Monday, November 20, 2017

The Money Store

1. If we know anything about Bill Boyle, it is that he suggests decadent or disturbing books to me AND he sometimes gives me something to read on an airplane. This time he recommended a decadent book and I took it upon myself to bring it on the airplane. "I don't want to tell you anything about it," said Bill. "There's a tortoise encrusted with precious jewels." Well! I knew that much from the back of the book. And if that's on the back of the book you have to wonder what else is in there. The book is AGAINST NATURE - no, that's the title - by Joris-Karl Huysmans. 2. Lee Durkee gave me a ride to Memphis. See, the closest airport is in Memphis and my flight is always so early and this time I thought I'd stay overnight closer to the airport... for convenience! But! The last time I tried that I found my "motel by the airport" experience disenchanting. So I decided to stay somewhere "nicer." I recalled that Elvis fan Ace Atkins had once stayed at an Elvis-themed hotel in Memphis, which sounded like a diverting choice. After my no-refund advance booking (it was cheaper) I read that the place had been shut down temporarily some months ago due to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. "Oh, I'm sure they've taken care of it," Ace assured me with the casual air of the physically fit. My room was on the second floor but somehow the ground came right up to the window anyway. So the second floor was also a ground floor. I'm not sure I'm being clear. Some grass and dirt came right up to my window, and just beyond that, the dark, forbidding woods. Woods in Memphis! With naught but a pane of glass betwixt me and them. The window reached the ground, I mean. Something could stroll right through it. It looked like "Young Goodman Brown" out there. I vaguely recall from that Elvis book I was reading that Gladys was frightened by some bushes growing outside the Presley home. Now I know how she felt. 3. Two tiny spots like dried ketchup on my nice gray jacket that I am not actually sure is gray. Is it blue? Back at home, Dr. Theresa and I dismissed these spots as "a shadow" or "a fold in the material" but now I can see in the vast hallway mirror near the swirling white staircase at the Elvis-themed hotel that they are definitely spots of uncouth ketchup. 4. Sitting in the airport reading "he had gone to those unconventional supper-parties where drunken women loosen their dresses at dessert and beat the table with their heads." (!) 5. Flight. Beastie Boys came on the iPod, amiably rhyming "cellular" and "the hell you were," which I noted to tell Jon Host on my return. 6. The airplane food was something I'd never seen before. I might call it "an open-faced breakfast pie." In the center was a slurry composed of everything you've ever had for breakfast. Some of what I think was the egg portion was colored pink for reasons I never managed to grasp. I ate it. 7. An early impression, though the book was first published in 1884, is that AGAINST NATURE advocates for Pen Ward's pet mode of existence, virtual reality: "Nature, he used to say, has had her day; she has finally and utterly exhausted the patience of sensitive observers by the revolting uniformity of her landscapes and skyscrapers. After all, what platitudinous limitations she imposes, like a tradesman specializing in a single line of business; what petty-minded restrictions, like a shopkeeper stocking one article to the exclusion of all others; what a monotonous store of meadows and trees, what a commonplace display of mountains and seas! In fact, there is not a single one of her inventions, deemed so subtle and sublime, that human ingenuity cannot manufacture." 8. A new bartender at my hotel in Burbank asked where I was from and when I told him, a guy at the other end of the bar shouted, "A lot of great writers come from Mississippi!" This is a true fact, but I must tell you from my travels that this is never the first thing a stranger will say upon hearing the word "Mississippi." And I hasten to add that Mississippi has brought endless negative reactions on itself. But it was nice to hear something milder for a change. This guy, who did not hail from the South, I should say, was not up to speed on some contemporary Mississippi writers so I pitched him Mary Miller pretty hard. 9. Went back to Dan Tana's and got the same table! Been there three times, got the same table three times. Let's call it "my table." Let's call it that! I'm scared to ever go back in case I don't get it again. 10. Reading the paper the next morning I see that our friend and former neighbor Jesmyn Ward won another National Book Award, and it felt doubly right after hearing what the nice man at the bar had said about Mississippi writers. 11. My brother sent a pic of us at Dan Tana's. As he remarks, my face is vampirically blurred, as if photography cannot quite capture it. Here we see me in the preparation stages of jotting in my famous book of jottings, no doubt about the fact that we are getting our "regular table." A rare appearance of the jotting book in action!
