Sunday, June 19, 2016

Catfish of Ancient Egypt

Here's everything I didn't "blog" about this month. 1. "You should eat a lot of jelly: it oils up your joints." - Mom. 2. For reasons that need not concern you, Ace Atkins and I were discussing the availability of catfish in the Middle East. So when I started reading a book about ancient Egypt (THE RISE AND FALL OF ANCIENT EGYPT by Toby Wilkinson) I was delighted to find many allusions to catfish: "an ivory cylinder shows the king as a vicious Nile catfish, beating rows of prisoners with a long stick." At first I thought that was funny, even though it is not funny to beat people with a stick... I guess it was the vicious catfish that made me laugh, though the more I thought about it, the more convincingly Lovecraftian the image revealed itself to be - and besides, my grandfather taught me long ago to beware the dangerous "whiskers" of the catfish. 3. By coincidence I watched Kurosawa's RAN (based on KING LEAR) and a TV adaptation of THE DRESSER (about a production of KING LEAR) on the same day. So I went to my facsimile of Holinshed's Chronicles for the source, and was distressed to recall I have only volumes 3 and 6. See? This is the kind of crap you're missing out on now that I'm not "blogging" anymore. 4. Nor could I find my copy of KING LEAR, which made me feel like King Lear, ha ha ha, see what you're missing. (Later, by further coincidence, Lear would pop up all over this Orson Welles bio that Megan and I are reading together, though not - I think - as an official selection of the Doomed Book Club.) 5. ADVENTURE TIME meeting! We talked about Fonzie wearing glasses and Jan from THE BRADY BUNCH wearing glasses and that made Kent think of Piggy from LORD OF THE FLIES, and I said that using Piggy's glasses to start a fire was in my cigarette lighter book and Adam asked whether that counted. That got us onto the subject of "burning lenses" and Adam mentioned an "ancient death ray." I think he said, "Is that like the ancient death ray?" I said I remembered Francis Bacon advocating for the use of burning lenses as military weapons (it's in my book!) but Adam said he was talking about "Archimedes and the Siege of Syracuse." Adam knows everything! (See also.) Taking a quick glance at the "internet" I do see an unsubstantiated rumor that Archimedes built a giant mirror with which to set fire to the enemy's sails. On the same day the aforementioned discussion occurred, I read in a tweet by Chris Offutt, "I have a short story that includes a woman using a lighter to heat up a Pop Tart one bite at a time." Both of these tidbits (Archimedes, Pop Tarts) would have easily passed muster for my cigarette lighter book, had I only known about them in time. And you know, as long as we're here, the fascinating
movie WOMAN ON THE RUN has an important lighter in it... I think I can tell you this without spoiling anything (probably not): it neatly marks the beginning of each of the movie's three acts (possibly). 6. A ribald jest from McNeil about Jerry Lewis. A series of them, really. Or one long ribald jest that is carried out and elaborated upon over a number of emails. McNeil's final (?) message on the subject concludes, "Ahhhh. I'm making myself laugh in a parking lot, which makes this all the more wrong." 7. I don't remember much liking the movie HEARTBURN when it came out, but I saw a documentary about Nora Ephron not too long ago and thought if I ever came across HEARTBURN again I'd give it a try - what, 40 years later? Dear God! And I did. And Yakov Smirnoff is in it! Now, it's not Mike Nichols's fault that this one book I read stacked him up as the pinnacle of hip culture against the supposed rancid decadence of Bob Hope, but just remember: Mike Nichols put Yakov Smirnoff in a movie and Bob never did (though I wouldn't be surprised if he were on a Bob Hope TV special, to be fair [He was. - ed.]).
8. Jerry Lewis allusion in TREES LOUNGE. 9. Stopped by Square Books. Katelyn failed to sell me a book she likes, but utterly convinced me to give APOCALYPTO a chance. 10. Watched PINOCCHIO. a. Jiminy Cricket has human feet and toenails, human teeth! Disturbing. b. That fish wants to kiss everyone and everything. c. Jiminy Cricket is consistently sexually aroused by human representations (dolls) of his size. d. Even as a kid I didn't understand why being a wooden boy wasn't good enough. What's all this crap about being a "real boy"? 11. King Lear (see above) vows "to be a comrade with the wolf and owl" (just like Dracula! - though he doesn't say that, of course) and you know what that means!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reading In Dreams

I guess I should tell you that McNeil dreamed about Nipsey Russell the other night. In the dream he was looking up Nipsey Russell in the dictionary and when he awoke he could remember the things he was reading in the dictionary. McNeil said he had always heard a person can't read in dreams, and I recalled hearing something like that myself, but as I told McNeil - reassuringly! - I often read in dreams and remember the words on the page when I awake. Yes, I felt I needed to inform you. Say did you know that Nipsey Russell was famously an employee of the Varsity in his youth, Atlanta's home of the chili dog and the hot peach pie? Remember, I'm no longer "blogging." This doesn't count. I was never here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

From Pen

Pen sent me an email that was just this screen cap and it really cheered me up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jennifer Lawrence Admires a Conch

