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...

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lucy's Pelvis

Watched the first few minutes of CRITIC'S CHOICE, starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, which I dvr'd from TCM, and which contains, in those first few minutes, a lot of uncomfortable talk about Lucy's pelvis. I was uncomfortable, anyway. This time I noted that CRITIC'S CHOICE is based on a novel by Ira Levin. And not too long ago BACHELOR IN PARADISE, based on a story by Vera Caspary, became a Doomed Book Club selection. Like Caspary, Levin is known for darker material not easily transformed into Bob Hope movies. Also, Jim Backus, a volume of whose dual autobiography with his wife is coincidentally the current Doomed Book Club selection, appears in CRITIC'S CHOICE. So I was like, "Wow, life is interesting!" And then I suddenly realized: No it's not. Why did I ever think it was?

Redolent of Cocoa Butter

The horrible chocolate wine makes an appearance in the Megan Abbott interview (the shocking truth about the horrible chocolate wine may stun and amaze you!), a fact to which Megan alluded in a tweet. As a result, she is now "followed" on "twitter" by "Top Brass Vodka: 80 PROOF WHITE CHOCOLATE ALMOND DESSERT VODKA - REDOLENT OF COCOA BUTTER." Sounds classy!

Trudy Kockenlocker

I brag at the beginning of that interview with Megan Abbott about the lack of fact checking. What a thing to brag about! Now I'm thinking I grossly exaggerated the influence of LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT (the Cain novel) on MILLER'S CROSSING... BUT! In LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT there is an Italian gangster named Caspar whose voice is "trembling with rage" one minute and the next minute he's nodding parentally as his fat wife and kid come in and tell him about the kid's day (while our henchman protagonist is sitting there) and then he gives the kid a penny. So does that sound familiar? Yes, because it is also a good description of a scene in MILLER'S CROSSING. But my overstated comparison has the side effect of wrongfully undercutting Megan's valid point (in the interview) that the men's relationship in Hammett's THE GLASS KEY is "Unique in all literature, really." What else? I spell Kockenlocker with a C, mistakenly. (Pictured, Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker. Hutton's father abandoned the family when she was a baby! She was singing in a speakeasy by the time she was three! Facts half-remembered and vaguely alluded to in the interview.)