Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sam Sifton has this fascinating way of spiking his positive restaurant reviews with phrases that might sound unappetizing out of context - or in context! In the New York Times today, he writes about a Chinese place where you can get a "huge, deflated football" and some "mysterious pig fragments." He loves those things! And somehow he makes you want to love them too. He makes you want to say, "Honey, let's go out tonight and treat ourselves to some mysterious pig fragments." Sam Sifton!
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I used to write fiction? That was stupid! But terrible old habits die hard. I have a short story in the new Oxford American, that's right, along with my regular column. As I am sure you will be thrilled to hear, my column features a reference to character actor Vito Scotti (pictured). I hear the sounds of millions running to their local newsstands. My short story, on the other hand, is called "Ghost College." Does it live up to its title? Of course not! That's what "writers" do. We sucker you in with a title and at the end you're all, "What was THAT all about?" And we are like, "Too late, you already read it!" And we laugh and laugh. On the plus side, the issue features Michael Martone, Steve Almond, James Whorton, Jr., and lots of other people who are truly good at what they do. As always, it's action-packed! Daredevil John T. Edge eats a school lunch. But at least we are lucky enough to get this sentence out of his loathsome experience: "The rice arrived in gummy humps." I've been saying that out loud a lot. It sounds like part of an Edward Lear poem! For some reason (well, the reasons are probably obvious) it makes me think of a sentence from A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN: "And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum." (Hey, my new story has the word "plop" in it. I'm just like James Joyce!) Gee, speaking of ghosts, I have really been falling down on the job of telling you about what's in the New York Times every day. A couple of weeks ago (?) there was an op-ed with a misty blue ghost in it. Let me look that up to make sure I'm not crazy. Yes: "the mist came down the hall, paused to consider him, and then curled into the room where my mother lay dreaming." That's an op-ed! At a later date, the New York Times gossip columnist was hanging out with the cast of the reality show GHOST HUNTERS, which just seems sad and forlorn somehow, especially for the cast of GHOST HUNTERS. And, on a somewhat unrelated subject, there was an obituary for "a distinguished Abstract Expressionist artist who — after what he described as a chance sighting of something flat, silver, airborne and unfathomable — became the father of the alien-abduction movement."
Monday, August 29, 2011
our old neighborhood in Atlanta! I saw the old drugstore where I used to go when I first moved there. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia with which I now hope to bore you. You could sit with a sixty cent cup of coffee all day. The old woman behind the lunch counter cooked delicious soup at home every night and brought it in every morning. With maudlin veracity I recall her Brunswick stew. Strange things on the menu (fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches - Elvis's favorite), and once I saw a man order an "ammonia Coke." I DO NOT ENDORSE THE DRINKING OF AMMONIA COKES! IT MIGHT KILL YOU! I am just telling you what I saw. After strenuous debate (it was on the menu but no one had ever requested this old drugstore fare in memory; as I recall, the waitress was about to go away to art school at Parsons and probably didn't want to kill anybody and ruin her future) they used no more than a few drops of ammonia, and I am almost certain it is not the same deadly poisonous ammonia of which you are thinking. IN ANY CASE, DON'T DO IT! That place was later transformed into a fancy joint (to my dismay - no more sixty cent bottomless coffee) where (as recorded here) I once had to eat while some people were wildly making out on the same bench where I was sitting. The old woman who made the soup would have fainted. But I guess that is how the fancy people do it in our strange new modern world where old ladies and drugstores are no longer welcome! In the movie, it is still a fancy joint and apparently Katherine Heigl owns it. But I had to go to class, which was the best thing for all of us, so I don't really know. (When I went there, the drugstore was called Fleeman's. This photo is from even earlier. Who cares?)
It was with a heavy heart today that I returned my final edition of John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES to the library. Given his problem with finishing anything (the BRIEF LIVES are odds and ends), I didn't hold out much hope of finding anything else by Mr. Aubrey. But guess what? They had a copy of his MISCELLANIES! Here is where I opened the book at random: "Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition: Being demanded, whether a good Spirit, or a bad? returned no answer, but disappeared with a curious Perfume and most melodious Twang. Mr. W. Lilly believes it was a Fairie."
Sunday, August 28, 2011
"Oatmeal Tip" comes from Elizabeth: "I got 'Crystal Wedding Oats' b/c the container was pretty and there was a tumbler inside! like a pink (faux depression glass) plastic tumbler. adult cereal has prizes in new orleans! it's magic." So if that's what you want in your oatmeal, that is the brand of oatmeal to get. Thanks for the tip, Elizabeth! And good night from all of us here at "Oatmeal Tips."
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Sam Shepard's description (in DAY OUT OF DAYS) of the character actor Andy Devine tickles me. Here's just a little of it: "I don't know if the slouch was put on or if it was an actual manifestation of his character but he seemed to enjoy being a sloppy guy... He had a high squeaky voice that my uncle Buzz told me was the result of Andy's having accidentally swallowed a silver whistle when he was a kid. I always believed that story. Why not?" When Barry B. and I were making our kids' show, we went to the Museum of Broadcasting in New York to watch some really early examples of the genre. One of them starred Andy Devine. His sidekick was a gruff, demonic figure named Froggy the Gremlin (pictured). Maybe we picked the wrong episode, but it seemed terrifying. And that reminds me of when Mr. Ward and I went to the same museum and watched a failed sitcom pilot about Alan Alda adopting an invisible baby. We didn't have a great reason for that. Oh! And on the next page of Sam Shepard, there's pie. I told you every time pie appeared in ON THE ROAD, so why not DAY OUT OF DAYS, which refers explicitly to the former book? Shepard's narrator wants some butterscotch pie, but the restaurant cook "says the pies just came out of the oven and they're too hot to cut... I can see them steaming behind him on a Formica shelf; lined up like little locomotives - puffing away." The narrator says he'll walk around town while the pies cool. The cook "says there are no sights; there is no town. But I tell him I'm a big fan of desolation."
