Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Year's Epiphany

We went over to Ace's house last night to watch a movie and when we were leaving Ace said, "Wait! I have a Christmas present for you in the car!" And Dr. Theresa said, "Is it a toad?" Ace was stunned, baffled and astonished! His jaw dropped, the way you've heard about people's jaws dropping but you never believed it. Ace was amazed by Dr. Theresa's secret powers! But really Dr. Theresa was sarcastically recalling something Ace had completely forgotten: the time he gave me a hideous misshapen toad dressed as Elvis Presley for my birthday. With a strange admixture of sheepishness and pride he produced last night's gift, not a toad, though Dr. Theresa was close: a plastic frog sitting on a pink toilet, reading a book. "When the sun shines on him, he bobs his head," Ace explained. Now, I knew what Ace was talking about because Megan Abbott has a figurine in her apartment that bobs its head when the sun shines on it through the miracle of solar power, but it is a dignified little man who is not sitting on a toilet, you would not catch Megan Abbott with such a shameful possession. This morning I picked up the toilet frog and was going to say to Dr. Theresa, "So I guess this goes in my office," but Dr. Theresa interjected with a forceful and serious "Yep!" - a yep of grave finality - long before I could finish the sentence. And thus was the frog banished. He now forms a kind of bookend on the opposite side of my printer from the horrific Elvis toad. During my recent achingly dull "posts" about deciding what to read next, I was going to tell you that I've always wanted to finish reading THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLE by John Cheever, which I was halfway through and very much enjoying when - not doing anything gross, just standing there juggling everything I was going to take on the plane - I accidentally dropped my paperback of THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLE in an airport toilet in 1993. And maybe I took it as a sign, because I have never gone back to that book. I dropped Sartre's autobiography in the same toilet at the same time! I decided not to tell you that because I thought maybe I "blog" about toilets too much. But last night as Ace handed me the gift, I had an important revelation: I will never stop "blogging" about toilets. That's the Pendarvis guarantee! Happy new year, toilet lovers. Together we can make 2014 the Year of the Toilet. (See also. And also.)

Monday, December 30, 2013


I don't think I'll be reading the novel FROM HERE TO ETERNITY next. Ordered it from Square Books and when it arrived it was 850 pages long, which is bad enough. But on the first page I read about "the muffled curtain of sound that comes from men just waking and beginning to move around, testing cautiously the flooring of this world they had last night forsaken," and I was like, ouch, I was like, where's Frank Sinatra? I was like, "flooring"? I was like, that's a long way to say somebody got out of bed. So many things I was like. Anyway, kids, it's not fair to give up on an 850-page book on the first page. Maybe you're just in a mood, did you ever think of that?

Cygnets and Junk

Can't decide what I'm in the mood to read next, read four or five of these Ezra Pound CANTOS for a warm-up, already there's a cygnet and a partridge and some swallows, I think, with a 100% chance of owls in the forecast, and I'd be shocked if I'm not forgetting some ominously whirling sea-birds, but I can't lie to you, no way I am going to make it to the owls.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What Made Fred Tall

"She isn't a phony because she's a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes." That's some good dialogue from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S by Truman Capote. Also contains many compelling sentences on the virtues of peanut butter: "It was the peanut butter that made Fred so tall... he didn't care about anything in this world except horses and peanut butter."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Apotheosis of the Assistant Hotel Manager

I like how Tennessee Williams describes this character in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH: "In appearance, dress and manner he is the apotheosis of the assistant hotel manager... betraying an instinct for murder only by the ruby-glass studs in his matching cuff links and tie clip."

Friday, December 27, 2013

His Massive Bald Head

Listening to some Sibelius and wondering what barbs the old MILTON CROSS' ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC might have to toss at him. You know, Milton Cross and his cronies are very interested in how funny-looking Bruckner was, and how everybody hated Franck, and many other examples of whimsical pettiness I have given you over the dull years of our acquaintance. So I read the little summary of Sibelius's life, and it was pretty worshipful, page upon page of love, in fact, rushing toward an appreciation of his sartorial genius: "He combined meticulousness in his choice of clothes with a passion for comfort. His custom-made suits were sewed a size larger than necessary to give him freedom of movement, and he always wore collars that fitted loosely around the neck. His shoes were made by hand in Berlin." But then, at the beginning of the very next paragraph, old Milton Cross ceases to disappoint! "His massive bald head was evidence of his vanity. When he was forty years old, his first gray hairs appeared. Rather than provide visible proof that he was growing older, he shaved his head and kept it shaved."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why the Unsatisfied Tiger

