Nobody Feels Any Pain

According to July 8’s Wall Street Journal , Bob Dylan seems to have filched-to use a word from his native Minnesota-“about a dozen passages” from Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld , a book by Dr. Junichi Saga about gangster life in Japan, for his most recent studio recording, “Love and Theft.” Dr. Saga told The Journal ‘s Jonathan Eig and Sebastian Moffett that he was “flattered and very happy” that Mr. Dylan had even read the book. He would, however, not mind if the songwriter gave him a shout-out on future editions of the album (“That would be very honorable”).

There’s nothing subtle about the borrowing. Have a look.

Dr. Saga writes: “My mother … was the daughter of a wealthy farmer … [she] died when I was eleven … I heard that my father was a traveling salesman who called at the house regularly, but I never met him. [My uncle] was a nice man, I won’t forget him.”

In “Po’ Boy,” Mr. Dylan sings:

“My mother was a daughter of a wealthy farmer / My father was a traveling salesman, I never met him / When my mother died, my uncle took me in-he ran a funeral parlor / He did a lot of nice things for me and I won’t forget him.”

The question on the minds of Dylan fans is: “So what?” Not only has our boy Zimmy made a cottage industry of spinning obscure ditties into folk classics, he’s dropped plenty of clues about what he’s been up to. Dig these Six Curses:

1. “No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke …. (“All Along the Watchtower,” 1967)

Translation: Simmer down, WSJ . If Our Bobness didn’t get nabbed for lifting “Blowin’ in the Wind” (in 1978 he said: “‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song, I don’t know if you ever heard, called ‘No More Auction Block'”), then you missed your window; he’s damn near unimpeachable now.

2. Tears of rage, tears of grief / Must I always be the thief? (“Tears of Rage,” co-written with Richard Manuel, 1968)

Translation: As The New Republic ‘s Leon Wieseltier described Stephen Glass’ mea culpa on 60 Minute s, this is “contrition as a career move”-except that our blue-eyed Rapunzel from Hibbing is not a bespectacled twerp like Mr. Glass, and his tears are acidic. (See: “Positively 4th Street.”)

3. It takes a thief to catch a thief …. (“Moonlight,” 2001)

Translation: Nobody’s perfect. Take note, Mr. Eig and Mr. Moffett.

4. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, / Steal a lot and they make you king. (“Sweetheart Like You,” 1983)

Translation: Let’s see: Doris Kearns Goodwin is a media darling and a member of the Board of Overseers at Harvard University; Stephen Ambrose has sold millions of books; the aforementioned Mr. Glass has a new book and movie about himself on the way.

5. “Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief / Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief / Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief / Is there a hole for me to get sick in?” (“Tombstone Blues,” 1965)

Translation: More contrition. In the shadow of a saint, you think Mr. Dylan can’t handle a couple of journalists? Bob’s been to hell and back-which you’d know if you’re one of the three schlubs who saw Hearts of Fire .

6. Don’t steal, don’t lift / Twenty years of schoolin’ / And they put you on the day shift (“Subterranean Homesick Blues,” 1965)

Translation: This is the ultimate rebuke to those would-be Pinkertons. If Mr. Dylan hadn’t helped himself to Dr. Saga’s lines, he’d be flipping burgers.

To sum up, consider these lines from “Absolutely Sweet Marie” (1966):

To live outside the law, you must be honest / I know you always say that you agree ….

-Elon Rafael Green

Suburban Slumming

On a bustling block off Sixth Avenue sits one of Manhattan’s hottest restaurants. The place doesn’t take reservations; on weekends, you’ll wait two hours for a table. We’re talking, of course, about the Olive Garden on Sixth Avenue and 22nd Street. The wood-paneled walls. The imitation marble columns. The glossy, laminated menus. How is it that an Italian-themed chain restaurant-418 in the U.S. and counting!-that serves up lots of pasta and no attitude is thriving in this carbo-phobic town? By trafficking-unintentionally and unself-consciously-in suburban nostalgia.

At 9 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, the dining room was packed. At the bar, a group of four friends were enjoying the remnants of bread sticks, salad and cold beer as a crowd of at least 20 waited at the door for a table.

“We live in the East Village, so normally I would never see these people,” said Mark Arroyo, a 34-year-old with short black hair and matching black-framed glasses who works for a Soho advertising firm. “It’s like they imported everything from Jersey. The wait staff, décor, the people eating here-it’s like being in a time warp.”

His friend and fellow East Village resident Alix Ford admitted that after leaving her midtown office (hedge funds) to go out to dinner, the Olive Garden didn’t jump to the top of the list. “We’re slumming,” said the blond Ms. Ford. “We call it the ‘Suburban Happy Hour . ‘ We’ve done TGIF’s, Applebees. Last month we were at Hooters. We usually order the signature cocktail, but tonight it’s just beer.”

