Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jazz Ghost

You know what Frank Kermode said about Shakespeare: "To be able to devote one’s life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character." And what about when John Ashbery said that poetry is good because of its impracticality? Plus how can we forget the Maine antiques dealer who said, "I think I’m more and more attracted to things that aren’t worth anything"? Let me add a composer I really like, Thomas Adès, who says in a book of interviews, "I have to make gratuitous things... which the philosophers can't explain." He says a lot of other aphoristic things, too! He's very aphoristic. I'd tell you more except I am teaching this book to my grad students next semester and I want to leave some surprises for them. Well, he says some things about Mahler I don't agree with at all, but he does praise Mahler when Mahler "embraces and celebrates the futility of his life and his music." I can get behind that! And then he says (still about Mahler) "good for him. Grand failures are preferable to sneaky successes, aren't they?" And that makes me think of something I have said on the "blog." I can't tell you more! We're reading DRACULA and WUTHERING HEIGHTS in my grad class too. And GLINDA OF OZ, which I haven't yet read, but I'm getting behind Laura Lippman's interpretation, so I am sure it will be a success. I was going to make them read THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ but the ending depressed me too much. (Spoilers here, nearly a century old, but still.) The Glass Cat with awesome brains like pink marbles is forced to exchange them for transparent brains. She becomes "humble" - ugh! - and boring, which in the world of the book is supposed to be a good thing. We all know it's not so. Well, I mean it's good to be humble, of course, but you don't have to be boring about it, and DO try to stop people from switching out your brains on a whim if at all possible. I am quite disturbed, also, by the political system of Oz. Magic is outlawed! You might think my ideas to be conservative. Am I against government regulation? Well, I guess so in this case! Only a certain few government-licensed employees of the state are allowed to practice magic in Oz. If magic spells are the guns of Oz, then Ozma has repealed the second amendment. On the other hand, if you think of magic as free speech (that's probably more like it - I guess!), then I am a true liberal, and Ozma is a censor. Either way it's not so kosher. The Patchwork Girl never did become "terrifyingly amoral" in my opinion, as Lippman promised. The closest she came was saying that she would gladly "kill a dozen useless butterflies" to help her friend. That was scary! But I guess "punk rock" is the best definition of her in my book. Finally, I should tell you that our annual Halloween film festival ended with a movie called TORMENTED, all about a jazz pianist practicing for Carnegie Hall (!) who accidentally (sort of, not really) lets his girlfriend ("Wow! Look at that brassiere!" exclaimed Dr. Theresa) fall off a lighthouse and then she's dead and a ghost! I particularly loved the scheming beatnik in TORMENTED and kept wondering where I had seen him before. Turns out that many years later he was the bartender ghost in THE SHINING! I learned that from imdb.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jack Jones Won't Let Us

"Will it ever be different that you and I will stop dreaming those big visions that keep us so human?" That's the beginning of some nutty liner notes on a Jack Jones LP I bought at The End of All Music a few weeks ago. Also: "Then, her knees that are too fat as they jump out of a mini skirt and the bulge of tummy that hangs over his swimming shorts don't mean a thing... That's what the Jones boy is saying, and he says it so it will run around in your ears if you hear it in the Go-Go that never stops being a sound pit or at a cocktail party where some creep is serenading you and over in the corner Sir John Galahad is arguing the propulsion strength of dry fuel and he won't look at you and your eyes have burnt a hole through his beguiling head... you want to climb those mountains and hills and find the stars and hold the hands, and kiss the lips, and light the cigarettes and have those babies... Just silly humans like you and me with big hearts and dreamy dreams. We will not stop: Jack Jones won't let us." Now, first of all, isn't it kind of ominous that Jack Jones won't let us stop? And next I will tell you that the liner notes turn out to be authored and signed by Father Norman J. O'Connor, and here I add a parenthetical exclamation point: (!).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Gargoyle Hugs

When we were walking up the dark path to Faulkner's house the other night, something made a noise behind a tree and then it popped out to scare us and it was none other than Bill Griffith, the man who runs Faulkner's house. He's a big horror movie fan - he used to watch them regularly with Barry Hannah, the gorier the better - and he told us he had just seen EQUINOX and liked it. So naturally it shot right to the top of our Halloween film festival list. We watched it, and I don't want to tell you anything about it! I want you to watch it for yourself. Even the dvd menu screen had too many spoilers for my taste. So just close your eyes and get a friend or loved one to select "Play Movie" for you! We also watched DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE and a 1972 made-for-TV movie called GARGOYLES, all about a young woman in various halter tops and her sometimes shirtless dad, who fight reptilian winged demons. In one scene, two of the "gargoyles" hug! And then, as they break their embrace (pictured) and one gargoyle moves away, the other gargoyle swats the first gargoyle affectionately on the rump! Dr. Theresa and I had to rewind that scene to make sure we really saw it and yes we really did, we really truly did. I realize that we started the whole festival this year with two other made-for-TV movies from 1972. Why were TV movies so weird in 1972? I am going to blame Nixon. Nothing we have seen so far during the annual Halloween film festival is nearly as scary as this creature named Jack Pumpkinhead I came across while reading THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ. First of all, he lives in a giant pumpkin, even though his own head is a pumpkin, which would be like us living in a giant human head (see also)! He serves pumpkin pie to his guests, so that's horrific. And his head is constantly rotting! So he is always out in the pumpkin patch, carving a new head for himself. Oh dear Lord.