Hey the zipper got stuck on one of Dr. Theresa's Christmas boots, caught in some fabric. So I walked that boot up to the old town square today to see whether the folks at the boot store had a trick for getting a boot zipper unstuck. They didn't. But I was out and about, so I stopped by Square Books, natch, and good thing I did, because some evil-doer had been messing with my recommendation shelf! My recommendation shelf had been desecrated - again! - in the very center of its top shelf, by the unsanctioned placement of a dumb picture book where a dumb guy had taken pictures of his dumb dog standing on different dumb things, like a tire and a fence and a dumb trash can, I think, I didn't give it much of a look. Maybe I am overreacting! But this dog picture book was blocking a volume of Dorothy Parker! Imagine how irritated she would have been. Although she did love dogs. I placed the dog picture book back in its proper spot on the dog shelf. Then I got some coffee and settled in with some Tennessee Williams because we had seen say the first two minutes of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH on TCM today. The title swooped at a weird angle across the screen in shrieking yellow, one hysterically large word after another, "SWEET......... BIRD......... OF.......... YOUTH." Seemed like a sci-fi bird might descend in a fury and start killing everybody! I thought it was going to snatch Paul Newman right out of his convertible! I sat there at Square Books and read the first part of the play. Ordinarily I'd say that reading a book in a bookstore is just like stealing! But I have two copies of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH around the house here somewhere, so I think it's okay, plus, they put all those comfortable chairs all over the store, what do they expect? I got to the lines "Why the unsatisfied tiger? In the nerves jungle?" and I put down the book, thinking nostalgically that it sounded like something Elizabeth would write. I was made doubly nostalgic sitting there recalling that "Sweet Bird of Youth" was also the title of an album by the Atlanta band The Rock*A*Teens, one of my favorite bands of all time. I was also made nostalgic by being an old person, that's what we do, we think about how great everything used to be when we hung out with bands, before you were born. Yes, there is a sci-fi bird that kills everybody after all, and they call it SWEET........... BIRD.......... OF........... YOUTH

A Very Man Bait Christmas

We watched two Hammer movies Dr. Theresa gave me for Christmas: MAN BAIT on Christmas Eve, ha ha! And BAD BLONDE on Christmas Day. MAN BAIT is not as saucy as it sounds. It is virtually sauce-free. In fact, the first five minutes are just bookstore workers puttering around in a bookstore. Puttering around! Finally Diana Dors (pictured) showed up and I yelled "MAN BAIT!" And then I giggled. I couldn't say the title without giggling. Sometimes I giggled until I cried, Dr. Theresa standing by to dial 9-1-1. Dr. Theresa was amused by the low stakes in MAN BAIT. The big villain's plan is to get a hundred pounds from a bookstore manager. A hundred pounds! From a bookstore manager! (In the accompanying illustration here, he is TRYING UNSUCCESSFULLY TO STEAL A BOOK!) Things escalate. Sort of. There are some murders - I guess. Kind of accidental murders. The bookstore manager's "invalid" wife dies from reading a letter, for example. MAN BAIT! Well, BAD BLONDE had more of the old pepper to it. It was a brazen rip-off of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. It even had opera in it, Cain-style. Someone should (and I'm sure someone has) write an article about how, for Cain, opera is always tied up with betrayal and murder. I seem to recall that Cain wanted to be an opera singer but his mother - who WAS an opera singer - scoffed and jeered at him and told him he didn't have the voice for it. Freudian! I can't remember where I read that, but I used to proclaim it forcefully to my hardboiled class all the time, so it is probably true. The BAD BLONDE in BAD BLONDE was Barbara Payton. She had a lot of lines like, "It's too hot to sleep," in which she invested special meaning. And she literally licked her chops at the sight of her "prey," a young boxer. That's another thing! MAN BAIT started with a host of sad sacks glumly and quietly preparing a bookstore for daily operations and BAD BLONDE started with a boxing match at a seedy carnival. One of those is a better way to start a movie. Hey, remember when I went to an auction of Bob Hope's personal effects but I couldn't really tell you about it because I was going to write about it "professionally"? I've done a little bit of that, in an article on the Atlantic's "web" site, which you may read by "clicking" here. I mention it because Barbara Payton makes an appearance. Looks like, knock wood, I will be able to squeeze a good bit more juice out of that Bob Hope auction in the coming year. I'll let you know. Allow me to make a closing observation about MAN BAIT, ha ha! It will contain spoilers. So there is the inevitable "good girl" character in MAN BAIT. Her chief rivals for the affection of the bookstore manager (!) are the MAN BAIT (Diana Dors) and the bookstore manager's "invalid" wife. Thanks to the psychotic, if not very ambitious, criminal, her rivals are eliminated. I have half an idea here, something about how the "psychotic" characters in movies often reward the "good" characters by acting out the "good" characters' dark and unspoken impulses, and wow, as I'm typing it boy does it sound obvious and boring. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN deals with the idea explicitly, though maybe I am thinking about movies in which the filmmaker seems unconscious of the implications... hmm... My one consolation is that no one has read this far.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Narcotic Effluvium Christmas