You may also notice that my hair is sticking up and so is my brother's. That's going to be our gimmick now: the brothers whose hair sticks up. 12. Disagreement with a bartender about Robert Walker's performance in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. 13. I went to the ADVENTURE TIME wrap party and danced with Andy Merrill. You may remember him as Brak from SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST! As you can see below, we freaked out because Weird Al was RIGHT BEHIND US.
14. Laraine Newman and I saw Jeffrey Katzenberg in a grocery store. He's gotta eat too! We had lunch (not with Jeffrey Katzenberg). The young woman in charge of the host station spoke engagingly and learnedly to us of Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare. She knew a lot about THE CHERRY ORCHARD and also a lot about actual cherries and how to grow them, and what mistakes not to make when growing cherries, and what the cherries mean in THE CHERRY ORCHARD. I mean WHY CHERRIES? This is the question she answered. Fascinating and delightful! But I don't think I'll tell you. From our outdoor table we could see a bridge that Laraine told me was featured in one of the old, original PLANET OF THE APES movies. I said that Sal Mineo played an ape in one of those and Laraine sort of doubted me! She texted famed comedian Dana Gould right then and there and he immediately confirmed it with his knowledge. Dana Gould is Laraine's version of Google! 15. As the sun was going down I walked alone in the unfamiliar part of town from whence I had parted with Laraine. I found a fancy restaurant tucked - nay, almost buried - in an unlikely location. The bartender had played Hamlet twice! 16. The next morning I went to the Starbucks where I have seen Andrea Martin and (on a separate occasion) the guy from Tenacious D who is not Jack Black. Got the last New York Times from the rack and discovered something small and green on it. Small, green, and sticky. Bright green, emerald, holding there fast, hard candy vehemently licked and rejected or a foul lozenge someone had coughed up? Anyway, I touched it. I've visited this Starbucks often enough to recognize some of the customers who have been going there for years. There's one guy who blows his nose a lot. There he was, blowing his nose! Just like old times. He's been blowing his nose in that Starbucks since at least 2012. 17. "... birds with rats' heads and vegetable tails." When I read that I was like, "Nothing as prosaic as an owl is going to be in THIS book!" But in the very next paragraph: "a patch of virgin forest packed with monkeys, owls and screech-owls"! 18. Breakfast with my brother and nephews at Musso & Frank, where they are breakfast regulars, received warmly by all. My brother adjusted the blinds like he owned the joint! 19. After breakfast, we went to what my brother called "the money store," which turned out to be a hot, cramped box specializing in old coins and old silver and smelling like old farts. My eldest nephew and I looked at some olden utensils. "Look, they have the nicest spork ever made," said my nephew. 20. Dr. Theresa called: the wind blew and a huge limb, itself "the size of a tree" crashed to the earth right outside our house. It was a calamity! Also a miscreant peed in our backyard and ran away hitching up his pants under a fiery barrage of Dr. Theresa's righteous scolding. 21. Pen and I ate at The Smokehouse. Pen audaciously ordered the "steak Sinatra" with salmon instead of steak! We pondered what Frank might have made of that. We summoned up Frank Sinatra's violent, indignant ghost. The waiter said he would have to check what sort of surcharges would be involved. "A million dollars!" Pen predicted. But the waiter came back and said that according to the kitchen, steak Sinatra with salmon instead of steak costs ONE DOLLAR LESS than steak Sinatra! Then another waiter came in bearing a chicken pot pie that astounded everyone in the room. It was as large as... a pie. Like... a whole, entire flaky pie you might see on display for its beauty and wholesomeness in a bakery case. I swear, every person at every table was marveling that such a thing as this could be a chicken pot pie. Everyone stared in wonder - and dare I say envy? - at the recipient of the flabbergasting chicken pot pie. I thought of Dr. Theresa, who loves chicken pot pie, and I thought of her again as Pen and I enjoyed wedge salads, Dr. Theresa being one of our nation's leading proponents of the wedge salad. 22. At the airport I sat right next to a guy who had a big jotting book in the exact color and style of my small jotting book! I waved my tiny version of his large jotting book at him in excited solidarity. His wife laughed merrily at my antics and did not call airport security. 23. I don't "blog" anymore.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hoot Owls of East Tupelo