Best Stuffing

It is almost as if L. Frank Baum heard my objections to his narrow view of ragtime FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. He has a character say, "I've just composed a tune called 'The Speckled Alligator.' It's in patch-time, which is much superior to rag-time." He plays it on a harmonica and Baum editorializes: "It wasn't a very bad tune, nor a very good one." I like it when the Glass Cat disdainfully draws a distinction between herself and "the meat cats." If you are in college and starting a band, may I respectfully suggest that you name yourselves "The Meat Cats"? The Scarecrow falls hard for the Patchwork Girl and says she has "the best stuffing there is going," which struck me as a pretty hardboiled turn of phrase, so is it any wonder that Laura Lippman got me to read THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ? She also recommended THE OTHER, the other [THE OTHER, the other, ha! - ed.] thing I'm reading now, so really Laura Lippman is dictating all my reading, rather like Ozma, who appears to be the benevolent dictator of Oz if I am understanding the situation correctly and yes, I have some serious reservations about the political system of Oz.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oatmeal Cat

"... and playfully they would tease her, Ada Katerina, be for us a bee, a flower, an owl." Gee sometimes I get so weary when I contemplate my lot in life: to be the man who keeps a big long list of every book with an owl in it, even though my careful cataloguing does serve to substantiate my magnificent literary theory that every book has an owl in it. But oh gee it is such lonely work. It's at times like these that I say to myself, "Come on, Pendarvis! The people are counting on you!" So THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon is a book with an owl in it. And a few pages after that there's something about an old lady feeding oatmeal to her cat.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tell the World!

Dr. Theresa accidentally happened to catch a few moments of the apparently awful NBC remake of THE MUNSTERS that came on tonight, and boy was she sorry. She called me into the room to rewind it and show me a few minutes that particularly offended her. A little boy irrevocably zipped up in a bright yellow sleeping bag was trying to hop away from a beast who swatted him against a tree in a magnificent explosion of feathers. This, of course, is the most memorable moment in John Frankenheimer's mutant bear movie PROPHECY. It wasn't a homage, argued Dr. Theresa, because it was so obscure. It was a rip-off. "It wasn't THEIR brilliance," she said. She also said, "Tell the world!" Then we watched RED LIGHTS, our second Halloween film festival movie this year to feature Sigourney Weaver. "Hey," I said, "she was in GHOSTBUSTERS [not part of the Halloween film festival - ed.] and now she's PLAYING a ghost-buster. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Get it?" That's what I said. To which Dr. Theresa responded something like, "Yeah." It also starred the creepy guy from RED EYE. And, purely objectively, it was the movie in our festival that (so far) made us say "Aaaaah!" out loud the most, though it wasn't really an "Aaaaah!" kind of movie.

I Ate It

You know I'm a "teacher" and I have "office hours" at Square Books but today Richard Howorth spotted me and forcibly moved my "office hours" to City Grocery Bar for martinis. Well first we asked for gibsons but it turns out I ate all the cocktail onions last night. Who should show up but Chris Offutt, who wrote this week's episode of TREME? We talked about unicorns. Then John Currence came by and put a small cast-iron skillet in front of me and in that skillet was something to eat on a bed of collards and I ate it and it was good and John said, "That's fried cockscomb." (See also.)

I Hate Dignity

You know I'm reading THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ and I haven't yet found the terrifying amorality I was promised in the title character, although she is a tad anarchic, as evidenced by this illustration and her accompanying slogan (see also; I'd call her "punk rock" if the text didn't define ragtime as a "jerky jumble of sounds" - I'm kind of surprised that Baum missed the opportunity to have her love ragtime since she's made of rags; instead she calls it "extremely bad"). Her hair, I suppose, I find somewhat terrifying in each illustration, particularly here, the way the sparse strings dance and wave about, and the two visible teeth are unsettling, and the dreaded button eyes, natch, but I have to say so far I get where she's coming from, man. Like Frankenstein's monster - like all of us! - the Patchwork Girl didn't ask to be born.

