Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Feel Bad

Gee I feel really bad about all the labels I didn't have room to attach to that last "post."

Lemon Air

Hey I went out of town again and jotted notes about everything I did, who cares? But the day before I went on my trip I was in the doctor's office - a new doctor. He had CIGAR AFICIONADO in the waiting room. I thought that was a weird magazine for a doctor to have in his waiting room (see also). And the first two letters to the editor in CIGAR AFICIONADO were about some readers' disappointment with CIGAR AFICIONADO's take on the Kennedy assassination! But mostly it was pictures of cigars. Ron Perlman, who does the voice of the Lich on ADVENTURE TIME, was on the cover of CIGAR AFICIONADO. I believe the cover said RON PERLMAN: DREAMING BIG. But he just looked disgruntled about something! After I had looked at all the pictures of cigars I picked up Martha Stewart's magazine, which contained this phrase: "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." It was a Halloween snack tip which I found fascinating and disturbing. I kept muttering it aloud because I wanted to remember it and didn't have a pen. "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." I said it a lot, out loud there at the doctor's office. "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." I started to think (realize?) that "sprayed" and "diluted" are the most awful words in the sentence. It is awful to picture someone "spraying" peanuts with "diluted" black food coloring. Sure, I would have "blogged" about the doctor's office magazines that day, but I was late for an ADVENTURE TIME video conference. So I had to come straight home and jump right into that. Late! Late for a meeting the first time ever. No time for "blogging"! After the meeting I had to take care of a few things and go to bed. Up bright and early for a trip to California for more ADVENTURE TIME doings! Allow me to describe it for you in agonizing detail you won't ever read, as transcribed from my precious little notebook of precious observations. Okay! On the way to the Memphis airport I saw a motel sign advertising "CHITTERLINGS" in the space where they usually say "FREE HBO." Now the first thing I know you're dying to hear is what I read on the airplane. Well, Ace Atkins recently talked Megan Abbott into reading her first novel in the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Megan said the book had "wit and soulful women" in it. And so I recalled that McNeil had given me a Travis McGee paperback 20 years ago at least... maybe 30 years ago! And there it has sat, neglected, on various shelves, most recently the drugstore spinner in my home office. Like Megan, I never made the leap to Travis McGee. But now I am finally reading that book McNeil gave me so many decades ago. Ha ha, I am just going to keep typing, though we are only on page one of my notes and I am already bored with my own life. This may be my longest "post" ever! Because I am also going to tell you what I ALMOST read on the airplane but didn't: SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser. Dr. Theresa has raved about it for years. And once when we were visiting Laura Lippman, those two bonded over their love of the book. Later on I discovered that Megan loves it too. Now, this is the same trio who finally got me to crack open MILDRED PIERCE, a masterpiece. But Dr. Theresa's paperback of SISTER CARRIE is mutilated with affection and scholarship: folded, cracked, dog-eared, marked-up, annotated copiously by hand... altogether too physically complicated for casual airplane reading. Ha ha I love how boring I am being right now. I had to get up early - well before dawn - to make it to the plane, and fell into a deep slumber on the runway. When I awoke, I asked my seatmate, "Are we there?" I really thought we had landed at LAX. He had to tell me we still hadn't left the ground in Memphis. What shenanigans! Pen and Kent picked me up at the airport in a white 1951 Bentley! This was the only way for them to top their previous luxurious joke of picking me up in a stretch limo. "How are you going to top yourself now?" I asked Pen. "We're not doing this again," he said somberly in a way that made me believe him. Now here is an amazing coincidence you won't care about: Pen and Kent took me straight to a restaurant I had just read about in a magazine in my doctor's office the day before... in a beer lover's magazine called DRAFT. That's right, my doctor had magazines about cigars AND beer in his office. As we waited for our food there was some saucy music playing and Pen said, "I could teach you how to rhumba." And it turns out he wasn't kidding! (Although we didn't rhumba.) Pen used to be a dance instructor, I learned. Pen said, "Old ladies would occasionally proposition you." ("Click" here to read the interview I did with Megan Abbott when we talk about how Billy Wilder used to be a "taxi dancer," likewise popular with the ladies! Though Pen never went the Billy Wilder route and took any old ladies up on it.) For dinner, Leslie Wolfhard and her husband Steve and Kent took me to the soothingly dark Tam O'Shanter, where Walt Disney used to have lunch every day. I found out that Leslie's favorite movie is NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and that she lived in Atlanta during some of the same years Dr. Theresa and I did. So we got to be nostalgic about the Majestic Diner and stuff like that ("click" here for an interview where I get appallingly mawkish about Atlanta). They put horseradish in the deviled eggs at the Tam O'Shanter. Unless I am nuts, I have never before run across that welcome innovation. Everyone else had prime rib, but I went the more healthy route of corned beef and cabbage. Ha ha ha! But really, I ate all my vegetables and ordered some "mixed peas" on the side. And I even left a little corned beef on my plate, in honor of what I knew would have been Dr. Theresa's wishes (ha ha, she would have commanded me to "order fish" - WHAT! Oh well). For I knew that the next night I would be dining at the steakhouse where Bob Hope used to eat ("The Smokehouse") where I always go, I can't help myself. The Tam O'Shanter is where I drank the first of many negronis on this trip. It was all negronis all the time, brother! I am not sure why. I never had one before. But just before I left, I saw Dr. Theresa and Megan throwing them back at the City Grocery Bar and I guess I thought they looked pretty good. (Well, I did have half a beer at the restaurant from the doctor's office beer magazine, and a small glass of Amontillado [just for the Poe associations]- after a negroni - at a fancy dinner [see below - ha ha, you'll never make it!]) After the Tam O'Shanter I called Dr. Theresa and she said they had been filming a commercial next to our house. Here I am in Hollywood and they're filming a commercial at our house in Mississippi, ha ha ha, what a country. The following morning, in the Starbucks where I once saw the guy from Tenacious D who is not Jack Black, I was reading the New York Times and there was a quote from our friend and neighbor Richard Howorth on the front page of the Arts Section. A welcome and unexpected touch of home! Hey, it looks like I really am going to type up all my notes! I usually skip some of them. I went to my first comic book convention, Wondercon in Anaheim, to be on an ADVENTURE TIME panel. Jesse Moynihan explained that it's not really a "comic book convention." He