I was reading KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain and NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs at the same time. I picked up the latter and read, "Like a vampire bat he gives off a narcotic effluvium, a dank green mist that anesthetizes his victims and renders them helpless in his enveloping presence." And for a minute my brain sincerely tried to figure out which of Anthony Bourdain's friends he was writing about, because that's kind of how Anthony Bourdain writes about his friends! But of course it is a monster from NAKED LUNCH. I briefly thought I was reading the other book, you see. Grand times! Grand times here on Christmas Day in the morning. Interestingly (ha ha ha! I know you are not interested - you don't even exist!) Bourdain and Burroughs both enjoyed childhoods of wealth and privilege (about which both have written; Burroughs: "I remember the lamplighter lighting the gas streetlights and the huge, black, shiny Lincoln... I could put down one of those nostalgic routines about the old German doctor who lived next door and the rats running around in the back yard and my aunt's electric car and my pet toad that lived by the fish pond") and went on to shoot up in grim alleyways, is that interesting? (Do note: as I was typing this, Bourdain appeared on twitter, assembling a Barbie Dream House.) I leave you with the final words of "A Christmas Thought" by Barry Hannah, which I recently read aloud (from Jimmy's copy) at the holiday meeting of Good Idea Club (seen here; photo by Bill Boyle, featuring a portion of Lizzie): "When you read and wonder, for six seconds, about the random, pointless violence of these days, then are blissful it was not you, having, really, a better day, stop and think: Could not these felons be, really, God's children, loose, adept, so hungry and correct in our world?"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bob Hope and Doris Day and Santa Claus

Hey Megan Abbott sent me this photo of Bob Hope and Doris Day and Santa Claus for Christmas.

Deep Monkey Background

Lee Durkee has really gone down the old rabbit hole, or should I say monkey hole (no, no one should ever say monkey hole), researching the monkey riding a dog he saw during the Cincinnati Bengals half-time show. He went back and reviewed the footage, and found that the monkey was herding sheep, to Lee's consternation. Now, at the Christmas party the other night, much debate was had over whether dogs are generally saddled when monkeys ride them. So of course Lee found a whole "web" site dedicated to selling dog-sized saddles, presumably for monkeys, or, I suppose, for any creature small and wily enough to ride a dog (note: further inspection of the source material reveals that "Cowdog Saddles" disappointingly just sells regular saddles, you know, for horses - though their logo is a dog wearing a saddle - so the mystery remains). Most impressive was Lee's thorough background check, relayed in several emails, of the actual monkey from the half-time show, whose name is Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey. I suppose my favorite story about Whiplash is the time he got fired as a taco mascot and replaced with some dude (pictured). Personal highlights from the news release: "'He really brought people together, and he was somewhat iconic. When people saw Whiplash, they really did think Taco John’s, and that's everything you want your icons to do... There were limitations,' she says of working with an animal. 'TJ DJ can be more interactive with our food, whereas with Whiplash, he couldn't touch the food.'... The TJ DJ concept will also lend a synergy to the chain's advertising that wasn't possible with Whiplash, Middleton says. New television commercials will feature TJ DJ traveling the country in his van." I'm not doing justice to Lee's extensive investigation, which permeated his mind to such a degree that he came up with a maniacal plan to put on an all-monkey production of MacBeth. He doesn't think Whiplash has the chops for the lead role, though. "I think Whiplash, due to the years of chronic neck pain [long story - ed.], would make a great and emphatic MacDuff ('All my pretty chickens dead, in one fell swoop?')," Lee writes. At first Lee wanted to let the monkeys chatter and provide the Shakespeare in subtitles, but I think I talked him into feeding them peanut butter to get their mouths really going and then dubbing in the dialog later. Lee concludes his Whiplash studies with a sad "post" from 2008 he found on a Buddhist "blog," in which the Buddhist is upset because other Buddhists have been criticizing him ("bullying" is the word he uses!) for his love of Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Man Behind the Palimpsest