Neon Monkey Dreams

You know I would never want to see a monkey riding a dog, though I love reading about monkeys riding dogs and writing about monkeys riding dogs. I'm a complicated person! (See also.) I am happy to say that my old buddies Anya and Elizabeth have an essay up ("click" here) on and it contains this quotation: "I was born in 1962. All my life it was my dream to own a monkey" and these sentences: "Three sheepdogs run out. On their backs bounce tiny monkeys in neon, fringed riding vests."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Afflictions of McNeil

Gee I didn't want to scare you but last time I talked to McNeil he was abed with pneumonia! He's better now, though the tone of today's email was despairing: "I ate lunch at Target." Hey remember when McNeil had the swine flu? And what about that big bruise on his arm? He's so delicate and frail! Or maybe, just maybe, he's the toughest of us all.

You Can See 'Em Work

"So they opened the door and entered the house, where a little light-brown donkey, dressed in a blue apron and a blue cap, was engaged in dusting the furniture with a blue cloth. On a shelf over the window sat a great blue owl with a blue sunbonnet on her head, blinking her big round eyes at the visitors." It should come as no surprise that THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ is a book with an owl in it. But I guess my favorite character is the Glass Cat, a cat made of glass, with these pink marbles, I suppose, in her glass head, and she's really proud of them because they're her brains, and she works this phrase into every conversation: "Have you noticed my pink brains? You can see 'em work."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Latest News From Oz

Today Ace Atkins and I were talking about William Bendix and Ace said, "What happened to William Bendix? Did he come to a tragic end?" We didn't know. But we parted agreeing that he seemed like the kind of guy who might have come to a tragic end. Here he is in an illustration for the American Meat Institute (not to be confused with the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council), proclaiming William Bendix "on the air for MEAT." What else happened today? Heard from Megan Abbott. She has been keeping an eye on all this Oz stuff on the "blog." Turns out she and her brother read all the OZ books "100 times." Megan elaborates: "my dad bought us an enormous roll of paper from the hardware (?) store and we drew a map of Oz, based on all the books, that covered the whole floor of my bedroom and included illustrations made with those fat markers that smelled like fruit. I'd kill for that map now! I wanted to walk right into it. Then we wrote the publisher and asked for more written by L. Frank Baum and not the 'other authors.' My parents, who helped us mail the letter, apparently didn't feel obliged to tell us he'd been dead for 60 years."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ultimately Defeated by a Chicken

I just got an email from Laura Lippman about an OZ villain who turns people "into tschotchkes and is ultimately defeated by a chicken."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Brain Can Conspiracy

You know Laura Lippman has got me all fascinated like with these OZ books. And now Elizabeth writes in to inform me that she, like Laura, is a big fan. OZMA OF OZ is her favorite. As for Laura, I quote: "My favorite is probably the last one written by Baum, Glinda of Oz, which deals with a very petulant teen sorceress (sort of Kristen Stewart with magic powers) and a population of 'Flatheads,' who keep their brains in cans. Rich with conspiracies." Laura says that she "read every book in the L. Frank Baum series AND the 'sequels' written by Ruth Plumly Thompson, which were darker and not quite right." Intriguing! I see a lazy trip to wikipedia in my future. In a subsequent email, Laura just as intriguingly notes "the presence of strong girls and the absence of strong boys" in Baum's books. She can think of no more than three boys in them, one of whom (SPOILER ALERT) turns out to be a girl: OZMA! Now I know why Elizabeth likes that one so much. It's right up her alley.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Giant Horror Glasses

As you will no doubt be thrilled to hear, our annual Halloween Film Festival has continued with THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (a hint of Lovecraft there) and the awesome FROM BEYOND (a whole lot of Lovecraft). The leading lady of FROM BEYOND sports the enormous eyeglasses you may recall from 2009's Halloween film festival feature SWAMP THING. I have a vague recollection of renting FROM BEYOND many years ago at the Phar-Mor drugstore in Mobile, Alabama, with the amazing VHS selection. As I watched it tonight I suddenly had an epiphany about the connection between H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson. It's really obvious but I'm saving it for scary story class tomorrow.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sick and Blunted, Y'all

I was reading ol' Stephen Holden in the New York Times today, he whose cabaret reviews have baffled and intrigued me with their tortured and ecstatic turns of phrase, whose movie reviews have oft been fraught with dubious cultural assumptions. Today he wrote, "For Ms. Huppert it is the latest in a long line of roles that require her to ooze an imperious hauteur, something she can probably do in her sleep." Though I appreciated what he was getting at (this photo makes a good case for it), I struggled with the phrase. It's my own problem, not Stephen Holden's! I don't like to think of anyone oozing anything in her sleep, especially imperious hauteur. Speaking of turns of phrase, Lee and Larry came over last night to watch Orson Welles's movie FALSTAFF (also known as CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT), and when John Gielgud (as Henry IV) said, "He was but as the cuckoo is in June, heard, not regarded; seen, but with such eyes as, sick and blunted with community, afford no extraordinary gaze," I thought, "Yeah! That's why I got off facebook." I used to think hobos were the original facebook, but there's Shakespeare writing about it so now I don't know what to think! I'm back on twitter, though. Who cares? EXACTLY!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scary Buttons

