Australia in the 1980s, as he explained in his rare interviews, so he might survive what he believed to be a coming Ice Age that would annihilate the Northern Hemisphere.

Once renowned as an artisan of acid, Mr. Stanley turned out LSD said to be purer and finer than any other. He was also among the first individuals (in many accounts, the very first) to mass-produce the drug; its resulting wide availability provided the chemical underpinnings of an era of love, music, grooviness and much else. Conservatively tallied, Mr. Stanley’s career output was more than a million doses, in some estimates more than five million.

He briefly attended the University of Virginia before enlisting in the Air Force, where he learned electronics. He later worked in Los Angeles as a broadcast engineer for radio and television stations. He also studied ballet and for a time was a professional dancer.

I am not sure if I knew of Stanley… probably I’d read references to him but they didn’t stick.  As is typical of NYT obits, this contains some amazing/weird/funny little details.  My favorite:

Mr. Stanley remained with the band off and on through the early ’70s, when, according to Rolling Stone, his habits became too much even for the Grateful Dead and they parted company. (He had insisted, among other things, that the band eat meat — nothing but meat — a dietary regimen he followed until the end of his life.)…

Mr. Stanley, who became an Australian citizen in the 1990s, was treated for throat cancer in 2004. In the Rolling Stone interview, he attributed his survival to his carnivorous diet. (A heart attack he had suffered some years earlier he ascribed to eating broccoli as a child, forced on him by his mother.)

Wow.  Of all the things mothers get blamed for, this has to be one of the most unfair.

I was fascinated to learn that Stanley is the “Kid Charlemagne” of Steely Dan’s fantastic song (which Kanye West samples on “Champion”):

Amazing lyrics: “Did you feel like Jesus/ On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene/ But yours was kitchen clean/ Now your patrons have all left you in the red/ Your low rent friends are dead/ All those dayglow freaks who used to paint the face/ They’ve joined the human race…/Clean this mess up else we’ll all end up in jail/ Those test tubes and the scale/ Just get them all out of here/ Is there gas in the car/ Yes, there’s gas in the car/ I think the people down the hall/ Know who you are…You are still an outlaw in their eyes”

Well, chalk up a Steely Dan lyric that used to be absolutely opaque to me that now makes some sense.  Now it can be added to the ranks of great songs about drug dealers: “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Doctor Wu”, “Pusherman”…actually can’t think of too many more offhand but I’m sure there are a lot.

NYT Magazine redesign, letters section

So, the New York Times Magazine has done a big redesign.  I am one of those diehard NYT readers who are always slightly dismayed by the paper’s redesigns, no doubt partly out of sheer conservative attachment.  In this case, I can see some good things about it.  I’m happy to see the “What They Were Thinking” feature back, I always enjoyed that.  And today’s Lives column was one of the best I remember (really touching!), which may be related to its apparent origins in some kind of spontaneous online posting; it doesn’t have the slightly contrived feeling that these little life stories can sometimes have.  (Novelist Jennifer Egan’s profile of Lori Berenson, the American who spent 15 years in a Peruvian prison for abetting terrorists, is superb, but this doesn’t particularly relate to the redesign.  I am a fan of Egan’s generally…)

But.  I am appalled by the rethinking of the Letters page.  “Reply All”?  Really?  That’s the new name?  And “letters” — or rather, a random assortment of mostly online verbiage — by the likes of “Worried,” “T.S.,” “@Dedmo” and “Drduck”?

I’ve always considered a letter published in the New York Times to be an authored publication.  I had one published a year or two ago, and I was delighted.  The fact-checking procedure was rigorous: you have to prove that you are who you say you are.  They’re throwing that tradition of substance away for “Reply All,” bits of anonymous chatter and tweets and comments on Facebook pages (!) by people or rather online presences with @ signs before their  names?  The Letters section is now essentially a curated online comments thread?  This seems like an imitation of the New York Magazine feature that excerpts highlights from blog/online commentary about magazine content from the previous week — although that works really well, in part because it’s not pretending to be a letters column.

Maintain some dignity, please!  Very unhappy about this… May have to fire off a letter of complaint, or maybe this is my “letter”?

Of course, I’m sure the NYT got letters along these lines when they first introduced a separate sports section, or whatever.  But still.  You have to draw the line soemwhere.