Hey so back in 2007 when I taught at a university for the very first time there was this here advanced graduate fiction writing class and one dude in it was not an MFA student, he was just some guy, some OTHER KIND of student, so some of the sensitive and perpetually offended MFA students regarded him with suspicion, alarm, and the bitter, smirking hatred that only a so-called fiction writer can call forth from his or her wizened soul, speaking for myself of course, though Will McIntosh - for that was the cleancut and decent young fellow's name - does not recall it that way, as I found out the other night when I ran into him on McKay's back porch before Good Idea Club. Will is not the type to indulge in such small feelings. And it is a fact that Elizabeth and Michael were in that class and they were warm and welcoming indeed, and so was everybody else, except those few who really, really weren't. I have to say they didn't dig me too much either. So perhaps my intentions are muddied here! I did make them read some kind of book-length rhyming poem about a knight, maybe. I had no idea what I was doing, it is true, but don't worry about your children's rotten education, I'm not teaching anymore. Someone else is giving them their rotten education now, just kidding, education is great. Last time George Saunders was in town, I introduced him to Will up at the City Grocery Bar, and told him all about a story Will had written for the class, one I never forgot, unlike so many others in the intervening years, especially the part where the mother gets sick from ******* *** ******** **** and, in the story's vivid climactic moment, ****** ** ******* into the ******. (I don't want to spoil it for you!) And I badgered Will once again, as I often did, to publish that story somewhere so other people could get a big kick out of it. And George Saunders gave Will a pep talk too. Because he's just as nice as Will! Then we went somewhere else and George Saunders ate a corn dog (something I never weary of typing) and we speculated about why maybe Will kept putting his story on the backburner, which is because of Will's real job, which is SAVING INNOCENT PEOPLE FROM BEING KILLED. Will is a lawyer for the Innocence Project, perhaps a more important job than "writing," ha ha, it is funny to call writing a job. Will is the person that I took to calling "The Man Who Says 'Palimpsest'" here, though I can't for the life of me recall why I thought it was important to protect his identity from the people who read this "blog," who don't actually exist. And now you can read his story ("click" here) in the old Lent Magazine, your one-stop shop for fun. It's a Christmas story!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bettie Page Monkey Christmas

Christmas dinner at Larry's tonight. Monkeys riding on dogs came up! Lee Durkee had seen them (monkeys riding dogs) during the half-time show of a Cincinnati Bengals game, I think. (PS Do you live in Cincinnati? I'm giving a reading there in the new year! I wanted to stay at the hotel where Kelly Hogan and Bill Taft and I stayed together in 1992, and I played piano in the bar all night, but that hotel doesn't exist anymore. So I guess it is okay to mention that Bill peed off the balcony.) Melissa Ginsburg perked up at the mention of monkeys riding dogs! So I mentioned my serious misgivings about monkeys riding dogs. Chris Offutt, to soothe my mind, said that maybe monkeys were the photographers of monkeys riding dogs, and I said "Then those were Bettie Page monkeys, being exploited by monkey photographers." So Chris looked on his phone and found this photo of Bettie Page with a chimp (not a monkey, mind you!). Then we ate dinner and somebody made a big deal about how Robert Johnson couldn't possibly have sold his soul to the devil and I was like, what, Robert Johnson TOTALLY sold his soul to the devil! So that was dinner. Yeah, I was a jerk all night, I kept taking the other side of everything, like a jerk.

Nicotine Cat

I finished that Norman Mailer bio and I guess the only thing I have to tell you is that Norman Mailer had a friend who smoked a lot and when she died they took her cat out of the apartment and the cat went into nicotine withdrawal and the vet had to put a nicotine patch on the cat.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Night Sauce

Hey remember when my dad said that a person who "eats chicken and crabs will eat anything"? Anthony Bourdain agrees with him, at least about chickens. "Chickens are dirty." That's just about the nicest thing Anthony Bourdain says about chickens in KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. And don't forget Werner Herzog, who accused chickens of "bottomless stupidity... fiendish stupidity" and a number of worse and grosser things, horrific things. I like KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL because Bourdain introduces us to people like "the doomed-looking night saucier." I'm not sure we'll get any more of him than that description, but as Mercutio said, "'Tis enough, 'twill serve." Is that what he said? I can't leave you without mentioning Kent Osborne... because Kent LOVES chicken! Ha ha what a country. Just the other day Kent was passing by what used to be the Diamond Club, where he tended bar in his youth. Ward McCarthy and I went there once and we were like, "What is up with these crazy kids." We said it with a period, not a question mark. That was 20 years ago, I guess, but our hearts had already withered. Well, Kent discovered that somebody has turned the once-hip Diamond Club into a "Buffalo Wild Wings" establishment, and I can't say Kent seemed sad about it.

No Dawdling

You know as a reader I dawdle around a lot. But I read the first 100 pages of KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by Anthony Bourdain in one sitting last night. Jerry Lewis comes in good and early, on page 10. In BOEING, BOEING, I am pleased to report. (See also.) Much of the action - and there's plenty! - takes place in Provincetown, just like this Norman Mailer bio I'm still dawdling over. Maybe some of the dawdling comes from how most biographies end, with your protagonist sick and old and finally dead. Who wants to be reminded? I'm on page 724 (!) of the Mailer book, and he's contemplating his mortality, natch. "If modern science could provide us with a new liver, he wrote, 'after we'd corrupted the juice out of the old one, then who was going to benefit? Some of the worst and lousiest and richest people on earth, tyrants, tycoons and so forth.' There would be no opportunity to 'look forward to some horrible old bastard dying.'" Pardon Norman Mailer's French! I am reminded of when Ward McCarthy and I were in Los Angeles for work many years ago. I was in my hotel room and Ward called me from his to alert me that the local TV stations were interrupting regularly scheduled programming to show Larry Hagman's new liver arriving in a cooler at the airport. Not that Larry Hagman was "some horrible old *******"! Quite the opposite, probably. I have no idea.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Whistling Like a Nut