What's so special about Karen, you ask? According to her theme song, "She sets her hair with great precision/ It's her favorite indoor sport/ By the light of television/ She can even write a book report." You will notice that KAREN is sponsored by "Purina Cat Dinners - the saucy new way to feed your cat." But the cat looks off somehow - almost... preserved.
DAY OUT OF DAYS by Sam Shepard because I'm "teaching" it this semester - happy to be reminded there is an owl in it, once again confirming my famous "Owl Theory of Literature." Writes Shepard, "A barn owl looked straight down at me from the rafters with his big white bib." The owl turns out to be "a dummy, planted to scare away mice and varmints," but I say it counts, especially as Shepard includes some general commentary on actual owls: "A Tibetan monk once told me that the owl was a portent of death but I've never felt that way about owls." It seems to me that it is time for "Books With Owls In Them" to become the subject of one of our famed "blog"trospectives, which, when completed, will represent all the learning of humankind. Previous subjects include TOM FRANKLIN, PHIL OPPENHEIM, MOVIES, THE MOON, SANDWICHES, THE UNITED STATES, THE BEACH BOYS, and ARNOLD STANG. And now we invite you to enjoy BOOKS WITH OWLS IN THEM: THE ACCURSED by Joyce Carol Oates---ALPHABET JUICE by Roy Blount Jr.---AMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES: 1940s TO NOW---THE BEHAVIOR GUIDE TO AFRICAN MAMMALS: INCLUDING HOOFED MAMMALS, CARNIVORES, PRIMATES by Richard Despard Estes---BELOVED by Toni Morrison---BEYOND EXPLANATION? REMARKABLE ACCOUNTS ABOUT CELEBRITIES WHO HAVE WITNESSED THE SUPERNATURAL! by Jenny Randles---BIG SUR by Jack Kerouac---BOY WITH LOADED GUN by Lewis Nordan---BRIGHTON ROCK by Graham Greene---CELEBRITY CHEKHOV by Ben Greenman---CITRUS COUNTY by John Brandon---COUNT MAGNUS AND OTHER GHOST STORIES by M.R. James---COUNTRY WISDOM & LORE---DARE ME by Megan Abbott---DAY OUT OF DAYS by Sam Shepard---DEAR WEATHER GHOST by Melissa Ginsburg---THE DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS by Hans Biedermann---DR. SAX by Jack Kerouac---THE DOG OF THE SOUTH by Charles Portis---DRACULA by Bram Stoker---DREAM CABINET by Ann Fisher-Wirth---THE DUD AVOCADO by Elaine Dundy---ESCAPE VELOCITY: A CHARLES PORTIS MISCELLANY---FATALE by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips---THE FINAL CLUB by Geoffrey Wolff---GHOSTS by Cesar Aira---THE GLASS HARMONICA by Barbara Ninde Byfield---GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon---THE GREAT HUNT by Robert Jordan---GRINGOS by Charles Portis---THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson---I OWE RUSSIA $1200 by Bob Hope---IN A GLASS DARKLY by Sheridan Le Fanu---IN THE LAND OF TIME by Lord Dunsany---JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte---THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF ALEXANDER WILSON---THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON by James Boswell---LO! by Charles Fort---LUSH LIFE: A BIOGRAPHY OF BILLY STRAYHORN by David Hajdu---MACBETH by William Shakespeare---MARK TWAIN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY 1910-2010 by Michael Kupperman---MASTERS OF ATLANTIS by Charles Portis---MCSWEENEY'S #36---MISCELLANIES by John Aubrey---THE MOST DANGEROUS THING by Laura Lippman---MUSIC OF THE SWAMP by Lewis Nordan---THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH by Dan J. Marlowe---NO HEROES by Chris Offutt---NORWOOD by Charles Portis---ON RARE BIRDS by Anita Albus---ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac---THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon---OUT OF THE WOODS by Chris Offutt---THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ by L. Frank Baum---RIDES OF THE MIDWAY by Lee Durkee---'SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King---SELECTED CRONICAS by Clarice Lispector---SHADOW BOX by George Plimpton---TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE, VOL. 1 by Michael Kupperman---THAT IS ALL by John Hodgman---TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY by John le Carre---TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson---TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis---A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan---VISIONS OF GERARD by Jack Kerouac---VULGAR ERRORS by Sir Thomas Browne---THE WOMAN WARRIOR by Maxine Hong Kingston---YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. And that is every book with an owl in it.
Lee Durkee is the latest to doubt McNeil's existence. Lee emailed me about John Lyly - yes he did! - and I wrote back how much my friend McNeil likes Lyly. Lee replied, "I thought McNeil was fictional, a second self of yours." (The accompanying photo is not McNeil. OR IS IT? No, it seems to be from a 60s production of Lyly's ENDYMION.) This "link," however, contains irrefutable photographic evidence of McNeil, though this one is richer in atmospheric detail, including many minor personal disagreements I likely would not have with myself. Let me add the fact that McNeil looks exactly like boxing trainer Freddie Roach. Would I make that up?
