Thursday, July 31, 2014

Money Is Poop

I watched THE WHEELER DEALERS the other night and immediately realized I had nothing to say about it. So here goes. It had Freud and expressionist art in it like so many 1960s romantic comedies. (See also.) Louis Nye rode a tricycle with paint on the tires over a large canvas on the floor, a half-remembered scene alluded to in one of my books. Why are 60s comedies always sticking it to psychiatrists and artists? It's not repressive desublimation (see also). It has something to do with the essentially conservative nature (?) of romantic comedy. Maybe. I don't care. "You know what Freud said about money. It's refuse! It's dirt!" cried one character primed for our scorn. I believe Freud actually said that money is poop. He really did. You know, I could have just skipped writing this one.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Page 439

"Upon hearing of Sinatra's arrival, the torero swore that he would kill the singer." Well! I have been complaining a lot about this book but there's a sentence that does its job. It packs a lot of what McNeil likes to call "Potential Energy."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Living in a Chicken Coop

From that Frank Sinatra bio I continue to read: "Americans began spotting flying saucers: over Mount Rainier in Washington State; over Idaho, surrounding a United Airlines DC-3; over Roswell, New Mexico. And then all over the place... At the same time, Frank Sinatra was reporting to Culver City every weekday morning to play Ricardo, the kissing bandit." Ha ha! By editing out a grandiosely sweeping paragraph-and-a-half elaborating on "national anxiety," I have emphasized - perhaps unfairly! - the role of aliens in Frank Sinatra's film career. Meanwhile, McNeil is reading a biography of Robert Mitchum. "I am kind of amazed at how long he was poor. He and his wife lived in a converted chicken coop up until he made OUT OF THE PAST. I'm pretty sure that's right. If it's not, I'm really close. Then he got some money, but it was stolen shortly thereafter," writes McNeil.

Timely Article

Some fool in the New York Times today is complaining that GREEN ACRES is "empty-headed." Timely article! God I am sick of explaining GREEN ACRES to the New York Times ("click" here). A person - much less a TV critic, which is a kind of a person - engaging with GREEN ACRES on even the most basic level would understand that it is not "empty-headed." But I am not calling for the man's resignation. He may have a family to feed!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Okay, so, for example, I learn from this Frank Sinatra book that the singer Marilyn Maxwell's real first name was Marvel. I think, That's neat! But in the next paragraph the author has to tell me that the name Marvel "was corny, but only slightly." What is it with this guy and his mania for declaring which things are corny and to what degree? These infinite distinctions! And a problem with women. I'm not saying it's the author's problem. Maybe he's just trying to "get in Frank's head." But "With Sinatra, women gathered like flies." That's typical of the book. I mean, why not bees? At least? Bees gather!


I still don't like this book about Sinatra. But I'm still reading it, so credit where credit is due. I just read the part where this kid named Alexander J. Dorogokupetz is sick of all the girls loving Sinatra so much, so he goes to a Sinatra concert and pelts him with raw eggs: "'I vowed to put an end to this monotony of two years of consecutive swooning,' Dorogokupetz said... 'I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good.'" I don't know whether that last series of ellipses is from the original newspaper account or comes courtesy of the author. If that's the author's edit I have to acknowledge his skill. "I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good." That's the best prose in the book so far! I thought I was reading Céline for a minute, and in fact throwing eggs at Frank Sinatra is something a Céline character would do. Maybe the credit goes to Alexander J. Dorogokupetz. The author also has the good instinct to quote the headline SINATRA HIT BY EGGS, which sounds like something from a Frank O'Hara poem... or at least has the punch of LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED! from that one Frank O'Hara poem. "I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good."

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Cloak of Blue

Hey! This is real boring. But you know how I can't settle on anything to read right now. When I was cleaning my office recently - ha ha! I told you this was boring, and we're just getting started! - I found where I had hidden (and forgotten) the galley of a Frank Sinatra bio that came out a couple years ago, I guess. I hid it because my sister was visiting and I was giving her the hardcover for Christmas (I think)... hmm... and for some reason that doesn't make total sense, I guess I thought I needed to hide the galley from her... Well, I started reading it, and I'm not enjoying it very much... seems to me the author is trying to be Nick Tosches, but he comes off more like "a little boy lost in a big man's shirt," to quote Elvis Costello... lots of phony hepcat lingo and street talk in a loosey-goosey "novelistic" style, peppered with the occasional "classical allusion"... ugh. I mean, ugh unless you're Nick Tosches. (Hey, remember when I made that guy read a Nick Tosches book and he hated it? So I guess it serves me right.) BUT! Megan Abbott really liked this Frank Sinatra book, the one I can't get into, and she has never steered me wrong about anything, ever, and let's remember I am just in a bad mood all the time, for which I blame Errol Flynn and his depressing autobiography. I haven't recovered! Megan put her finger on the problem in an email this morning: "I think you've been reading too much chest-thumping male stuff in a row! You need to mix in something feminine, and sly!" So now that I have made excuses for the Frank bio, and introduced a reliable source who very much enjoyed it, I think it is okay to say it is bumming me out, and by bringing it out into the open I have allowed myself to tell you that it has an owl in it, well, young Frank is said to have a "night-owl disposition" and that's really all it takes for me, it totally counts, so this book can go on my obsessive list of books I happen to read that have owls in them and I don't feel bad about my mental health at all, thanks for asking. An owl is not a chicken, but they are both birds, so here is a Sinatra-based chicken from an old Warner Bros. cartoon. (Between typing that sentence and this one, I read some more of the Frank Sinatra bio. The author says that Tommy Dorsey had "a deliciously corny nickname, the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing." But I recalled that earlier in the book he refers to "a soupy, utterly forgettable Frank Loesser ballad," which he then quotes with snotty intent: "Here comes the night, my cloak of blue." I mean, what's wrong with that? What makes one of those things "deliciously corny" and the other "soupy" and "utterly forgettable" [you'll note I didn't forget it]? But of course I know that being a writer means making such blithely arbitrary distinctions hundreds of times per page. So you can see what kind of rotten mood I'm in.)

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to McNeil's Movie Korner! Email from McNeil: "...just finished watching Dead End with [McNeil lists a couple of his kids here], so I looked up Billy Halop on IMDB and realized the next time we get together (whenever that is) we could have a Billy Halop film festival AND still see some of our all time favorites (the ones no one else will watch). Billy is in: Fitzwilly - uncredited as a restaurant owner * A Global Affair - cab driver * The Wheeler Dealers - uncredited subpoena server (I remember that scene!) * For Love or Money - elevator operator * Boys' Night Out - elevator operator * Too Late for Tears - boat attendant...I haven't seen this one, but it looks great and I don't know how it's escaped my attention." Thus ends McNeil's email. I hate to tell him I've never heard of FOR LOVE OR MONEY (though I can't believe we've never covered BOYS' NIGHT OUT on the "blog"). I should illustrate this "post" with a photo of Billy Halop, but (as McNeil implies above) you jerks don't care about Billy Halop. So here is an unusual publicity still of James Garner and Lee Remick from THE WHEELER DEALERS, since James Garner just died, but here he is in his underpants. :(

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chat Box

I thought of a couple of neat things about the origins of tonight's ADVENTURE TIME episode. One is the title! "Thanks For the Crabapples, Giuseppe." We slapped that on the outline as a placeholder, never dreaming it would make it so far. Or maybe we did dream it would make it so far. I can't remember. We write these outlines so far in advance! And we start talking about them even earlier... I really can't remember whether this is true, but I think the first small inklings of "Thanks For the Crabapples, Giuseppe" came from a real face-to-face in-person chat Adam and I were having about ON THE ROAD and related literature in May of last year, probably not work-related at all, or so we thought, and then Pen and Kent came into the conference room and you know how it goes! Everybody starts talking and suddenly something clicks into place and there's the beginning of a story, maybe. Yet, several months later, when it came time to get the actual outline done - this raw material to be handed off to Seo Kim and Somvilay Xayaphone (who took it and exquisitely realized it and made it into something and elevated it with their writing and storyboarding) - I recall it as one of those rare times when we were right up against a deadline, and there were still some holes to fill. It was getting near the end of the business day (and week) out there in Los Angeles and both Kent and Adam had pressing meetings to attend... I remember that Pen was online from some remote location but we could not see or hear him via our video-conference apparatus for some reason... I thought we were wrapping up, and so did Adam and Kent... so the meeting ended with Pen and I a couple of stragglers, kind of texting each other in some kind of chat box... is that a thing? A chat box? Well, there was a box and we were both typing into it. I am going to call it a chat box. And as the clock was ticking down, and I was thinking about the people waiting for me just up the street at City Grocery Bar, Pen typed something like, "The poem needs to be written out." There's a poem in the episode, and Pen wanted us to decide exactly what was in it. It was supposed to make the Ice King cry, potentially. And up until that last possible moment it had only been indicated in the outline by something like, "Ice King reads a sad poem." So I just started typing iambic pentameter into the "chat box" - a simple ABAB rhyme scheme - while Pen typed things back like "Ha ha!" and "Yea!" Egging me on in the most pleasant way. I am not saying it was GOOD iambic pentameter, and the words don't even make sense if you think about it, and it's just a few quick lines, less than half a sonnet (closer to a quarter of a sonnet in the final episode, because two lines got cut), but it was quite a rush, I mean, this iambic pentameter pumped me full of adrenaline, I felt like an old-timey newspaper reporter, like Hildy Johnson (pictured) in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, for example. Like, we're getting this in under the wire! Like, "Get me the city desk!" So afterward I raced up to the Grocery and there were Dr. Theresa and Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins, as I recall it, hanging out on the balcony, and when I arrived they could tell I was pretty elated! Just from the mental experience of having to hurry up and write a poem. And then I recall it was a very pleasant evening and all sorts of nice strangers came out on the balcony and everybody was having a great time and I was thinking about what a fun job I have.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jimmy's Soul Is an Enchanted Boat

Was it only yesterday that I was poking through that Hugh Kenner book, so pleasantly reminded of the ending of Samuel Beckett's novel MOLLOY, which was quoted therein? "Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining." WHAT! That is the way to end a book. Then I grabbed up at random, through an obvious and clumsy process of association with the Kenner book, focused as it was on three authors, some of them Irish, some scholarly whatsit called BARBAROUS KNOWLEDGE: MYTH IN THE POETRY OF YEATS, GRAVES, AND MUIR, and I don't even know who Muir is, well, now I do a little, anyway, what's this thing doing in my house? Saw two lines of Shelley quoted: "My soul is an enchanted boat/ Which like a sleeping swan doth float..." And once again, as was sadly recalled and recorded for posterity in 2006, I thought about how all the other college freshmen and I were encouraged to laugh and scoff at P.B. Shelley like we were a bunch of big shots. Shame, shame, shame. Somehow "My soul is an enchanted boat," etc., made me think of Jimmy, who is moving to New Orleans. Maybe because his soul is an enchanted boat! I mean, maybe that's why I thought of him, not that maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans, though come to think of it, maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans.

The Delicately Nurtured Paula

So I don't know what to read right now. So I plucked THE CULT OF THE SAINTS by Peter Brown off the shelf and I saw "exorcism" in the index and I thought, "Oh no! I'm not going to read about that, am I?"... "To visit a late-antique Christian shrine could be a noisy and frightening experience. Jerome wrote of the first impact of the tombs of the prophets in the Holy Land on the Roman pilgrim Paula: 'She shuddered at the sight of so many marvelous happenings... she saw men howling like wolves, barking like dogs, roaring like lions, hissing like snakes, bellowing like bulls... women hung upside-down in mid-air, yet their skirts did not fall down over their heads.'" Somewhere on the next page Brown says, "It is hardly surprising that, when faced with such noisy and disturbing a phenomenon, modern scholars have, like the delicately nurtured Paula, blanched at the scenes enacted round the shrines of late antiquity." Ha ha, take that, modern scholars.

Rivet Hull Blah What

As I am sure you will recall I stopped reading that Errol Flynn autobiography but Megan told me to look at the ending and it was all about Errol Flynn staring at the sea and thinking about how the only thing he understands is the sea, I think, it's right over there but I don't feel like walking over there, but anyway, the sea is in there. So I switched over to WANDERER, which is all about Sterling Hayden strutting manfully around the deck of his schooner and he's very upset when somebody talks about the rivets in his hull because THERE ARE NO RIVETS IN HIS HULL, STUPID. And it's a lot better than the Errol Flynn book, probably, but maybe I just don't want to hear about boats and sailing and the sea for a while after all. So I picked up the book that Ace Atkins called "the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting" and I looked on the back and read the promotional copy: "She was a six-foot knockout who knew a helluva lot about rare stamps..." Ha ha! So Ace wasn't kidding. So I opened to page one and right there in the first sentence it came back to me: Travis McGee is on a boat all the time. And by the second page we have such ominous sentence fragments as "Moonrise and hard rains. Swift fish and wide beaches." Uh-oh! And if there is one thing Travis McGee is sure to be doing besides fighting bad guys it is carefully polishing, by some minutely described method, some tiny wooden piece of nautical ornamentation on his precious boat. Sorry, boats! Sorry, the sea!

Plundered By a Mob

I asked Lee about it and he said that when Dr. Dee went on a trip "his library and his laboratory in Mortlake were plundered by a mob that called him 'the friend of the hell hounds.'" He wasn't a friend of the hell hounds!

Monday, July 21, 2014

36 Eggs

"Thus Bartholomew de Glanville, an English Franciscan friar, wrote about 1360 a most popular work, DE PROPRIETATIBUS RERUM, in 19 books, beginning with God and the angels and ending with colors, scents, flavors and liquors, with a list of 36 eggs." - Hugh Kenner, FLAUBERT, JOYCE AND BECKETT: THE STOIC COMEDIANS

Cleave the Heart in Shivers

In this John Lyly play Alexander the Great is going on and on about how because he's a king he just FEELS things more than everybody else, you know? And it's so hard to be in love when you're a king because you just FEEL EVERYTHING SO MUCH, not like one of you normal jerks. I'm not buying it! But then he says that his "sighs cleave the heart in shivers" and I was like, "Aw!"

A Sinister Role For Flavius Mithridates

Hey you know how in every single place you look on the "internet" it says that Pico della Mirandola wrote something called ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN that everybody is so jazzed up about? Well, according to this guy who translated this book of Pico's 900 theses that I have here, that title "first appeared ten years after Pico's death in a corrupt German reprint of his collected works." And this here guy is pretty upset about how everybody loves that fake title so much! But do you think the "internet" cares? Here's another funny part: "In the section of the text devoted to the Platonists, we find eight theses attributed to 'Adeland the Arab,' who Pico claimed was Plotinus's fellow student in Egypt under Ammonius Saccas... Both external and internal evidence, however, clearly show that Adeland the Arab was Adelard of Bath, the twelfth-century Englishman!" (You know I appreciate a learned scholar who is not afraid of exclamation points.) But the best part is right after that: "Here again there are reasons to suspect a sinister role for Flavius Mithridates, whose reputation in the Renaissance as something of a con man was apparently well deserved. Pico's involvement with this colorful figure - who liked to style himself as Pico's would-be but scorned lover - constitutes one of the strangest personal stories of the period, although it is one that is far from being completely understood." I know, I know! Now you are thinking of John Dee and Edward Kelley, right? And the time the angel told them to swap wives? Or maybe you are thinking of Paracelsus, and how he would "vanish under cover of night" when the heat was on, running around all drunk with his big sword and being a genius. Those were the days! There are not enough drunken, sword-brandishing geniuses anymore! We don't even have any young Rip Torns around to hit our Norman Mailers in the heads with hammers, or any Norman Mailers to bite other partygoers on the neck. John Dee had plenty of Pico and Paracelsus in his library, you better believe it, until that mob trashed his house that time, I can't remember why, I guess they were mad about something.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So Dry As to Be Cryptic

I picked up THE SCARLET RUSE by John D. MacDonald at that used book stall. Asked Ace Atkins to rank it, as he's the expert on those books. "It's the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting," Ace tweeted, deadpan.

Creakish From Age

Did I tell you about the time I was going to write a book called THE ALABAMIAD? Ha ha, what a dope. About 100 pages of it got saved and ended up as the title novella of my second short story collection YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. Tom Franklin was working on SMONK at the time, and SMONK was going to come out first, and Tom had the idea - which didn't last long - that SMONK was going to be titled or subtitled THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK ONE and then my book would be THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK TWO. A dumb old idea I still like. James Whorton came up with the title. I think I asked him what he'd call a book about everything ever in the state of Alabama and I believe he said without even a second of hesitation, "THE ALABAMIAD." But that's not why I called you here! One of my ideas was to start THE ALABAMIAD with 88 epigraphs about Alabama... what Melville did with whales in MOBY-DICK. And I found them! (Though now I have lost them.) Let me say I got out my copy of MOBY-DICK and counted the epigraphs by hand, so I'm not sure there are exactly 88 epigraphs in MOBY-DICK, nor do I even remember if that's the figure I came up with back then, but it sounds right. I think I was reading a book about FINNEGANS WAKE at the time, in which I learned (I think) that James Joyce had hidden a mention of every river in the world somewhere in the text of FINNEGANS WAKE. Knowing there is an Alabama River, I thought, yeah, why not get an epigraph for THE ALABAMIAD from FINNEGANS WAKE? (I got one from MOBY-DICK, too, of course. I'm sure you recall that poor ill-fated Pip the cabin boy is from Alabama.) Anyhow, that's how I dug around and came across, "With her halfbend as proud as a peahen, allabalmy, and her troutbeck quiverlipe, ninyananya." But that's not why I called you here! Yesterday when I was at Lee Durkee's house, he was telling me how he'd like to get on some Shakespeare search engine and find every mention of owls in Shakespeare for me. Now, I've stumbled on the owls in HAMLET and MACBETH kind of naturally, and I was afraid a search engine would be cheating, but then I recalled the FINNEGANS WAKE search engine where I found Alabama all those years ago. And I thought, you know, I should use it to hunt up some owls in FINNEGANS WAKE. There are plenty! "Owlets' eegs (O stoop to please!) are here, creakish from age and all now quite epsilene..." Just one of many examples. I don't think this is cheating because I'm never going to read FINNEGANS WAKE.

What's John Lyly Got Against Owls

Noticing that this John Lyly play (CAMPASPE) has TWO entirely different prologues, one for us normal jerks (which I quoted yesterday) and one for the fancy royal people at their fancy royal court with all their fancy royal ways. But in both cases, he's really sticking it to the owls. This is from the prologue at court: "We are ashamed that our bird, which fluttered by twilight seeming a swan, should be proved a bat set against the sun. But as Jupiter placed Silenus' ass among the stars, and Alcibiades covered his pictures, being owls and apes, with a curtain embroidered with lions and eagles..." Ugh, first of all, why did that dude have all these pictures of owls and apes if he was just going to cover them up with a dumb curtain? Here's a idea, stop buying pictures of owls and apes if you hate them so much. If you ask me, owls and apes have got it all over lions and eagles when it comes to good party times. Lots of people who appreciate owls and apes would be happy to get their mitts on those pictures, and you're just like, "Come on in, oh, wait a second, I need to throw something over these awful pictures of owls and apes I have lying around everywhere, sorry." Also, yeah, yeah, we get it, John Lyly. You're fishing for a compliment! Okay, okay, your play is great, it's not a bat or whatever, it's a beautiful swan, shut up, gee whiz. But I really do like his turns of phrase "a bat set against the sun" and the "ass among the stars."

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once more to McNeil's Movie Korner, your only place on the "internet" to the get the latest and greatest news about Hollywood's star-studded hits of the silver screen in Tinsel Town Land! "Watched DONT MAKE WAVES yesterday. Jim and Henny Backus played themselves," McNeil writes. Then he expresses regret that he never got his copy of the Jim and Henny Backus autobiography for the Doomed Book Club. I told him he wasn't missing much except for the obsessive chapter[s?] where Jim and Henny Backus try to figure out who is constantly pelting their roof with rocks. It goes on for years! Did I tell you about this before? I don't know, who cares. One day Jim Backus's pal Keenan Wynn has had enough of this crud and he hops on his motorbike and races around the Hollywood Hills, searching for the perpetrator with the intention of wreaking a terrible vengeance. But nothing comes of it and somebody just keeps throwing rocks, enormous ones, at Jim and Henny Backus, or at their roof, anyway. This story takes up a large percentage of the book, as I recall. I feel like at one point the police locate a guy several miles away with a giant slingshot (or am I dreaming this?) but he's cleared of all charges and anyway the mysterious rocks of endless torment never stop coming. But anyway who cares about Jim and Henny Backus so here is Claudia Cardinale from DON'T MAKE WAVES with those sunglasses I like.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Nocturnal Bird

Well, I was over at Lee Durkee's and we were talking about this and that, and Lee recalled that we had been discussing John Lyly recently and he had a Lyly book he wanted to loan me. Up until now I have only known the works of John Lyly through the vivid descriptions of my friend McNeil. (Ha ha, I just looked at a McNeil email from some years ago about one of Lyly's plays: "It's about this guy who falls in love with the moon, and there's this message written at the bottom of a well, which may or may not be filled with water - on the surface of which this dude and his lady friend see the reflection of the moon. I'm not sure that's completely's been about 10 years since I read it.") So I sat there on Lee's couch and opened up the book Lee had loaned me at random. To page 69, by chance. Now, Lee is quite aware of - and maybe even a little sick of, who knows? though he has been known to aid and abet me in this matter - my uncanny ability to find the owl in every book. And friends, he witnessed it happen. I OPENED THAT JOHN LYLY BOOK RIGHT TO A PAGE WITH AN OWL ON IT. The footnote informed me that the owl is "a nocturnal bird." I was like, ha ha, thanks for nothing, footnote! (See also.) But it went on to say that the owl was "thought unfit to see by day and hence associated with monstrosity." And Lee and I were like, "Hmm!" We had never heard that before, exactly. But it explained why Lyly, in his little prologue, is setting "before our owl Pallas' shield." I mean, the owl represents Lyly's play... maybe... and Lyly is being... modest...? Like, "Here's a nice little prologue to distract you from my ugly owl, by which I mean my play." I don't know. I don't know what the hell Lyly is talking about. I've decided not to think about it too much. Then Lee and I started trying to remember if we have ever seen owls hanging around in real life. Lee told stories of two owls he has seen and so did I.


I was thinking about the time Garrison Keillor wrote that snotty, harrumphing review of Mark Twain's autobiography, volume one, for the New York Times Book Review. Is that something that happened? My memory reports to me that it might be. I think he thought it was too big and crazy or something, too much stuff. Was that it? Who cares? I was sitting in the coffee section at Square Books today, waiting to give a former student some worthless advice. As I am sure you recall, the coffee section is right next to the "literary non-fiction" section, where my eye was captured by the bright green spine of the SECOND volume of Mark Twain's autobiography, which appeared - on the basis of the spine alone! - to be as large and crazy and stuffed with ramblings as Garrison Keillor accused the first of being. Well, I was a little early for my appointment, and sitting there all alone, so I hoisted the volume off the shelf and immediately opened it to some worthwhile and interesting things. And then I started thinking, maybe there is a lot of use a fella can get out of a big, crazy book with too much stuff in it if he approaches it the right way and doesn't just come at it harrumphing. One passage I happened to find was about Mark Twain's appreciation for a fan letter that a cowboy had written to Helen Keller. Twain found that the grammatical errors, misspellings, and other supposed infelicities were exactly what made the letter great. Twain writes: "when the heart speaks it has no use for the conventions; it can rise above them, and the result is LITERATURE, and not to be called by any less dignified name... the productions of the unschooled mind get even an added grace and power out of fresh and free and lawless grammar and orthography." I've thought about this a lot over the years, and how it applies to literary fiction. In one article (in an issue of a magazine I can't find in the usual teetering piles around here, but here's a short excerpt I located in the depths of the "internet"), I wrote: "Certainly a lot of aesthetic energy and meticulous handiwork has been expended by various literary geniuses trying to write convincingly the way a dumb person would write. I blame Mark Twain. 'Dumb person' isn't fair. The truth can be said, but only inelegantly: Great writers love to try to write the way a person who can't write writes." Oh, it's most often done badly. You can "click" here (though, God, why would you?) to read a New York Times Book review by me, in which I lambast a guy (so who am I to huff and puff at Garrison Keillor?) for putting the word "disingenuous" in his character's mouth in a way I considered (and still do) "cheating." Anita Loos and Peter De Vries, when they are doing this sort of thing, never cheat, which is why they are so great. But what's even better is just the real thing, as I was reminded repeatedly when I used to frequent the surprisingly vast self-published UFO book section of the university library. You know, Larry King's tweets are another example of something that could not be improved by a sly and knowing artiste, editor, or publishing executive. They are impervious to parody! (Please see this urgent caveat.) Remember when Jasper Johns said you should look at his paintings the same way you look at a radiator? Now I am going to change the subject. It pains me to tell you I could not finish reading Errol Flynn's autobiography for the Doomed Book Club, even though Megan Abbott promised me that the last line is "worthy of Cain": "The second half-century looms up, but I don't feel the night coming on." Pretty good! And in a series of polished tweets, Megan put forth a compelling Freudian analysis of Mr. Flynn. But there are so many parts of the book that seem cruel to me and are hard to enjoy, and I was getting depressed reading it, and I love his movies so much. Flynn writes about his love of the sea a lot, so I thought I'd pick up WANDERER by Sterling Hayden (pictured) as a kind of substitute. I remember it as being briny. I'm sure you'll recall many years ago when I read the first sentence: "The black pit of oblivion opens like a giant clamshell." Okay! Now I've read a few more of the sentences: "I mount the ladder and ease myself on deck. Thickafog. Horns louder all around. Gray-green morning world with topmasts indistinct and the long proud sweep of the maindeck jutting east... My back aches; sign of tension. Gulls stand inert atop stumps of wooden piling." I was like, "Thickafog! What is this, JAMES JOYCE?" In a good way. I remember McNeil read this a couple of years ago maybe, and liked it. The last memoirist I compared to James Joyce was Adrienne Barbeau. And I'll do it again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kay Lenz Cured My Hiccups

I had some terrible hiccups last night. Then I "clicked" on a "link" Kent Osborne sent me. It was a video "hello" from Kay Lenz, "Breezy" from the movie BREEZY! (Here's the "link" you can "click.") Kent is the best! And my hiccups vanished instantly! Thanks, Breezy!

Monday, July 14, 2014


Well, let's see. Errol Flynn has stolen some diamonds and now he is on a ship with a hookworm expert named Dr. Gerrit H. Koets who looks "like a blond, amiable orangutan in a mink coat." Dr. Koets "fancie[s] himself a Lothario without equal" and likes to stand on deck baring his "entire torso" which is "covered with dense blond hair... Perhaps obeying some atavistic impulse, he started pounding his enormous chest with his hairy fists. He hollered, 'Gorillas do this before they mate! Urruhh!'" Oh yeah, and "His huge flabby belly undulated uneasily with each breath." We really get to know a lot about the body of Dr. Gerrit H. Koets, hookworm expert. But that's not the important part! See, what I'm trying to tell you is that Dr. Koets wears "big owl-like glasses," which makes MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS by Errol Flynn a book with an owl in it, like every other book, because every book has an owl in it and I'm the guy who tells you every time he reads a book with an owl in it, which is every time I read a book, because it always has an owl in it. Owl in it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oh No Wolverines

In FRIDAYS AT ENRICO'S one character's actions are described in the following simile/sentence fragment, which I have bowdlerized for your protection: "Like a wolverine, [pooping] on everything it could not eat." Oh no! Is that what wolverines do? Why didn't I know that, if so? I am not going to "fact-check" this. Why would the kids in RED DAWN want to call themselves Wolverines, and cry out "Wolverines!" at moments of victory? Is it a commentary on the defiantly wasteful consumerist society they are trying to revive under the very noses of their communist overlords? I'm going back to bed now, good night.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Please Don't Feed the Platypus

Just received the new Doomed Book Club selection, MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS by Errol Flynn. The epigraph is three Bible verses about being wicked! So right away you know you're in for a good time. Ace is way ahead of the rest of us on this one. Yesterday he tweeted that Errol Flynn is running a coconut farm - is that what he tweeted? - in the section Ace is reading now. As Ace said would happen, a young Errol Flynn accidentally kills two platypuses by feeding them tadpoles! They are supposed to only eat worms! That's what Errol Flynn says. And his dad is a famous biologist, so I believe him. Poor Flynn gets shipped off to boarding school. "The assistant headmaster was a wonderful old gentleman aged about sixty, with the picturesque name of Sir Worthbottom Smith, a down-at-heels English aristocrat, a man with a withered arm..." But Flynn gets shuffled from school to school, always stirring up a ruckus. Now he's in trouble for sneaking out of the window at night so he can canoodle with Elsie, the maid. Before such tales of youth there's a prologue that takes place during the ruination of Errol Flynn's career. It promises much getting drunk on yachts, like the Richard Burton diaries and the Johnny Carson biography before it. Flynn learns that he is completely broke: "I went to '21' that day for lunch... when you are down and out, go to the best spots." A friend shows up and Flynn insists on buying lunch: "When flat, put on the old front - you know." Yes, Errol Flynn! I do know! "I started with a couple of Jack Roses beforehand. I worked up in my usual style to grouse freshly flown from Scotland..." Errol Flynn!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Subtle Flashes From Unknown Places

My prediction was correct: FRIDAYS AT ENRICO'S and THE THIRD VIOLET have something in common! Yes, yes: significant chandeliers. "All so respectable. There was even a chandelier of real crystals in the front hall." That's Jaime from FRIDAYS thinking about her family home. In THE THIRD VIOLET, we get a "colossal chandelier, gleaming like a Siamese headdress," catching "the subtle flashes from unknown places." In both cases, the chandelier represents the difference in social status between a relatively genteel young woman and the hard-scrabble male artist with whom she finds herself falling in love. And in both cases, the chandelier is a point of ambivalence. "Why did Charlie's monastic little apartment make her feel jealous?" Jaime wonders after regarding her family's chandelier. From the other book, beneath the chandelier: "'It must be a fine thing,' said the girl, dreamily. 'I always feel envious of that sort of life.'" (Meaning the artist's life, which irritates the artist no end.) I've only read the first 12 pages of FRIDAYS AT ENRICO'S, so I have no idea what I'm talking about, though the chandelier appears at three important moments (that I counted) in THE THIRD VIOLET.

Unresolved Beatnik Discussion

When I was just in Alabama, my mom told us about a beatnik she used to know who "walked around wearing a long black robe" and I said that didn't sound like a beatnik to me, but I don't know.

Glanced Down and Saw an Owl

I got that beatnik roman à clef (is that what it is?) FRIDAYS AT ENRICO'S with some store credit I had coming to me at Square Books. I have a feeling it's going to be a lot like THE THIRD VIOLET (I can only hope!). So it was written by Don Carpenter but "finished" by Jonathan Lethem, and I opened it up hoping to get some information on what that's all about. Nothing in the front of the book. So I knew there'd be an afterword, which indicated possible spoilers, but I thought I'd dip into it carefully. I opened the book by chance to page 308, near the back of the novel, before the afterword, and my eye was immediately drawn to the words "Minerva's Owl." So now I guess I don't have to read it. Ha ha. I guess. I am getting too good at playing "find the owl."

Camus's Bicycle

Elizabeth is in France. She saw Camus's bicycle.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Hit a Cigarette

Megan Abbott sent me a "link" to an article about Stephen Crane, and it made his novel THE THIRD VIOLET sound pretty appealing. I didn't think I'd ever heard of it, even, but it turns out I have a copy around here, so I started reading it. It's like a really good episode of GIRLS! It's all about artists trying to make it in NYC - they're always trading wisecracks and smoking cigarettes and playing the guitar "despondently" and there's one young woman nicknamed Splutter, so there are lots of good lines like, "Sit down, Splutter, and hit a cigarette." Hit a cigarette! I like that a lot. The slang is great. They constantly call each other "chumps," which always struck me as a kind of '30s insult, but Megan confirmed that it goes back to the late 19th century, when the book came out. So Stephen Crane was right on top of things! In fact, one guy says, "Splutter was in last night. Looking out of sight." And he means "out of sight" in the way we associate with the 1960s or '70s. Once again, Megan confirmed that this was up-to-date slang in the late 19th century. Who knew? Stephen Crane, that's who! Even the old, forgotten slang (by me at least) sounds fresh and new, like when Splutter insults the guys by calling them a bunch of "dubs." I like it. Let's bring it back. Some of Splutter's friends are named Purple and Wrinkles and Grief.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

All Over the Place

Late in DEATH ON THE INSTALLMENT PLAN, the narrator tries to start a farm with a mad balloonist and his heavily mustachioed wife, but they discover that the property is run-down and there are "owls all over the place." So it's a book with an owl in it is what I'm saying. "Mad balloonist," while accurate, is maybe too specific. He's a generalized crackpot: "Suppose I take this ludicrous little radish and blow it up to enormous size with telluric blasts... Well? Like a balloon! Ah? And suppose I make a hundred thousand of them... a hundred thousand radishes! More and more voluminous!... And each year as many as I please... Five hundred thousand... enormous radishes!... As big as pears!... As big as pumpkins!... Radishes such as nobody has ever seen!... Why, it's automatic... I eliminate the small radish... I wipe small radishes off the face of the earth!... I corner the market, I erect a monopoly! All your measly undersized vegetables are finished! Unthinkable! Through! All these baubles! These small-fry! No more tiny bunches! No more piddling shipments! If they keep, it's only by a miracle... It's wasteful, my friend... anachronistic... shameful!... Enormous radishes, that's what I want to see! And here's our slogan: The future belongs to the radish... my radish... And what's going to stand in my way?... My market? The whole world!... Is my radish nutritious? Tremendously! Radish flour is fifty percent more nutritious than the other kind..." Yeah, that little speech goes on for three or four pages. The ellipses (and exclamation points) are Céline's. Now try to imagine about 600 pages of that and you've got some idea of reading DEATH ON THE INSTALLMENT PLAN.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


"Pray go back and recollect one of the conclusions to which I sought to lead you in my very first lecture," William James implores us in Lecture #10 of his VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE: "You may remember how I there argued against the notion that the worth of a thing can be decided by its origin." So that told me that Bill Taft was right, or very close to right, in his fine guess about what William James meant! Plus it was a clue about where to find that thing about St. Paul that has been bugging my memory... because the index was no help. The index of this musty old paperback is inadequate. INADEQUATE! And the print is so tiny and the lines so close together... but I went back to the very first lecture, as William James begged me to do, and found the passage I was thinking of, which begins, "Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex... It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as the symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh." I have to stop typing now, or else I'm going to find myself typing a lot of stuff like, "To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change." Ugh, my head hurts now, does that count?

The Mud May Be a Form of Sincerity

"Some accuse Brahms' orchestration of being muddy. This may be a good name for a first impression of it. But if it should seem less so, he might not be saying what he thought. The mud may be a form of sincerity which demands that the heart be translated, rather than handed around through the pit. A clearer scoring might have lowered the thought." That's Charles Ives in one of his ESSAYS BEFORE A SONATA. It popped into my head after I finished a recent "post" - no, not the one about CANNONBALL RUN, the one before that. Really, it came up in an email exchange with Bill Taft about that "post." I was trying to tell him what William James said about St. Paul. I'm going to get this all wrong, but there were some historicist critics of the Bible (is that what they were?) who said that St. Paul probably just had an epileptic seizure on the Road to Damascus, not a vision... and I think William James's question was, Why should the two be mutually exclusive? He may have asked, What if the epilepsy was NECESSARY to the vision? I don't know. I guess I could look this up, but who cares? Here is some choice stuff from Bill's side of the emails: "I’ve been reading Acts of Apostles so any time Paul pops up in a piece of writing I get excited. (Ha! That sounds weird. Maybe 'more deeply engaged' is a better description of my mental state.) I read Acts as an episodic road story ('And he went through Syria and Cilicia…') mashed up with a style guide... Paul always knew his audience and used the epistolary form to great advantage. But as you point out, he could be repressed and a huge scold: 'O foolish Galatians!' What kind of a jerk addresses the recipient of a letter that way? Were he alive today, Paul would probably wind up seduced by the internet, posting obsessively in the comments sections of obscure blogs... I love Acts because everyone is having a vision of some kind that justifies future action or change. Cornelius has a vision and sends his minions to Peter who is having a vision when Cornelius's minions arrive, downstairs I think. I love that image of Peter up on a roof having a vision, while visitors knock on the door downstairs. So anyways, Peter follows his visitors to the home of Cornelius. What do they do when the get together? They tell each other about their visions. I love the repetition for some reason. These days, Cornelius and Peter would not have had visions. Rather they would have visited their therapists who would have given them an insight, which would have led to change. Maybe James's point is that positive change is good no matter what the causal agent. Having said that, I enjoy reading about visions. Acts would not be the same if Cornelius were described as having sent his men unto Peter because his shrink said that doing so would help him lose weight." Truly, this is just a fraction of Bill's entertaining thoughts about the Acts of the Apostles.

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to McNeil's Movie Korner, where McNeil provides you with all the latest from the fast-paced world of film entertainment. While I was out of town McNeil sent me this picture of a CANNONBALL RUN board game. What I like best is that someone in a meeting surely pounded his fist on the conference table and said, "We HAVE to make sure Jack Elam is on the front of the box!" Because there he is. As we learned from Adrienne Barbeau's autobiography, someone got killed making this movie. Life is terrible.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Big Baby

Hi! I was in Alabama. A lot of family was there, including four of my innumerable nephews. Sometimes when I am driving I end up taking crazy exits. Like, remember when the grifter tried to grift me that time? And the time I ate some items that may or may not have been chicken livers? Once Dr. Theresa and I got in the middle of police action - guns and everything! - during what was supposed to be a quick bathroom stop in Baltimore, but that's a long time before I knew you, "internet." This time I stopped at a gas station with homemade posters everywhere, just plain white posterboard scrawled with black Sharpie, and they all said, "BUY YOUR STUFF AND GO" - not like a boast of convenience, more like a terrifying threat. That gas station had a surprising number of flies in it. Next door to the station I could see the tall, faded sign for something called the SAFE HOUSE LOUNGE sticking up over the trees. It made me feel nervous! Why would you have to insist that your lounge is safe in its very name? FAST FORWARD. On the way back from Alabama, I stopped at a dumpy little gas station in a town called Wiggins, but the bathroom was so nice! The tiled wall was the color of pistachio ice cream. And it smelled good! The bathroom did. Fresh and clean! The only thing marring it was the name BIG BABY. Big Baby had printed his name fairly neatly on the toilet paper dispenser. That was it! What a clean and pleasant bathroom. I watched the most recent episode of ADVENTURE TIME with the whole family, there in Alabama. Which means I watched the death of Root Beer Guy with my traumatized nephews. Ha ha! They were not traumatized. They got a huge kick out of Jesse Moynihan's action-packed, beautiful and brilliant episode. But you can't blame (congratulate?) Jesse for killing Root Beer Guy. He squeezed that in at my insistence! Did you know I did the voice of Root Beer Guy? So I guess I am sensitive about the character. He became the Captain of the Banana Guards but he never did much to improve them. I felt really bad about his failure on the job. I thought if he were dead I'd feel more comfortable with the Banana Guards staying so dumb. Nobody wants to see a smart Banana Guard. Hey! I know I shouldn't ever talk about "internet" "commenters" because who cares? But I saw this one dude (I guess) on the "internet" who said the episode was "absolutely incoherent." He or she was also just waiting with itchy fingers - maybe! - to be the first commenter on the review, which is fine! What would Freud say? WHO CARES? I just want to say that my four-year-old nephew totally got what was going on in the episode! So did my 17-year-old-nephew and all the nephews in between. Dr. Theresa wanted to "watch it again." She doesn't say that about much of anything. She laughed really hard when Maja the Sky Witch banged her head on that tree and the little x's went over her eyes. Classic! But anyway, it's none of my beeswax and commenters can make any comments they want just as quickly as their fingers can type. It's a free country! Ha ha, it's the Fourth of July! But man, I just loved the episode. It makes sense that someone might see bounty and spiritual generosity as incoherence. Maybe bounty and spiritual generosity ARE incoherent the first time we approach them with our struggling minds. It's kind of like what William James said about St. Paul, oh, forget it, I don't want to get into it. But yes, I am comparing Jesse Moynihan to St. Paul. But Jesse has none of St. Paul's hang-ups. Just a few of his own, probably, like all of us. Jesse's art is full to bursting! Whereas St. Paul preferred to bottle stuff up. Maybe. I got Jesse's book FORMING (I think the sequel is out now) at Square Books, and it's just fantastic. Sorry I started talking about an "internet" comment. I had something else I was going to say, probably about a gas station, but I forgot.