Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Visceral Sense of Jibbs

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore unless it's about THE BIG VALLEY, which has been off the air since 1969, or if I read a book with an owl in it. But occasionally one has a thought that is too long for twitter - not very often! - and where is one to put it? "Here" is the only answer. So I have finally watched the entire ADVENTURE TIME miniseries entitled ELEMENTS, and I did it through legal means. I paid $9.99 for it! But I shan't say anything about the episodes that haven't aired on normal television for normal people yet. EXCEPT! To make the general observation that there are a lot of great jokes in it, among other things. PASTE magazine said ADVENTURE TIME: ELEMENTS has "a visceral sense of armageddon" and maybe they know what they're talking about but I mainly just laughed a lot. NOW! Roughly ninety-nine percent of the jokes contained in the miniseries are jokes that anyone can enjoy, from the most cantankerous old codger to the rosiest tot, but I also noticed a few things that made me laugh in a smug, knowing, secretive manner with which I feel certain you are longing to become intimately acquainted. For example, in last night's episode "Cloudy," the word "jibbs" was used as a mild expletive, as in "What the jibbs?" And... I may not get this line exactly right... "Calm the jibbs down." So! While we were working on the outline for "Cloudy," ADVENTURE TIME head writer Kent Osborne was simultaneously in rehearsals for a staged reading of some kind of script or another, in which his character's name was Jibbs. For whatever reason, this tickled the rest of us in the writers room no end. On top of that, Kent was required to affect an Irish accent for the role of Jibbs, and as he was just beginning to work on it, our delight was boundless in mocking him unfairly when he tried it out in our presence. These twin pillars of hilarity - the name "Jibbs" and our accompanying merciless jeers at Kent's nascent Irish accent - made it irresistible to include the expression "what the jibbs" in the outline upon which we were currently at work. So I was especially happy to see that the exclamation, or a variation on it, occurred more than once in the finished storyboard, brilliantly executed by Graham Falk and the aforementioned Kent Osborne, and, of course, in its ultimate animated iteration, the toil of countless souls. I hope you feel that you have benefited from this thorough examination of "humor" and its mysterious inner workings laid bare and that my vivid yet clinical dissection of the matter has not robbed you entirely of the magic and joy in your life.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Barkley Absconditus

I'm four episodes into THE BIG VALLEY and it's interesting because the whole drama centers around an empty place where a person used to be... not until Laura Palmer in TWIN PEAKS was there another absent character so important to a show. He's the dead patriarch, Thomas Barkley, and I just saw an episode where the town is unveiling a statue of him, but there's a shadow over the face and we can't really see it, can anyone? Yes, yes, THE BIG VALLEY swirls around a terrifying abyss of meaningless where "the father" is supposed to be. Where is the supposed pillar of society? I don't suppose it's a coincidence [yes, of course it is! - ed.] that two bridges have fallen down in four episodes. I'm sure there is some theological approach to THE BIG VALLEY, something from Nicolas of Cusa, something about the deus absconditus.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Familiar Barn Fight

