Saturday, April 30, 2011


Dr. Theresa and I walked down to the square this morning and who should be playing music but the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, who gave such a memorable, driving force to the opening sequence of GANGS OF NEW YORK. That's something to hear when you walk out of your house! The annual music festival is going on. Joe York is down there raising money to help people who endured the recent devastating weather in his home state and mine, Alabama (and elsewhere across the south). This is true: When the Red Cross saw what a nice spot Joe had staked out, they said, "Hey, maybe we could team up!" and Joe said, "Of course." So if you live nearby and haven't been down yet, Joe is right in front of the courthouse and so is the Red Cross. Go drop in a few dollars! He'll be there all day. And you'll get to talk to Joe, which is a bonus for your money. If you're hungry, the good folks of Taylor Grocery are down there frying up fresh catfish and churning homemade ice cream. What else do you want? There is plenty more. But stop and see Joe first and do what you can.

Crooked Letter Goes Straight

That headline almost makes sense! Maybe I should have said "Goes Straight... To the Top, That Is!" Yes, that would have been clever, because CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by "Blog" Buddy Tom Franklin just won the LA Times Book Award for best mystery/thriller! Well deserved: if the book wasn't great enough already - which it was! And is! - Tom put Jerry Lewis in it, as first reported on this "blog," natch! In other Tom Franklin news, he and I have been watching GAME OF THRONES, though not together. I think it's funny that there's a character named Bran. (Pictured, Tom Franklin.)

Siggy and Sam

Maybe I knew this and forgot it: Freud once went to see Mark Twain give a reading. Does everybody know this already? Sorry! I just read about it in one of Freud's footnotes to CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS. Twain presented "a delightful little story, 'The First Melon I Ever Stole.'" Freud's report goes on: "After he had given out the title, he stopped and asked himself as though he was in doubt: 'Was it the first?' With this, everything had been said." I like that because it shows Mark Twain doing a little joke at his reading and Freud getting a kick out of it. All right! Let's write a terrible two-character off-Broadway show about it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I'll Be Square With You

I was over at Square Books today and Lyn was on the "internet," reading about how John Waters has a recommendation shelf at the Strand bookstore in New York City. So she asked me if I would do one for Square Books, which makes me the John Waters of Oxford, except without the cool moustache and clothes and figure and reputation and talent and career. So I ran around the store and grabbed some things. Maybe this "link" will make them larger for your enjoyment. They include WUTHERING HEIGHTS and Clarice Lispector and Shirley Jackson and so on. Buy them all now so I can replenish with other exciting items! PS to the government: I get no kickbacks for this! I just like to read. PPS: I know that "mustache" is supposedly the "preferred" spelling, but I hate it for some reason.

Speaking My Language

Popular candy bar Snickers has its own facebook page! Snickers PERSONALLY wants to know whether I enjoy "cat/fail videos" and "local bands." You bet I do! I guess I am going to have to "unfriend" Dentyne gum. They just don't understand me the way I thought they did. Snickers and facebook team up to speak my language: the language of today's hep young youngsters of today!

Michael Kupperman Presents Life Before Twitter

Michael Kupperman calls this photo "Life Before Twitter." Speaking of owls, did you know the book BEYOND EXPLANATION? REMARKABLE ACCOUNTS ABOUT CELEBRITIES WHO HAVE WITNESSED THE SUPERNATURAL! has owls in it? According to the book, some British people were making a TV movie about "a fairy woman formed out of flowers... After tragedy and murder, the fairy woman is turned into an owl." They don't make TV movies like that anymore! But that's not the BEYOND EXPLANATION? part. "The making of the serial for TV was littered with owl situations. Every time fate took the crew to a particular location, something involving an owl would turn up there - a hidden door knocker, an ornament banging shutters at midnight, or a live owl..." Wow! Door knockers. Eerie. I am changing my theory from "all great books have owls in them" to "all books have owls in them." PS Follow Michael Kupperman on twitter! PPS "littered with owl situations" is not the most felicitous phrase I have run across.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Big News For "Blog" Buddy

"Blog" Buddy Ace Atkins has been tapped by the family of the late Robert B. Parker to write more novels about Spenser, Parker's iconic private eye. So that's great news. Congratulations, Ace! They couldn't have made a better choice. (That Spenser "link" was for the three of you who will "get it.") In lesser Ace Atkins news, I read about Lindsay Wagner's out-of-body experience in that free book he gave me the other day. "It was at a time when she was working on her BIONIC WOMAN TV series and was physically exhausted. Resting on a sofa, she floated up above her body and, in her own words, 'felt a strange sense of isolation... I thought the experience lasted a matter of seconds,' she says. In fact she was awakened by a worried friend... She had been there prone for two days! In different circumstances, as we have already seen, somebody might have decided that Lindsay Wagner had been abducted by a UFO." For you index fans, BEYOND EXPLANATION? does have one, but it's pretty shoddy! There's an entry for BIONIC WOMAN but no entry for Lindsay Wagner!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rocks in His Pockets

