Sunday, January 31, 2016

Red Light, Winter Light

Early yesterday I rewatched WINTER LIGHT. It had been on my mind because we talked about it in an ADVENTURE TIME meeting last week. And then when I saw Bill up at the Grocery, he and I talked about it; it's Bill's favorite Bergman film. In the evening, Dr. Theresa wanted to watch a movie so we scrolled through a bunch we've recorded off of TCM. "What's RED LIGHT?" said Dr. Theresa. I didn't remember. RED LIGHT is a George Raft movie, kind of noir, a revenge movie, a crime film... and just like WINTER LIGHT it turned out to be about a crisis of religious faith, with a similarly impassive lead performance. Strange coincidence! George Raft has a big speech in a church, concerned with what WINTER LIGHT calls "God's silence." Of course, George Raft ends it by hurling a candelabra through a stained glass window - a flashier gesture than Bergman's characters are comfortable with. Spoiler alert: God kills Raymond Burr. He's the bad guy in RED LIGHT. Raymond Burr, I mean, not God. Do you think I'm kidding? A cop standing over Raymond Burr's smoking corpse says (I paraphrase), "Well, I guess this proves it: God exists!" So, a fairly big departure from the ending of WINTER LIGHT.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Feels Like Leonard

Well I was up at the old City Grocery Bar last night talking to Bill Boyle about this Don DeLillo book LIBRA. I quoted a line of authorial (close third-person) description - "He had that expression of where's the coffee." - and said it reminded me of Elmore Leonard... for, among other reasons, the punctuation, or lack of it, including the choice of the period over the question mark. This book had often been reminding me of something, and I finally realized, with that phrase, that it was Elmore Leonard. "In Leonard it would have been dialogue," Bill said of the phrase. And he was right. And I realized that a lot of the dialogue had been reminding me of Elmore Leonard, too... I think particularly the dialogue by members of the demimonde: gangsters, strippers, club owners (Jack Ruby). But there are a number of things I am too lazy to do, including looking for examples, researching the admiration (if any) DeLillo might have felt for Elmore Leonard (or George V. Higgins, as Bill suggested), checking to see if I used "demimonde" or "close third-person" correctly, so many things, so much laziness.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Happy Fella

ADVENTURE TIME trivia fact! The Lich version of Jake on last night's episode was partly inspired by this happy li'l fella from the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS remake.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Spy Barn

It should come as no surprise that LIBRA by Don DeLillo has an owl in it: as I have proven conclusively, every book has an owl in it. Once again our hooting owl appears in spy code coming over a radio: "Attention, brigade, the owl is hooting in the barn."

Cake of Sadness

I watched perhaps the first five minutes of a Jason Bateman movie last night and now I will tell you about it. Jason Bateman worked for Dax Shepard, an awful radio personality who shouted crass things into his microphone. When Jason Bateman arrived home from work, what should he find but his crass employer in flagrante delicto with his (Jason Bateman's) wife. Now, for reasons I am embarrassed to say I did not heed, Jason Bateman is holding an entire elaborately frosted cake at this emotionally uncomfortable juncture. Recalling Chekhov's wise rule of drama I thought, boy oh boy! What is going to happen with this cake? It is certainly going to be crazy, if Chekhov has anything to say about it! Maybe I was thinking of the scene in MULHOLLAND DR. when the guy dunks all the jewels in the pink paint. Jason Bateman did not smash the cake on Dax Shepard's head. Jason Bateman stalked into the living room with the cake. Into what exquisite carpet or upholstery will Jason Bateman grind this cake? I asked myself. What delicate glassware will he destroy with this hurled cake? I wondered. Oh, I forgot to tell you, there were two lit candles on the cake. So Jason Bateman gently placed the cake on a table and sadly blew out the candles with a sad little puff of silent sadness. And I said to myself, WHAT! Not even Jerry Lewis, I said to myself, at his most... sentimental, at his most... martyred, would have dared to stage a scene of such saccharine lachrymosity and humiliation. Then I thought, who am I kidding? Of course he would've! Jerry Lewis is probably sitting at home right now saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hand Double