Friday, August 26, 2011
John Aubrey writes of William Lee, "a poor Curate" who "was the first Inventor of the Weaving of Stockings by an Engine of his contrivance... He went into France, and dyed there before his Loome was made there." Lee puts Aubrey in mind of Christopher Wren, who invented "a way to weave seven pair or nine pair of stockings at once... He demanded four hundred pounds for his Invention: but the weavers refused it, because they were poor: and besides, they sayd, it would spoil their Trade... Sir Christopher was so noble, seeing they would not adventure so much money, He breakes the Modell of the Engine all to pieces, before their faces." The footnote (technically headnote) in the 1949 edition adds that Queen Elizabeth came to watch William Lee make stockings. "But she was disappointed by the coarseness of his work." He improved it, and brought her some nice silk stockings, but she "now feared that the invention would prejudice hand-knitters." Later, King James felt the same way. So finally Lee went (as Aubrey mentions) to France, where he had been "promised great rewards" by the king. But the king was assassinated! And so, proclaims the footnote, William Lee "died of grief" (!). And all because of his sock-making machine.
Kelly Hogan has one of those tumblrs? I guess yesterday she re-"posted" my "post" about the elusive Charles Portis/Roger Miller article and then - "literally 20 seconds later," she assures me - one of her fans sent her a pdf of the whole thing! Such is the power of Hogan. (That's not the way she put it! She's no braggart. She didn't even use the word "fan," though that is how the guy identified himself.) So now I will be able to peruse the article at my leisure and glean for you all the nuggets for which you could ever wish. Here is Kelly's "post" of my "post," and we see once again that the "internet" is the snake that devours itself. Yum yum! Speaking of snakes, the last time I mentioned vipers I should have included a "link" to this song about another kind of viper. That would have been clever. And speaking of gleaning nuggets, here's some more from John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES: A knight once challenged Sir William Petty to a duel. "Sir William is extremely short sighted, and being the challengee it belonged to him to nominate the place and weapon. He nominates, for the place, a darke Cellar, and the weapon to be a great Carpenter's Axe. This turned the knight's challenge into Ridicule, and so it came to naught... Sir William Petty had a boy that whistled incomparably well. He after wayted on a Lady, a widowe, of good fortune. Every night this boy was to whistle his Lady asleepe. At last shee could hold out no longer, but bids her chamber-mayd withdrawe: bids him come to bed, setts him to worke, and marries him the next day. This is certyn true." See, I was going to end this "post" with a youtube video of "England Swings" by Roger Miller, because John Aubrey's England certainly "swings" - ha ha! - plus there is lots of whistling in that song, golly I impress myself, what a double whammy! But instead I found this video ("click" here) of Roger Miller singing with Dean Martin.
the library had that Roger Miller article by Charles Portis. In fact, they seem to have every SATURDAY EVENING POST from 1911 to 1978, the original magazines, bound together several to a volume. But they wouldn't let me check out the 1966 collection containing the Charles Portis article. So I had to rush through it in the minutes before class. I managed to scribble down a few random quotations. The article isn't really about Roger Miller. It's about the city of Nashville as a center of country music production, but Miller is used throughout as a contrast to the more hidebound country music establishment. "I don't know what I am," he says. And then he says, "Scooby doo." That's a quote! Anticipating the cartoon dog by several years, I might add. In the third paragraph, Portis calls him "the antic poet who was too far out to have any success on the Opry itself." But one day Roger Miller walks into Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, where he used to play for free because no one else would have him, with a quarter of a million dollars in his pocket - two checks. A moment of triumph! The staff at Tootsie's is happy for him. Portis visits the offices of a couple of songwriters named Burch and Crutchfield. They have just finished a number called "Push My Love Button," but decide it's too "raunchy" for any of their usual country clientele. Ann-Margret's name comes up as a possibility. "Does she sing?" one of them asks. "'Hell, naw,' says somebody, 'but she makes records.'"
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Reading in John Aubrey about a Sergeant John Hoskyns: "Sir Robert Pye, Attorney of the Court of Wardes, was his neighbour, but there was no great good will between them - Sir Robert was haughty. He happened to dye on Christmas day: the newes being brought to the Serjeant, said he, The devill haz a Christmas-pye."
Scott Phillips (he read it in some liner notes!) that Charles Portis once wrote an article about Roger Miller for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. Can this be true? If so, it will be the only thing I ever want to read and after I read it I will never read anything again. The library contains numerous bound copies of the moldering magazines of yore, and I pray THE SATURDAY EVENING POST is among them.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Another ghost story from John Aubrey. This one comes in the form of a letter from "the Reverend Mr. Andrew Paschal, B.D., Rector of Chedzoy in Somerset." It's all about a fellow named Francis Fry, who met a "Man-Spectre" with a "Pole in his Hand" and a ghostly "Gentlewoman" who sometimes appeared "in shapes more horrid, as of a Dog belching Fire." Boy, did these two cause Francis Fry some trouble! For example, they tore his "best Periwig... all to flitters... I should have told you the Fate of his Shoe-strings, one of which a Gentlewoman greater than all exception, assured me that she saw it come out of his Shoe, without any visible Hand, and fling itself to the farther end of the room." A maid grabbed the other shoelace, "which crisp'd and curl'd about her Hand like a living Eel... other fantastical Freeks have been very frequent... two Flitches of Bacon descending from the Chimney where they hung..." Finally poor Fry "was caught by the Woman Spectre by the Skirts of his Doublet, and carried into the Air... half an Hour after, Fry was heard Whistling and Singing in a kind of Quagmire."