explained what it was, but I can't remember. All I know is I saw Lou Ferrigno sitting in a booth next to the guy who played the "Soup Nazi" on SEINFELD. They were both selling their autographs for cash, which I guess is something I knew went on, way in the back of my mind. I wondered if it was demoralizing for the "Soup Nazi" to sit under a big banner with the word "Nazi" on it all day. I also spotted Sergio Aragones, which was thrilling! He was a big part of my childhood, drawing all those little comics in the margins of MAD magazine. A bunch of us from ADVENTURE TIME sat at a long table and signed hundreds and hundreds of posters for hundreds and hundreds of people (not for money). Some people wanted me to draw them a picture, not realizing I don't draw at all. So I tried a few pitiful Finns and a BMO ("He's just a rectangle!" I encouraged myself) and once, upon request, a Lady Rainicorn (see also!) who turned out looking like a snake who had been through some unimaginable tragedy. Speaking of posters, Cole Sanchez and Jesse bought me a thoughtful and awesome present at Wondercon... an original poster from the 1973 Clint Eastwood movie where a groovy free spirit teaches a craggy old square businessman all about love... BREEZY! They knew of my obsession with it. (You can see a video of the presentation by "clicking" here. And "click" here for a little more about BREEZY.) Then some super serious and professional and brisk and unsmiling security people hustled us through a bunch of SPINAL TAP-style back rooms and passages and freight elevators and corridors to get us to our panel, where there were - I have to believe - thousands of people in attendance! Above you can see the panel members... from left to right that's Kent, Pen, Andy Ristaino, Adam Muto, me, Steve (with Jessica Dicicco, who plays the Flame Princess on the show, standing in front of him), Jesse, and Kumail Nanjiani of TV's SILICON VALLEY, who plays Prismo on ADVENTURE TIME. We took a shuttle back to Burbank and Kent took me to my hotel and we sat in the lobby and I drank a negroni and Kent ordered some wings. "Yeah!" I exclaimed. "I want to see you eat some chicken while I'm here." Because Kent loves chicken, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! What a country. Then I went to the steakhouse where Bob Hope used to eat and ordered a negroni and my usual, the "Steak Sinatra." And one of my tablemates said, "I used to know one of Bob Hope's mistresses." So that was exciting! My fellow diners included Joey Lauren Adams and my friend "The Hollywood Producer" - I honestly can't recall why I originally thought I needed to cloak him in anonymity but I'm going to stick with it. It's a tradition! I will say he has lost 50 pounds and looks like a superstar! Next up, karaoke. Joey wanted me to sing "Stagger Lee" with her. She said I had introduced it to her, in the Lloyd Price version, on a 45 at my house, and she had loved it ever since, so how could I say no to a duet tinged with such tender associations from the good old days when Joey used to live in town? Rash decision! Management, it turns out, has a foam cannon standing by with which to express its displeasure. Joey and I were deluged in torrents of punitive foam for whatever desecration we were perpetrating on the venerable tale of Stagger Lee. And by we, I mean me. I nobly intercepted the majority of the foam, keeping Joey unscathed - except in her heart! It occurs to me that I was perhaps the sole intended recipient of the foam and not "protecting" Joey at all. Terrible revelation! Joey and the H.P. were just trying to recreate the incredible joy of a previous occasion, The Smokehouse followed by karaoke in the same spot... but YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. We had fun anyway! And the karaoke place made pretty great negronis. But when I got back to my room, my iPod, set to shuffle, was playing "Wrong 'Em Boyo" by the Clash. Out of 20,000 songs. That's the one that quotes liberally from "Stagger Lee." Technology is sentient. And hurtful. The next day I saw my brother and most of my nephews... one of them was off somewhere petting ducklings. While I was hanging out with the others, a picture came (to my brother's phone) of my absent nephew holding a duckling and I had to admit it looked like he had made a solid choice.
That evening, sitting in my hotel lobby waiting for the cab that was to take me to Laraine Newman's house (!) I read my Travis McGee. One of the "soulful women" Megan was talking about said of an evening on the town that she had had "a lovely, lovely time up until I went owly." Went owly! That's one I never heard before. And so I was able to add to my big long list of books with owls in them. Laraine and her husband Chad took me out to an incredible dinner I can't describe and won't forget. Infinite tiny courses. Tapas is a weak word. Brussels sprouts came with "lemon air." I said lemon air! I guess it is an exhalation that someone gently coaxed from a lemon. Not only was I in great company but the service was down-to-earth and accessible amid the weird splendor of the surroundings and the potentially daunting array of dishes. I had sea urchin for the first time, which I think I am right in describing as "the peanut butter of the sea." Then I went back to their place and watched GAME OF THRONES with Laraine Newman! During the sexy parts I was like - silently - "Oh no I am watching sex stuff with Laraine Newman... and her husband... and their dog." The cabbie on the way back to the hotel wanted to compare the natural disasters of California and Mississippi. He said, and I wrote it down, "Compared to tornados, earthquakes are candy. So your window rattles. A tornado, your house gets up and goes to another state." My flight home was the next day! So I went to the bar and ordered a negroni to take up to my room to help me pack. The bartender said, "That's a man's drink! I could never drink that." I was surprised. I really thought it was "a woman's drink." I associated it with Dr. Theresa and Megan. But maybe he was just angling for a tip. Though I could imagine Bob Hope and Nixon knocking back a few negronis in the Oval Office. Dressed for bed and drinking my Final Negroni, I caught sight of myself in one of the full-length mirrors they put cruelly all over hotel rooms and could not help but note my disturbing psychological resemblance to Martin Sheen at the beginning of APOCALYPSE NOW but, you know, fat. Now we're back to the airport! Seated across from me as I waited to board was a guy dipping extremely "fragrant" chewing tobacco and spitting it into a large clear plastic cup. I'm sure it's perfectly legal and happens in airports every day as far as I know. On the plane they tried to give me a "molasses clove cookie." WHAT! First of all, cloves in a cookie? Maybe that is normal and legal too. But the worst offense was trying to substitute a "molasses clove cookie" for a Biscoff, America's greatest airplane cookie. You may be sure I put up a fuss (i.e., asked politely) and got my Biscoff. On the way back home from the airport, I called Mom to let her know I got back okay. She said how much she had loved the ADVENTURE TIME season premiere and I realized I hadn't seen it yet because of traveling. "It had my favorite character," Mom said. I asked her who that was. "I don't know," said Mom. "She's a peach or a potato." Mom meant Tree Trunks, who is an elephant.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Good Supply of Benzedrine