There is something extra scary about the Patchwork Girl of Oz, which I did not notice when I saw that previous illustration of her. Perhaps I didn't examine it closely enough. But her EYES ARE BUTTONS! Do you hear what I'm saying? HER EYES ARE BUTTONS, people! I know because I picked up my own copy of THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ at Square Books today. Most horrible! More terrible, even, than Laura Lippman implied! Forget Freud's ideas about the uncanny. Just think of the lullaby quoted in Toni Morrison's great novel BELOVED, all about "Lady Button Eyes." So very soothing, yet shot through with terror. In my opinion! All right! Lady Button Eyes is coming! She's coming! Get some sleep!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Soup Story

Hey I was just thinking about how the day after Dr. Theresa and I watched X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES she brought home some soup from the Honey Bee Bakery and it was in a paper cup with an opaque white plastic lid on it and for some reason I said, "It looks good," and Dr. Theresa shot back, "Who are you, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES?" oh gee we have lots of fun.

Head Strikes Again

Hey look Pendleton Ward, creator of ADVENTURE TIME - my nephews' favorite show! - drew my head. I don't think he'd mind me showing you because he put it out there in public on the twitter. Hey Kent told me to get back on twitter (he missed my live-tweetings of KING RALPH) so I did. Hey. (See also. And also.)

Future Shoes

Hey look it's what I look like during a futuristic "video conference." Terrifying! Those are Kent's shoes. What's it all about? I don't think I can tell you yet. Can I? I guess not. Up on the corner of that bookcase behind me you can see that can of industrial-strength "Ultra Duster" I told you about one time. Hey man I told you now that I'm off facebook this is where all my annoying facebook style photos go. You have only yourself to blame for looking.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Country Guy

Read a New York Times obituary about a guy who started his own country: "drama ensued when a group of Germans with plans to build a luxury casino on the platform tried to take control of Sealand while Mr. Bates and his wife were away. They held [his son] hostage for several days before Roy Bates stormed Sealand and retook it in a dramatic helicopter raid." I like the implied thought: "Hey, that guy and his wife went for groceries. Let's take over their country before they get back."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Most Important Meal

Later tonight the annual Halloween film festival will continue with GREMLINS 2. In the meantime, we've watched the Frank Langella version of DRACULA. Having just read the book, I found myself becoming one of those annoying people who says, "That's not in the novel!" and "THAT'S not in the novel!" And really not much of the novel was in the movie. But honestly, no Dracula movie really represents what's in the novel. The novel is a lot better than any Dracula movie I've seen, though I sure hate to be a guy who says things like that. The Langella DRACULA was enjoyable. It did bring out the native sauciness of Dr. Theresa, who kept saying things like, "Jonathan is kind of a ****" and "Her dad is a *****!" One thing that especially got under her skin was the way Donald Pleasance responded to tragedy by eating breakfast. I had to tell her that that IS in the novel: the characters are constantly eating a hearty breakfast to fortify themselves for a battle against Dracula. "Well, it is the most important meal of the day," said Dr. Theresa with notable sarcasm. I have never before seen this version, but when Megan Abbott was in town, she and Dr. Theresa discussed their shared childhood trauma of watching Frank Langella as Dracula climb down a wall toward his victim. See, now, that IS in the novel, the wall-climbing, I mean, but in a different context (OH, WHO CARES? WOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME?). In fact, last night at the party at Faulkner's house (at which, I forgot to tell you, they served raw oysters from my hometown), I saw Lee Durkee, who said that DRACULA is one of the few books he has ever read - maybe the only one - that truly scared him. The image he brought up in particular was, as I think he put it, Dracula "spider-walking down the castle wall." Lee thought that my mentioning certain sentences from DRACULA on the "blog" was a way of making fun of the novel, but not at all. I found it incredibly scary, too. My sister is reading it now and she is also scared. We're all scared. He's scary.

Two Minutes in Werewolf Heaven

Dr. Theresa and I just saw two minutes of a movie called JUNGLE JIM IN THE FORBIDDEN LAND on TCM, but wotta two minutes! There is a werewolf stalking through the jungle and he is so scary that he makes the monkeys dive out of the trees en masse into the river below. It's literally raining monkeys! Spectacular! "Is that werewolf out in the daylight?" asked Dr. Theresa. "That's weird." I suggested that maybe he wasn't a werewolf; maybe he was more of Dr. Moreau type creature. The werewolf started wrestling a chap I can only assume was Jungle Jim. Things looked hopeless until a helpful chimp beaned the werewolf in the head with a rock. Sometimes two minutes is enough! You just stop right there and you've watched the greatest movie ever made.