There are hoot owls in ELVIS AND GLADYS, Elaine Dundy's book about Elvis Presley and his mother, one of an endless series of celebrity biographies that Megan Abbott and I are reading together (see also), but I don't tell you about all of them because some of them don't have owls in them. In a footnote, Dundy finds it interesting that both Elvis and Marilyn Monroe had mothers named Gladys, which reminded me, although I've never seen it, of an infamous scene in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, that's fine. Okay, I guess Batman stops fighting Superman because he finds out they both have moms named Martha. Not that Elvis and Marilyn were ever engaged in some kind of cosmic battle (that I know of) but I would watch that movie.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Merry Meat Christmas

Some time after midnight I was watching FRASIER on the Hallmark Channel and they played an ad for a TV movie called MARRY ME AT CHRISTMAS, which, when the title appeared on the screen, appeared to my weary eyes as MERRY MEAT CHRISTMAS.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Slips My Mind

"There would be no ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE without GREEN ACRES," Lee Durkee said last night. He was reluctant to go so far as to say outright that Marquez had "ripped it off" but I think I could have pried a more assertive contention along those lines out of him with a little more effort and/or liquor. Lee also made a compelling case for the Buddha-like characteristics of Lisa Douglas (pictured) on the show, though the details somewhat elude me now. I think it mostly had to do with her clear-eyed, peaceful acceptance of her unusual neighbors, in contrast with Oliver's prickly resentment. I informed Lee of the New York Times's chronic and utter inability to grasp the subtleties of GREEN ACRES and he responded with appropriate indignation and shock. Meanwhile, through the medium of email, Ace Atkins informed/exhorted me "Eb lives in Laurel. We should go meet him!" That's Laurel, Mississippi, for those unacquainted. And if you don't know who Eb is, I'm just sad for you. The occasion of both conversations was the arrival of my GREEN ACRES box set, the entire series. As you know, I don't "blog" anymore, but I'm afraid this acquisition is going to force me to have to "blog" some more as time goes on. But that's also what I thought about THE BIG VALLEY.

Friday, October 13, 2017


You know I don't "blog" anymore unless it's firmly in the national interest, such as what I call "McNeilileaks," in which I reveal the private contents of my friend McNeil's emails without his permission. So I emailed McNeil about my surefire scheme to make a fortune by crossbreeding an apple with a lemon, producing a sweet lemon! Just think how much easier it would be to make lemonade, among other uses for this versatile fruit of my creation. McNeil shut me down succinctly! "What you will end up with is a sour apple - which already exists. What you might end up with is a lemon-sized sweet fruit, like a tangerine, which already exists." Ouch! The truth hurt. But remember, this is the same McNeil who wanted to steal people's skeletons and make diamonds out of them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Possessed of a Cat, Surpassing in Beauty

I was standing around in Square Books yesterday, killing time before Beth Ann Fennelly's reading, and I picked up a book about animals, but I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the title even though it had an owl in it. What chiefly surprised me about this particular owl is that it appears, according to the book I picked up, in Fragment B of Christopher Smart's JUBILATE AGNO, a fragment from which I have often read, but I have never noticed the owl. In my defense, that is a long fragment! And it starts with letting a lot people rejoice... like, hundreds? People or angels or saints or something. All rejoicing. Or being allowed or encouraged to rejoice. I guess. "Let Bukki rejoice with the Buzzard" is one example. "Let Hur rejoice with the Water-wag-tail." Okay! Whatever you say, Christopher Smart. Hundreds of those, maybe. And eventually we get to Shephatiah, who is supposed to "rejoice with the little Owl, which is the winged cat." I never thought of owls that way before, but I'm buying it. And Christopher Smart adds, "For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless almighty God."