iPod yesterday, and I noticed for the first time that Bob Dylan sings about pecan pie in it. Naturally I thought of Abby and how she used to bake pies for Mr. Dylan, particularly pecan, which he liked best. I wondered if perhaps Mr. Dylan might be singing about Abby's pecan pie, so I sent her a wire inquiring about the timing of it all. Friends, the math does not work out. The pecan pie of which Bob Dylan sings in "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum" is pre-Abby. But I think it is safe to say that when and if he performed the song subsequent to consuming a pie baked by Abby, he may have been thinking of one of Abby's pies as he sang. And perhaps a cryptic smile crossed his face! The crusts are so good because Abby renders the lard herself. Bob Dylan had a somewhat unusual method for eating pie, but I don't think Abby would appreciate me going around divulging the pie secrets of the stars any more than is absolutely necessary for "blog" filling purposes.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Dr. Theresa and I were walking toward the square talking about hamburgers. Somehow our hamburger talk became ridiculous dreams of steak. Who can afford to eat a steak in these troubling times? We had some old business to take care of at the City Grocery Bar. By the time that was transacted, we figured, the restaurant downstairs would be open and waiting with steaks aplenty. Let us throw caution to the wind! we decided. So downstairs we went. Right after we sat down, a gentleman in a blue baseball cap walked in and settled himself in a corner. He removed his cap. Was that the glitter of a golden earring? Why, friends, it could be no other - that gentleman was Morgan Freeman himself! Our second Morgan Freeman sighting this week. Morgan Freeman is spoiling us! No offense to our previous City Grocery celebrity sighting, but Morgan Freeman beats him by a mile. Sorry, D-Day from ANIMAL HOUSE!
The 1898 edition of John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES seems to leave this one out completely: "Mr. Caisho Burroughs was one of the most beautiful men in England, and very Valiant, but very proud and blood-thirsty: There was then in London a very Beautiful Italian Lady, who fell so extreamly in Love with him, that she did let him enjoy her, which she had never let any Man do before: Wherefore, said she, I shall request this favour of you, never to tell anyone of it. The Gentlewoman died: and afterwards in a Tavern in London he spake of it: and there going to make water, the Ghost of the Gentlewoman did appear to him. He was afterwards troubled with the Apparition of her, even sometimes in company when he was drinking..." I got a little confused at this part, because the ghost story goes on, but it suddenly seems to be about another ghost, though she is Italian, too. But she is "a beautiful Courtesan" and the "Mistress of the Grand Duke," which doesn't fit the description of the other more modest beautiful Italian lady ghost. So I guess old Caisho Burroughs was haunted by TWO DIFFERENT BEAUTIFUL ITALIAN GHOSTS... what are the odds? The second one took her own life in Florence because of "the Departure of her Gallant of whom she was most passionately enamour'd... At the same moment that she expired, she did appear to Caisho at his Lodgings in London. Collonel Remes was then in Bed with him, who saw her as well as he... she appeared to him frequently... As often as she did appear, he would cry out with great shrieking... saying, O God! here she comes, she comes... as often as Caisho related this, he wept bitterly." The latter ghost told him he was going to die in a duel, and so he did - "she appeared to him the morning before he died."
Monday, August 22, 2011
As I continue to examine this introduction by Oliver Lawson Dick, I notice something curious: he likes to slip in a slur upon some particular group - women, the Irish - in a casual, matter-of-fact way. What makes it especially striking is that Mr. Dick is always reminding the reader that despite John Aubrey's forward-thinking ways, he was saddled by the prejudices of his time. So is this ironic, maybe? Oliver Lawson Dick seems unaware. Putting such regrettable lapses aside, the tidbits keep coming. You know how I enjoy my tidbits. What is a "blog" but a sad pile of tidbits? For example, there was a man named Arise Evans. What a name! He "had a fungous Nose... at the first coming of King Charles II into St. Jame's Park he kiss'd the King's Hand, and rubb'd his Nose with it; which disturb'd the King, but Cured him."
hasty in my dismissal of this 1949 edition of John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES. Its introduction, which I haven't finished reading, seems to be the best of all three editions I have. Man am I boring myself right now. So I can imagine how you feel! But I can't stop. The editor who suppressed those four lines about Sir Henry Lee put me off of the 1898 edition. The 1949 introduction, by Oliver Lawson Dick, has lots of good stuff about Aubrey's problems with money, love, and finishing a book (which he never did as far as I can tell). But it also makes a good case for Aubrey as "the first archeologist that England had produced" and a forerunner of Darwin by a couple hundred years: "That the World is much older, then is commonly supposed, any man may be induced to believe from the finding of Fossils so many Foot deep in the Earth" and "Fishes are of the elder House." He also made experiments "to cure diseases, etc. by Transfusion of Bloud out of one man into another." Lots of wild stories about the medicine of the time. A woman put a toad in her husband's soup to try to poison him, but instead it cured his disease. Oh well! Aubrey is curious about everything. He interviews an old man who recalls the first carrots in England, and an old woman who remembers the first cabbages. He laments the introduction of the tabby cat: "'I doe well remember,' he says crossly, 'that the common English Catt, was white with some blewish piednesse.'" Dick writes, "The most educated and sensitive men were onlookers at... dreadful spectacles: even the kindly Aubrey reports, 'I did see Mr. Chr. Love beheaded on Tower-hill in a delicate cleare day.'"
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Here are some favorite lines from Bill Cunningham's narration of that second video: "Here is an elderly lady tenant. She was at one time a circus performer. She played her harmonica outside Carnegie Hall for money... And she would ride up and down inside, on my floor, on her unicycle, balancing the dog on her head." Then he just casually drops the fact that Marilyn Monroe used to come by his place and "try on hats and laugh and have fun."