As you know, I never, ever "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it or for some other reason. But now I have decided I can "blog" about the TV show THE BIG VALLEY whenever I want. Spurred by Laura Lippman's description of it as "gloriously weird," I decided to revisit THE BIG VALLEY, or maybe just to visit it, because I really couldn't remember anything about it. I remembered a promo in which they put a lot of reverb on the announcer when he said the title: "THE BIG VALLEY-ALLEY-ALLEY-alley-alley-alley!" And I remembered, from the same promo, the description of Barbara Stanwyck's character as "Victoria, a woman of backbone and bite!" All I can say is that was a pretty good promo if I still remember it from when I was a kid. So I watched some of THE BIG VALLEY. When a fistfight started raging in the barn, I thought, you know, maybe I did watch this show when I was a kid, because I felt secure in the knowledge that this was a staple of the show, it was all coming back to me, regular fistfights in the barn. But I can't be sure! I think there was something on the other channel I liked better. But here are some things I observed: 1. It all starts with one of the brothers on a bridge and here comes Lee Majors from the other direction and neither fellow will back up his horse to let the other one pass. So they literally just sit there looking at each other until the bridge falls down! I can't say much for the infrastructure. 2. The introduction of Barbara Stanwyck's character. She swoops into the room where her sons are standing and says (I paraphrase, but only slightly), "You're putting on weight, must you shout, here comes a visitor, I'll see you at dinner." And then she's gone. Like she was never there! She spits it all out like a machine gun and disappears in a flash. I thought maybe she was like Fred MacMurray, who supposedly used to come in and sit in a chair for one day and say all his lines for an entire season of his sitcom MY THREE SONS then get up and put on his hat and leave and they had to shoot around him for the rest of the year. My friend Ward McCarthy told me that about Fred MacMurray and if it's not true it's my own fault, because maybe I'm remembering the details wrong and I'm just too lazy to look it up. 3. Lee Majors kneels down at a lonesome grave (the patriarch has been plopped into the ground in the middle of nowhere, right where he was killed, not unlike the sad case of Meriwether Lewis) and then a young woman rides up on a horse and just casually leans down and starts striking Lee Majors wildly and repeatedly in the face with a leather strap, and she doesn't even know him! That's his half-sister, I guess, as they discover later, but there's an extremely weird vibe they've got going on (pictured). In fact they started making me think of Heathcliff and Cathy a little bit, and Lee Majors's name on the show is Heath, so I wondered whether that was on purpose, but my research methods (as noted above) are far too lazy to confirm or deny. Still, Heath is the brash, mysterious outsider who disrupts family life... for instance when he steals some apples! He's just walking around, trespassing, going through their stuff and finally taking an apple and Victoria catches him. So he takes off his hat. And I thought, oh, this brash, mysterious outsider is going to be respectful for a change! We're about to see the tender, gentlemanly side of this brash, mysterious outsider! But no, he was just taking off his hat to cram it full of all the sweet, sweet apples he could carry. And I was like, gee, Lee Majors sure has a hatful of apples now! He's going to have quite a night eating apples. Meanwhile, Audra (Linda Evans) gets a lot of use out of her leather strap, often with good reason, because they seem to live in a nightmarish hellscape. Right now everyone is shooting each other and I haven't even made it to the end of the first episode yet.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Terrified Bob Hope

So far no owls in this biography of Angela Carter, though you might guess how pleased I was to run across "a terrified Bob Hope."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here's Your Monocle

I recorded a TCM showing of THREE RING CIRCUS and watched some of it last night. I am pleased to tell you about the villain of the piece (pictured), Puffo the Wonder Clown. First of all I am pleased to tell you that his name is Puffo the Wonder Clown. He is addressed often. "You're drunk, Puffo." And, when he is fired from the circus, "Draw your money, Puffo." I cannot explain the pleasure such sentences gave me. "Puffo, he's stealing your thunder!" says another clown, referring to Jerry Lewis. So later Puffo goes out there and kicks Jerry Lewis in the behind and jumps up and down on him. The circus audience turns on Puffo! And I must say I was surprised because it seemed like regular clown business to me. I'm not sure what clued in the audience that Puffo really meant it. Clowns are always brutalizing one another for our amusement, and we thank them for it. But one little girl jumps up and yells, "Stop it! You're killing him!" I may be paraphrasing. After Puffo nearly murders Jerry in the ring (I guess - as I say, it was difficult to distinguish from everyday clown violence), Jerry says in his saintly mewl, "Here's your monocle. I'm not mad, Puffo." You see, Puffo had dropped his monocle in the sawdust to get Jerry to bend over. You know how it is. Oh, Puffo. I am not sure I can rightly call Puffo a sad clown, though he is certainly a bitter clown. Jerry - who tinkered a lot with the script of this famously troubled production - seems interested in rage-filled clowns. Think of the snarling clown who hates America in his film THE FAMILY JEWELS. Think of him, I said! And of course drunken clowns are a national treasure by any standard. Puffo is a mean drunk, as opposed to the garden-variety sniveling of a typical drunken clown like Twitchy, who meets his sad end at the hands of a psychopath in the Mickey Spillane circus thriller RING OF FEAR, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Will you mind very much if we stop talking about clowns for a second? In a subplot, Dean Martin falls under the spell of Zsa Zsa Gabor as the haughty queen of the circus. And I had never really thought about it, but that's a common story element, isn't it? The beauteous, dominant circus woman? I think of Steve Martin in THE JERK (its title an homage to Lewis's THE PATSY?), in the thrall of the sexy motorcycle daredevil who pushes him around. In conclusion, I cannot justify Puffo's honorific. At no point in the film are we given any indication that he is, in fact, a "wonder clown" of any kind.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Owl Club

Jim, the narrator of Willa Cather's MY ANTONIA, grows up somewhat and moves to town, where soon enough is established a dance hall called the Owl Club. Now, I have already told you about some significant owls in MY ANTONIA, and need I remind you that I am under no obligation to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book? But if there's something named something like the Owl Club, I believe it bears mentioning. Jim does not frequent the Owl Club ("I refused to join 'the Owls'") but "I made a bold resolve to go to the Saturday night dances at the Fireman's Hall." Needless to say, it breaks his grandmother's heart! Lest you think this makes the book too namby-pamby, there are plenty of wedding parties devoured by wolves and hoboes leaping headfirst into threshing machines.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Birds of Subterranean Habit