Yesterday I was upstairs at Square Books and a guy was walking around whistling and it drove me crazy. So today I was upstairs at Square Books walking around and I started whistling! Like the Apostle Paul said, "For I do not the good thing, which I wolde, but the euil, which I wolde not, that do I." Geneva Bible!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Get Some Stan's

Last night I was watching that TOP CHEF show because my favorite show NASHVILLE (pictured) wasn't on and Good Idea Club is shuttered for the season - what is Good Idea Club, you ask? None of your damn beeswax, that's what it is, chump, now go to hell! - and I got hungry even though I had had dinner, not that anything on the TOP CHEF show looked especially good, everything looked fairly crummy in fact, they were slopping food to college students, what a horror, so I can't explain it, leave me alone, okay, it was my famous suggestibility that I never shut up about, I guess, I'm weak, okay? Is that what you want to hear? It's what you've been thinking all along but you don't have the guts to say it. I got out a little chunk of cheese and a long, flat cracker and a slice of bresaola - okay, two slices of bresaola, why am I lying to you of all people? - and I ate those things and washed them down with a glass of red wine because that's how I do, what a swell. Yes, "swell" is a noun, too, fool. Read a dictionary! I felt pretty good. Yes sir, I was sitting there feeling pretty civilized with a cracker crammed in my mouth, watching TV. Bresaola! It's a delicious cured beef. You probably knew that already. I guess you know everything, you're such a big shot. I got it from Stan's, do I need to remind you about Stan's? This is not a paid advertisement, I am just telling you like it is. Get over to Stan's. It's a must! Support small business! Small, awesome business. Or if you don't feel like driving clear to Batesville, do what we do and get your Stan's stuff at the little grocery story up on North Lamar, "Farmer's Market," it's called. You can call Stan's and they'll send anything over there and you can pick it up the next morning or so. Like, Dr. Theresa has been known to order a pork shoulder chopped up just so when it gets cold and time to make her famous pork stew. I think it is too late to order a whole duck for your holiday meal - a whole damn duck! - but just calm down. Cripes! You're such a baby sometimes. I think the deadline was the 18th. So why did I wait just this long - EXACTLY A DAY LATE - to tell you? Was it Freudian? Just what kind of hideous monster have I become? Maybe I'm lashing out because I'm frightened you'll sneak over there and get all the bresaola. Who are you? ARE YOU MY SHADOW SELF? Hey and look I'll include a photo of some "Billy Jack Stew" I made the other night when Ace Atkins came over to watch THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK because now my goal is to be one of those people who puts pictures of food everywhere. Mission accomplished.
Now I can face the dwindling twilight of my years with something like peace. (Hey but remember when Dr. Theresa and I stayed in a Ramada Inn that had a graveyard attached? Dr. Theresa saw Connie Britton of TV's NASHVILLE strolling blithely down the street in a nearby town! She's also fairly certain Tea Leoni once asked her for directions in the parking lot of a Blockbuster in Atlanta.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holistic Poop

Hey! According to this Norman Mailer bio, one reviewer called his novel ANCIENT EVENINGS "holistic poop." He didn't mean it in a nice way! But Mailer had it put on a poster advertising the book. You know how bad reviews will often intrigue me while good reviews make me bored and surly? So, Bill Boyle is bringing me his old copy of ANCIENT EVENINGS from Brooklyn when he returns. Hmm, it says in this summary here that the protagonist will be "supping on a paste made of bat dung," so I have that to look forward to.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Distraught When He Awoke

"On the morning of his second marriage in four days, November 11, 1980, he was distraught when he awoke." I am going to continue quoting things from this Norman Mailer biography.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wool Hat

Also I put on a wool hat yesterday while my hair was still wet.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

It Grows Back Funny

In today's ADVENTURE TIME meeting Pendleton Ward accused me of 1) drinking vodka 2) wearing a robe 3) having "messy hair." 1) It was water! And in any case my clear liquor of choice is gin. By leaps and bounds! 2) It was a nice sweater Dr. Theresa gave me, as Pendleton Ward well knows from earlier encounters! I AM STILL WEARING IT RIGHT NOW. 3) Tom Franklin shaved my head a few years ago at his birthday party (pictured), and I have shaved my own head since then, and it grows back funny, I can't help it. (Photo by Jimmy.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Thirst For Romance

A cocktail was described in today's New York Times as tasting like "Bob Hope's Christmas in Hawaii in a glass," a description that I can't believe helps anyone, but it sure hits all my buttons. So of course I googled "Bob Hope's Christmas in Hawaii" and found an article from the University of Richmond Collegian in 1989. The last paragraph struck me as weird: "For those with a thirst for romance during the holidays, Kenny Rogers and Kenny Rogers Jr. will be starring in 'Christmas in America: A Love Story' on December 13." (See also.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Succession of Water Beds