Watching CRITIC'S CHOICE from the Freudian angle this time. Rip Torn tells Bob Hope he wants to "make a monkey" out of him. "Overthrow the father image," Bob Hope extrapolates. "Sort of!" says Rip Torn, with an expression just slightly less maniacal than the one he wears in MAIDSTONE. Rip Torn later confronts Bob Hope in the nude! (Rip is in the nude, not Bob.) I can't recall whether this is before or after Bob Hope is about to bite into a hot dog when his son says something precocious about sex. "Sex? What's sex?" says Bob Hope, returning his attention to his hot dog with palpable dismay. Speaking of the precocious son, his best pal's dad is a psychoanalyst, and they sit in a part of the pal's apartment where they can overhear the dad (Jim Backus) with his patients, a conceit "borrowed" by Hope fan Woody Allen in at least two movies (see also). We are done with Freud for now. But I found some support for Megan's idea, stated long ago, that Rip Torn is kind of a beatnik in this movie. He boasts of having "a good supply of Benzedrine" at one point, Benzedrine being the stimulant of choice for beatniks as you know. Dr. Theresa shows the James Garner/Doris Day movie THE THRILL OF IT ALL in some of her gender classes (and wrote about it in her dissertation). That's the one where James Garner, as an obstetrician, gets more credit than the mother for producing a baby, according to Dr. Theresa's analysis. "I want to be a doctor's wife!" cries Doris Day (who has briefly become a "career woman") as the climactic epiphany of the film, if I am recalling Dr. Theresa's description correctly. There's something similarly creepy about CRITIC'S CHOICE, in which Lucille Ball, as the wife of the theater critic played by Bob Hope, is repeatedly mocked for trying to write a play. But you know, watching it this time I am struck by how much more realistically the situation is handled than it was in the TV show PARENTHOOD (which I used to call "the shoe factory show" because it used to take place mostly in a shoe factory) when Lauren Graham's character wrote a theatrical masterpiece without even trying and in fact without even realizing it was a play. That was an actual plot on PARENTHOOD! Now, when Bob Hope sits on a park bench and mercilessly rips apart Lucille Ball's first draft, he's very mean, but the words he says sound like actual words a person might say when critiquing someone's fledgling attempt at a form and, back to Freud, the movie seems to recognize his sublimated insecurity and rage. Ha ha ha, God I bore myself.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bubble House