Both Dr. Theresa and Bill Boyle love the novel MY ANTONIA, but neither has been able to persuade me to read it until Bill happened to mention the other night that there is "good owl stuff" in it. All right! But the problem is that Megan Abbott and I are on a strict diet of "movie people" biographies and autobiographies. We have read several in a row! Including some I have not told you about because there are no owls in them. We just finished Howard Hughes - very depressing - and on Monday we're set to take up Angela Carter. Wait! I know what you are thinking. Angela Carter is not a "movie person." But our reasoning, if I recall it correctly, is that they made a movie based on her works - THE COMPANY OF WOLVES - so we're going to let her slide by on that account. And I peeked at the first paragraph of the bio and it all starts with Little Red Riding Hood, which ties right in, so I think we're good. So in the meantime I have a couple of days to read MY ANTONIA and I was like, "Please, God, let me hurry up and get to the owls." And there they were! Our narrator and his pal Antonia "watch the brown earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests underground with the [prairie] dogs." I was like, my word! What manner of owls are these? And as I sat and pondered it, I realized they were none other than the selfsame burrowing owls I heard about at Off Square Books one time, when the author bragged and boasted of stalking them with a shirtless George Plimpton. Go to bookstores, you'll learn something! "We felt sorry for the owls," says Cather's narrator. That's because rattlesnakes slither around and eat their eggs! Easy pickings! And "we used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit." And "It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and disappear under the earth."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Powerfully Spiced Sausage Meat

Bill Boyle got me reading these stark novels of Osamu Dazai. I read two of them and neither one had an owl in it, as far as I could tell. But as you know, I also like books with gelatin in them, especially Jell-O. (See also.) But I'm not "blogging" anymore, so I can't just "blog" about any old thing anymore, especially seeing as how I don't "blog" anymore. But there was this interesting jelly sequence in this one Osamu Dazai novel: "Oh, I'm sorry. Have you made jelly? That's terrific. You shouldn't have bothered... it would be wicked not to eat your wonderful jelly... It tasted watery, and when I came to the piece of fruit at the bottom, it was not fruit after all, but a substance I could not identify... as I manipulated the peeling lacquer chopsticks to eat my jelly, I felt unbearably lonely." It really made wonder about the particular kind of jelly being discussed, but not enough to look anything up. And I couldn't just "blog" about that! But what if there were TWO books with gelatin in them? Suddenly we would have a theme going! Such a possibility did not even occur to me, frankly, but then there I was in Square Books all of a sudden, and hey! Do you know about this "Constant Reader" program they have? Well, it's not my job to explain it to you. But sometimes you get a free book. And I had this little slip of paper in my wallet entitling me to a free book. And that's when I saw what I didn't even know I needed, inconspicuous on a back table: the recently discovered novel by Walt Whitman. So I got it for free. And I meant to open it to the beginning but somehow it fell open to page 10, which catches Whitman mid-phrase: "preferable to some, is the powerfully spiced sausage meat, or the jelly-like head-cheese." Now we're getting somewhere! PS: Prayer works! After composing the bulk of the above, but leaving a few gaps to fill on my return, I went off to visit my mom and dad for a few days. I took with me a biography of Howard Hughes that Megan and I are reading. In my few free moments, I read some of it, which is how I came upon "Charles W. Perrelle, the able vice-president of production for the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Company," who was, somehow, in the eyes of the authors, both a "boy wonder" and an "owlish-looking man." PPS! Not to put a cherry on top, but when I came home I watched the most recent episode of Pete Holmes's show CRASHING, which I had set to record in my absence for just that purpose. The song over the closing credits was "Sometimes I'm Happy," as performed by Jerry Lewis. Life seems to be at its peak.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Last night I watched UN FLIC on Ace Atkins's back porch - just look, there I am standing in front of the projector afterward - and I had a pretty good tweet about UN FLIC that I tweeted when I got home but then I realized that nobody wants to read tweets about UN FLIC, so I deleted my great tweet about UN FLIC, and that's when I realized I'd better "blog" about UN FLIC even though I don't "blog" anymore. That's what the "blog" is, I realized: a big old city dump. You don't want to drive out there to the city dump but sometimes there's some unwieldy thing you have to get rid of. So I was supposed to bring something "French" to Ace's, so I found this mushroom recipe in an old French cookbook, and I used about half a bottle of good white wine in these damn mushrooms - pardon my "French" - ha ha! And then they turn out to be these... mushrooms. Just some mushrooms lying there. Just some cold mushrooms lying wearily on a plate. "Serve very cold," the old French cookbook advised. It didn't help. They were just like... mushrooms. You eat one and you're like, "Yep, that's a mushroom." You know, maybe I was too timid with the coriander! "They can't possibly require THIS MUCH coriander!" I yelled. "These old French people were CRAZY!" Well, who's laughing now? The old dead French people, that's who. The only good thing about them (the mushrooms, not the old dead French people) was Dr. Theresa's suggestion that I bring along Bob Hope's cocktail forks for people to spear and eat them with. I also brought Bob Hope's very own personal (former) glass toothpick holder to hold them in! The cocktail forks, I mean. One of my greatest joys of the evening was seeing Bill Boyle's little girl absolutely murdering a strawberry with one of Bob Hope's cocktail forks. (In case some of you don't know why I have Bob Hope's cocktail forks, I bought them at an auction.) Well, anyway,
I didn't understand UN FLIC. Like, Richard Crenna spent a lot of time combing his hair! Like, I think I got up to pee and came back and Richard Crenna was still combing his hair. That's what my great deleted tweet was about. I can't remember the exact wording of my great deleted tweet, but it was something like, "Critics the world over agree that UN FLIC is the film in which Richard Crenna spends the most time combing his hair." So you can see why I deleted it. It's too specific for the high-pressure world of the on-the-go twitter user of today! This "blogger" I found ("click" here) has a more positive spin on that scene (pictured), which I will now quote: "Once we're inside the train, Melville's sure touch returns... The scene goes on for several minutes, during which we see Crenna carefully adjust his coiffure not once but twice... the meticulous preparations are mesmerizing." The fact that I was just all, "Boy, he is sure is combing his hair a lot!" is my own problem. As Bill Boyle pointed out, the long shot of the adorable little helicopter flying over the tiny train made UN FLIC look briefly like a Wes Anderson movie.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