The Garden of Meats

A round of emails between Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Ace Atkins and myself somehow wound its way to Laura recalling a "terrifyingly amoral" character from literature: the Patchwork Girl of Oz! Laura sent me this picture which indeed gives hints of terrifying amorality. I believe Laura is looking for some text to back up the description. In the meantime I checked wikipedia, for what it's worth, and found an allusion to THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ's "deleted Chapter 21... 'The Garden of Meats.'" If I am skimming wikipedia's claims correctly, this chapter was about plant people who grew human children FOR FOOD!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Weird Cedar Mix Tape

Dr. Theresa and I just left an awesome party thrown by Wright Thompson and Sonia Weinberg Thompson at William Faulkner's house and as we crunched home up William Faulkner's pebbled drive under the dark rows of judging cedars the great song "Brick House" by the Commodores (which we also happened to listen to on our spontaneous trip to the lonesome grave of Meriwether Lewis) was emanating from William Faulkner's house with joyful abandon so that was unusual.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I was just talking to the fish.

Dazzling Kimono of Doom

I know you want to be kept informed about our annual Halloween film festival so I will tell you a few things about X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. 1) Before the credits even start there is an eye attached to a stalk kind of wiggling around in a jar of pink fluid, and you will think of Samuel Beckett's novel THE UNNAMABLE. 2) Then the credits appear over a black-and-purple swirling hypno-wheel. Dr. Theresa approved. 3) Suddenly, about halfway through, I guess, it takes an unexpected turn in the general direction of NIGHTMARE ALLEY, with Don Rickles doing a good job as a shady carny seeking to exploit THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES! Don Rickles removes Ray Milland from his carnival-appropriate kimono of dazzling yellow silk and sets him up as a phony "healer." Matters of faith and determinism are addressed! 4) Speaking of which, it all ends on a mystical note, not unlike THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (if nowhere near that level), following its premise through to its cosmic conclusion. THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES sees through everything, he SEES INTO THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, but I won't spoil it for you. 5) I forgot to mention a RAIN MAN-like side trip to Las Vegas. "This movie is all over the place," Dr. Theresa remarked at that point, but she didn't mean it in a bad way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Darkroom Smooches with Lonesome Ray Barone

Last night I was walking down the hall past the bedroom and Dr. Theresa called out to ask what I was doing and I said "I am about to watch Lorelai Gilmore make out with Ray Barone" and Dr. Theresa made a helpless, involuntary noise like aaoooeeewwwhhheehhhwwww and I said "I didn't make it happen, it's not my fault!" Poor Ray is so lonely. (Look at this picture! He looks almost psychotically lonely! No wonder Lorelai is so blurry and concerned in the background.) He made an unwanted advance! He suddenly smooched her in the darkroom. Lorelai politely recoiled. It reminded me of what Mr. Ward once said about Lauren Graham's character on the shoe factory show. To quote my own "blog," which is my new thing, Mr. Ward said, "Every man she meets falls in love with her. A poor man loves her and a rich man loves her and a schoolteacher loves her." And now a down-in-the-dumps photographer who had stopped believing in love loves her! So there you go. Plus the schoolteacher still happens to love her, the schoolteacher of whom Elizabeth once observed in an email entitled "parenthood is blech": "Lorelai's little boyfriend looks like a young lady with a mustache (goatee) glued on. I think because of how wimpy he acts. Although of course I don't think ladies are wimpy."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Look For Yourself

Last night I was lucky enough to catch a little bit of Jack Hanna on the David Letterman program, displaying his endearing lack of knowledge about animals. As you will recall, Hanna is particularly testy when the subject of marsupials comes up. He brought out a bearcat. "What does it eat?" asked Letterman. "Fruits, bananas, people," said Hanna. "Is it a marsupial?" asked Letterman. "I don't know, look for yourself!" yelled Hanna. In other viewing news, our annual Halloween film festival has continued with a movie called ATM. It's about some people being tormented in a freezing, confined spot, and as such it put me in mind of FROZEN, a Halloween film festival feature from a couple of years ago. The trapped characters in ATM were a polite young man, the mildly sassy young woman upon whom he has a budding crush, and a wisecracking pal who makes everyone miserable. My recollection of FROZEN is not all it could be, but I'm almost certain the three unfortunates in that one form an identical combo. Allow me to quote myself from my own "blog" from two years ago this very day: "[FROZEN] was about all the gruesome things that can happen to you on a ski lift. Can you imagine all the gruesome things that might happen to you on a ski lift? Well, yes, you probably can. But that doesn't make them pleasant!" By way of contrast, NOTHING that happens in ATM is anything that would ever happen to anyone at an ATM, gruesome or otherwise. There is the obligatory scene in which we learn all the various reasons why none of the characters happen to have a working cell phone. For the devious madman's plan to work (SPOILER ALERT! There is a devious madman!) he would have to magically assume that everyone at the ATM would lose, forget, or let the batteries run down on his or her cell phone simultaneously. For starters! In fact, the devious madman makes a lot of incredible assumptions - like, "I bet the protagonist is going to toss a flaming tequila bottle at me all of a sudden out of nowhere" - all of which come true. And once again, throwing a flaming tequila bottle is something we hardly ever do at ATMs anymore. The wildly improbable circumstances piled one upon another in ATM had me thinking nostalgically of the organic integrity of FROZEN, a movie about which no one has any reason to think at all. We also watched SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES as part of our Halloween film festival. I don't have anything to say about it. I just like to keep you informed.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Unknown Land Pirate and the Feathered Mimes