I guess you think I "blogged" an awful lot in May for somebody who stopped "blogging" in April. Shows how much you know! There was so much stuff I didn't "blog" about in May! You wouldn't even believe it. Here is some of it. 1. Stopped by Square Books and bought a notebook. Katelyn said, "Don't you like ______?" (She named another brand.) I said I found the binding inferior. "You should write a letter to the company!" said Katelyn. "I love writing letters to companies." I asked her, "What are you, a ninety-year-old man at heart?" "She does it after she eats her liver and onions," said Slade. Katelyn guilelessly confirmed that she loves liver and onions and wishes she knew how to cook it for herself. 2. Ace wasn't in his office, where I was supposed to meet him, so I sat in the anteroom (?) and looked at a magazine with this caption on the cover: "With a team of wildlife experts, Uma Thurman moves a white rhino threatened by poachers to safety." But you don't see any wildlife experts; you just see Uma Thurman hugging a rhinoceros's head. I like how scrupulous they are not to give us the false impression that Uma Thurman was out there wrangling rhinos by herself. 3. I started reading the new Don DeLillo novel, which is about cryogenics, I guess. That made me recall all of a sudden that McNeil and I tried writing a screenplay called BLUE PERIOD back when we were in our twenties. The plot was that two guys (?) got trapped in an industrial walk-in freezer and told each other stories while they waited and hoped for help to arrive. One story was about a war with Antarctica, maybe? All the stories were about being cold. I remember that McNeil invented a weapon called the ICBM (Icy Cold Banana Malted instead of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile). Another story was about a scam artist with a cryogenics lab. He froze celebrities and thawed them out on a desert island, where they were forced to act in a movie he had written. That's all I remember about the screenplay. McNeil, confirming that such an attempted screenplay existed, said it featured a character named Dean running for office with the slogan "Dean Is Clean." 4. I met with Julia via computer monitor. I thought she said, "You look great!" She actually said, "You look gray!" 5. My doctor's waiting room suddenly has all of Richard Howorth's old NEW YORKER magazines in it - with his home address on the mailing labels and everything! 6. Dr. Theresa went to lunch at Handy Andy and I had pangs of jealousy, traces of which I allowed to cross my face. I had been craving Handy Andy, having recently written about it for publication (details forthcoming, surely, though I am not "blogging" anymore): I feared I had misremembered the condiments with which the Handy Andy double cheeseburger is dressed! Fact checking! Dr. Theresa even offered to bring me one home to examine and consume, but then we remembered that I had a doctor's appointment shortly (different doctor; never mind why I have so many doctors!) and a double cheeseburger might not sit well at a doctor's appointment. 7. This other doctor had more standard waiting room fare: in PEOPLE I read about how Tennille of The Captain and Tennille was embarrassed by a damaged finger she suffered in a wheelbarrow accident as a child. That's why she always turned down movie offers! Meanwhile, "The Captain" wore his famous captain's hat even to bed, humiliated by a failed hair transplant. They struck me as... tragic? "Jennifer Lawrence admires a conch" was a phrase I read in US magazine. 8. In an ADVENTURE TIME meeting I was trying to say the title of the TV show THE BIG BANG THEORY but I accidentally said "8 1/2 MEN." Sadly, I was not trying to be esoteric or funny. My brain had simply fizzled out and died. A good laugh was had by most. 9. We drove past Tom Franklin's place and there was a chicken pecking in his yard. I don't think he owns chickens! (See also.) This was a fluffy chicken with black feathers, salted with white. 10. I realized that I didn't give you a truly complete picture of everything I learned from THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. I kept a bunch of it off the "blog" and crammed it instead into a novel that will probably never be published, but here's the epigraph, anyway: "Bees indeed make neat and curious works, and many other creatures besides; but when they have done, they cannot judge of them." 11. McNeil's apple tree (below) is producing again. 12. Megan Abbott and I emailed back and forth about what Lady MacBeth meant by "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" and I sent her a chapter about demonology in Shakespeare from some old book. Only afterward did I realize that the old book was by T.F. Thistelton Dyer, who provided the epigraph for my new book of short stories MOVIE STARS! Yes, that is just one more example of the meaningless junk I didn't "blog" about this month. "Posting" this a week early I do hereby vanquish May's tyranny over my troubled and searching mind.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Barnacle

McNeil writes: "I saw THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN at the Bel Air Mall cinema one Saturday morning at 9 a.m. with my Boy Scout troop. We all hooted and hollered for Mr. Chicken to 'kiss her!' when he was sitting with a girl on a porch swing." I know I'm not "blogging" anymore, but can I help it if something floats along and attaches itself to a previous "post" like a barnacle?

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Last night Chris Offutt made a lot of good points about Icarus and I composed an entire "blog" "post" in my head summarizing them until I remembered I don't "blog" anymore. And anyway, maybe Chris will want to write up his own thoughts on the matter one day. In fact, I encouraged him to do so. Volubly! And when I got home, Megan Abbott had emailed me: "if I do a search through my emails with you for the word 'chicken,' dozens of emails come up! chicken foot, chicken leg, chicken comb, chickens brooding under tables, the ghost and Mr. Chicken" (pictured)... the other day Dr. Theresa said, "Hey, I thought you weren't 'blogging' anymore." And I said, "I only 'blogged' like two more times" and Dr. Theresa said "..."

Sunday, May 08, 2016

McNeil Log

In what may be a perverse secret campaign to keep me "blogging" against my wishes, McNeil sends the following email: "If you die before me, and if there is a viewing, I'm going to act like your tie needs straightening. When I pull my hands out I'll snap a ten dollar bill by the ends, hold it up to the light, then fold it up, put it in the pocket of my swimming trunks, put my hand against my side in a defining gesture and exit." I like how he saves the swimming trunks detail, and the casual way in which it is revealed. He adds, "You know who else does that gesture a lot? Major Healey!" And as soon as I read it, I could picture Roger Healey with his hand in just that position. But does that make it true? I have always intended to keep a log of McNeil's activities, even in the absence of the "blog."
Final note: McNeil and I have spent our whole lives spelling it "Healy," but according to imdb it's "Healey." Also: I just remembered something else from THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. Burton talks about something you're compelled to do "will or nill," meaning whether you want to or not. And I wondered whether the roots of the adverb "willy-nilly" lie in that phrase. It makes a kind of sense! But I don't care enough to look it up.