As you know I often claim not to "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, which I am then compelled by nature to add to my long list of books I read with owls in them. So last night I finished reading the wonderful new novel - partly in that it has many wonders in it! - by George Saunders, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. It takes place mostly in a graveyard, among ghosts, which I don't think is a spoiler, as the book flap mentions both the graveyard and the ghosts. So right away, you know, I feel pretty sure it's going to have an owl in it. Ghosts? Graveyards? Owls must be on that list. But I go along for quite a spell and no owl. Then some ghosts are gliding through the graveyard and some generic "birds" look at them funny. We are told that birds don't care for ghosts. Which is interesting, but I thought, "Well, that's it for birds in this book." BUT THEN! Chapter LXXIV, which takes place inside a mausoleum, starts like this: "Outside, an owl shrieked."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Didn't Let Me Down, Sam Shepard

Almost at the end of this short new book by Sam Shepard and I was like, are you kidding me? Are there not going to be any owls in this book? Why, Sam Shepard's the one who got me started in my lifelong career of counting the owls in the books I read. But now there's a section about the movie THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (though he doesn't name it), with a weirdly persistent refrain that the movie has "absolutely no sense of humor" (is that a bad thing? I can't tell what Sam Shepard thinks!) and Sam Shepard has bats and owls chasing the incredible shrinking man at the end of his movie, though I don't think that's accurate, and I should know, remember how I had a lot of big thoughts about the end of that movie on January 14, 2009 ("click" here)? Of course you do! But maybe I just forgot the bats and owls. Or maybe Sam Shepard is using "poetic license"! I guess we'll never know.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hieronymus Bob

Steve Wolfhard sent a pic of Bob Hope driving a golf cart in the shape of his own (Bob Hope's own) head. Then Tom Herpich cleverly "photoshopped" it (I guess) into a Hieronymus Bosch painting. I don't know if you would have spotted it had I not told you. It fits right in!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What Ruth Gordon Ate

You get a lot of meals catalogued in this Ruth Gordon book. Megan was most interested in "steak Stanley," which comes with fried bananas, while my eye fell on "curry soup Waterbury, named after the great polo player who'd flung himself out the Pullman window." Megan, with her prodigious research skills, immediately procured a recipe for steak Stanley, which she sent along, but I'll be danged if I can find anyone who knows about "curry soup Waterbury" aside from the late Ruth Gordon. I found one famous polo player (and rope manufacturer!) named Waterbury, but I don't see any indication that he threw himself off a train. I never try very hard, though. For example, I have no idea what Ruth Gordon is having for dinner here with Orson Welles and Shirley Temple, or why, or what Orson Welles thinks he's doing with his hand.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Original Skeeky Kid