Newspaper Obituaries/ Tom Rachman’s *The Imperfectionists*

Sometime over the last few years I started to appreciate the New York Times‘ obituaries for the first time.  I started reading parts of the NYT at a pretty young age but I don’t know that I ever made it through an obituary in my youth, unless perhaps for someone like John Lennon.  My new interest in the genre must have had something to do with getting older myself, although I have to say that I think it’s less about that or anything morbid than appreciating the obituary as a concentrated little life narrative.  I’ve never done this, but I’ve considered bringing in some examples to a class, perhaps with wedding announcements, as a way to think about life narratives and their conventions and forms.  The NYT ones are usually little gems, filled with surprises, twists, and wonderfully vivid and odd details.

Today has an especially good collection.  (Or at least, these are the ones in my Sunday paper — of course now the concept of “today’s paper” is mutable.)  The longest one is of Poppa Neutrino, “an itinerant philosopher, adventurer and environmentalist… who founded his own church, crossed the Atlantic on a raft made from scrap and invented a theoretically unstoppable football strategy.”  He invented “the Neutrino Clock Offense, a system of secret hand signals, based on the face of a clock, designed to let passer and receiver communicate while a play is in progress. Despite his best efforts, Mr. Pearlman was unable to persuade any college football teams to adopt it.”

Also on the page are Eleanor Galenson, a psychoanalyst who revised Freud’s accounts of the origins of sexual identity and concluded “that children make the discovery of genital difference between the ages of 15 to 19 months, and that this has an impact on their play, their relationship with their own bodies, their relationship with their parents.” Also Bernd Eichinger, screenwriter and producer of many films including the Hitler film Downfall, criticized by Wim Wenders for generating a “kind of benevolent understanding” of the Nazi leaders by virtue of seeing the world through their perspective.  (Maybe a missed opportunity here: why no mention of the Downfall internet meme?)

And finally — in some ways this is my favorite kind of obituary, a mini-biography of someone one is guaranteed never to have heard of before — an account of the life of Milton M. Levine, who made his fortune on “Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm,” over 20 million of which have been sold since he invented it in 1956, inspired by the red ants at a July 4th picnic.  The obit concludes, “I found out [the ants’] most amazing feat yet… They put three kids through college.”

There’s a neat story or section in Tom Rachman’s excellent novel The Imperfectionists about the writing of an obituary.  This novel revolves around a broad cast of characters who worked at various times, from the 1950s through the present, for an English-language newspaper in Rome; Rachman worked at the International Herald Tribune so I presume that’s the model, although the novel’s paper seems maybe like a more second-rate version of the IHT?  The book reminded me a little of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad in its revolving/expansive/overlapping cast of characters.  It’s not as innovative as Egan in its use of this structure, however, perhaps a bit more like Winesburg, Ohio or (a more recent example) Olive Kitteridge.

The novel has a bit about a journalist with a flagging career who’s been assigned to do “preparedness” for an obituary of a forgotten Austrian feminist of the 1960s and 70s: “preparedness” meaning the research a paper does ahead of time for a potential subject of an obituary.  A potentially awkward situation, of course:

[N]othing is worse than obit interviews.  He must never disclose to his subjects why he’s researching because they tend to become distressed.  So he claims to be working on ‘a profile.’  He draws out the moribund interviewee, confirms the facts he needs, then sits there, pretending to jot notes, stewing in guilt, remarking, ‘Extraordinary!’ and ‘Did you really!’  All the while, he knows how little will make it into print — decades of a person’s life condensed into a few paragraphs, with a final resting place at the bottom of page nine, between Puzzle-Wuzzle and World Weather.

I won’t give away how it turns out, but the experience is surprising in various ways.

The novel is a valedictory love letter to print journalism and simply to print itself in its pre-internet forms.  This passing detail from the final chapter, about one of the book’s more peripheral characters, nicely captures that mourning and the sense that from our perspective, 1950-2000 or so feels like an era, an era of print’s gradual decline, not understood until close to the end:

Winston Chang, after a period of sleeping in his parents’ basement, found work at an exotic-animal refuge in Minnesota.  He adored the job overall but disliked lining the monkey cages with newspaper — even the sight of headlines made him panicky these days.  However, this was not to bother him for long: the local paper folded, and he switched to sawdust.  Soon, even the monkeys forgot the comforts of newspaper.