As promised, here is the "bubble house" or "space house," a large plastic egg dangling from a lamppost in the foreground. The effigies I mentioned yesterday are hardly visible.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where Baby Elvis Was Born

On our way back from the Amory Railroad Festival, Dr. Theresa, who was driving, made a spontaneous stop at Elvis's birthplace in Tupelo. Of the four of us, only Megan - from New York by way of Detroit - had been before! Where you buy your ticket to the humble two-room house, there's a little model of that same house sitting on the counter. Going to the festival (and speaking of houses) Dr. Theresa pointed out an odd little house in, I believe, the town of Nettleton (?). We referred to it as the "bubble house" or the "space house" and probably had some other names for it. On the way back, she got Megan to take a picture of it. I offered my opinion that you shouldn't stand in people's yards and take pictures of their houses, but everyone else pointed out that if you build a house like that you want people to take pictures of it. Also, the homeowners had propped up some human-sized rabbit dolls on a swing. "I'll be inconspicuous," said Megan. Dr. Theresa parked in the church parking lot next door to the space house (a church with a sign out front that said W...E.........LC.......O..M, with the M all the way at the end of the sign, as if they had run out of room - these were those movable plastic letters by the way!). We all had to laugh as Megan pranced brazenly ("Like a sprite!" said Dr. Theresa) to the space house - maybe she gamboled! - and took pictures of it while being in no way inconspicuous. I have not yet received those photographs.

He Made Us Nervous

You know what else we saw at the Amory Railroad Festival? This bounce house with a giant Batman on the front of it. It was an unlicensed Batman, or so Jimmy speculated, because there was a Spider-Man painted on the bounce house too, and they belong to different corporations. The bouncing inside the bounce house caused Batman to thrust his hips obscenely at the festival crowd. "You have to go in through his legs," Jimmy observed. Megan titled this photo "He Made Us Nervous." Walking back to the car we heard the screams of the people on the wildly careening carnival rides. "They're strong screams, full-throated, from the diaphragm," said Megan, a connoisseur of screams.