Megan Abbott and I have been reading lots of books about movie people together. We read some books about Orson Welles, then we read about Walt Disney, then Bunuel's autobiography (first recommended to me by Bill Taft), which, to my astonishment, did not have an owl in it, though there were rats and spiders and one or two bats and hair growing out of cracked-open tombs. And those were just his childhood memories! As you know, I don't "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, and that brings us to MY SIDE by Ruth Gordon, which Megan and I are reading now, in which a certain Miss Jerome is described as a "five-foot, brown-haired, brown-eyed, parchment-skinned ninety-pound replica of a hoot owl." And that's Ruth Gordon just getting warmed up! I'll tell you one mysterious word she likes to employ: "skeeky." Even Megan, who loves to do research (remember when she found out all about "friendship clubs"?), had trouble tracking down examples. I looked in my GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, VOL. 3, P-Z, and found only "skeek," with examples drawn from the early twenty-first century, which seems to be directly opposed to the way Ruth Gordon uses "skeeky." Skeekiness, in Ruth Gordon's usage, is a condition to be desired. The only helpful example Megan could find comes from a magazine short story from 1915: "he spilled a line of bunk about her being the only and original skeeky kid." This fits nicely within the time period that Ruth Gordon is writing about when she uses "skeeky." So! Now that I've got you here and I read a book with an owl in it, I can tell you about an unrelated matter that has been on my mind. I watched the Welles version of THE TRIAL, and it pretty much ended with - SPOILER! - Anthony Perkins alone on a desolate shore with a lit bundle of dynamite. And that reminded me of PIERROT LE FOU, which also ended with its isolated protagonist standing in a lonely spot with a lit bundle of dynamite. And then BANG! Is this a genre? I think I need to find a third example before I can say it's a genre. Oh! While I was watching THE TRIAL, Megan happened to tweet - not knowing that I was watching THE TRIAL - that it was Jeanne Moreau's birthday. And then there she was in THE TRIAL! Jeanne Moreau, I mean. And there I was not knowing it was her birthday. And just about the first line she has in THE TRIAL is, "If you're stuck for something to say, try happy birthday." Isn't that a weird coincidence? Well, I thought it was a weird coincidence. Okay, I'll see you next time I read a book with an owl in it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mary Miller's Consecutive Owls

As you know I don't "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, which I then add to my big list of books with owls in them. Yesterday afternoon I walked up to Square Books and was delighted to see a stack of Mary Miller's new story collection, ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR. So I bought one and came home and read the first eleven stories in a single evening. There are sixteen stories in the book. You do the math! I guess that means I read almost 3/4 of the book in a single sitting but I'm not sure because I'm going to let you do the math, as previously stated. But that's how riveting Mary's new book is. And I am pleased to inform you that two consecutive stories have owls in them. "Owls are predators. They could take off with a small dog, easy," says a character in one. "There's an owl at my house," says a character in the next. As to the former point, I was thinking about it just the other night when Dr. Theresa and I were watching SLEEPING BEAUTY and the owl was overly friendly with the squirrel.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Owl Grease

THE BIRDS came on TCM yesterday and I thought, "I wonder if Messiaen ever saw this movie?" That's considered a real knee slapper around here. But then I really started wondering. And I remembered there was a book on the case right next to me all about Messiaen. But I looked through it and it's not that kind of book. I thought maybe Messiaen would have enjoyed the soundtrack to THE BIRDS - in fact it was the soundtrack that made me start thinking about him - but disapproved of the bird behavior. Or maybe he would've found some mystical interpretation of the bird behavior. And you know, maybe he would have hated the soundtrack. I guess we'll never know. I did open the book to some diary notes of Messiaen, which is how I know that he heard the call of a pygmy owl at Bryce Canyon, Utah, at 5:20 in the morning on May 5, 1972. In related news, Chris Offutt told me he has been reading my "blog." And I was like, "WHAT!" Because as you know I don't "blog" anymore. But to save me some time, Chris sent me part of his next novel... JUST the parts with owls. I believe I counted five owls, though as Chris pointed out in his accompanying email, some of those could be the same owls. Chris gave me permission to quote from his owl passages but I'm hesitant to spoil anything. The piquant title of this "post" comes from Chris's manuscript and already I feel I've said too much.