It took me all day to work up the energy to tell you I got two emails about orgone boxes this morning. The first came from Megan Abbott, who wrote, "In the latest issue of ELLE magazine (if you haven't read yours yet) [ha ha! -ed.], Erica Jong is interviewed, and recounts for the reporter a recent incident in which an attractive man came to 'hang her art': '[Pointing to a giant crate in the hallway], I said to my cute art hanger: "I could make it into an orgone box." And he said, "What's an orgone box?" I said, "You get in it and you communicate with the different energies. Or you scream. I can't remember which"... I've done everything. I've also had a succession of water beds in my day.'" The next email came from McNeil. It was a "link" to an orgone box factory he wants us to visit. I have a strong feeling this will end up like our plan to go to the Hialeah racetrack, even though, come to think of it, Megan hooked us up with a guy she knew who was living near the racetrack and writing a long piece - a book? - about it. An expert to show us around! But our plans went nowhere. LIKE ALL THE SAD PLANS OF HUMANKIND

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Tropical Piano Tuner

I am going to tell you the ending of a movie. Sometimes I have to! So if you do not enjoy spoilers, please stop reading here. (Ha ha, you never started. You don't exist! That remains my theory.) We watched a John Wayne movie last night. It also starred a man to whom Dr. Theresa referred throughout as "Mr. Sexy" (pictured). A poor man's Errol Flynn if you ask me! No, not even that: a poor man's Tyrone Power. (Later in this "post" I will realize he was Gig Young.) The movie was called WAKE OF THE RED WITCH and John Wayne fights a giant octopus, something you hardly ever see him do, as I remarked at the time. He gets away from the giant rubber octopus just fine, as we know he will, because it's a flashback. But later he gets tangled up in some more underwater shenanigans and he doesn't make it. He dies. AND THE MOVIE ENDS WITH JOHN WAYNE SAILING A BOAT TO HEAVEN. He's with the love of his life, who is also dead. Yes, this is a John Wayne movie with a pinch of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I think that's how the old movie of WUTHERING HEIGHTS ended, "happily," with Heathcliff and Cathy sort of reunited as half-dissolved ghosts holding hands and all smiles unless I am making that up. Am I making that up? I don't know. When we turned off the dvd, a P!nk concert was starting on the television. I think it was starting. There was an air of prelude. You remember P!nk. That's how she spells her name! And here is one of the two INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCES of the night: as a pale clown (?) descended - a real Pierrot Lunaire type - (or was he a rascally, grimacing angel?) over a darkened stage, a piano tinkled: the VERY SAME MELODY (I think; Chopin, I think) that John Wayne's dead girlfriend played on the night they met in WAKE OF THE RED WITCH! (And here I include a parenthetical digression. One New Year's Eve I got lost in the woods. At first I found it amusing, but as it began to get dark and cold I started to think, oh, gee, this could be how I die, hmm, help, help. Later, after I was reunited with the rest of the gang, back at the cabin [police had been called!], we watched Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve. This was the year that P!nk had the big hit about getting "the party started," and she came out and sang it, and I danced, friends, oh how I danced, I danced because I had not frozen to death in the woods.) Oh yes, I forgot to tell you that there is a piano in the house on the tropical island where John Wayne and Mr. Sexy are stranded. There always is! Ha ha, "always." But two examples leap right to the top of my head: THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (Brando version) and THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. In movies with a tropical island, there is always a mysterious white man already living there, and he always has a piano, representing, I suppose, Western "culture"? As if to underscore the point, John Wayne retires to a balcony and the piano is drowned out by the distant drums of the islanders, get it? Think how hard it must be to keep your piano tuned on an uncharted tropical island, what with all the humidity and the scarcity (I assume) of professional piano-tuners. Maybe I'll write a movie about a Jerry Lewis type who travels from island to island, tuning the pianos of the various isolated madmen. But wait! There is another coincidence! Oh, about three hours later I happened to "channel surf" past TCM, where I saw a man engaged in a battle with a giant red rubber octopus! (It is occurring to me that in both cases the animal was probably a squid, as great billowing quantities of ink were expelled at each of our heroes, but the difference between an octopus and a squid is one of the many things I don't care about.) They dragged this guy to the surface and removed his cumbersome diving helmet and he was Ray Milland, not John Wayne. BUT WHEN I CHECKED THE CAPSULE DESCRIPTION OF THE MOVIE, IT TURNED OUT TO CO-STAR JOHN WAYNE. In other words, friends, after remarking upon the very unlikeliness of it EVER happening, I saw TWO man vs. octopus battles in two separate John Wayne movies last night. The "post" should end here. So, I detected a tang of desperation in the DHARMA & GREG reruns I watched at 3 AM when I couldn't sleep. First of all, they had comically stoic dogs. It felt like an executive decision, like, "People love Frasier, and Frasier has a dog! We'll get TWO dogs and people will love us twice as much as Frasier!" Only maybe the impulse was unconscious, like what they actually said aloud and forced themselves to believe was, "This will be a wry, knowing commentary on Frasier." I found "Greg's" performance in the opening credit sequence very upsetting. His expressions range from bemused to pained. Now, he is SUPPOSED to be bemused at first, when Dharma blows bubbles in his face, signaling the arrival of her free spirit into his uptight life. But even when he is picking her up and twirling her with what it surely meant to represent "a rhapsody of intoxicated glee," he displays an unfortunate look, as if asking his Creator, "WHY? WHY AM I HERE? AFTER ALL MY TRAINING IS THIS WHAT IS TO BECOME OF ME?" (See also.) Wait! Mr. Sexy was Gig Young. I didn't recognize him the whole time. ("I meant it ironically," claimed Dr. Theresa this morning.) Looking for illustrations for this "post," I was reminded of something else I meant to tell you about in WAKE OF THE RED WITCH: John Wayne literally gets crucified. "The Passion of the Duke," said Dr. Theresa, remarkably blasé at this surprising turn of events. So, yes, I just want to remind you before I go: John Wayne grappled with an octopus and got crucified in the same movie and nobody cared.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Twist