Two tables over, Hillary Buyea, a 29-year-old real-estate lawyer, was finishing up a plate of chicken alfredo with her friend Emily Kindlon, a 22-year-old database administrator. “We’re from upstate New York originally, so there’s familiarity involved,” she said. “We’re both big fans of the Olive Garden.”

At another table sat Gary Sav, a 29-year-old Wall Street analyst who lives on the Upper East Side and who’d had lunch at Nobu that day. He was looking sorrowfully at his eggplant parmigiana.

“It looks like a frozen veggie patty,” he said. “I have this nagging suspicion that they stuck it in the microwave about five minutes ago.”

Adam Gorlyn, a fellow investment banker, said that the Olive Garden experience wasn’t as he remembered it from his college days at Rutgers. “Back in school, they used to serve the dipping sauce with the breadsticks. And the salads were bigger. What happened to all the tomatoes?” he said.

Mr. Sav looked around. “There are no hot girls here,” he said. “But that’s part of the catch. This isn’t your typical high-intensity New York restaurant scene. It’s not like Sushi Samba or something. It’s more like riding on the subway.” Steff Perl, a schoolteacher, sat across the table and poked quietly at her ravioli portobello.

On another warm summer night, Sidra Castor, a 23-year-old event planner, had snagged a table for herself and a friend. “I’ve been here three times since March,” she said. Originally from Ohio, Ms. Castor reminisced about the Olive Gardens back home. “When you go to authentic Italian restaurants in New York, you can’t find alfredo like this,” she said. “That’s what I like about Olive Garden: It’s more American.

“I get made fun of by all my friends,” she added. “They think it’s pathetic that I eat here. I think it’s kind of pathetic too, but I like it.”

-Gabriel Sherman

The End of Barbie?

Meet Toe Jam Jimmy. Jimmy is a three-inch-tall rubber toy decked out with purple hair, a wife-beater T-shirt and green goo between his toes.

Take him out of his package, and a whiff of that green goo may knock you over. You may never eat Roquefort again.

Jimmy is a “Stink Blaster,” part of a toy line to be released in the U.S. later this year. It’s been the No. 1–selling toy in Italy, where the bambinos are wild for the noxious knickknacks. Other scents include vomit, dog breath, “porta potty” and halitosis.

Stink Blasters were just one of the products being hawked by toy manufacturers to retail buyers in late June at the International Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue. In previous years, retail buyers would take the grueling 24-hour flight to Hong Kong showrooms to check out the next plastic cash cow. But this year, worries about SARS had U.S. retailers clamoring for a domestic show to keep them out of East Asia.

Some of the new stuff at the show included a George Bush action figure that spouts 17 canned phrases (“I come from Texas!”), a motorized watergun and increasingly tiny radio-controlled cars that are already popular as an after-work distraction for Japanese bar patrons. Hulk and Spider-Man toys were all over the place, not to mention the Chihuahua from Legally Blonde 2. But the fact was, Stink Blasters and talking Presidents notwithstanding, a lot of these new toys really seemed to suck.

Indeed, SARS was the least of the problems facing the toymakers gathered at the I.T.C. (unless you happened to be Asian-exhibitor Len Soyka complained that one of his manufacturers, an Asian-American woman, was stopped and asked to present a passport). Kids are getting older faster, and the toy industry is starting to sweat about it.

According to Carol Rehtmeyer, president of Rehtmeyer Design and Licensing, the industry targets children based not on their real ages, but on their “aspirational age”-the age they wish they could be. So a doll being peddled to 8-year-olds will have a TV commercial showing pubescent 13-year-olds emoting about the toy’s awesomeness.

“At one time, Barbie was aimed at a 12-year-old girl,” Ms. Rehtmeyer said. “Today, by the time they’re 6, they’re done.”

She also bemoaned the “programming” of today’s children, whose lives are a constant shuttling from one supervised activity to another.

“Kids are complacent,” she said. “They’re always with authority figures and always being guided: ‘Now we’re doing soccer practice; now we’re doing tae kwon do.’ The kids are learning to listen to what’s going to happen rather than think on their own.”

(She would seem to know what she’s talking about: On her Web site, the toy executive describes herself as an “author, ballerina, 1st degree Tae Kwon Do black belt holder, award-winning competitive dog trainer, one-time professional ice-skater, and a wife and mother of a five year old daughter.”)

But back to the Stink Blasters. Will they be a hit in New York? Jeffrey Haber, owner of the toy boutique A Bear’s Place on Lexington Avenue, said he didn’t think so-he wrinkled his nose at the mere sight of one. Would the three-inch rubber nuisances sell (at $4.99 each)?

“In the lower-end stores … maybe,” he said.

-Michael Mohammed

Nobody Feels Any Pain