Thursday, October 05, 2017

McNeil Month By Month

I know a lot of you are worried because I don't "blog" anymore, so how am I going to do my annual birthday tribute to McNeil, in which I give you "links" to the things he has done every month? Well, smooth your furrowed brows and put your troubled minds at ease! Remember, ever since the "blog" officially ended, on the day (coincidentally, or maybe it demoralized me) our TV blew up in April 2016, I have kept a physical log of McNeil's activities, on which I intend to draw here. Naturally, this new style of entry will not lead you back to a particular "link." I guess I will mark them with an asterisk. With such limitations casting a shadow over the proceedings I am delighted nonetheless to present our usual timely tribute to the continued existence of McNeil, yes, I give you "McNeil Month By Month": September 2006: McNeil contends that he does not enjoy the "Little Dot" comic book. October 2006: McNeil furnishes a memorable quotation. November 2006: McNeil recalls playing Aerosmith on a jukebox. December 2006: First appearance of "McNeil's Movie Korner." January 2007: McNeil's system for winning at craps. February 2007: McNeil doesn't see what's so hard about reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich at the same time. March 2007: McNeil and I are talking about Bob Denver when HE SUDDENLY APPEARS ON TELEVISION! April 2007: Wild turkeys roam McNeil's neighborhood. May 2007: McNeil gets in touch with an Australian reporter regarding a historical chimp. June 2007: First McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival announced. July 2007: Medicine changes McNeil's taste buds. August 2007: McNeil's trees not producing apples. September 2007: McNeil pinpoints a problem with the "blog." October 2007: McNeil presents a video entitled "Jerry's pre-defecation chills." November 2007: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy. December 2007: What is McNeil's favorite movie? January 2008: McNeil explains why the wind blows. February 2008: McNeil admires the paintings of Gerhard Richter. March 2008: McNeil comes up with an idea for a Lifetime TV movie. April 2008: McNeil's shirt. May 2008: McNeil's apple tree doing better (see August 2007). June 2008: McNeil is troubled by a man who wants to make clouds in the shape of logos. July 2008: McNeil's apples are doing great. August 2008: McNeil refuses to acknowledge that Goofy wears a hat no matter what I say. September 2008: McNeil's grocery store is permanently out of his favorite margarine. October 2008: McNeil on the space elevator. November 2008: McNeil comes across an incomplete episode guide to HELLO, LARRY. December 2008: McNeil thinks the human hand should have more fingers. January 2009: McNeil discovers that gin and raisins cure arthritis. February 2009: McNeil gets a big bruise on his arm. March 2009: McNeil wants a job on a cruise ship. April 2009: McNeil attempts to rescue a wayward balloon. May 2009: McNeil visits the Frogtown Fair. June 2009: McNeil dreams he is watching an endless production number from LI'L ABNER. July 2009: McNeil sends text messages from his cell phone while watching a Frank Sinatra movie. August 2009: McNeil disagrees philosophically with a comic book cover that shows a mad scientist putting a gorilla's brain in a superhero's body. September 2009: McNeil resembles famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. October 2009: McNeil wears a surgical mask. November 2009: McNeil reports that a bird broke the large hadron collider by dropping a bread crumb on it. December 2009: McNeil advises me to like the universe or lump it. January 2010: McNeil eats soup. February 2010: McNeil tells of the hidden civilizations living deep beneath the surface of the earth. March 2010: McNeil recalls a carpet of his youth. April 2010: McNeil starts wearing a necktie. May 2010: McNeil's DNA sample fails to yield results. June 2010: McNeil thinks up some improvements for the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. July 2010: McNeil reads to me from I, THE JURY. August 2010: McNeil finds a hair in his crab cake. September 2010: McNeil has a cold. October 2010: McNeil sends a nine-minute clip of a nice old man speaking at a UFO banquet. November 2010: McNeil sits in his car and looks at pictures of Jennifer Jones. December 2010: McNeil fears a ball of fire in the sky. January 2011: McNeil watches DYNASTY. February 2011: McNeil sees clouds that look like guys on horseback. March 2011: McNeil composes a "still life" photograph. April 2011: McNeil is upset when I interrupt his viewing of MATCH GAME. May 2011: McNeil pines for some old curtains. June 2011: McNeil eats Lucky Charms brand breakfast cereal. July 2011: McNeil investigates the history of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. August 2011: McNeil compares Dean Moriarty to Dean Martin. September 2011: McNeil learns a lesson about pork and beans. October 2011: McNeil finds an article describing Robert Mitchum as "Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates." November 2011: McNeil did nothing in November. December 2011: McNeil discovers scientists creating rainbows in a laboratory. January 2012: McNeil impersonates Paul Lynde. February 2012: McNeil dreams of matches. March 2012: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy (see November 2007, above) used to chart the influence of Jerry Lewis on Carson McCullers. April 2012: McNeil disturbed by the art in his hotel room. May 2012: McNeil considers