Abby and Elizabeth told me all about him. BEFORE THEY MOVED AWAY FOREVER! So I am going to tell you about him in case you are stupid like me. He works for the New York Times. He is an awesome old man who rides around on his bicycle taking pictures of people wearing clothes that he likes. These pictures are arranged into little montages you can watch on the New York Times "web" site. They are narrated by Mr. Cunningham. I have noticed that Mr. Cunningham likes to employ some variation on this sentence when he can: "New Yorkers don't just schlep around in cut-off blue jeans!" Here is another video, different from his usual, in which he talks wonderfully about his old apartment. I am not sure why I am so late to the party with Bill Cunningham. I guess it is similar to the way I used to skip the Sunday Styles section until my friend from Hubcap City explained what I was missing: a guy who dresses up like a carpet and asks people to stand on him. I continue to skip the Sunday Styles section, but I occasionally regret it. And now, you know, they seem to have a gossip columnist who describes Alec Baldwin removing the bones from a fish. But Bill Cunningham is several cuts above all this other stuff. He has class!
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Viper wine can't help but make me think of Anya, who has moved away. I am sure you remember the story of how Anya consumed a cobra in Vietnam. I forgot to tell you how they made an aperitif out of the cobra's heart. Aaaaah! I'm sorry I told you.
On second thought, I don't see how "The Campden Wonder" is "one of the most remarkable occurrences that hath happened in the memory of man." Obviously (as the "victim" reappeared), the confession of the terrified John Perry was false, and concocted to make him seem the least murderous of his family members. He sold out his mother and brother, a terrible thing, and it didn't even save his neck. That means either Mr. Harrison's crazy adventure (with a pirate ship and everything) really happened, or Mr. Harrison just ran away with the rent money he was carrying (leaving behind his slashed hat and other "evidence" of his murder), had a good time for a couple of years, and came back.
A passing reference by Aubrey to "one of the most remarkable occurrences that hath happened in the memory of man" led me to this strange mystery called "The Campden Wonder." Three people (a mother and two sons) were executed for a murder (one of the sons confessed) and then the old man they were accused of murdering showed up a couple of years later, claiming to have been "abducted by three men dressed in white on horseback." All of this took place in the early 1660s. And here is a "web" site where somebody is STILL trying to solve the mystery and would like your help. Talk about a cold case! That same site has the old man's letter explaining his predicament. Here's an excerpt: "As I was returning home, in the narrow passage through the gorse bushes at Ebrington, I was met by a horseman who said 'Are you there?' I was afraid he was going to ride over me, so I hit his horse over the nose. At this he hit out at me with his sword several times and ran it into my side while I defended myself as best I could with my little cane."
That portrait of Anne Vavasour is hanging at "The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers," which has been around since 1322, I guess. Not bad! And now you can hire out the premises for a banquet. "We even have a grand piano and comfort cooling," they note. You know what else they have? Sir Henry Lee's suit of armor! "Click" here to see it.
always comes back to Edward de Vere, doesn't it? Wikipedia informs me that he was Anne Vavasour's "first lover." They had a baby out of wedlock and were sent to the Tower of London to think about the consequences of their rash actions, I guess. She is sometimes credited - so proclaims wikipedia - with authoring a poem attributed to Edward de Vere: "Anne Vavasour's Echo." I hope HE didn't write it, because it contains many lines like "Oh heavens! who was the first that bred in me this fever? Vere." That would be kind of narcissistic. See, the gimmick is that she's yelling into a cave and the cave answers her questions with an echo of her last syllable.
Aubrey records a little poem about Sir Henry Lee's relationship with Mris. Anne Vavasour. It starts, "Here lies good old knight Sir Harry,/ Who loved well, but would not marry..." and then, in a footnote, the prudish editor indicates that "Four lines are suppressed."
Friday, August 19, 2011
John Aubrey to give you: He describes Sir John Popham as "a huge, heavie, ugly man" ("I have seen his picture," he notes) and says that Sir John's son "lived like a hog." Sir Everard Digby (father of Venetia Digby's husband), on the other hand, was "the handsomest man in England... 'Twas his ill fate to suffer in the powder-plott. When his heart was pluct out by the executioner (who... cryed 'Here is the heart of a traytor!') it is credibly reported, he replied, 'Thou liest!'" Sir Henry Lee "was never maried, but kept woemen to read to him when he was a bed... But his dearest deare was Mris. Anne Vavasour." He had an effigy of Mistress Vavasour placed on his grave, and "some bishop did threaten to have this monument defaced." Poor Sir Charles Cavendish "was a little, weake, crooked man" who went around the world collecting rare mathematical texts, "which he intended to have printed... But he died of the scurvey" and his wife "sold the incomparable collection aforesaid by weight to the past-board makers for wast paper." Aubrey calls this "A good caution for those that have good MSS. to take care to see them printed in their life-times." Speaking of Venetia Digby, the reference to "viper-wine" in her chapter caused me to search out this old recipe for viper wine on the "internet." It has vipers in it. The "blogger" says that Venetia's husband wrote "the earliest collection of fermented drink recipes that we know... When his beloved wife Venetia died suddenly it was widely believed that he had accidentally poisoned her with the viper wine that he gave her to preserve her beauty." So that adds a few layers to Aubrey's account, and really, what was Aubrey but a "blogger"? But not everything is about John Aubrey. For example, today I found this picture of Jimmy Olsen being harassed by a beatnik. And then for some reason I read an article about scientists studying the dreams of rats. And so good night. Good night, little rats! (Jimmy Olsen panel via the Silver Age Comics "blog" - hours of fun!) PS: What do rats dream about? They dream about running in a circular maze, say scientists who put them in a circular maze, and they also dream about "standing still."