"No government inquiry, official or otherwise, was made into Lewis's death. Incredibly, no official even so much as visited the scene." Yeah guess what I checked out of the library today, yes, that's right, a biography of Meriwether Lewis. In it I found another account of how Lewis's friend Alexander Wilson did a little investigation at the site of Lewis's death. "Once out of sight of the cabins," writes the author (Richard Dillon), "he broke down and wept for his dead friend." Wilson also wrote a poem about it: "The dark despair that round him blew,/ No eye, save that of Heaven, beheld,/ None but unfeeling strangers knew." And "Pale Pity consecrate the spot/ Where poor lost Lewis now lies low!" And so on. "On his ride, Wilson encountered a mockingbird which was singing its own sweet song, not the borrowed melodies of other birds which the feathered mimes adopted so easily. He wondered if perhaps the bird had sung for Lewis." That line, plus some hints that Wilson began to suspect foul play, made me check out another book - THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF ALEXANDER WILSON - because I wanted to see the source materials for myself. I found Wilson's account of the trip, and he does tell a mockingbird story, but it's nothing like the one Dillon reports. On the plus side there's this from the same letter: "I then sought out a place to encamp, kindled a large fire, stript the canes from my horse, eat a bit of supper, and lay down to sleep, listening to the owls... but for the gnats, would have slept tolerably well." So that makes THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF ALEXANDER WILSON a book with an owl in it, so I've got that going for me, you know how I feel about that, I feel like I'm not wasting my life, that's how I feel. Dillon writes near the end of the bio, "Was Meriwether Lewis murdered? Yes. Is there proof of his murder? No." And: "His assassin, I am convinced, was either an unknown land pirate of the ilk of the Harpe brothers of bloody Natchez notoriety, or the mysterious Runnion... because his moccasin tracks and the impression of the butt of his unusual rifle were found in the dirt near Lewis's cabin." But you know, I lost interest at some point because while I was googling around I saw that somebody wrote a "historical mystery novel" about the whole thing and ugh I don't know, I found that dispiriting for some reason, don't try to figure me out! YOU CAN'T! PS I was going to illustrate this "post" with a picture of the Harpe brothers of bloody Natchez notoriety but I just read about them and THEY'RE AWFUL! I don't want to tell you what they used to do to people but it has something to do with the way Henry Fonda sang, I can say no more. So here is Alexander Wilson instead, he seems nice, let's think of nice things from now on, promise?

Wishfully Towards the West

You know I can't stop reading about the strange night that Meriwether Lewis died. Here is a brief, peaceful interlude from Alexander Wilson's account: "He lighted his pipe, and drawing a chair to the door sat down, saying to Mrs. Grinder, in a kind tone of voice, 'Madam this is a very pleasant evening.' He smoked for some time, but quitted his seat and traversed the yard as before. He again sat down to his pipe, seemed again composed, and casting his eyes wishfully towards the west, observed what a sweet evening it was."

Sunday, October 07, 2012

More Terrible Things

Sorry I can't stop thinking about the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis. His friend Alexander Wilson visited the site to get the scoop straight from Mrs. Grinder, the eyewitness. Wilson wrote: "He lies buried close by the common path, with a few loose rails thrown over his grave." Oh, that's terrible! The "blog" is usually so upbeat. Look, I said I'm sorry. Wilson goes on: "I gave Grinder money to put a post fence around it, to shelter it from the hogs, and from the wolves; [also terrible! So terrible! - ed.] and he gave me his written promise he would do it. I left this place in a very melancholy mood, which was not much allayed by the prospect of the gloomy and savage wilderness which I was just entering alone." While I was trying to find out who Wilson was (an ornithologist) I came across an article about the whole mystery by Dee Brown, so read that, too, and you can be just like me, thinking of the sad death of Meriwether Lewis all the time - what any patriotic American would do!