Graduate class was all right today! My friend from Hubcap City came to town JUST to perform his live score to UN CHIEN ANDALOU for the students. That's a long trip! We put black plastic on the windows to block out the light. There was still a little light. At the end of the movie, as my friend's last chord echoed, a cloud passed over the sun and the room became even darker. It was magical! Then it was off to City Grocery Bar, where he told the class about the circumstances surrounding the making of the movie. Bunuel attended the premiere with rocks in his pockets to throw at the audience in case their outrage was overwhelming. But the audience loved it! And you have to imagine that Bunuel felt pretty disappointed sitting there with rocks in his pockets and no one to throw them at. John T. Edge happened to walk in. John T. was a huge fan of my friend's old band with Kelly Hogan, so a jolly meeting occurred. I believe some talk was bandied about on the subject of getting my friend back here for the Southern Foodways Symposium, and all he has to do is write an opera. This is hearsay! Don't take it from me. But I hope my eavesdropping was not entirely delusional. Later, when we were walking around the square, some hidden person shouted my friend's name from a portico! Turned out to be another fan from another life, surprised to spot him. Dr. Theresa was so glad to have our friend in town (he was in our wedding, you know) that she let me have a chicken-fried steak at Ajax, and she had one herself. Yes indeed. Chicken-fried steaks for everybody, I say! Everything was all right.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beyond Explanation?

Ace Atkins was kind enough to speak to my hardboiled classes today. On the way to the second class, we stopped by the library coffee shop where they give away free books. Ace spotted one called BEYOND EXPLANATION? REMARKABLE ACCOUNTS ABOUT CELEBRITIES WHO HAVE WITNESSED THE SUPERNATURAL! (Exclamation point theirs.) Friends, he gave that book to me. That Ace! The back of the book promises information about "the Air Force base where Jackie Gleason was shown the bodies of aliens from outer space." Believe it or not (though why wouldn't you believe it? It's so typical) we have covered that story on the "blog" before. The copy goes on to promise other "unexplained phenomena" that happened to, and I quote, "James Dean, Abraham Lincoln, Gregory Peck, David Janssen, Henry Mancini, Sigmund Freud, Peggy Lee, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Stack and more..." you know, all the usual celebrities, listed in the logical order in which you would expect to find them. Speaking of celebrities, on our walk to campus, Ace told me about the time he ended up in the long-abandoned penthouse apartment of Sammy Davis, Jr., which still had its original snakeskin wallpaper hanging on the walls!

A Good Beep

Storm's a-brewin'. The emergency weathermen were back on the air last night with their FUTURETRON! It was the old weatherman and the young weatherman, but I didn't see them squabbling this time. And it's called the FUTURECAST, not the FUTURETRON. But isn't there already a word for FUTURECAST? Isn't it "forecast"? The old weatherman was complaining that the FUTURECAST was actually showing the past, so that part was amusing. Then the young weatherman was worried because they "got a beep" from one of their weather machines. Then he said, "Wait, it was a good beep." The old weatherman said, "I like it when they do that." They chuckled with relief. They seem to be getting along much better.

"I'll Krump With You, Sweetie Pie"

I like it when Bart tries to show off his krumping to his friends on the school bus to distract them during a melancholy moment and Nelson says, "There's a time for krumping and this isn't it." Bart is deflated! So he goes inside and his mom says, "I'll krump with you, sweetie pie." Bart tries to go along, but his heart isn't in it.

Big Foghorn Leghorn News

I guess the news here in Mississippi is that our governor, Foghorn Leghorn, has decided not to run for president. His only qualification was that he once enabled me to get a taco. That was his whole platform, I think. He was going to run on that. I am sorry he is not running because I had some bets going about whether he would magically lose his phony-baloney thumbs-tucked-under-the-suspenders road-company Boss-Hogg molasses accent overnight. I said he would! Mom thought otherwise. Think of all the money I would have been able to take from Mom! Am I getting "political"? Sorry!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Blackbeard Again

While we are thinking of Bill Blackbeard, look at these wild panels from "Polly and Her Pals" by Cliff Sterrett (I think they'll get bigger if you "click" on them), which I first saw reproduced (and just looked at again) in Blackbeard's magnificent collection of newspaper comics, which no home should be without.

More Blackbeard

"Bill Blackbeard, without question or quibble, is the only absolutely indispensable figure in the history of comics scholarship for the last quarter century." THE COMICS JOURNAL has put up a number of tributes to the late Bill Blackbeard, including one that mentions his influence on friend of the "blog" Joe Matt, a noted archivist in his own right.

Bill Blackbeard!