Here are three things I read in that Norman Mailer bio yesterday: "Dung was of inexhaustible interest to Mailer" ... "Then he built a 'city of the future' out of Lego blocks" ... "Mailer had already decided that the Twist was evil" ...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Warm Last Night

It was strangely warm last night. Here we are on the balcony of the City Grocery Bar: Dr. Theresa, Bill Boyle, Megan Abbott, me (creeping around in the background as usual), and Ace Atkins. We were there to mark various milestones. One of the happiest is Bill's debut novel GRAVESEND, which is finally out in physical form. We all got one. You should get one too! GRAVESEND by William Boyle. Look for it wherever fine books are sold, and tell 'em "Bloggy" the "Blog" Mascot sent you! Ace and Bill rightly smoked big fat cigars to celebrate. It took us a while to nab a spot on the balcony: at first it was occupied completely by an Elaine Stritch convention! Ha ha, they didn't really look exactly like Elaine Stritch circa Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, but a distinct "Ladies Who Lunch" vibe was coming off the balcony. The first time Dr. Theresa and Ace went to scope out the situation, one of the Elaine Stritches grabbed the lone empty chair on the balcony and pulled it slowly toward herself with forbidding proprietary certitude. Much in the spirit of the feisty Elaine Stritch! Before stepping over to the bar I bought so many books at Square Books I don't even want to tell you. (Look: you can see the overstuffed, wrinkled brown paper bag of books right there on the table.) My eye fell upon George Singleton's recent story collection STRAY DECORUM, for example, and what could I do but get it, especially after the one-two punch of that great interview with George in LENT MAGAZINE? But what sealed the deal was opening it at random and seeing my new favorite short-story title. George also came up with my former favorite short-story title, "This Itches, Y'all." And here is the new winner: "I Think I Have What Sharon's Got."

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Norman Mailer's Funny Egg

Hey remember the time I told you that interesting fact about how Adrienne Barbeau and William S. Burroughs and Norman Mailer shared a common interest: the "orgone box"? Ha ha, those were the days, when I told you that. Well, I just read in this Norman Mailer bio that he also "constructed a variation: a large, polished wooden egg large enough to hold a person in a fetal position." Oh, Norman!