Graveyard Ramada

Dr. Theresa and I took a little trip up the Natchez Trace. We came upon the grave of the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis. The wording on the stone reads in part, "His melancholy death occurred where this monument now stands and under which rest his mortal remains." The other markers around are kind of hazy about what happened to Lewis, but if you go into the little cabin they have set up nearby and look at the objects displayed, you'll find a book with laminated pages, glued to a shelf. It's a copy of an eyewitness account of Lewis's death, and it is TERRIBLE (prior to the excerpt I am going to present here, Lewis has apparently shot himself twice), so don't read this: Lewis says to his host, Mrs. Grinder, "'Dear madam, look at my wounds.' She asked him what made him do so? He replied, 'If I had not done it somebody else would.'... He attempted to cut his throat, but was prevented. Some of the neighbors were called in. He frequently cried out, 'Oh how hard it is to die, I am so strong.'" This happened earlier: "About dark two or three other men rode up and called for lodging. Mr. Lewis immediately drew a brace of pistols, stepped towards them and challenged them to fight a duel. They not liking this salutation, rode on to the next house, five miles. This alarmed Mrs. Grinder. Supper, however, was ready in a few minutes." Nobody knows what really happened. But "click" here for a "web" site that lists several theories and quotes from many contemporary documents. Some hours after visiting Lewis's grave, Dr. Theresa and I happened to pull into a Ramada Inn that is adjacent to a weathered old graveyard. No, not adjacent, that's too mild. The old graveyard seems to be PART of the Ramada Inn. There's no fence or anything. You just park your car inches away from a tombstone. THIS IS THE PLACE FOR US, we thought.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Enthusiastic Vampire Sadness

You will be so pleased to hear that our annual Halloween film festival is underway. So far Dr. Theresa and I have watched two TV movies from the creative team of Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson - almost by coincidence. We had already watched TRILOGY OF TERROR when we met Jimmy at the City Grocery Bar. He returned the dvd of THE NIGHT STALKER we had loaned him some time back. A fan of the series derived from the TV movie, he had never seen that pilot film. "The ending was sad!" Jimmy shouted in despair. "He was trying to act tough but he was sad." Jimmy's enthusiasm and heartbreak made us want to watch it again! So we did. In the movie, an old Las Vegas city father puts forth the fascinating theory that the vampire is "high on pot." He is one of those old city fathers of the type you know so well: he doesn't want to tell the citizens that there is a vampire in their midst because it might hurt tourism. But did he ever stop and think that a vampire might HELP tourism? I recognized him. It took me a minute to place him. The old city father was none other than the dad from CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE! "I think you're right," said Dr. Theresa. She was so proud of me! What a night. A great thing about THE NIGHT STALKER is watching Darren McGavin drive around Las Vegas circa 1972 (pictured). I saw marquees for Johnny Carson, Paul Anka and Joey Heatherton. You may rightly ask, "What's up with all the vampirism lately, Pendarvis?" It is true that I am by nature a werewolf man - so much more sympathetic! - and have exhibited little interest in vampires in the past. I don't know. I guess it's the season.

Scary Dude at the City Dump

Reading another book with an owl in it, but that's no surprise because every book has an owl in it, as you well know. This time it's 'SALEM'S LOT. Some scary dude pops up at the city dump and declares, "I love the predators of the night. The rats... the owls... the wolves." Sound familiar? That's right! It's a riff on DRACULA - in particular a passage to which we have recently alluded, but also touching on Dracula's famous quip - in both the novel and the original movie - about wolves as the "children of the night" - oh, that Dracula and his snappy quips! (see also) - and no, I'm not reading 'SALEM'S LOT for my scary story class, and what kind of person reads DRACULA and 'SALEM'S LOT right in a row JUST FOR FUN? A VAMPIRE? No comment.

