Friday, November 22, 2019


Back when I used to "blog," I kept sort of a running list of phrases I'd come across in the newspaper or somewhere that gave me some sort of creative insight, or so I kidded myself. One time I even typed them all up and handed them out to my thrilled grad students, back when I was "teaching." So I don't "blog" anymore, but I just ran across a new one of those phrases in the New York Times, and I don't know where else to put it, because I can't find that list anywhere. Philip Glass said,"If I am remembered for anything, it might be for the piano music, because people can play it." What does that mean? Why is it interesting to me? Well, it's none of your beeswax, really. I don't even think you exist!

Thursday, November 07, 2019


You know a few things about me. 1. I don't "blog" anymore. 2. For many years now, I have been in a club with Megan Abbott, in which we read what might loosely be called "books about celebrities." 3. I believe that every book has an owl in it. 4. Even though I don't "blog" anymore (see #1 above) I have a compulsion to tell you every time I read a book with an owl in it (see #3 above). Well! I had made it all the way to the final chapter of this book we are reading about the making of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and I started to panic, like, "There might not be an owl in this book!" Then, just as the book was coming to a close, I came upon this distressing sentence: "Taking it all in, Clarke blinked owlishly behind his glasses several times and burst into tears."

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Story of Five by Five

You know, Dr. Theresa and I are rewatching the series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and there is a character named Faith (pictured, above) who appears in Season 3 and goes around saying that she or her situation is "five by five," meaning fine or good. Dr. Theresa and I asked each other whether we had ever heard anyone say that outside of Faith on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Was it a common bit of slang? Anyway, we forgot about it, because who cares? So in Season 4, somebody actually says (I'll paraphrase), "Hey, what was up with Faith? She always went around saying 'five by five,' what the hell does that mean?" So it seemed that the characters on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, aside from Faith, were just as unfamiliar with the term as we, the home viewers, were. "What's so great about being five by five?" I asked Dr. Theresa. "If I were five by five, I'd be a square little man." We paused the show and I went upstairs to consult my famed three-volume GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. Sure enough, the primary meaning of five by five, dating back from the 1940s, was "a short, fat person," as I had correctly surmised. There was, however, a secondary listing for a hyphenated five-by-five, which aligned with Faith's usage. Strangely, the only text cited was the Stephen King novel DREAMCATCHER (2001). I had always assumed - and maybe I'm wrong - that the editor of GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, Mr. Green, took pains to find the earliest possible textual reference to any given piece of slang. However! Season 3 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER takes place in 1999, two years prior to the King novel, as I know because Buffy and her friends are in the graduating class of 1999. Could it be that Stephen King watched BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER? I would almost bet on it! Did he crib the phrase "five-by-five" from Faith herself? Who can say? All we can say with certainty is that by showing a preference for the printed word, GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG has definitely overlooked earlier examples of slang usage in other forms of popular culture. But! Wouldn't it be the case that either way, "five-by-five," or any vernacular phrase, would have been tossed about by the general population before ending up in the works of either Whedon or King? Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the possibility that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER created "five-by-five" out of whole cloth and Stephen King merely lifted it, leading GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG to inaccurately present it as a legitimate entry. I have no proof of this whatsoever, and, in fact, remain certain that I am entirely wrong. Anyway, I don't "blog" anymore, because who cares? But this is where I have traditionally recorded the details of my fraught relationship with the implacable GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. [PS: If you look on the "internet," everybody wants to tell you that five-by-five comes from a term for measuring the clarity of a radio signal. But the wikipedia page on "signal strength and readability reports" tells me that "no reliable source has been found documenting this format." But everybody on the "internet" has decided to believe it now, because who cares? PPS: Though I have double-checked neither movie, the "internet" says that "five-by-five," in the Faith sense, previously appeared in BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and ALIENS. If so, it is still peculiarly rare in cultural presentation.]

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Safe Owl

Well, I went to Square Books the other day... I could almost tell you what day it was if I thought about it... I don't get out of the house much anymore... wait, I can do it the lazy way. I have the receipt right here, stuck in the back of the book. You'll be fascinated to know that it was on the 20th day of September that I walked into Square Books and said, "Hey, Slade, do y'all have that book by Lucy Ellmann, where it's one sentence that's a thousand pages long? I want that!" (It was not an accurate description of DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT. I read the prologue, which is about a page and a half of sentences of non-startling lengths. But then we get into what seems like a pretty long selection of phrases without terminal punctuation, all right! I'm only on page five. And on page five, given my compulsion, I must alert you to the fact that there is an owl, specifically, a brand called Safe Owl. I am not sure if the Safe Owl brand, which is listed by Ellman among a lot of other brands of many sorts of products, refers to this spice brand (above) I found on the "internet," as it listed among a number of more current brands (unless they still make Safe Owl spices). I believe that "Safe Owl" is a charming but timid name for a line of spices. Thank you for your time. [Appended on October 7, as I don't "blog" anymore: There are more owls later in the book, as the narrator discusses ways to prevent owls from eating purple martin babies.]