Shirley Temple Hobo Movie

Our friend Jill Stevens told Dr. Theresa and me about her hometown's railroad festival practically as soon as we moved to Oxford, and we've been talking about going to the Amory Railroad Festival ever since. It's finally happening. Jill said she can't make it but her kids will be there. Every year we talk about going with Jill and every year for some reason we can't make it. UNTIL NOW! This is how long we've been talking about it: Jill didn't have any kids when we were first discussing it, and now she has two! Two kids old enough to go to a railroad festival! When Jill was a girl the festival was centered on hobo culture and hoboes came from all over the U.S. to participate. Hobo culture still seems to play a part in the festival, though it can't possibly be as exciting as when Jill was a girl and Steam Train, the official King of the Hoboes, would come each year and speak to her enthralled class. Megan Abbott hasn't been talking about going to the railroad festival quite as long as we have, just since my birthday party in 2009, where the subject came up. When Jimmy and Megan and I were at a bar not too long ago, I said, "You know, John Hodgman is interested in hoboes." "But is he interested IRONICALLY?" Megan asked in an accusatory tone. "Irony is the enemy," she went on, which both Jimmy and I misheard as "He is the enemy," meaning Hodgman. But that's not what she said! Well, I made a "hobo mix tape" for the car. Jimmy's coming with us! I'll take up this "post" upon our return. Okay, we're back! On the way, Megan said, "Shirley Temple should have made a hobo movie." Then we stopped at a gas station for directions because we thought we were lost even though we weren't. Next to the gas station, a used bookstore was going out of business. Megan walked in and nabbed a copy of Shirley Temple's autobiography. I got a "Harlequin Medical Romance" entitled THE BROODING DOC'S REDEMPTION. The first sentence of THE BROODING DOC'S REDEMPTION is "This was ridiculous." We had a great time at the festival. I was famished upon arrival. Jimmy and I availed ourselves of rib sandwiches (pictured). The bones were still in the ribs, a problem I believe I have encountered in rib sandwiches before: how can you eat a sandwich with a bone in it? And yet, as Fitzgerald said, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to rib sandwiches with the bones in them." Dr. Theresa and Megan had catfish, piping hot from the fryer and perfectly seasoned. They accidentally gave Dr. Theresa two catfish sandwiches and refused to take payment for the extra. Friends, I devoured that bonus catfish sandwich. Both sandwiches, may it be said, were of the most basic variety imaginable: bread and meat; bread and fish. Nothing else. The Earl of Sandwich would have been proud to see his original intentions so purely honored. Then we walked over to where Jill had said the hoboes would be, and there they were. We didn't know what to do, really. They seemed to be having a fine time just talking among themselves and it seemed rude to interrupt. Later we speculated that if Jill had been there she would have guided us in the proper etiquette. As it was, we passed silently by the campfire. "Numbers are dwindling," the festival's Official Program says of hobo participation. "Many of the original hobos have since 'caught the westbound,' which is to say they have passed away." Then there was a list of some of the hoboes expected to attend, including Mad Mary and Double Bob.

Buyer's Remorse

Ace was amused by the tale of how the frog on a toilet he gave me nearly drove me insane. But he's still angry with himself for not buying the (unauthorized, we assume) Mickey Mouse on a toilet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ace's Office

Walked up to Ace's office today, and guess what? Wright Thompson was there too. Ace just got back from France, where he had "pig snouts and veal feet for dinner." Ace said of the veal feet, "It was like potato salad, except instead of potatoes it was cartilage."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cowering Under Ivy

Hey look just so you know I'm not obliged to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book. Like, if an owl appears on page 3 of a book I don't have to tell you again if another owl appears on page 60. That's not my job! But another owl has appeared in UNCLE SILAS by Sheridan Le Fanu and I think I'll tell you about it because BOTH times the owl represents our narrator's weird French governess and anyway I like a lot of the phrases here and really I can do whatever I want and no one can stop me: "I could no more stir than the bird who, cowering under its ivy, sees the white owl sailing back and forward under its predatory cruise."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


In this gothic Sheridan Le Fanu novel I have been reading, our heroine is nearly snatched by two "ruffianly-looking" men who call themselves Lord Lollipop and Sir Simon Sugarstick. IT'S TERRIFYING. Also I did not know that "ruffian" had an adverbial form. But it does! You can be old like me and still learn exciting new things you should have already known. It's terrifying.

Dr. Theresa Solves a Mystery

For three or four days a noise in my little home office here has been driving me crazy, Poe-style: tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... almost too quiet to hear. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Finally I called in Dr. Theresa to investigate. She asked for silence and sat in the center of the room. Then, almost immediately, she started laughing. "I think it's that frog on a toilet," she said. Yes, faithful readers, she was referring to that gift presented so ceremoniously to us by Ace Atkins: a novelty frog on a pink toilet, which harnesses the mighty solar power of our life-giving sun to bob its head in a humorous fashion. The thing is, the frog has never worked before. And those three or four days over which it kept going tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... were gray and overcast! With nary a beam of sunlight to start it a-bobbing. Dr. Theresa cannot solve that part of the mystery. No one can. There it was, beating its little plastic head against the side of my printer. Tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap...