Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Clock Shadow

McNeil said I should watch RAW DEAL (1948) as research for a project I'm working on - NONE OF YOUR BEESWAX WHAT. I haven't seen it since Dr. Theresa and I used to rent VHS tapes from a place called "Movies Worth Seeing" in Atlanta. VHS TAPES! Anyway, McNeil was right. And this is beside the point but look at all these shadows. RAW DEAL has the most shadows of any movie. Look at Claire Trevor. She's got the clock! She's got the veil! So many shadows. RAW DEAL!

Pee Caught Fire

A guy on twitter thought my short story "Lumber Land" was inspired in part by a 17th-century alchemist who distilled 50 buckets of pee until the distilled pee glowed in the dark and spontaneously caught on fire. Nope! First I'm hearing of it. It's a coincidence, though it's just the kind of story I like, and as my twitter friend points out, my protagonist complains that his urine is phosphorescent and then discusses his plans for a hamburger restaurant called "Amburger" (the alchemist in question lived in Hamburg). I guess I just think like an alchemist! Incidentally, the Amburger concept is solid. If any of you are investors, read the story and get back to me.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Blog"trospective 15: Feeding a Possum

Welcome to the newest of our famous "blog"trospectives! So far I have "blogged" about feeding a possum just four times, and at least one of those is iffy. I doubt I will ever "blog" about feeding a possum again! But who knows? Anyway, I foresee easy maintenance, even easier than maintaining our seldom-updated "blog"trospective about monkeys riding dogs. And so I proudly give you this convenient record of all past "blog" "posts" about FEEDING A POSSUM: feeding a possum bread crusts---feeding a possum a hot dog (attempted)---feeding a possum a tuna fish sandwich---giving a possum a cup of coffee---possum eating cat food.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Possum on a Leash

Saw George Singleton today. He told me about the time he successfully put a possum on a leash and fed it part of a tuna fish sandwich. The problem was getting the leash off.

Rich Gangs of Jerks

And now I am reading about the "gangs of gentlemanly thugs" who used go around London in the 16th and 17th centuries, just randomly beating up people "of any age and both genders"! "The first named gang appears to have been 'The Damned Crewe,'" says this book. They were just rich drunk jerks!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Funny Fellow

The 18th-century collector of slang Francis Grose "picked up much of his research first-hand during his nightly wanderings through London's criminal slums, accompanied, so it has been claimed, only by his man Batch and later by his companion, 'a funny fellow' properly named Tom Cocking, whom he christened 'The Guinea Pig.'" - THE VULGAR TONGUE by Jonathon Green. Anyway I want to hang out with those guys. Especially Batch. Batch!

Mashed Thumb

As promised, I looked up "sore as a boiled owl" in my GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. Under "sore as..." we have "very angry, annoyed, in various comparative phrs., incl. sore as a boil, ...boiled owl, ...gum boil, ...pup, ...sore as sox, ...sorer than a mashed thumb." We find that "sore as a boil" predates by some time "sore as a boiled owl," so I like to think that the person who first said "sore as a boiled owl" was getting the older phrase "drunk as a boiled owl" mixed up with "sore as a boil." Maybe he or she started to say "sore as a boil" and "sore as a boiled owl" just came rolling out of his or her mouth! And everyone found it charming and apt. Apt! That's what I like to think! I'm just making up stories in my head. Email from McNeil: "There was a story on CNN.com about Malawi executing owls and I thought about you." Perverse! McNeil's phrasing (misleading in every way, as we shall see) made me curious, and with some trepidation I researched what promised to be an unpleasant tale. Turns out the owls were "nearly shot" for being bad luck but then the guy with the gun changed his mind and nothing bad happened to the owls. You know, I don't even care that much about owls.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bowdow

Combing through the volumes of GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, checking out the owl situation, getting to the bottom of this "drunk as a boiled owl" business. I used all three volumes (A-E, F-O, P-Z) to write this "post," aren't you proud? And so I slip slowly into my twilight years of muttering to myself. Here's "owl-eyed," meaning drunk, and yes, I can see that, especially since Cole Sanchez sent me a "link" to a "web" site called "Hungover Owls" or something - why won't I "link" to it here? I don't know! Did some of those owls look exploited? Probably not. I got depressed for some reason. (See also.) But owls do look drunk, apparently. I should have figured that out before now. Which came first, though, the owl or the boiling? I guess that was my primary concern. WHY BOIL THE OWL? The first printed example they give of someone being "drunk as a boiled owl" comes from 1862, though someone was "as drunk as an owl" - a plain old owl, non-boiled - in 1770. BUT! That made me look up "boiled," and in 1877 "there is a balm for a headache caused by last night's debauch to have it said you were 'slightly cheered' or 'stewed' or 'boiled.'" But that's a little later than the boiled owl. So did the boiling of the owl come first? I THINK NOT. Because I looked up "stewed" - meaning drunk - and that goes back as far as 1616. And obviously being "boiled" is a variation on being "stewed" so when you're "as drunk as a boiled owl" maybe you're "as drunk as a drunk owl," huh, well, that's a little redundant. You can be as drunk as a lot of different things according to this book, including a "bowdow," which I guess is a mishearing of "boiled owl" - the book doesn't say that, I'm just guessing. Hmm, looking back I see that the original phrase that puzzled me was "sore as a boiled owl," which does make more sense now, but I think I need to get out Volume Three again and have a go at "sore." This is my life now.

Paper Boat

Reading in this history of slang about a cool Elizabethan guy named John Taylor who did all kinds of crazy things, including rowing "some forty miles in a boat of varnished brown paper, kept buoyant by eight inflated bullocks' bladders, and powered by 'oars' made of giant dried fish tied to canes." PLUS I just got back from the post office, where I picked up my expensive used copy of Green's three-volume DICTIONARY OF SLANG, which by definition (Green's own definition! In this history of slang he writes that "the need for a level of perceived secrecy remains: when a slang word is coined it may well enjoy a period, however brief, of 'invisibility'. But once it has become 'revealed', then the immediate need is for re-coinage") is a foolish purchase, obsolete from the moment it was published, but I like obsolete things. The first thing I'm going to do is look up owls, and not because it will force me to put GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG on my list of books with owls in them, which is frankly a grim chore, but because maybe I'll finally find out why owls are portrayed as drunken in so many forms of expression. But I'm kind of scared to look! Is it that I'm reluctant to solve one of the mysteries that haunt me? Is it that I'm afraid the answer won't be there? Honestly, who cares. I'm going to lie down now.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Owls, Monkeys and Oysters

I must say I was not surprised at all to run across owls on page 100 of THE VULGAR TONGUE: GREEN'S HISTORY OF SLANG. In the 17th century, women who worked in a brothel were called, among other things, "owls, monkeys and oysters." On another subject entirely - ENTIRELY! - I received a copy of ADVENTURE TIME: THE ART OF OOO from its publisher. I flipped it open and happened to find this quotation from Pen: "One day I walked into Adam's office and saw some doodles on his desk; one of them was of these two overlapping ovals that he had made into eyes, and the body around it was a screaming fat owl with stars in its wings..." This is the origin of the Cosmic Owl, the inspiration for which is revealed later in Pen's comments to come from the way "the light hits one of the urinals" in a men's room at Cartoon Network: "it bounces off and casts this mystical face on the wall in front of you - just starin' at ya." But here's the thing! The other day I caught the last part of the movie 2001 on TCM and I saw the Cosmic Owl! It's in the part where the astronaut is going to crazy land, you know. Here's the frame (above). I'm telling you, it's the Cosmic Owl.

Frith!

I've encountered the name Frith three times recently. Is that strange? Probably not! The butler's name in REBECCA is Frith. Then Megan Abbott was staying in a hotel on Frith Street or Frith Road in London. I was curious about the address because I was going to check out my handy GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS to find any nearby ghosts for her convenience. Unfortunately I am ill-instructed in the use of a gazetteer and ignorant of the geography of London. (Megan did say on twitter that was visiting Stirling, Scotland, where reside "TWO famous ghosts: the Green Lady & the Pink Lady [unrelated].") Then I was reading in Jonathon Green's history of slang - THE VULGAR TONGUE it's called - about Mary Frith (pictured), also known as "Moll Cutpurse," a 17th-century high-end fence of jewelry and such. She also specialized "in stealing and returning shopbooks and account ledgers that had specific value only to business owners." She dressed like a man and scandalously frequented tobacco houses! In fact she once suffered official public punishment for dressing like a man. A letter-writer reported to a friend, "she wept bitterly and seemed very penitent, but yt is since doubted she was maudelin druncke, beeing discovered to have tipled of three quarts of sacke before she came to her penaunce." Who wouldn't? There was a play written about her in 1611, THE ROARING GIRLE, and she "even appeared on stage at the Fortune Playhouse. She was dressed as a man and closed the evening's performance with a jig." A great typo in this edition says that she died in 1859, which would have made her 275. I've noticed a few other typos so far. Get it together, Oxford University Press! Ha ha, that jaunty admonition was supposed to be the end of this "post," but it strikes me as I type this that the name Frith may not have been a coincidence in the novel REBECCA. The late Rebecca is often praised and just as often decried for seeming like a man, and our nameless narrator offers to to be more like a boy for her husband (!), and I think there is at least one other woman in the book who is described explicitly as boyish, hmm, not to mention Maxim's sister and Mrs. Danvers. And Lee Durkee told me that there was an aspect of Du Maurier's personality that she referred to as "the boy in the box," recently mentioned also by Carrie Frye in an interesting essay, ("click" here). Gee, as long as I'm typing I should mention that I also read in Green about the 16th-century cross-dressing taphouse girl "Long Meg," who hung out with famous poets, the king's jester, and "the Spanish Knight, Sir James of Castille." She "delighted to assume man's apparel and at last went to the wars with King Henry and returned wedded to a soldier, and set up a public house at Islington." I've also learned more about the bookseller Richard Head, who turns out to have been an important collector of criminal lingo. Green is as baffled as I am by John Aubrey's claim that Head "could transform himself into any shape," though it's a fitting thought here.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bad Dreams

THE EASTER PARADE was good. It didn't make me cry despite Megan Abbott's prediction but I finished most of it in one sitting that ended late last night and afterwards it gave me a long series of nightmares in which I was sorting shoeboxes full of yellowed papers in a dingy apartment under tragic circumstances.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Locked Book of Private Information

I was just sitting here thinking how boring and useless it would be if I "blogged" about what I read last night when another storm came up and we lost the satellite signal again, and then I thought, "I'll do it!" At first I was reading Jonathon Green's history of slang but it was too, uh, scholarly to read in a storm. Well, there was one good part where the French poet Villon was "implicated in a murder" and had to "henceforth scrape a living singing in taverns." But pretty soon we were back to statistics and the word "lexis" was in there a lot. So I switched over to THE EASTER PARADE by Richard Yates, which Megan Abbott gave me back when she lived in town and I knew it probably wouldn't be good for reading in a storm, I mean, I think Megan GUARANTEED it was going to make me cry, and the first words of the book are "Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life" - ha! And the part I was on involved one of the sisters having her braces adjusted by the orthodontist. Hardly storm material! And it was then that I recalled my trusty GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS, barely picked through. I read about Borley Rectory, surely the most famously haunted house in England. "In the 1900s Borley Rectory, as a haunted house, had everything," the author assures us. Ha ha! And here's a mysterious and poignant fragment: "Marianne who has lived a strange and unhappy life now resides in Canada..." That's almost a Lydia Davis story, that fragment. Then we come upon "a typed manuscript with pasted-in photographs, cuttings, booklets, posters, tracings and plans that became known as 'The Locked Book of Private Information' after Price acquired it, had it bound in morocco and fitted it with a Bramah lock." Yes, yes, this was more like it. What else do you need to know? There is a giant striped spider I can see out our front window - a spider so large you can see it from the sidewalk in front of our house - and a torrent of rain off the roof was really bashing its web. The web held up! The spider ran up a slender thread for the safety of the front porch, and I mean ran, that spider was really booking it, as I think we used to say when I was a kid, is that what we said? Booking it? I have a used copy of Green's massive three-volume DICTIONARY OF SLANG coming, so I'll let you know.

Jerry Epiphany #2

Just before an ADVENTURE TIME meeting the other day I was conversing with my twitter friend Brian about a talk show Jerry Lewis had in the 80s, cashing in on his role from THE KING OF COMEDY. He told Suzanne Somers (pictured) she had "pizzazz," or so I remembered.
I thought Kent Osborne's brother Mark had introduced that clip to me on a privately circulated VHS tape of oddities, but Kent didn't remember that. During the meeting he found Jerry's talk show on youtube and watched it and started cringing. Meanwhile, although (because?) from my end of the video conference I could only hear the audio and see the reactive cringing, I was cringing FOR Kent, or for Jerry, I couldn't tell which, they were inseparable. And I had an epiphany. All of my epiphanies are about Jerry Lewis. Yes, as I've observed, Jerry anticipated Andy Kaufman, and now that I think about it, Jerry's first act, when he was little more than a kid, was lip-syncing to records, mirroring exactly the first performance by Andy Kaufman on the first episode of Saturday Night Live. (Tony Clifton = Buddy Love?) As J. Hoberman observed, Jerry "both depicts and manifests inadvertent disclosure." So he can razor in on the phoniness of show biz satirically while living without qualms the actual life of a show biz phony. That old Fitzgerald thing about the rare ability to hold two opposed ideas in your mind at the same time, blah blah blah. Or as Megan Abbott said in an interview I did with her, "the unconscious and conscious are always this close... I’m putting my fingers together very closely... just this close always and always brushing up against each other constantly. And so we often are thrown into ourselves in ways that are alarming and we often have to see things about ourselves because we can’t completely hide from the unconscious." Jerry's 80s talk show was not art (was it?) but it crystalizes what Manohla Dargis said about Jerry disturbing "all those nice people in all their fancy clothes." Meaning us! So why, for me, Jerry is more powerful an artist than, say, the comedy team (how they'd probably chafe at that old-fashioned term) Tim and Eric, or any other contemporary practitioner of "anti-comedy" (I guess we call it) is that Jerry is doing what they do, but HONESTLY and not ironically. At heart it's helpless and noble. That was the epiphany.
I watched a documentary about Divine, who on some basic level was as non-ironic as Jerry Lewis. For Jerry Lewis and Divine, show biz is a joyous religion in the service of a dark god, ha ha, how dramatic. Jerry Lewis is the father of Divine. There are minor similarities too: each, while young, created an overwhelming and brilliant persona that became a kind of consuming trap. Patterns of paternal fracture and rapprochement. I don't know. Maybe Jerry (who cross-dresses kind of touchingly - like late-period Divine - in THREE ON A COUCH) has a drag queen's instinct (lip-syncing!) for novelty, exaggeration, nostalgia, luxury, disguise and self-creation. And like Divine maybe he's suspicious of (guilty about?) revering some of those things and so turns them on their head. It occurs to me that Jerry has spent most of his life in a form of drag - like Pee Wee Herman! why can't I stop typing? - and maybe like Paul Reubens's some of Jerry's "bad" behavior can be attributed to the emotional violence required to break out of its strictures. Drag as freedom, drag as constraint. Can we call Suzanne Somers hunched over on roller skates a kind of enforced "drag"? Maybe I should think this out. But I don't think I shall. Somebody else on twitter was complaining that he can't watch Jerry because Jerry is "needy." All performers are needy. The glorious thing about Jerry and Divine is that they don't cover it up. They revel in it and they make us face it. Now we're all super smart and in on the big joke. Only when we watch them are our reactions are visceral and true.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chuck Dean

McNeil responded with the compelling insight that if Flavor Flav is Jerry Lewis, Chuck D is Dean Martin, the cool partner who gives his more flamboyant friend space for crazy antics but remains unaffected.

For McNeil Only

This one is just for McNeil. The rest of you (there are two of you, I think) can skip it. But I happened to find out by accident that Jerry Lewis and Public Enemy were going to be on THE TONIGHT SHOW last night. I contacted McNeil right away. He loves Jerry Lewis and Public Enemy. But I found that McNeil was going to be unable to watch the show. So he asked me to file a report. Here is that report. Jerry entered, looking frail but game, as the Roots played him on with the Beastie Boys hit "Hey Ladies" - the significance of which to Jerry we have remarked upon before. When he arrived at his seat he noticed to his apparent consternation that his necktie was hanging out of his jacket. "WAAAAAH! I thought it was my tongue," said Jerry, which got a big laugh. Then he appeared to tuck his necktie into his pants... on purpose? I couldn't tell. Of course, the great thing about Jerry is that so often YOU JUST CAN'T TELL. Maybe tucking your necktie into your pants is an old show biz trick. Jimmy Fallon started reciting scenes from THE NUTTY PROFESSOR to Jerry Lewis, which was nicely intended, but odd. I will paraphrase from memory. Jimmy Fallon was like, "And you go to the gym and lift weights but then you drop the weights without letting go of them and they stretch out your arms like six feet long. But it's not over. Because then you're in bed that night and your feet are itching and a hand comes out and scratches your foot, and it's your hand because your arms were stretched out really long." It reminded me of that old SNL sketch with Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. Jerry took it well. Well, no, at some point he cut off Jimmy Fallon's rambling by handing him what was apparently a shocking and obscene note. I don't know what happened there. It was mysterious. Then Jimmy Fallon started describing a scene from THE ERRAND BOY, the famous pantomime to music behind the executive's desk. They showed a clip of it and Jerry said, "When I write, I think in terms of music," which is something Barry Hannah used to say, more or less. Then Jimmy Fallon tried to get him to do a bit in which he and Jerry Lewis would "talk" to each other by lip-syncing to the instrumental music of the Roots. Jerry was confused at first. I suppose he was thinking about how dumb the idea was, how many weeks it had taken him to conceive, design, rehearse, shoot and edit that ERRAND BOY set piece, but he went ahead and tried. You could see the wheels turning and it was nice. The Roots played some music and Jimmy Fallon flapped his gums but Jerry introduced some hand gestures to good effect and really tried to engage with Jimmy Fallon... to push the bit into going somewhere. It didn't. Then Jerry told a dirty joke about a parrot. Public Enemy came out and did their song "Public Enemy #1." I half expected Flavor Flav to give a shout-out to Jerry Lewis in his introductory verse. He didn't, but I see some similarities there, especially in verbal mannerisms, but some of the physicality too. I'm not suggesting direct influence, of course, just expressionistic instincts in common. Think of Flavor Flav's "Cold Lamping": "We got Magnum Brown, Shooshki Palooshki/ Supercalafragahestikalagoothki/ You could put that in your don't know what you said book/ Took-look-yuk-duk-wuk." More Jerryish lyrics would be tough to find. Especially "Shooshki Palooshki." Or "You're eating dirt because you like eating dirt from the graveyard/ You put gravy on it." Can't you just hear Jerry yelling "You put GRAVY on it!"? And when Flavor raps about "chocolate, strawberry, sarsaparilla" who can help but recall Jerry's rhapsody on strawberry milkshakes from THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR? What? Everybody? Okay.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Roughage For the Hawk

I am so embarrassed I didn't know about owls spitting out mouse bones and such in pellet form. It's pretty basic owl stuff, I guess! I just glanced at a wikipedia article about it so now I'm an expert. "It is therefore advisable to sterilize pellets in a microwave oven before study," is one sentence from the wikipedia article. There is also something about feeding roughage to a hawk.

Free Owl

Speaking of Laura Lippman, she just tweeted about a book review and I "clicked" on it, and the reviewer quotes the book (HOW TO BUILD A GIRL by Caitlin Moran): "I reckon Nick Cave emits a pellet from his mouth, like an owl." First of all: OWLS EMIT PELLETS FROM THEIR MOUTHS? Just one more thing I didn't know about owls. ("Click" here to read something I didn't know about wolverines.) Secondly, now I don't even have to buy the book to know there is an owl in it. Nothing against buying the book! It looks good!

Armadillos of the Mind

I was up at Ace Atkins's office the other eve and we were sitting in some rocking chairs on his balcony overlooking the town square when he told me he had watched only the first 10 minutes of THREE ON A COUCH (pictured) before turning it off, which naturally distressed me, but I stayed and drank some whiskey anyway. And Ace did say that I should ask THREE ON A COUCH costar Mary Ann Mobley about Jerry Lewis next time she was in town. And I said, "She comes here?"... "She's FROM here!" Ace replied. Later I got up and acted out one of Adam Muto's "Tall Penguin" comics, perfect for acting out on a balcony. ("Click" here to see why. And "click" here to see another one that I once tweeted at Neko Case and she favorited it or retweeted it or something, who can remember, those were heady times.) Ace and I talked about the Robert B. Parker novel SMALL VICES which Laura Lippman recommended the last time I saw her, and Ace had a copy in his office and he loaned it to me so I've been reading it and in the very first paragraph our narrator Spenser compares a woman to an armadillo and on page 109 another woman looks "like she swallowed an armadillo" and I don't know what to say about that, I guess Robert B. Parker had armadillos on his mind when he was writing that book.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quote-Unquote Ghost

I suppose it is no surprise that the GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS has an owl in it. I was browsing through it and came across a story from Bournemouth of "Twenty-eight-year-old secretary Margaret Best" who was "repeatedly tucked into bed by a 'ghost' for over nine months in 1964." Ha ha, what do you suppose is up with those quotation marks? Anyhow, one special feature of the GAZETTEER is that the author Mr. Underwood suggests a nice hotel near each ghostly site, in case you want to visit. Here he recommends the Fircroft Hotel on Owls Road.

Life Member of the Vampire Research Society

Poking around the old "internet," I discover that Peter Underwood, author of A GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS, is still alive and very busy with his various ghost clubs. He's a "Life Member" of the "Vampire Research Society" too! And he cuts quite a dashing figure, I must say, as you can see here. Plus his "web" site has a blurb from Arthur Conan Doyle's daughter. She calls Mr. Underwood "The Sherlock Holmes of Psychical Research," ha ha! Pretty good.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Words and Pictures

Dropped by Square Books last night with a snoot full only to discover a hole in my recommendation shelf, which I filled with Céline. I don't think I would have added him under other circumstances. Not a nice man! But that style of his beat me into hysterical submission after only 300 pages or so. Anyway, the recommendation shelf is an ever changing kaleidoscope of literary wonders, ha ha, I'm supposed to be a writer. THE FEVER by Megan Abbott used to be next to that John Wayne bio, so that the Duke was looking askance at the unfortunate girl having some sort of feverish episode on the cover of THE FEVER. Various Megan Abbott books have been spotted on the recommendation shelf from its earliest days. That Lynda Barry book and WUTHERING HEIGHTS are the closest things to permanent fixtures, I guess. You'll note the recent arrival of Seo Kim's masterpiece CAT PERSON. Hey! Remember some years ago when I hosted the first ever "graphic novel" panel at the Oxford Conference for the Book? Come March, I'll be doing another panel with people who write with pictures as well as words. Seo Kim, Kent Osborne, and Natasha Allegri will be coming to town to discuss their work with me. I'll remind you!

Friday, September 12, 2014

L.

Here's my friend L. and me. I guess we're 19 here. I just now heard that she passed away this morning. She was a finalist in a national beauty contest and as a dubious prize got a scholarship to a college in Mobile, Alabama, where I met her in music theory class. We were music majors at first. She immediately shaved her long beauty pageant hair into a crew cut (it has grown way out here) and put a pink streak in it and became the first punk in Mobile, I think, though punk was just about over then in the rest of the country. A few years later when she was going back north we cried and recited John Donne at each other, we were optimists and little idealists, we said, "Our two soules therefore, which are one,/ Though I must goe, endure not yet/ A breach, but an expansion,/ Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate."

He Wasn't Kidding

Hey look that guy wasn't kidding when he referred to "My friend Granville Squiers, who made a study of secret hiding places."

The Wistful Rector

Big lightning storm came up and the satellite went out (during THREE ON A COUCH!) so I leafed through one of the ghost books I bought at the Strand. Good weather for it. "The ghost of Archbishop Laud is said to roll his head across the floor" is one enjoyable thing I read. (See also.) This book is called GAZETTEER OF BRITISH GHOSTS by Peter Underwood. At one point Mr. Underwood refers to "My friend Granville Squiers, who made a study of secret hiding places." I like everything about that. Mr. Underwood personally investigated many of the haunted spots in his book. I liked his description of one of his informants: "I found Mr Merryweather to be a large, astute and kindly man, then in his sixties, level-headed and sensible, with an infectious sense of humor and a gift for looking on the bright side of things." I'll say! Mr. Merryweather was the rector at a haunted church where (at the adjacent Manor House) he "turned from the window and... 'moved into the unmistakable embrace of a naked young woman.' This singular tactual phenomenon lasted only a few seconds: 'one wild, frantic embrace and she was gone' as Mr. Merryweather put it." I also liked this report from the Tower of London: "A few days later one of the sentries at the Jewel House maintained that he saw a figure which reminded him of a large bear 'issuing' from under the door of the Jewel Room!" Those quotation marks and that exclamation point really hit the spot. And a ghost shaped like a bear! Coming from under a door! "Issuing" from under it! The door to the Jewel Room! What more could you ask for? But I read the rest of the paragraph and the story had a tragic conclusion, with the poor rattled sentry coming to no good end. (Pictured, Mr. Merryweather's haunted church, which was demolished in 1962.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wasp Vs. Hummingbird

Raced through the end of the novel REBECCA because Lee Durkee and I were set to watch the movie version last night, which we did. Lee made delicious tacos and I'd like to tell you the secret ingredient but IT'S SECRET. I tell you what. I will hide that information somewhere else on the "blog" like a treasure or "Easter egg" I know you will never find because you are so lazy. Lee promised that if I came over early enough there would be lots of "hummingbird action" and he was not lying. Lee has two hummingbird feeders. One of them has been taken over by what Lee called a "big red leg-dangling wasp." Once again he was not lying. The wasp was so large and brightly colored that when I first saw it I thought it was a hummingbird. The hummingbirds were wary of the wasp and most of them migrated to the wasp-free feeder. I was going to type up some stuff about REBECCA but this wasp story is hot stuff, how can I top it?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Mom Likes Cemeteries

Just got off the phone with Mom. She went to Shubuta, Mississippi, the other day, she said. ("Shubuta" is also the title of a short story by Tom Franklin.) Mom said the highway passed Shubuta by, that they used to have a traffic light but now they don't even have a traffic light. "Yes, sounds exciting," I said. Mom liked the cemetery in Shubuta. Mom has always liked cemeteries. When we were on road trips when I was a kid, you could count on a lengthy stop at any interesting-looking cemetery, and all of them looked interesting to Mom. Mom said the cemetery in Shubuta is on a bluff overlooking a river, and though she was afraid there could be water moccasins (a deadly breed of snake) hiding between the gravestones, she could easily picture a horse-cart carrying a coffin onto the grounds, and the stately procession following it. I told Mom she should get a column somewhere reviewing cemeteries the way other people review restaurants or movies. I really mean it! Somebody pay my mom to go around the country reviewing cemeteries. But Mom objected. "Well, I don't ever stay long enough to get to know anybody," she said, which I thought was a funny thing to say about cemeteries.

Sexy Woman Who Can Lift a Car

... "sexy woman who can lift a car" being the title of an email I just received from Ace Atkins. He corrects an error in my previous "post": the John D. MacDonald book featuring a sexy woman who can lift a car was not part of his Travis McGee series, but a standalone novel, which Ace writes about in this neat, brief essay ("click" here) that also contains an appreciation of MacDonald's work in general.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

McNeil and McGee

Email from McNeil! "Reading DARKER THAN AMBER (1966)," he writes. "I'm 3 pages into it and Travis [McGee] is just as sexist as he was in the last novel (DRESS HER IN INDIGO). So that's comforting," McNeil adds sardonically, though he does note for the record that "someone is referred to as owl-like" in the latter. He also says INDIGO has a noticeable "gay streak... everyone is gay. It's like drug use = gayness." I'm not sure what he means by that last equation. I think he's saying that the book posits a direct correlation. I'll ask! (I did ask, and McNeil replied that the characters in the book "on the wrong side of the law - and even those who walk near the border of illegality - engage in a homosexual act at some point, whether they actually take drugs or not. I think even these characters - the non drug takers - administer drugs or sell them, though. I may be wrong about it, but that's the way I remember it.") Another email from McNeil, contemplating a blurb about John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee series: "'He's the Dickens of mid-century America' - Boston Globe. I wonder which Dickens book they had in mind? Reading DARKER THAN AMBER now (at work). On page 20." McNeil then summarizes DARKER THAN AMBER up to page 20 as "The regular McGee on steroids." He notes that McGee's hairy sidekick goes around introducing McGee as "the handsome one." "It must be nice," McNeil muses wistfully. I'm going to try to get Ace Atkins to comment on all this. McNeil and I were talking about the (SPOILER ALERT) baroque death scene of McGee's romantic interest in A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD and it reminded me of the time Ace actually managed to spoil the entire Travis McGee series for me! Which I am about to do for you in turn. We were at Megan Abbott's apartment when she was living here in town. I think it was the night we watched SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. Ace told me THE TURQUOISE LAMENT was unusual because "the woman doesn't die." And then he told me the terrible secret of every Travis McGee novel: "The woman always dies," said Ace. (And now I am remembering a conversation that Ace and I had a while back, in which he noted MacDonald's penchant for getting McGee together with physically powerful women, which I had already noticed in a secondary relationship in A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD. Ace mentioned a book - I can't remember which one - in which McGee becomes involved with a woman who can lift a car.)