McNeil Month By Month

It's the most important day of the year: McNeil's birthday! And if you don't know that, I think we can agree that you're nothing but a piece of garbage. But that's okay! You can turn things around by enjoying this year's installment of "McNeil Month By Month," where we examine what McNeil does month by month. September 2006: McNeil contends that he does not enjoy the "Little Dot" comic book. October 2006: McNeil furnishes a memorable quotation. November 2006: McNeil recalls playing Aerosmith on a jukebox. December 2006: First appearance of "McNeil's Movie Korner." January 2007: McNeil's system for winning at craps. February 2007: McNeil doesn't see what's so hard about reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich at the same time. March 2007: McNeil and I are talking about Bob Denver when HE SUDDENLY APPEARS ON TELEVISION! April 2007: Wild turkeys roam McNeil's neighborhood. May 2007: McNeil gets in touch with an Australian reporter regarding a historical chimp. June 2007: First McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival announced. July 2007: Medicine changes McNeil's taste buds. August 2007: McNeil's trees not producing apples. September 2007: McNeil pinpoints a problem with the "blog." October 2007: McNeil presents a video entitled "Jerry's pre-defecation chills." November 2007: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy. December 2007: What is McNeil's favorite movie? January 2008: McNeil explains why the wind blows. February 2008: McNeil admires the paintings of Gerhard Richter. March 2008: McNeil comes up with an idea for a Lifetime TV movie. April 2008: McNeil's shirt. May 2008: McNeil's apple tree doing better (see August 2007). June 2008: McNeil is troubled by a man who wants to make clouds in the shape of logos. July 2008: McNeil's apples are doing great. August 2008: McNeil refuses to acknowledge that Goofy wears a hat no matter what I say. September 2008: McNeil's grocery store is permanently out of his favorite margarine. October 2008: McNeil on the space elevator. November 2008: McNeil comes across an incomplete episode guide to HELLO, LARRY. December 2008: McNeil thinks the human hand should have more fingers. January 2009: McNeil discovers that gin and raisins cure arthritis. February 2009: McNeil sees a ****** ******* awesome rainbow. March 2009: McNeil wants a job on a cruise ship. April 2009: McNeil attempts to rescue a wayward balloon. May 2009: McNeil visits the Frogtown Fair. June 2009: McNeil dreams he is watching an endless production number from LI'L ABNER. July 2009: McNeil sends text messages from his cell phone while watching a Frank Sinatra movie. August 2009: McNeil disagrees philosophically with a comic book cover that shows a mad scientist putting a gorilla's brain in a superhero's body. September 2009: McNeil resembles famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. October 2009: McNeil's birthday celebrated with an expanded edition of "McNeil Month By Month." November 2009: McNeil reports that a bird broke the large hadron collider by dropping a bread crumb on it. December 2009: McNeil advises me to like the universe or lump it. January 2010: McNeil eats soup. February 2010: McNeil tells of the hidden civilizations living deep beneath the surface of the earth. March 2010: McNeil recalls a carpet of his youth. April 2010: McNeil starts wearing a necktie. May 2010: McNeil's DNA sample fails to yield results. June 2010: McNeil thinks up some improvements for the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. July 2010: McNeil reads to me from I, THE JURY. August 2010: McNeil finds a hair in his crab cake. September 2010: McNeil has a cold. October 2010: McNeil's favorite MAD MEN character is Stan. November 2010: McNeil sits in his car and looks at pictures of Jennifer Jones. December 2010: McNeil fears a ball of fire in the sky. January 2011: McNeil watches DYNASTY. February 2011: McNeil sees clouds that look like guys on horseback. March 2011: McNeil composes a "still life" photograph. April 2011: McNeil is upset when I interrupt his viewing of MATCH GAME. May 2011: McNeil pines for some old curtains. June 2011: McNeil eats Lucky Charms brand breakfast cereal. July 2011: McNeil investigates the history of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. August 2011: McNeil compares Dean Moriarty to Dean Martin. September 2011: McNeil learns a lesson about pork and beans. October 2011: McNeil finds an article describing Robert Mitchum as "Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates." November 2011: McNeil did nothing in November. December 2011: McNeil discovers scientists creating rainbows in a laboratory. January 2012: McNeil impersonates Paul Lynde. February 2012: McNeil dreams of matches. March 2012: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy (see November 2007, above) used to chart the influence of Jerry Lewis on Carson McCullers. April 2012: McNeil disturbed by the art in his hotel room. May 2012: McNeil considers grave robbing. June 2012: McNeil's idea for "music television." July 2012: McNeil holds his negative feelings in check out of respect when the man who invented electric football dies. August 2012: McNeil reads me an old obituary of Charlie Callas over the phone. September 2012: McNeil concerned about T.J. Hooker's big meaty hands. What will McNeil do in October - and in all the months and years and eons to come? Stay tuned to find out!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Frasier, Briefly

Welcome once again to "Fraiser, Briefly," where we keep you up-to-date on all the latest Frasier developments. I got my BELIEVER magazine in the mail today. As you know, my column in that magazine is always wonderfully illustrated by Jason Polan. This time Jason has drawn a perfect likeness of Frasier's dad's lovable pooch Eddie, who appears in the column for some reason, probably because I can't stop thinking about Frasier, that's probably the reason. Thank you for your attention. This has been "Frasier, Briefly." And now I bid you goodbye forever.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ghost Monkey Index

Earlier today I was up at Square Books indulging in my hobby - okay! It's the only thing I do at all anymore! - of checking the index of every new celebrity bio or autobiography for Jerry Lewis. Sadly, the Kenny Rogers memoir did not have an index. But Jerry does appear on one page of a new Henry Fonda bio called THE MAN WHO SAW A GHOST. Is that a good title for a Henry Fonda bio? Maybe! Maybe he saw a ghost once. I forgot to check the index for ghosts. The Jerry reference (page 148) is about a lacklustre performance by Fonda on the Martin and Lewis radio show. Fonda sings a little trio number with Martin and Lewis. The author refers to "Martin's lubricated lead" and "Lewis's monkey mewling" (!). I did not read enough to discover whether alliteration is a notable hallmark of the prose style. Fonda is said to sing like he has "a stomach full of rocks." I guess that would influence your singing all right!