conjurer." Once, when he went on vacation, "he happened to leave his watch in the chamber windowe - (watches were then rarities) - The maydes came in to make the bed, and hearing a thing in a case cry Tick, Tick, Tick, presently concluded that that was his Devill, and took it by the string with the [tongs] and threw it out of the windowe into the mote... It so happened that the string hung on a sprig of an elder that grew out of the mote, and this confirmed them that 'twas the Devill. So the good old gentleman gott his watch again." John Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES.
the other versions back to the library. It's clear that the 1898 edition of BRIEF LIVES is the way to go. It seems to transcribe meticulously almost every little scrap of Aubrey, marginalia and all. The editor, Andrew Clark, warns us: "Some things in Aubrey's writing offend not merely against our present canons of good taste, but against good morals. The conversation of the people among whom Aubrey moved, although they were gentry both in position and in education, was often vulgar, and occasionally foul, as judged by us." The story of Venetia Digby is not TOO racy. It does have a sad and morbid ending. "She was a most beautifull desireable creature... it seems her beauty could not lye hid. The young eagles had espied her, and she was sanguine and tractable, and of much suavity... Her face, a short ovall; dark-browne eie-browe, about which much sweetness, as also in the opening of her eie-lidds. The colour of her cheekes was just that of the damaske rose, which is neither too hott nor too pale... She dyed in her bed suddenly. Some suspected that she was poysoned. When her head was opened there was found but little braine, which her husband imputed to her drinking of viper-wine; but spiteful woemen would say 'twas a viper-husband who was jealous of her that she would steale a leape." Aubrey isn't as kind to poor Bess Broughton, though he says "She was a most exquisite beautie, as finely shaped as nature could frame; and had a delicate witt." It seems "Her father at length discovered her inclinations and locked her up in the turret of the house, but she getts downe by a rope; and away she gott to London, and did sett-up for her selfe... her price was very deare... At last she grew common and infamous and gott the pox, of which she died." Then he lists some various songs and jokes that people made about Bess Broughton and her pox.
Time once more to take a peek into the "blog" mail "bag." Lee Durkee writes in to take up for his beloved Edward de Vere (from the shadow of whose ancestral castle he writes). No way, says Lee, did Edward de Vere have that unfortunate accident in front of Queen Elizabeth. "John Aubrey was famous for getting things wrong," Lee says. Edward de Vere did, however, Lee admits, "set an entire village on fire while orchestrating a mock battle for [the Queen's] entertainment (he heroically helped douse the flames)." Does that count as heroic, though? If you started the fire to begin with? But I don't want to get into another Edward de Vere argument with Lee. Meanwhile my brother-in-law David writes in with an interesting real estate listing. If you scroll down all the pictures of the property, you will see that there is a skeleton in the basement!
"Red-haired men never had any kindnesse for him." So writes James Aubrey about James Bovey, a businessman. Also: "In all his travells he was never robbed." And, "His dyet was always a fine diet: much chicken." Bovey shows up again in Aubrey's sketch of Richard Head: "his true name was Head (Mr. Bovey knew him)." About this Mr. Head: "He had been amongst the gipsies. He looked like a knave with his gogling eies. He could transforme himselfe into any shape." (Note: WHAT?) "Was at last a bookseller, or towards his later end."
Thursday, August 18, 2011
According to John Aubrey, Sir Henry Blount once made a bet with Colonel Betridge - "one of the handsomest men about the town," who always "bragged how much the woemen loved him" - that if they went together to a bordello, Colonel Betridge "without money, with his handsome person, and Sir Henry with a twenty-shilling piece on his bald [head], that the wenches should choose Sir Henry... and Sir H. won the wager... Drunkeness he much exclaimed against, but wenching he allowed. When Coffee first came in he was a great upholder of it." His favorite coffee house was called The Rainbowe. "He was heretofore a great Shammer... [saying for example] that at an Inne in St. Albans, the Innekeeper had made a Hogs-trough of a free-stone coffin, but the pigges after that grew leane, dancing and skipping, and would run upon the topps of the houses like goates. Two young Gents that heard Sir H. tell this sham so gravely, rode the next day to St. Albans to enquire... 'twas altogether false. The next night as soon as they allighted, they came to the Rainbowe and found Sir H., looked louringly on him, and told him they wondered he was not ashamed as to tell such stories, etc. Why, Gentlemen, sayd Sir H., have you been there to make such an enquiry? Yea, sayd they. Why truly, gentlemen, said Sir H. I heard you tell strange things that I knew to be false. I would not have gonne over the threshold of the dore to have found you out in a Lye, at which all the Company laught at the two young Gents... He is now neer or altogether 80 yeares, his Intellectuals good still; and body pretty strong. This last weeke of Sept. 1682, he was taken very ill at London, and his Feet swelled."
one of those "grossnesses" that editor was talking about! WARNING! If you do not enjoy grossnesses, do not keep reading. The following employs scatological language! But it was written in the 17th century - what do you want from me? Aubrey says of Edward de Vere (pictured), "This Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares." Wow! But wait, there's more. "On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart." I'm probably the last to know about this. I have lots of questions, like, isn't seven years an overreaction? I mean, according to Mark Twain, Elizabethans were having similar stomach problems all the time. And: when de Vere finally got back, was the queen being nice by saying that or kind of yanking his chain?
You don't care what I checked out of the library today. Yet here we are. Intrigued by Lee Durkee's notes on John Aubrey's notes on John Dee, I checked out two versions of Aubrey's BRIEF LIVES. One is a two-volume set from 1898 and the other is a single volume put together in 1949. Then I picked up something from 1931 called THE SCANDAL AND CREDULITIES OF JOHN AUBREY, because how could I not? Sadly, it seems to be nothing but a whittled down version of the LIVES. The editor gives a very long introduction with some crazy turns of phrase ("The wry and knobbly spine of his days") and warnings of forthcoming sauciness ("Aubrey's grossnesses occur so frequently, and at such important points, that to suppress them is to destroy utterly the artistic value...") I haven't run across any grossnesses yet, but you will be the first to know. Aubrey talks to someone named goodwife Faldo whose mother took care of Dee "in his sicknesse." (This is from the 1898 edition.) Goodwife Faldo recalls that "The children dreaded him because he was accounted a conjurer." She lost a basket of clothes, if I am reading correctly, and John Dee recovered them, though it's unclear whether she's saying he did so by magic. After he died, "The children when they played in the church would runne to Dr. Dee's grave-stone."
Somehow (but why?) I was surprised to come across a STAR WARS reference in the work of Cesar Aira. In THE SEAMSTRESS AND THE WIND he compares memory to "the hologram of the princess, in that movie, that the faithful robot carried in his circuits from galaxy to galaxy."
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I just saw Morgan Freeman getting out of his car. He was smiling pleasantly and waving at everyone who was staring at him in gape-mouthed wonder. Like me! We were driving down the street, just a block from home. I was like, "Roll your window down so I can yell hello!" And Dr. Theresa was like, "There's a cop right in front of us." What? Just because we had been at Snackbar drinking absinthe? And I was like, "The cop is waving at Morgan Freeman!"
Inspired by Arah Sneed, I looked up bitterweed in my reference book WEEDS OF THE SOUTH, and yes, that is a book I thought I needed to purchase at the time. So, common ragweed is sometimes called by the name "bitterweed," but I don't think that's what Arah Sneed has in mind, because she mentions "small yellow daisy shaped blossoms and fragile fern-looking leaves." That fits the description of something more properly (?) known as bitter sneezeweed, also called bitterweed, which causes "metabolic derangement" (!) and "tainted milk."
Got THE LAFA SHOPPER in the mail the other day. No column by John Arrechea, but there was a woman named Arah Sneed who made up for it. She wrote about the bitterweed, and how the cows used to eat it sometimes when she was a kid and the milk would turn bitter: "it was hard to drink bitter milk." But now she sees the bitterweed growing along the highway and thinks it's pretty. THE LAFA SHOPPER! Don't just toss it directly into the recycling bin the way I used to do.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
That new crime anthology edited by Dr. Theresa contains one of her favorite stories, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor. Just today, on the twitter thing of Maud Newton, there was a "link" to this amazing audio of Ms. O'Connor reading from that very story.
I always like to tell you when there is a Jerry Lewis reference in the New York Times. But don't be fooled! It is so easy to get your hopes up in this deceitful world. Today we read a report about Jerry Lewis being "struck in the midriff by [a] flying padlock early one morning in late July," which sounds exactly like something that would happen to Jerry Lewis. He is always being "struck in the midriff" by things in his movies! But this time the midriff in question belongs to some guy in Phoenix who just happens to be named Jerry Lewis. Phooey! But I am sorry he was struck in the midriff.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Doomed Book Club. From left: Ace Atkins, Megan Abbott, me, Scott Phillips. Man, that flash bulb really worked! Photo by Rod Wiethop.
Dyna Moe saw Pauly Shore today too! Twitter seems to be on Pauly Shore alert. Tilda Swinton was supposedly in the neighborhood as well, reports Dyna Moe. What a combo! I hope they're doing a movie together. By the way, have you looked at Dyna Moe's Hipster Animals lately?
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Speaking of Lee Durkee and John Dee, Lee found this in his notes - John Aubrey's description of John Dee: "Dee had a very cleare rosie complexion... a long beard white as milke. A very handsome man... he was tall and slender. He wore a gowne like an artist's gowne, with hanging sleeves, and a slitt. A mighty good man he was."
Lee Durkee's review of DOCTOR FAUSTUS at the Globe Theatre, a performance of which he attended yesterday. That was the condensed version, as presented in a facebook comment. Later, Lee followed up with a nice, long email, portions of which will be presented below. Dr. Faustus is thought by some scholars (one scholar?) to be Christopher Marlowe's negative portrait of Dr. John Dee, while Prospero represents Shakespeare putting a nicer gloss on him. Also Neoplatonism is involved, says Lee, but let's keep this rolling along. We don't have all day! All right! And now let's turn it over to Lee Durkee, reporting from England: "a blockbuster version of Faustus all stops pulled Hollywood style. It was great, though it wasn’t Elizabethan in any way; there were more actors on stage in the opening scene than existed in an entire old school troupe, but the play, essentially a series of slapstick vignettes inserted kinda jarringly into the stream of a dark narrative that’s not nearly as interesting... worked because it was prop-filled and bawdy [WARNING: one example of bawdiness follows below - ed.]... I was leaning against the runway tongue of the stage and half the time had to crane my head directly up to see the actors, and what I’ll always remember is that O in the sky above them. Shakespeare’s O, his Globe, which even in a theme park void of ghosts (the remains of the real Globe were discovered a quarter mile away while the new one was being constructed) was haunting, that view upward with clouds passing overhead an Elizabethan archetype... Props galore included giant dinosaur-boned birds, representing dragons, on which Mephistopheles and Faustus scoured the globe looking for trouble. Giant masks of Helen, of demons, behind which costume changes were made. Books opened into flames. A wench ran on stage with a Roman candle spurting fire from her crotch. [I warned you! - ed.] The three trap doors were in constant use, props and people appearing and vanishing, especially during the highlight of the play, the parade of the seven deadly sins. John Dee would have been proud of them... My legs held me up okay in the pit, though we all sat down during intermission... Fun to watch the people in the boxes the same way the nobility used to get ogled by the runts. There were a couple of moments when things went wrong and the actors had to improvise and bite back giggles, and in many ways these are always my favorite moments, the spell gets bubbleburst and replaced by a moment of intimacy between the actors and crowd filled with grins and shrugs. A floating castle helium balloon that was supposed to rise up out of the Globe and reproduce one of Faust’s spells instead floundered in a downdraft, was captured by an audience member, who then let it go a moment later; it drifted back onto the stage just as some regent was complimenting Faustus on his magical castle-in-the-sky illusion. The balloon seemed playful almost and finally Meph grabbed it and stalked off stage with it while Faustus laughed and the crowd laughed... Another great moment was when some king of evilness hit a tennis ball into the crowd, and the crowd member tossed it back, and the king broke out in laughter, as did the audience... afterwards I decided to follow the crowd across the walking bridge over the Thames, just like in the old days, and of couse I got lost and then ended up an hour later, still looking for the tube, finding The Shakespeare’s Head instead and popping in for a pint."