Monday, December 02, 2013


Tonight's episode has aired (except in the Pacific Time Zone, but I don't think there are any spoilers here), so I thought someone might stumble across this "blog" while struggling to answer the vexing question, "Who is this jerk and how did he get to do a voice on ADVENTURE TIME?" I am that jerk and I will tell you. I started writing for the show way back in October of 2012. My old friend Kent Osborne, who is the "Head of Story" for ADVENTURE TIME, called out of the blue and asked if I wanted to give it a try. My first instinct was to say no! I didn't know how to write for cartoons. I knew Kent worked for the show, and I had watched and enjoyed a few episodes with my nephews, because it was their favorite show, but I didn't feel qualified. Kent said not to worry, it was just a two-week freelance job. So I said okay. I have hardly ever turned down a quick freelance job! I didn't know that those two weeks were secretly a kind of audition to see how I got along in the writers' room. I got along fine because everyone was nice as pie. And so the assignment turned into steady employment, for which I am grateful. It's the best job ever! I live in Mississippi. Three times a week I meet with my friends in Burbank by video. We just make up stories and talk about feelings and that's about it. Well, there is also a good deal of typing. One of the coolest parts of the experience for me was when my dad helped out with the "We Fixed a Truck" episode. For some reason I recall with special fondness and clarity a chat that Adam Muto and I had about Klarion the Witchboy and his mystical cat Teekl, two characters from Jack Kirby's comic book THE DEMON, not that it yielded anything for use in the show, nor was it meant to. But as often as not the germs of episodes are contained in such random digressions. Very occasionally I will travel to Los Angeles and go to the office in person. (And once Pen and Kent came to Mississippi.) I flew out to read my "Root Beer Guy" lines for tonight's episode. ADVENTURE TIME is recorded mostly like an old-time radio play, with a bunch of people standing in a booth together, stationed at separate microphones. But how did I get the part? Kent suggested I do it, that's all. I didn't think it would really happen. The name "Stephen King" was bounced around as another possibility, but he was never approached. I think Adam asked me during a conference, "Do you think you could do it?" And I answered with joking bravado, "I AM ROOT BEER GUY," paraphrasing Flaubert on the subject of Madame Bovary, ha ha ha, oh boy, what fun we're having now. I should emphasize that the idea for the Root Beer Guy story was all Pen's - that's Pendleton Ward, creator of the show - and brilliantly fleshed-out and brought to life by storyboard artist/writer Graham Falk. Incidentally, I met Owen King, one of the writer sons of Stephen King, at City Grocery Bar during the annual book conference we have in my town. You should come! Kent came to the book conference once! I almost said to Owen King, "I beat out your dad for a role!" But instead I didn't say anything. ("Click" here for another example of something I didn't say.) In the first place it wasn't strictly true, and in the second place it is usually best to keep your fat mouth shut. The only reason I even thought of it was because of how much Mr. King's voice resembled his father's. Now, how did Anne Heche end up playing "Cherry Cream Soda"? After we finished the outline I blurted (fairly inaccurately) that Cherry Cream Soda's part was something like Anne Heche's in DONNIE BRASCO. And Kent cried out, "Let's get Anne Heche!" Because he's kind of obsessed with her, I guess you'd say, though it is a harsh word with which to describe Kent's gentle fascination. And then they got her! And she did it. She was amazing! The genuine emotion with which she imbued her lines gave me no choice but to actually try. So I tried. And now you know as much as I do about life. How sad.

We Disagree on One Point

Hey there's a new interview with George Singleton over at the Lent Magazine. To enjoy it, "click" here. George always gives the best interviews and a new one is big news. He is hilarious and insightful. He always makes me laugh. He says stuff in here like, "Hell, I spend half my time just trying to think up names. I’m just going, 'God, I’ve used that name – Frank! Frank has shown up in a hundred short stories.'" See, that is the real scoop about writing. He says, "Well I’m not a big fan of anything I’ve written in the past because it’s kind of dead meat... I bet if I got hit in the head and forgot who I was and read those stories I’d go, 'All right, maybe they deserve to be published in a magazine.' But I’m not sure I would... There are these people out there who talk about these meals they’ve eaten years in the past, and they go, 'That was the best meal I’ve ever eaten twenty years ago in Paris.' Okay, good for you. I just say it was food, and what's the next meal?" Heed this gnomic master, young geniuses! He does come out as strongly pro-Vienna sausage, and down that one dark path to madness I cannot follow.

No Fair

So now I'm back to this Norman Mailer bio. He just experienced "nothing less than a vision of the universe." And I was like, "Hey, Philip K. Dick had one of those! And so did Grant Morrison." Everybody gets a vision of the universe but me. :(

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Hoped-For Pony

Another fine cloudy afternoon spent in the pleasant company of Jimmy at The End of All Music. I bought an LP called BABY SITTIN' WITH BUZZ CLIFFORD. Here are some of the liner notes, touching in their slick earnestness, full of tender, harmless lies: "Less than a year ago, Buzz Clifford was a high school senior seeing action with his varsity football team. Today, thanks to his best-selling Baby Sittin' Boogie, he's the brightest young singing star on records... Buzz made his first attempts at singing and composing when he was nine. His parents presented him with a guitar instead of the hoped-for pony... Buzz has worked during the summers as a stuntman, construction worker, maintenance man and lifeguard, and was an all-around athlete in high school... Buzz had to be shoved onto the stage, but then amazed his friends by handily winning the contest over a group of other teen-agers who had practiced for weeks." (See also.)


Forgot to mention that when I saw Abby she was getting ready to board an airplane with a load of Thanksgiving stuffing. I was worried about security regulations dealing with the transport of liquids! If there is one thing I can tell you about Abby, it is that she would never make a dry stuffing. Abby reassured me that the chicken stock would be entirely absorbed into the bulk of said stuffing. An email confirms that Abby's stuffing reached its destination with no problems and was enjoyed by all, just as I hope you have enjoyed this inspiring holiday tale about the triumph of the human spirit.