Walked to Ace Atkins's office just now to talk over a SECRET PROJECT we're working on. "Abe Vigoda died," I said. Ace replied that he had just seen the news "come over the wire." Then he told me he had been Abe Vigoda's hand double once... on the Pauly Shore movie JURY DUTY! In the past, Ace has been pretty adamant in his wish that I never tell the world he worked on JURY DUTY. So I made sure it was okay. "My hands were the only ones hairy enough," Ace said. Then he told about how he spent five hours banging a gavel as "Abe Vigoda's hand." "Everybody must have thought, 'I didn't know Abe Vigoda's hands were so youthful!'" I speculated. Ace said that the gavel-banging was too fast for that: his hand was a blur. "But the hair must have read," I said thoughtfully.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Our Meter Was Blank

Today a man from the power company knocked on the door to let us know our meter was blank, to which I responded, "Our meter is blank?" "Yes, I'm going to have to cut your power off for a minute," he said. I said, "Okay." That's the whole story, I don't know what it means.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More Thrills and Suspense at the Grocery Store

Little did I know that I "blogged" about McNeil's grocery store experience too soon... for I was about to have my own dramatic encounter at the grocery store. First of all, people were flagrantly abusing the express lane! But that happens every time. Then the cashier dropped my jar of pickles and it smashed upon the floor, endangering many. There was a period of confusion and hullabaloo before a replacement jar could be obtained. As I left the store, another cashier ran behind me shouting, "Sir, you're losing your bread! You're losing your bread, sir!" And true enough, in all the excitement I was exiting the premises with my bread dangling most precariously! Most precariously indeed! By Jove! This second cashier relieved me of my bread for the nonce and thoughtfully re-bagged it in the securest manner possible. Thus ended one man's emotional journey.

Grocery Store Deep Cuts

McNeil is in a grocery store RIGHT NOW and they are playing Elvis Costello's "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" for the shoppers. That's a pretty deep cut for a grocery store, as I stated in my response to McNeil's urgent text.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Solid Monkey Performance

I turned on TCM just as the last scene from THE SEA HAWK was playing. There was a monkey in it. I assume he was the mascot of the pirates. I haven't seen THE SEA HAWK in many decades. But Queen Elizabeth was down on the docks making a speech. When the queen appears, the monkey tips his hat, rearranges his chin strap for attractiveness and comfort in a Brando-like bit of authentic "business" with roots in the reality of the moment, then begins applauding wildly. Very natural! This monkey went to acting school! I understood the monkey: his hopes, his dreams. It was the elegant adjustment of the chin strap.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tree Fire Man

Just got back from mailing a copy of my cigarette lighter book to Roy Blount Jr., because it's dedicated to him (and co-dedicated to Ted Ballard, the man who showed me his collection of 30,000 lighters). While I was writing the book I tried to think of what Roy would do. I couldn't do it myself, but at least I tried to think of it. As I drove home from mailing the book I was regretting all the times I wrote that someone "noted" or "observed" something... when you have a lot of secondary sources, as I did, somebody is always "noting" or "observing" something in your stupid book. And that made me think of Stephen J. Pyne, a "historian of fire" I quote in the book (why did I put quotation marks around "historian of fire"? Well, it's what I call him in the book. Isn't it? [It isn't. - ed.] Are you supposed to put quotation marks around your own quotations? Yes, that seems certain enough. Who am I talking to?). I think I was so tired of "notes" and "observes" I had him "sniff" something... No, I made him "pout": "'The ancient bonds of fire tending and codes of fire-related behavior disappeared into pants pockets,' pouts fire historian Stephen J. Pyne." And that made me ashamed. And then I was sorry that I didn't make a pun based on the fact that he's named after a tree and he writes about fire. Roy would have found something funny to do with that. But it was too late. I had already mailed the book. And written the book.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Sort of Dramatic Thing

Lee Durkee sent me an article ("click" here) about a painting of John Dee that used to show John Dee standing in a circle of skulls (see also) but then the skulls were painted over, probably because they creeped out the person who bought the painting. I guess my favorite paragraph in the article is: "Dee is performing some sort of experiment. 'It looks like the sort of dramatic thing chemistry teachers do at the end of term,' said Birkwood." Pictured, some of the skulls that were painted over.

Jealous Robot Ray

Maybe I am on my "Kennedy kick" after all. I picked up LIBRA and started reading it. Almost right away we come to the CIA plotting to blow up Castro with "a sea shell that would explode when he went swimming." Now, this is part of that Norman Mailer novel I just read, too. And a tiny bit of "internet" research indicates it was a real plan right here in real life where we all live. But Mailer's narrator wants to train a manta ray to jealously guard the beauteous shell so it will seem more attractive and desirable to Castro. Mailer has him down as a big shell collector. And the "internet" tells me that the CIA did intend to "make the shell brightly colored and unusual looking so it would be sure to attract Castro’s attention." So Mailer's narrator schemes to train the jealous manta ray but finally decides a robot manta ray would work better. I assume the trained or robotic fish idea is all Mailer's... eh... I don't want to know.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Coo Coo

THE ODD COUPLE was just on TCM. I have pretty much stopped seeing anything I truly wish I would have included in my cigarette lighter book (it's much too late; the book comes out in a week or two), but I can't believe I forgot that in the scene when the "coo coo Pigeon sisters" come over, Felix tries to light a cigarette for one of them and mangles it in the snapping jaws of the lighter instead. I do discuss a similar gag from THE BELLBOY, and having another example to fortify my deep analysis surely would have secured my place in the history of cigarette lighter studies.

What Happened

Some time ago I rewatched all five seasons of THE WIRE in a single weekend and then it was time for an ADVENTURE TIME meeting. Anyway, here's a frame from Thursday's all-new episode of ADVENTURE TIME.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Hey I quickly gave up on THE DEER PARK! I don't think it was Mailer's fault. I think I was all Mailered out (see also). So I picked up a big old stack of comic books. That's where my brain went. I think I accidentally got some of those comic books that are supposed to show how superheroes can be "gritty" and "realistic" for the "in-the-know people of today." But anyway Power Girl was in charge of a superhero team, so there she was in her famously sexist costume, sitting in an office chair behind a desk with a computer and a phone and a framed photo of Superman on it, having, like, a business meeting, like she was an employee of Dunder Mifflin! That's how they made it "realistic." I tried describing this to Adam Muto yesterday and he nicely sat there expecting me to come to my point, but it turned out I didn't have one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

More True Stories From Real Life

Guess what Ace Atkins got me for Christmas. Why, that's right! An owl costume to sleep in. How did you know? Anyway, it's definitely not weird, at least we can all agree on that. Last night I put on my owl costume and tried to talk about something important with Dr. Theresa. She said, "It's hard to take you seriously when your owl eyebrows are askew." I said, "Oh!" and tried to fix my owl eyebrows. Dr. Theresa said, "Can I tell you something?" I said, "What?" She said, "You're not a real owl." It hurt! In other news, I was slicing some cherry tomatoes yesterday when from out of nowhere the song "Cheeseburger In Paradise" got stuck in my head. Now, this is not a song I find enjoyable or "good." It must have lain dormant in my brain for decades, like the ultimate evil. And there it was. The tomatoes triggered it. It was like when the Cylons got activated! I kept singing, "I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potato." And today that song continued to be stuck in my head. And I am afraid I sang a snatch of it some moments ago and Dr. Theresa begged me to stop, announcing that she hates the word "taters." I thought I knew all the words Dr. Thersea hated. But this was a new one. In addition, I protested that the lyrics referred to "french fried potato," not "taters." Dr. Theresa apologized and said that she thought I had been singing "taters." I sat down and thought long and hard about things.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

True Stories From Real Life

Dr. Theresa was lying on the couch absently watching the remake of THE WOLFMAN just now. Incredibly, we saw it in the theater when it came out. Dr. Theresa remarked that its stars, Benecio del Toro and Emily Blunt, were recently in SICARIO together, to which I replied, "I bet they were like, 'Remember when we were in THE WOLFMAN? Good times.'"

Monday, January 11, 2016

Angel Face

Sometimes I have a little something that might be helpful to somebody, some little tidbit about how ADVENTURE TIME gets made. Like tonight's episode "Angel Face"! See, at first Kent and Adam and Pen and I were trying to write a MOST DANGEROUS GAME kind of outline about the King of Ooo hunting his subjects for sport, ha ha ha! We hashed it out for days and just couldn't make it go anywhere (though we used a scrap of it in the outline for "Stakes," the Marceline arc from earlier this year). So then one day both Adam and Kent were busy, as I recall it (the latter out of town, maybe?), leaving Pen and me alone, still trying to figure out this "hunting Crunchy for sport" episode, and for some reason I said that Jake could be a tiny horse that BMO was riding... and Pen was like, "Let's go with that." Another good writing lesson from Pen, because he didn't mean "Let's see how we can fit that into our story," he meant "Let's write a whole new outline based on that image." And so we did, over the course of a single meeting, after spending days and days going in another direction. And when Adam came back he strengthened what we had done (adding the surprise identity of the antagonist, just for example) and then of course Somvilay and Seo made it into something solid for real, the way they do, what with their storyboarding and writing the whole dang thing and all (sentient sandwiches, for example). Oh, the only other thing I can tell you is I came up with the name "Angel Face" because of the Robert Mitchum movie of that title (above), which I happened to be thinking about, though it's not a western and has absolutely nothing to do with the story we came up with. So! What's the lesson? Don't be afraid to abandon your original idea, I guess. If you're stuck, shift your focus: it might open the floodgates! And you can always save and reuse scraps of an idea that doesn't work. Latch onto an evocative image. Writing can be fun? And titles don't have to mean anything. Maybe those aren't the lessons.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Midnight Ink

Why did I pick up another Norman Mailer novel just after finishing a 1,200-page Norman Mailer novel? I have no idea. I thought I was going on a "Kennedy kick," but I guess my "Kennedy kick" has been delayed. Somehow I'm reading THE DEER PARK. And it has Jell-O in it. I guess this is the seventh book I have read with Jell-O in it since I have been keeping score. Jell-O! An American metaphor. I suppose it would be a good academic study to ponder which authors spell Jell-O the way the makers of Jell-O intended (Adrienne Barbeau, for example), and which get all loosey, goosey, artsy and fartsy with it (Kerouac, Mailer). Mailer writes of "colored lights changing the water into a lake of tomato aspic, lime jello, pale consommé, and midnight ink." And so it seems to me that Mailer is the third of our authors to find lime Jell-O especially "fruitful" - ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! We have good times, don't we?

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Nothing Left

McNeil thinks I was too harsh in my assessment of the Zippo car. "I think it's a cool-looking car," he writes. "I especially like the guy in the background on the right. He looks like he's gonna end it all. Like now that he's seen the lightermobile there's nothing left to look forward to."

Young Jay

Pendleton Ward sent me this photo of a young Jay Leno. "He looks like doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel," Pen observed.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

I Went to the Restroom

Dr. Theresa and I went to see the new STAR WARS movie today. There was one part where this kid gives a STAR WARS robot a thumbs up and the STAR WARS robot extends its built-in lighter and lights it in a cute imitation of a thumbs up, and I thought, yes, I would've crammed that into my cigarette lighter book, right after the part where Stan Laurel uses his thumb as a cigarette lighter, it's a section about the machine in comedy, doesn't that sound thrilling? Pre-order today! Anyway, I went to the restroom during part of the movie and when I came back I asked Dr. Theresa if I had missed anything and she was like, "Yeah! That guy was talking to Darth Vader's skull!" And I was like, "Was it... alive?" And Dr. Theresa was like, "No!" Like that was a silly question.

You, Sir, Are No Wienermobile

Yesterday Ace was telling me about this Zippo car, and boy it sounded great. He said it was like the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile! But come on. Today he sent me the picture and isn't it underwhelming? The Zippo part just seems kind of slapped on there. The Wienermobile required commitment! So I don't think this Zippo car will go on my list of things I wish I had had time to include in my cigarette lighter book. But I'll tell you what will. Last night THE BIGAMIST, directed by Ida Lupino, was on TCM. I wasn't really watching it. I was reading a Silver Surfer comic book! But it was on. And I heard Edmond O'Brien flirt with Ida Lupino by saying, "You only like me for my lighter." (I think that's the line. I wasn't really watching.) It fit right in with some paragraphs about the lighter as a Freudian stand-in for the male... zzzzzz. I'm sorry, I fell asleep there for a minute.