Saturday, August 13, 2011
"Oatmeal Tips." Over on his twitter thing, we see that Michael Kupperman quotes the imdb like so: "For some people, oatmeal starts the day off right - for Thora Birch, it launched a healthy career in front of the camera." Meanwhile, "Oatmeal Tips" has received a nice email from Jim Whorton! He was at a restaurant in China, staring in a puzzled way at a sign that said "oat soup." "It's porridge," a restaurant worker explained. These aren't really tips. "Oatmeal Tips" really used to be about the tips. It has degenerated.
Rod Steiger, and Art Carney! And like any movie starring Roger Moore, Rod Steiger, and Art Carney, our theoretical movie should have come out in 1985 - often known as "The Year of Roger Moore, Rod Steiger, and Art Carney." Dear friends, it's not a dream. It's real! I watched it last night when I couldn't sleep. Well, some of it. I should state right away that the title is misleading: Roger Moore's face is not naked at all. In fact, in many scenes he wears glasses as large as Louis Jordan's in SWAMP THING. Maybe they're the same glasses! And maybe my brain was a little hazy in the wee hours when I flipped on THE NAKED FACE, but I could swear it features an assassin who turns his wheelchair into a motorcycle, just like those Transformers all you kids love! Next there was a scene of Rod Steiger ranting and screaming the way he does sometimes. He was ACTING. He was a ranting, screaming police detective with his eyes popping out of his head, and his partner was Elliott Gould, which was a surprise. Elliott Gould just stood there against a wall in that laid-back, slightly slack-jawed way of his while Rod Steiger stomped around looking for any remaining bits of scenery to devour. I'll tell you one thing I learned last night: Roger Moore, Elliott Gould, and Rod Steiger went to very different acting schools. You should see them together. It's like watching three entirely different movies at once! What a bargain. So some other dudes are trying to kill Roger Moore and he runs into his little bedroom and props a chair under the doorknob! It seemed so quaint, and not at all like James Bond. The killers were thwarted by the doorknob, which they kept rattling in vain. Next Rod Steiger comes back to investigate and this time he decides to whisper. He's still very tense, but he just whispers everything for a change of pace. Like, "I really think my character would whisper everything in this scene." And the director was like, "Whatever you say, Rod Steiger." Then Rod Steiger goes to a diner with Elliott Gould and whispers some more but Elliott Gould gets on his nerves and all of a sudden he's screaming again. What a roller coaster ride! And all this time I'm thinking, "Must make it to Art Carney... Must make it to Art Carney..." He was third-billed in the capsule description after all. But friends, I didn't make it to Art Carney. It gradually seemed preferable to lie in bed staring at the ceiling and contemplating the terrible abyss, which is exactly what I did. The end.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Off Square Books and, as promised, picked up the new issue of VANITY FAIR featuring James Wolcott's salute to Jerry Lewis. Good stuff, though much of it will be familiar to the seasoned Jerry fan. I'm not complaining! Gigot (!) and Emmett Kelly make an appearance, so who can ask for more? Wolcott has words of appreciation for Jerry's book DEAN & ME ("crackling" he calls it) and best of all there's this little nugget that Jerry once dropped on Mel Torme: "You have driven your theatrical prowess through the galaxies and back" (see also). An excellent insight: "When he isn't 'on,' he's the opposite of off; his presence intensifies with an increase of dark matter, transmitting scary-dad authority even when trussed up and immobile..."
You know my owl theory. Well, Brian Z. tells me there is an owl in BRIGHTON ROCK. I read BRIGHTON ROCK many years ago, probably back when I was Brian Z.'s age, and do not remember the owl. Brian Z. used the "twitter" to tell me about the owl, and this is what the passage in question looks like when abbreviated for "twitter": "An owl cried w painful hunger swooping low over a filling station, into the headlights & out again, on furry& predatory wings"
Late in the novel ANGELA SLOAN by James Whorton, Jr., a hippie is observed making sandwiches of margarine and sugar. This will of course put the attentive "blog" reader in mind of the butter and sugar sandwiches that Whorton enjoyed in his youth. Yet the author distances himself from the sandwiches, having his narrator state bluntly, "I have never seen this kind of sandwich before." Thus do we see the complicated way in which the author's life is represented in his work. But is it any of our business? Probably not!