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lucky Peridot

Well, I got back from a trip to California a few days ago or more and I didn't even bother to tell you because I don't "blog" anymore and also nobody "blogs" anymore, and I don't care about you anymore, but I felt kind of bad because I took my famous jotting book with me and jotted down notes, hundreds and hundreds of them, to tell you the truth, and I'm going to do something with them somewhere, but not here. But I did go to the racetrack with Pen and put down some money on a horse called Lucky Peridot, because I worked on STEVEN UNIVERSE: THE MOVIE, and, as you know, Peridot (above, right) is a character from the world of Steven Universe. Anyway, that horse won through excellent maneuvering in in the last minutes of a wild race, so I just want to tell you kids that it's a great way to pick horses and to follow your dreams. On the plane going there I read Bill Boyle's magnificent, ambitious, kaleidoscopic, and stirring CITY OF MARGINS and I never wanted it to end. I often hurried away from somewhere semi-glittering to get back to my dingy hotel room to see what was up with the people in Bill's book. Look for it under his writer name, William Boyle. I call him Bill! On the way back home I read Lee Durkee's THE LAST TAXI DRIVER. I was sitting in the airport, trying not to laugh out loud like crazy, and I was shaking really hard and wondering whether my silent shaking with tears rolling down my face was more disturbing than the raucous laughter I had imagined. Let me emphasize that everything in the book is not funny. It's not all laughs! It encompasses life. But the line that started me shaking was "Like many idiots Tony was fond of giving advice."

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Tonight is the 40th anniversary party for Square Books, so it is highly appropriate that even though I do not "blog" anymore, a chance occurrence yesterday, related to that august institution previously named, brings me here to confirm, by compulsive necessity, my controversial theory that every book has an owl in it. So it happened that Bill Boyle and Megan Abbott and I were crowding up the landing on the stairs at Square Books, huddled as we were over a volume that Megan had plucked from a display for our delectation. "I am in this book, telling the story of a ghostly encounter," Megan said, or words to that effect. Naturally, Bill and I were startled and delighted! "Quickly, quickly, let us move in all haste up the stairs, retaining this book in our possession for further study," I exclaimed. My cheerful plan was accepted by all. For you see, I had spied Richard Howorth entering his benevolent domain, and I did not wish for him to glance upward and conceive of me as a person who would in any manner impede the traffic that wends its merry way up and down the hallowed stairs of Square Books, the establishment of which we celebrate, yea, this very eve. Megan, Bill, and I settled ourselves, therefore, in the conveniently situated coffee section of the shop and in just such a spot it was confirmed, as might well be expected, that indeed Megan, a person of notable honesty already, was telling the truth, as is her wont. Yes, yes, there she was, appearing as a character in someone else's book! And on the same page, "a spooky owl in midflight." (See also.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Gee Your Owl Smells Terrific

As you know (ha ha! sure you do) I don't "blog" anymore. But I remain psychically compelled to "blog" every time I read a book with an owl in it, because I keep a big, long list of every book I read with an owl in it. So I was reading a Clarice Lispector book called AGUA VIVA, and what sentence should I run across but "It would never occur to me to have an owl, though I have painted them in caves"? And I thought, gee, that sounds familiar. (Parenthetically, the title of this "post" derives from the fact that I was originally going to call it "Gee Your Owl Seems Familiar," which reminded me of a shampoo of my youth called "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific.") So I searched the "blog" and sure enough, I found ANOTHER Clarice Lispector book in which she claims "it would never occur to me to keep an owl" (note the subtle variation in the verb, which may be nothing more than a matter of translation). I wondered... did she have the same thought twice? If so, despite her protestations, it seems that very often it occurred to her to keep an owl, or at least that the possibility of having or keeping an owl was not out of the range of her imagination. In fact, one could argue that it ALWAYS occurred to her to have an owl or to keep an owl, to such an extent that she eventually had to make a decisive decision against it. Now, was AGUA VIVA simply quoted in the other book, or perhaps the other way around? Did one contain fragments of the other? Well! As you know (sure you do!) we bought a house not long ago and I threw the books onto the shelves in a willy-nilly order, as quickly as I could get them out of the boxes. And I don't feel like nosing around until I find the other book, just for the sake of comparing the two passages and drawing the sort of the ignorant conclusion that is my specialty. In parting, I will note that a wet washcloth was accidentally deposited on top of AGUA VIVA, and, as it is a thin book, it has been water-damaged through and through. Ironically? (Because of the title!) And it still hasn't dried out! Life is a constant adventure.