Friday, September 05, 2014

Are You Me

All I really ask from life is that late at night some shopworn movie I didn't know existed with a weird cast will come on. So last night it was something called THE LAST MARRIED COUPLE IN AMERICA, starring George Segal, Natalie Wood, Richard Benjamin, Dom DeLuise, and TV's RHODA, Valerie Harper. That's so interesting if you are me! It's all about this set of couples who get together to play touch football every weekend! HUH! One of the guys is a patient from the Bob Newhart Show and one is the psychiatrist who helped Alan Alda realize that the chicken was actually a baby on M*A*S*H. Then Rhoda comes along with some startling sex talk! And some young dudes try to pick up Rhoda and Natalie Wood in a restaurant. I could have sworn one of them was Mark Hamill until his disturbing AUTO FOCUS grin made me decide it was a very young Greg Kinnear with a Mark Hamill shag and a premature Bob Crane leer. I even rewound it and convinced myself. But after extensive "internet" research (why, God?) I'm pretty sure it was this guy (pictured), Brad Maule. Hey, there was somebody in the cast named Edgy Lee. I thought that was a funny name! Well, I only made it 16 minutes in before I conked out. I think I was mad because there was no Paula Prentiss. She would have livened things up. I didn't even make it to Dom Deluise! Just saw his name in the credits. But I recorded the rest of it, so it's your lucky day. Valerie Harper's and Natalie Wood's costumes were designed by Edith Head. How long was her career? Is her name on every movie the way it seems? I think of her just locked in a room for a hundred years with a spinning wheel, like Rapunzel. At one point Natalie Wood was jogging and I was like, what, Edith Head made that jogging suit? I bet Edith Head was like, "I don't even know what world I'm living in anymore." 1980 was like a futuristic dystopia to Edith Head!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Already Some Pigeons

Last night I saw Lee Durkee and he said, "Nobody can get to nirvana without looking a little silly." I think that's what he said. I wanted to write it down but I didn't have a pen. Then I meant to tell Mary Miller, who was all dressed up, that she looked like somebody Gene Kelly would be dancing with in a movie but it came out, "You look like Gene Kelly." So that was unfortunate! And somehow I walked away without correcting myself. But anyway, Lee was really talking up REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier. So I stopped by Square Books and picked up a copy. I was a little dismayed that they stuck it in the "Beach" section for books you're supposed to read at the beach. Hey, they just opened up a Gus's fried chicken place up the street! So on my way back from Square Books I walked in and ordered some chicken to take home. It was crazy in there! Packed! Total chaos. So the chicken (which was delicious) took a while. And so I read the first three chapters of REBECCA while I sat waiting at the counter, which I think means I am reading three books at once. That's not my style, baby! REBECCA looks like a sure thing as far as owls are concerned, all that roaming around a ruined country estate in a misty dream and all, and the narrator has already been nostalgic for some pigeons.

A Stone Urn With Flowers In It

People like to pretend they hate exclamation points and semi-colons. MRS. DALLOWAY is full of both! "Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down!" Those are great semi-colons and a beautiful exclamation point and a wonderful absent comma in the first sentence and perfect use of a "cliché" in the last one and certainly some graduate workshop would have scolded her for using the word "whole" twice in such quick succession. (See also.)