I was sorry to read that the great, pioneering - and visionary, I would say! - comic strip archivist and expert Bill Blackbeard passed away. Here is an excerpt from his obituary in THE COMICS REPORTER: "In 1977, with Martin Williams, Blackbeard co-authored The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics. In doing so, Blackbeard changed the direction of comics and the direction of many lives of those that choose to read them. It is one of the ten most influential and important publications in comics history." I'll say! That book (along with Reader's Digest's STRANGE STORIES, AMAZING FACTS, of course) was one of the most formative of my young (at the time) life. Throw in the mid-70s LP box set THE SMITHSONIAN COLLECTION OF CLASSIC JAZZ (my first encounter with jazz - a sweeping experience "selected and annotated by" the VERY SAME Martin Williams [it must be, right?], who wrote a big, amazing booklet of educational liner notes) and you have the portrait of a young nerd, now an old nerd. Thanks for everything, Martin Williams and Bill Blackbeard! (Pictured, a panel (found at COMICS REPORTER) from Crockett Johnson's BARNABY AND MR. O'MALLEY, one of the many great pieces of American art I first learned about from Mr. Blackbeard's collection.) Now I need to look up Martin Williams, who it turns out is responsible for 2/3 of my personality.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Padre Pio!

Today I was talking to my smart ex-student Anya about Padre Pio. Have you heard of him? HE COULD BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE! I knew people said that about him, but I didn't know THEY COULD SMELL HIM WHEN HE WASN'T THERE! It was an aroma "described by some as roses and by others as tobacco" according to some "link" I found on the "internet." Like everything else important, I first read about Padre Pio in that venerable Reader's Digest publication STRANGE STORIES, AMAZING FACTS.

My Theory Validated Again

Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer prize for A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD and they are making a TV show out of it too! Why? BECAUSE SHE PUT OWLS IN IT. "They drove and drove. Lulu did math. Then social studies. She wrote an essay on owls." How many times do I have to tell you people that all good books have owls in them?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Take It All Back

I think I was too hard on those weathermen! They are just doing their job. What are they supposed to do when a storm is coming? NOT tell us? Who can blame them for being like, "Now is my time to shine"? Like, "I have practiced with all these buttons and now by God I am going to use them properly until they drag me out of this studio." Plus I am afraid I appeared to criticize that actor... but I admire the way he can almost cry then not cry. It is probably harder than crying!

Sexy Crying Parents vs. The Weather Machine

There was a storm on Tuesday so the NBC affiliate in Memphis canceled the season finale of SEXY CRYING PARENTS (formerly the shoe factory show) so they could show off their weather machines, which they must have paid a lot of money for because they drag them out and coo over them all the time to the point of incoherence. If the actions of the NBC affiliate saved a life, that is great and I am all for it - even if it happened DESPITE the confused, overlapping bellowing of the weathermen and the insanely blinking psychedelic lights of the weather machines. There is something sick and unseemly about the way the weathermen on that channel fawn over and caress their weather machines for hours and hours at a time without shutting up or saying anything helpful. They have one weather machine with a name like "FUTURETRON" - I mean, it is almost that. Were you to hear the real thing, which I can't recall, you would know I am not trying to be funny. The FUTURETRON tells us what the weather MIGHT be like an hour in the future. Sometimes the weathermen get on each other's nerves and bicker, especially when there is an old weatherman and a younger upstart weatherman, as was the case a few months ago. The young weatherman kept trying to panic everybody and the old weatherman kept telling him to calm down, the worst was over and everything was fine. But the younger weatherman - who, by the way, was just a nattering, disembodied voice coming from nowhere, like a nightmare of the old weatherman's to which we were mysteriously privy - insisted that something horrible could happen at any moment with no warning! It was very stressful and the old weatherman was really fed up. Come to think of it, I haven't seen him since. The other local channels somehow manage to get out the weather bulletins in ways less lurid and bizarre. SEXY CRYING PARENTS was moved to 1:35 on Thursday morning so I dvr'd it, which meant I was able to fast forward through all the parts where people were "dealing with their emotions," which was the whole show. I forgot to tell you there is one parent who doesn't cry (pictured). He is cool and wears a hat and the tears don't fall out of his eyes, they always just tremble and quiver wetly there on the verge, plus he pokes out his lip. For the first time in weeks we had some brief scenes at the shoe factory. The groovy young boss's office has a picture of a skull with devil horns drawn directly on the wall! That is some crazy shoe factory all right.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dyna Moe's Hipster Animals

Have you been keeping up with the hipster animal illustrations of Dyna Moe? Say yes.