grave robbing. June 2012: McNeil's idea for "music television." July 2012: McNeil holds his negative feelings in check out of respect when the man who invented electric football dies. August 2012: McNeil reads me an old obituary of Charlie Callas over the phone. September 2012: McNeil concerned about T.J. Hooker's big meaty hands. October 2012: McNeil eats lunch at Target. November 2012: McNeil loves it when Bob Hope slips on a banana peel. December 2012: McNeil sees rocks that look like squirrels. January 2013: McNeil looks at an old, faded photo of a dog gazing into a Bath and Tile Emporium. February 2013: McNeil watches a video in which a hooded figure talks about "our criminal overlords." March 2013: McNeil wakes up at 6:40 in the evening, momentarily thinks it is 6:40 in the morning. April 2013: McNeil sees a singer who looks just like Bill Clinton. May 2013: McNeil is ashamed of himself for not realizing that Ida Lupino directed some episodes of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. June 2013: McNeil mails a cashew tree. July 2013: McNeil watches GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. August 2013: McNeil recalls being rosy-cheeked. September 2013: A fairyland goes on in McNeil's head. October 2013: McNeil recalls tucking in his t-shirt. November 2013: The cover of a book McNeil buys says it is about Jerry Lewis, but on the inside the book is about Willie Stargell! December 2013: McNeil wants to visit an orgone box factory. January 2014: McNeil did nothing in January. February 2014: McNeil wonders whether Tom Franklin puts his hair in curlers. March 2014: McNeil takes a nap in the car. April 2014: The subject of McNeil pops up in an interview. May 2014: McNeil's emails on the "hollow earth" recalled (see February 2010, above). June 2014: McNeil looks forward to getting drunk and making insensitive remarks as I lie on my deathbed. July 2014: McNeil watches Jim and Henny Backus play themselves in DON'T MAKE WAVES. August 2014: McNeil tells about Robert Mitchum's hangover cure. September 2014: McNeil exaggerates the fate of some owls. October 2014: McNeil is incensed that a candy apple costs eight dollars at the airport. November 2014: McNeil's heart overflows with joy. December 2014: McNeil continues his 7-year chimp investigation (see May 2007, above). January 2015: McNeil listens to a conspiracy theorist who says Jimmy Carter was replaced by a series of robots. February 2015: McNeil recalls doing a report about matches in the eighth grade. March 2015: McNeil takes to bed with the flu! April 2015: McNeil and I establish an amazing psychic link. May 2015: McNeil bitterly recalls the time he brought a John Wayne movie to my apartment and we never watched it. June 2015: McNeil dreams about a bearded Dean Martin. July 2015: McNeil has a disappointing encounter with the Grand Canyon. August 2015: McNeil sees a squirrel holding a stick. September 2015: McNeil is saddened by the news of Dean Jones's death. October 2015: McNeil watches STARFLIGHT: THE PLANE THAT COULDN'T LAND. November 2015: McNeil sends video of Joe Namath making and eating a sandwich. December 2015: A coincidence of the type McNeil especially loves. January 2016: McNeil is in a grocery store and they start playing "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" over the speakers! February 2016: McNeil watches Don Rickles eat in a bathroom. March 2016: McNeil is duly thrilled when Megan Abbott goes to see CRACKING UP (pictured, above) on the big screen. April 2016: McNeil swallows a gnat. May 2016: McNeil recalls the details of a screenplay we wrote in our twenties. June 2016: Destruction comes to McNeil's apple tree! July 2016: McNeil spots Dabney Coleman in an I DREAM OF JEANNIE rerun. August 2016: McNeil points out that Dean Martin had granddaughters named Pepper, Montana, and Rio. September 2016: McNeil is called a "filthy troglodyte." October 2016: McNeil advises me on what to do now that ADVENTURE TIME has been canceled. "I say take it easy for a while... just pretend to write when Theresa's around and then sleep or watch movies when she leaves. Oh hell, you know how to work it," writes McNeil.* November 2016: McNeil sees an owl while walking his dog at midnight. December 2016: McNeil finds an Airbnb listing by "eccentric millionaires" for a treehouse featuring "whimsical taxidermy."* January 2017: McNeil notices that there are lots of ants in his writing.* February 2017: McNeil roots for the guy who stole a bucket full of gold flakes.* March 2017: McNeil reads an article suggesting that all the gold on Earth came from the collision of dead stars and says, "Let's go get us some of this!" seemingly suggesting a trip to outer space.* April 2017: McNeil recalls that he was washing dishes in 2015 when the thought of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine (pictured, above) came into his head. Then he discovered that Gene Gene the Dancing Machine had just died!* May 2017: McNeil watches ISLAND IN THE SKY with his dog.* June 2017: McNeil is happy to see a movie with rotary phones and "people looking up stuff in a filing cabinet for a change." July 2017: McNeil begins alerting me to weather situations in my area like he's my mother.* August 2017: McNeil connects heavenly signs and portents with the death of Jerry Lewis. September 2017: A critique by McNeil inspires a choice of airplane reading material. October 2017: McNeil contemplates buying a stranger's home movies on eBay, including "Trip to Juarez w/Frank and Irene."*