Monday, January 04, 2016

My Resonators Don't Buzz

Yesterday in the New York Times I read about the gyil, "a xylophone with gourd resonators that buzz with the silk of spiders’ egg sacs, called paapieye, that is stretched across the gourds’ openings." Reader, I have one! I just never knew what it was. I used to play it in my old band. No, my OLD old band. One or two songs we'd drag out the gyil. Not that we knew it was a gyil. Do you care? No. Do I? Yes, barely. Anyway, I could turn around and look at the gyil if I wanted. It's right behind me! One gourd has been long missing. And one stick. There used to be two sticks to play it with. And there was never any silk of spiders' egg sacs, or maybe it was knocked off in transit. So my resonators don't buzz. Never did. Story of my life. Anyway, I have a gyil with no spider sac. The buzzing is half the point! Now I've listened to some gyil with the silk intact and it makes all the difference. We could've been big!

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Obviously They Weren't Snail Eggs

I read that Burt Reynolds autobiography in about a day and it left no impression on me, except for the faint memory of the extraordinary news that Burt Reynolds could not attend the Civil Rights march in Selma because SNAILS WERE LAYING EGGS IN HIS BLOOD. That can't be accurate! Let me look. He had "snail-parasite eggs in the bloodstream!" (Exclamation point Burt's.) "The problem was, the eggs were beginning to hatch," Burt writes. That does sound like a problem! So they were the eggs of parasites that live in snails, not the eggs of snails, I'm making myself sick.

Friday, January 01, 2016

She Uncurls Her Long, Hollow Tongue

What do Lynda Barry and Norman Mailer have in common? The aswang, that's what! Or as Norman Mailer spells it (I think) the asuang. I say "I think" because I am on page 1,017 and I can't remember where he mentions it. Four hundred pages ago? Could be! And somehow I forgot to tell you. The aswang or asuang is a vampiric creature of the Philippines and Mailer describes it in more or less traditional vampiric terms. Lynda Barry's description (in the voice of her grandmother) is much more exciting! "If you see a strange dog and it is watching you very hard and the back legs is more longer than the front legs and the tongue is sticking out - that is the aswang in the daytime! But at night she is a very beautiful woman who can cut herself in half and then she hides the bottom half. Then, look out! She can fly! The aswang crawls across the ceiling while you sleep and positions herself right over your bed. She uncurls her long, hollow tongue downward to your neck. It has a needle tip so sharp you can't feel it." That's from Barry's ONE HUNDRED DEMONS. You know how people just throw stuff in our yard, right? I blame it on drunken college students but I think all the drunken college students are home with their drunken families. (See also.) But someone threw an entire book about the Philippines in our yard this week! I haven't checked to see if the aswang is in it. The book was all rain soaked when I found it and it's probably still drying out on the porch. It's intact except that I guess the rain dissolved the glue on the paperback spine, so the cover is loose. Hmm, part of Lynda Barry's description (the creature cutting itself in half and the top half flying away) reminds me of a story from the book KWAIDAN about a creature called the Rokuro-Kubi. Its head detaches from its body and flies around: "He caught sight of the heads, - all five of them, - flitting about, and chatting as they flitted... 'Ah, that traveling priest who came to-night! - how fat all his body is! - When we have eaten him our bellies will be well filled...'" The difference is that while the aswang (according to Lynda Barry's grandmother) hides its own body, YOU have the find the Rokuro-Kubi's body and hide it: "its eyes opened monstrously; its hair stood up bristling; and its teeth gnashed... weeping tears of rage it exclaimed: 'Since my body has been moved, to rejoin it is not possible! Then I must die!'" I don't know, maybe that's true for the aswang, too; maybe that's why she hides her body. You'll have to ask an aswang next time you meet one. I'm not an aswang mindreader! All I know is that I have to finish this Norman Mailer book somehow, because the Doomed Book Club is all set to read Burt Reynolds's autobiography for the New Year. Huh, well, here's a Rokuro-Kubi with its head flying around, although most "internet" images show it stretching out its neck really long like Plastic Man!