Offhand Cat Remark Causes Outbreak of Euphoria

In the New York Times, there is an offhand remark from one of the Coen Brothers that their next movie will be "all about a cat." This could be one of their famous lies that they famously enjoy lying about all the time so famously. On the other hand, with my recently completed cat book "in the bag" (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! But don't put cats in a bag, that's horrible) it might just be that I'm in tune with the zeitgeist in a big way and ready to ride this oncoming cat gravy train as it roars down the track all the way into big money town USA. Now to quit my job. So long, suckers!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Taste of Jerks

I saw this commercial where this guy takes his car or his truck or whatever it is out to the woods because it is one of those cars or trucks you can drive in the woods. Then he goes to sleep on the ground in the woods but a cricket starts chirping. SO HE SHOOTS AND KILLS THE CRICKET WITH A BOW AND ARROW! It's supposed to be amusing. BUT HE DECIDED TO DRIVE OUT TO THE WOODS AND SLEEP ON THE GROUND! Is that the cricket's fault? Crickets stay up at night and make noise in the woods, man. If you don't want to hear a cricket, don't drive your special car or truck out in the woods in the middle of the night and go to sleep on the ground where THE CRICKETS ARE JUST DOING THEIR THING. It's like I was saying before, commercials are about nothing but jerks now... jerks we are supposed to love! Jerks whose taste we are supposed to emulate! The taste of jerks!

Lowe and Behold

Reading the review of Rob Lowe's autobiography in the New York Times. It has a "mysterious murder," a princess, voodoo dolls, AND Rob Lowe discovers the place where the Magna Carta was signed... in a friend's backyard! That's what it says!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Train

For the past few weeks as Mr. Ward has been taking his customary train into the city, Chris Sarandon has been riding along too, as Mr. Ward has not been able to help noticing. "Tell him I was in love with him when I was in high school!" Dr. Theresa exclaimed upon hearing the news. "Yes, I'll just suddenly blurt that out," promised Mr. Ward.

The Ballad of Hamilton Brownstone III

Mr. Ward says that Orson Bean changed his name from something fancy, "like Hamilton Brownstone III." Then he looked up Orson Bean's real name, and it isn't Hamilton Brownstone III. It's pretty fancy, but it's no Hamilton Brownstone III. We're sticking with Hamilton Brownstone III. Then he said that Orson Bean's father (or uncle? or somebody?) was one of the founders of the ACLU. I enjoy gossiping with Mr. Ward about Orson Bean. We debated about why he changed his fancy name to "Orson Bean." I speculated that it was an "Elvis Costello" type situation. What do I mean by that? Well, think about it! Do I have to do everything around here? Oh, you should have heard us going on and on about Orson Bean. It truly was a delight. This "blog" is going to be all Orson Bean all the time from now on, so get used to it. Most of the stuff we're not going to check for accuracy, because who cares? There isn't anything that Mr. Ward can't tell you about Orson Bean. Remember how mad McNeil was when I wouldn't shut up about Orson Bean? I guess he's singing a different tune now! I guess he's all, "At least I wasn't talking to Mr. Ward!" He is probably like, "And yet I don't want to be left out in the cold! I need to get on this Orson Bean bandwagon while the getting is good!" Powerful advice. How about you? Have Orson Bean questions? Such as "Who is Orson Bean again?" Send them to "Orson Bean Questions" c/o "Writer" Oxford, MS 38655. I will pass them along to Mr. Ward and we'll get to the bottom of everything. And now let's all set aside some time today to contemplate Orson Bean.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sizzling Celebrity Gossip

Did you know that Orson Bean and Calvin Coolidge are cousins? This is a true fact! And it comes to us courtesy of Mr. Ward, who has all the dirt on Calvin Coolidge and Orson Bean. "They actually kind of look alike," he claims. That's it for today's "Sizzling Celebrity Gossip"! Can you handle the sizzle? Then stay tuned for more!

Your Albert Einstein Bigfoot News For Today

I just read an obituary of Albert Einstein's granddaughter. I won't "link" to it because she had a lot of sadness in her life, and I like to keep things nice and frothy for you, even when it comes to obituaries. But I will say that for a time, Albert Einstein's granddaughter was married to a bigfoot hunter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Match Game

McNeil called earlier to tell me that "Match Game '74" was on. "There's some guy named Orson on it," he said. I suggested that it was probably Orson Bean, and began enumerating all of Orson Bean's many accomplishments, which McNeil interrupted with some impatience, exclaiming: "I'm trying to watch Match Game!"

Ersatz Rachel McAdams Wants to Hug a Koala Bear

I am almost 100% sure this is not the real Rachel McAdams on twitter. But I know one thing: he or she wants to hug a koala bear.

Weird Andy Hopkins Coincidence

I was just thinking about Andy Hopkins because on Wednesday I am going to tell my graduate class something he said about music (no fair peeking!). And then I was like, "Incidentally, I wonder if he has added anything to his 'blog' lately!" But before I could check, I DISCOVERED THAT ANDY HAD SUDDENLY REQUESTED ME as a "facebook friend," which request I most happily accepted. Because I was just thinking about him! And yes, he put up a nice can of sardines over there on his "blog" not too long ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Gum Machine Full of Broken Doll Arms

The other day I was over at Square Books and Lyn was preparing some tiny ceramic broken doll arms to go into a gum machine at the neighboring store Off Square Books...? And I was like... "What?" And Lyn was like, "Don't worry, there is a sign on the gum machine that says it is not for children."

My Idea to Help Rachel McAdams

I just watched a movie starring Rachel McAdams and don't get me wrong, it was okay and everything, but the ending wasn't too good, and you remember that movie where Rachel McAdams is on an airplane with a madman, right? So I was thinking that every Rachel McAdams movie should end with her getting on an airplane to go somewhere, okay? Like, "All right, everybody! I'm glad that everything is resolved and now I am in love! So long!" And then she should get onboard and settle into her seat and look over and it turns out the guy sitting next to her is the madman from that airplane movie about the madman. And then Rachel McAdams looks straight at the camera like, "Uh-oh!" Like, "Here we go again!" Jump cut to black. Roll credits.

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Bob?

Good old Dave Kehr, I love him so much. Today his column in the New York Times deals with Bob Hope's late "questionable period" as a film star in some detail, finding something good even there: "Funny they are not, but these last efforts are unexpectedly moving. Hope does his unflappably professional best to pick his way through a cultural landscape that had irreversibly shifted beneath his feet." Just what I have been saying... sort of? And McNeil has long been fascinated - perhaps unduly! - by the way in which HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (one of the films under consideration) has Bob saying things like (I will paraphrase McNeil's paraphrase) "These kids today may dress funny, but when it comes to talking about peace and love, maybe they're onto something." (Bob is probably saying it right here in this very scene to his costar and Ronald Reagan's ex-wife Jane Wyman - think about it!) Or as Kehr puts it, "There’s none of the fearful, anti-hippie humor that had come to dominate his television specials; instead, he seems to be doing his best to keep up, adapting the point of view of a concerned, confused but not wholly unsympathetic parent." And here's Kehr on PARIS HOLIDAY (!): "It’s all brisk and unaccountably entertaining until the film suddenly achieves an almost religious intensity." Exclamation points all around! See also.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


This morning as Dr. Theresa and I were walking through the square on our way to Big Bad Breakfast, we met a person dressed in an immaculate white rabbit costume. The rabbit did not seem to be affiliated with any particular place of business; it was just roaming around like that freelance Santa my friend Abby and I ran away from in the square one time (as I recall, there was another menace carrying a set of bongos around that day). Anyhow, as we passed the rabbit, he or she initiated what Fox News used to call a "terrorist fist jab." I most happily participated in the friendly contact offered by the rabbit at that juncture. On our way back from breakfast we met the rabbit again, once more on an otherwise empty sidewalk, and I got myself prepared for another "terrorist fist jab," even making a tentative gesture in that direction, but the rabbit ignored me.

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to "McNeil's Movie Korner"! Say, do you like boxing movies starring Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney? What? You don't? That sounds like a sane attitude! But then you must not be McNeil, who recommends OFF LIMITS, which he claims is available for "instant viewing" on the "internet." I cross-checked McNeil's recommendation with imdb, which reports that the tagline for OFF LIMITS was "It's Hilarious!" A staff of professionals put a lot of work into that tagline, so who am I to doubt? The more perverse of us may wish to indulge in another "streaming video" experience uncovered by McNeil: the Arthur Marx-penned EIGHT ON THE LAM, by all accounts a notorious low point for poor old Bob and the arts in general. BUT! That's what they tried to tell me about BOY, DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER!

Friday, April 15, 2011

No Favors For Bob

Arthur Marx passed away. He wrote a salacious bio of Bob Hope AND cowrote the screenplays for A GLOBAL AFFAIR (!) and I'LL TAKE SWEDEN (!!) - so he NEVER did Bob any favors! Our friend at Emulsion Compulsion calls his dual bio of Dean and Jerry "the worst." Soon there will be no one left who remembers the making of A GLOBAL AFFAIR or even - when McNeil and I are gone - the movie A GLOBAL AFFAIR. Will that be so bad?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Laura Lippman has written down some good, insightful thoughts for you to read about James M. Cain's MILDRED PIERCE (different than the earlier Slate magazine essay of hers on the same subject, which you can find after a few "clicks" here). Here's a sample sentence: "The not-so-secret dirty little secret of hard-boiled fiction is that it’s awash in sentiment; those tough guys, for all their intelligence, can be the biggest suckers of all." See, that is close to something I have been pointing out to my hardboiled fiction class... so often your hardboiled protagonist (especially in a traditional detective novel) NEEDS to be a sap for the story to work. How often does the detective with an ill-advised soft spot end up working for a client who has no money? How often does the client who starts the book betray the detective's tender trust? I will tell you: EVERY TIME! I mean, how often does our hero fall hopelessly in love with a photograph (Sughrue in THE LAST GOOD KISS) or painting (McPherson in LAURA) of an alluring young woman who is presumably deceased? Forget sentimentality! Half the time we're practically wallowing in gothic romance. Hardboiled fiction is as full of ghosts and castles and raging thunderstorms that reflect the wildness in the characters' hearts (see MILDRED PIERCE!) and vampires as anything. Isn't Veda a vampire? Doesn't she blossom as her once-vibrant host is reduced to a shapeless, worn-down shadow, "a panting, dumpy little thing in a black dress"? Lippman's point is about the comparative lack of sentimentality in Cain (as opposed to Chandler, for example), a true observation, but even tough, practical Mildred is a sap where Veda is concerned. (Bled dry! Fed upon! "Sapped"! Vampire!) And I guess Captain Ahab is a sap for Moby-Dick. Can't you see what literature is trying to tell us? We're all a bunch of saps!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quickfire Currence

We were happy to see John Currence on TOP CHEF MASTERS tonight, once again viewed at City Grocery Bar. John WON the "quickfire challenge" with his chicken meatball and a mighty cheer arose. AND he cooked one of the top three best dishes for the final challenge. So a great night for John! Christina Hendricks (pictured) from MAD MEN loved his oysters Rockefeller, calling them "warm and comforting" (I think! It was loud in City Grocery Bar). Another chef on the show, Suvir Saran, cooked at Snackbar once as the guest chef, and Dr. Theresa and I enjoyed his peanut-themed feast at that time. That was thanks to the Southern Foodways Symposium, the best symposium ever, even better than Plato's symposium. What else? Yeah, the dishes the chefs cooked for the main challenge were supposed to be rarities from the 1960s (in keeping with the MAD MEN theme) but ALMOST ALL OF THEM (deviled eggs, ambrosia, bread pudding, etc.) are things we eat in Mississippi EVERY DAY, which is pretty hilarious. (The others were all things that Caroline and Dr. Theresa and I used to eat at crazy time-machine French restaurants in odd corners of Atlanta.)

Sad Clowns Are Everywhere

Rereading WICKED CITY by Ace Atkins for my hardboiled fiction class... pleased to be reminded of the scene in which sad clowns try to dynamite somebody's house. Yes, your objection is legitimate: this would seem to place them firmly in the world of scary clowns, which is outside the jurisdiction of the "blog." BUT! Each member of the gang is disguised as Emmett Kelly (pictured - look how sad!), and how have we not talked about Emmett Kelly yet? He was a towering presence at the Clown Hall of Fame once visited by Kelly Hogan and my friend from Hubcap City and me. The other day I happened to open a local circular (called, I think, the LAFAYETTE SHOPPER - it appears in the mailbox every week and usually goes straight into the recycling), and there was a (local? syndicated?) column of filler by an elderly-looking gentleman who was rhapsodizing over his Emmett Kelly collector plate. So maybe I should pay more attention to the LAFAYETTE SHOPPER (if that is what it is called) instead of just clipping my nails over it occasionally (which is how I discovered the old columnist and his Emmett Kelly collector plate). Says one of Ace's murderous thugs about Emmett Kelly, "That rascal tried to smash a peanut with a sledgehammer. My kind of guy."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cowboys and Novellas

Back when Michael Bible was my student, I gave him one great piece of advice: "Write novellas! The public craves novellas!" Here's your chance to prove me right! Come to Off Square Books tomorrow at 5 PM as Michael does a reading and signing of COWBOY MALONEY'S ELECTRIC CITY. And it's cheap! Like what you'd pay for one of your fancy electric books that exists in nonexistent electric form, except even though it has ELECTRIC in the title, Michael's book is FOR REAL and illustrated with illustrations and crafted as an object of art for you to hold and spill coffee on and enjoy. It's a wonderful book, full of booby traps and surprise parties in word form. (I think the only piece of advice I ever actually gave Michael was "Hey, you know that tiger at the end of that one story? Why not make it a zebra? It's more poignant!" And he did it. Sucker!) Speaking of cowboys, I was reading today in the New York Times that apoplectic radio talk show hosts are making fun of cowboy poetry...? That is a real thing for real, that they are doing that, yes, it is really something that gets under their skin for some reason, it is something worth blustering and spewing about apparently, though I would like to see them make fun of cowboy poetry to a cowboy's face. I really would like to see that, for real. For real, for real, I picked up a book of cowboy poetry on one of my raids of the free books in the library coffee shop. What's wrong with cowboy poetry? It's got two great things in it that every sane person loves: cowboys and poetry. And so does Michael Bible's new book!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

She Popularized the Shimmy

From Megan Abbott comes news of a fascinating photo gallery. It seems that in the 20s and 30s (and earlier), the stately New York Times would occasionally publish a saucy photograph of a stage performer! I think Megan's favorite is Peggy Fears, #9. I like #3 ("Gilda Grays, who became famous for popularizing the shimmy"). Find your own favorite! The final photo in the series (Allene Ray) was inscribed to the NYT film critic in 1926. Current-day New York Times staff found it in the archives "torn in half and taped together." What's the story there? Don't you want to know? Tempestuous!


Here is something worth contemplating, I think. Think about it! It's from THE PINE BARRENS, a wonderful work of nonfiction by John McPhee - another of the free books I picked up from the library coffee shop on campus. Speaking here ("Like many people in the pines, he often says things three times," writes McPhee) is Mr. McPhee's guide through the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Fred Brown (are you ready to think about this?): "See that fire tower over there? The man in that tower - you take him fifty yards away from that tower and he's lost. He don't know the woods. He don't know the woods. He don't know the woods. He don't know nothing. He can't even fry a hamburger."

Poor Dyan, Poor Morris

Ace Atkins says that Morris the Cat received second billing in the movie SHAMUS: below Burt Reynolds but ABOVE Dyan Cannon. Poor Dyan Cannon! Ace also says that when he used to work in a bookstore, BY FAR the biggest and most well-attended event was when Morris the Cat came to "sign" his "autobiography." They set Morris up at a little table and someone repeatedly pressed his paw onto an ink pad and then onto the title page of his book for each member of the delirious throng. Poor Morris!

Friday, April 08, 2011

You Write Funny

Reading some short stories and prose pieces by Jonathan Winters. Mostly they're not what I expected. Some of them would pass for Robert Walser, some for Bruno Schulz. In one, the narrator spends the first decades of his life hiding behind a couch. "I waited like a great cat, well into my twenties, to spring from behind the couch on all those people who had counted me out. I acted out their lives, their decisions, right in front of them. I was holding up this huge mirror, this golden frame, that I placed around this frightening family portrait." More what I expected (though you should read it in context for the full, darkly hilarious effect): "When I look back, you were wrong, you know, to charge me for all those dances. But I guess it's all kind of worked out. Mom wrote me that you and your husband were at the symphony, in the front row, and that somehow the harp fell over on you and broke your back." Speaking of writing comedians, when I was looking for a picture of Jerry Lewis earlier today, I found it on a "web" site devoted to collecting all of Stan Laurel's letters. Here is a bland and pleasant thank-you note that Stan sent to someone who had given him "a generous amount of vitamin tablets." It seems like a strange idea for a "web" site, but no stranger than any other. Jerry and Stan were big mutual admirers and friends. Dick van Dyke introduced them. WHY AM I TELLING YOU THIS? Jerry was responsible for getting Stan his honorary Oscar. They hate giving awards to comedians.

Burt's Cat

When he heard I had written a cat book, Ace Atkins sent me this picture of Burt Reynolds and friend for the cover, and reminded me that Burt made a movie called SHAMUS which costarred the feline celebrity cat food icon Morris the Cat (not pictured here). Going to meet Ace at his office this evening for some gimlets because that's what Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox drink in THE LONG GOODBYE. "Marlowe says they beat martinis hollow," Ace reminds me.

The Glistening Texture of Jerry Lewis on a Snowfield

Today's Jerry Lewis reference in the New York Times comes from a surprising source: Stephen Holden. NOT Manohla Dargis! "Surprising" because Stephen Holden's kind of thing is usually "a jubilee of the most rarified sort" (!) involving "the abrupt interruption of a sedate passage with an explosive percussive burst that has the glistening texture of sunlight on a snowfield" (!!) or being very troubled about why a fancy person such as William Hurt would like to portray a character from - gasp - Kentucky. He enjoys a particular kind of rarified jubilee of fanciness is what I am saying - the very fanciness that Jerry Lewis has spent his life trying to demolish! So Jerry Lewis and Stephen Holden would seem the unlikeliest of allies! Yet Mr. Holden reviews a whole Uma Thurman movie and then at the end there's the typographical equivalent of a pause and a sniff of disdain before he concludes with the kicker: "I'll take Jerry Lewis." BOOM! Me too, Stephen Holden! Nothing against Uma Thurman! Quentin Tarantino likes them both.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hi, Friend!

Ate lunch at Big Bad Breakfast today, where I ran into John Currence and got to tell him congratulations again: he's on the TOP CHEF MASTERS show, you know. The season's debut was last night, and a lot of people were up at City Grocery Bar to watch with the man himself. And something exciting and unexpected happened: when TV John Currence served frog legs on the show, for example, actual waiters bearing enormous platters appeared IN THE BAR, serving frog legs to everyone there. It was like the TV CAME TO LIFE! I saw my friend Jill at both places, too (City Grocery Bar and BBB). The railroad festival is this weekend in Jill's hometown of Amory, Mississippi. Every year, we say we're going to go, but something always happens. In Jill's childhood, the festival was all about hobos. Hobos would come from all over the country to attend. (Aside: last night in the bar, my grad student Burke was suspicious of the word "hobo" - but it does represent a very specific culture. I am sure some people use it as a broad insult toward an unfortunate person [Burke's kind concern, I think], but hobos themselves do not use it that way, and I am certainly not using it to be cute, quaint, or insulting.) The site they have up now for the Amory railroad festival is kind of depressingly generic in that it doesn't mention hobos at all (just things like "food vendors" and a "5K run") so perhaps - like Burke - they are distancing themselves from the concept of hobos. Jill said she is going to check with some of her friends back in Amory about that. When she was a kid, all the hobos would camp out in the local park during the festival ("by the old locomotive," she said) and make stew and sell walking sticks. They'd give you some of their stew for free. Every year, a hobo named Steam Train (pictured) would come address Jill's school in a big assembly. He would always say, "What do you say when you see a hobo?" and all the kids would shout back in unison (waving broadly in a sweeping, circular motion), "Hiiiiiiiii, friend!" What a nice thing. Jill and I wave that way and say "Hiiiiiii, friend!" every time we see each other. (Another aside: Megan Abbott did some hobo research for her novel BURY ME DEEP, and when she came down here to promote the book, I found her talking to Rod Wiethop, an interesting guy who had befriended "King of the Hobos" Rambling Rudy in the 1980s.) While I was looking online for information about this year's Amory railroad festival, I found a site that revolves around an annual hobo gathering in Iowa. I clicked on every page and found lots of fascinating stories and facts. There was even a mention of Steam Train's wife ("Mrs. Steam Train") who sadly was in the hospital at the time of the report and not doing too well. Steam Train passed away a few years ago. In his obituary (from the New York Times) I see that he carried a walking stick "decorated with owl feathers" and decried phony "show-bos." Today Jill told me that when Steam Train came to town, all the kids were really excited because they "loved him as much as Santa Claus."


Yesterday I was quoting John Cage to the grad students: "Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating." This is helpful to dwell on in a number of ways! But it especially helpful at this moment while they are running a weird droning machine next door (from the back of a pest control truck [!!!???]) that is shaking the floorboards of the house while I am trying to listen to Sun Ra. I am not kidding, John Cage has given me a pretty good attitude about it! And I think Sun Ra would approve (of the sound. I am not sure how he would feel about the pest control truck). Did you know they (John Cage and Sun Ra, pictured) once played on the same bill at Coney Island? Have I told you that before? To quote from the Sun Ra bio by John F. Szwed, "When the day came, a pitchman and a 'snake woman' worked the crowds on the boardwalk to entice the audience inside, where pizza and beverages were being served." Why can't I go back in time and eat a slice of pizza at Coney Island while listening to John Cage and Sun Ra? Those people didn't know how good they had it! I bet at least one guy was sitting there just thinking, "Dang, this pizza is cold." Like, "I just came in here because the snake woman said there was free pizza." But that's cool too! Anyway, let's all learn something from what John Cage said. It is not just about noise!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sure Thing

You know what always sells? A cat book! Bess told me that. So I just wrote one. Do the math!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

More From My 1967 UFO Book

The introduction to my 1967 UFO book includes a parenthetical note that "UFOs" should be "pronounced you-foes." That's not right, is it? I guess people didn't know too much about UFOs in 1967! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Things sure used to be crazy in the times that aren't now.


Another treasure uncovered today at the library coffee shop where they give away free books. No, not the self-published hardcover THE TRIVIALIZATION OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, although that one looked like a real corker and I'll probably regret passing it by. The one I picked up today was a little 1967 mass-market paperback entitled LETTERS TO THE AIR FORCE ON UFOS. I really want to know what crazy genius is behind this selection of free books.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Imaginary Kitten Clip

Kelly Hogan writes in to suggest that our cartoon caption should be, "My kitten clip went viral. Colonoscopies on the house!" I love it! You know, it's like I'm running my own imaginary caption contest for imaginary NEW YORKER cartoons without leaving the comfort of my own home. It's the job of the future! Once I had a good idea for a NEW YORKER cartoon about a mime, but I knew I would never be able to approach the NEW YORKER with it, so I gave my idea to a character in my story "Lumber Land" from my second book, YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. So go to your local library if you want to read my imaginary NEW YORKER cartoon about a mime! Hey, I did a reading with Ben Greenman and Pia Z. Ehrhardt when YOUR BODY IS CHANGING came out, I am recalling. Ben Greenman works for the NEW YORKER! Our reading took place at the wonderful McNally Jackson bookstore in New York City (it had a slightly different name then). So I read my NEW YORKER cartoon section, because in my mind it was almost like getting a cartoon into the NEW YORKER to read aloud about my NEW YORKER cartoon ideas while someone who worked there was forced to sit and listen to me. It's really those little victories that make life so unbearably sweet.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Our New Yorker Cartoon

McNeil and I thought up a NEW YORKER cartoon. It takes place in a doctor's waiting room. A man is slapping some cash down on the receptionist's counter and shouting cheerfully, "Colonoscopies for everybody!"