Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Highest Form of Praise

"Creating gachapon for adults is all about devoting yourself to making something that’s worthless," he said. "'This is ridiculous' is the highest form of praise." That's from a New York Times article I just read about vending machine toys. And you know how I'm always getting inspired. Nothing comes of it, but it's nice to sit around thinking you are inspired. So that goes on my list of famous phrases. Collect them all! The first sentence of the article isn't so bad either: "Yoshiaki Yamanishi set out to create the most boring toy imaginable." That one is not going on my special list, but it is filled with the promise of inspiration to come.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Missing "Link"

As is his God-given right, nay, his responsibility, McNeil was "clicking" around on his birthday tribute the other day, when he came upon a "post" in which I reported some of his research into the subject of the Pitcairn Islands, including a "link" that McNeil had provided as a source for more information. McNeil took time from his natal celebrations to alert me that the "link" no longer works. Or, to be more precise, it works, but it leads to no information about the Pitcairn Islands. Instead, curious readers will be led to an article about "Pixie Haircuts for Older Women." As I sat there thinking about it, the realization occurred to me, with a growing sense of dread and regret, that the "blog" has been going for more than 15 years. And yes, I had noticed from time to time that some of the old "links" have become quite, quite deceased, and some of those that are not deceased have long been taken over by other entities. Zombie "links," perhaps we may call them. Then I thought to myself, "Jack," I thought, "you need to go back and check every 'link,' and if it has been compromised, you need to redirect it to the very explanation of which you are contemplating the composition," in other words, dear "blog" reader, the paragraph you are enjoying right now. "That should occupy your mind and distract you from encroaching despair," I told myself.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

McNeil Month By Month


Happy McNeil's birthday, everybody! As you are aware, McNeil is my oldest friend. Last night I did the math and figured out we have known each other for 45 years. I mentioned as much to Dr. Theresa, who did not respond. I think she was asleep. Back when I used to "blog," I would present on this auspicious date a list of activities in which McNeil had participated throughout the year, as recorded by the "blog." As time went on, and I ceased to "blog," I was required to augment those "hyperlinks" with information gleaned from other sources, such as emails, helpfully marked by asterisks, indicating that you will just have to trust me on those. Now that we have been over the ground rules, please throw caution to the wind and celebrate McNeil's birthday with this universally beloved tradition. September 2006: McNeil contends that he does not enjoy the "Little Dot" comic book. October 2006: McNeil furnishes a memorable quotation. November 2006: McNeil recalls playing Aerosmith on a jukebox. December 2006: First appearance of "McNeil's Movie Korner." January 2007: McNeil's system for winning at craps. February 2007: McNeil doesn't see what's so hard about reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich at the same time. March 2007: McNeil and I are talking about Bob Denver when HE SUDDENLY APPEARS ON TELEVISION! April 2007: Wild turkeys roam McNeil's neighborhood. May 2007: McNeil gets in touch with an Australian reporter regarding a historical chimp. June 2007: First McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival announced. July 2007: Medicine changes McNeil's taste buds. August 2007: McNeil's trees not producing apples. September 2007: McNeil pinpoints a problem with the "blog." October 2007: McNeil presents a video entitled "Jerry's pre-defecation chills." November 2007: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy. December 2007: What is McNeil's favorite movie? January 2008: McNeil explains why the wind blows. February 2008: McNeil admires the paintings of Gerhard Richter. March 2008: McNeil comes up with an idea for a Lifetime TV movie. April 2008: McNeil's shirt. May 2008: McNeil's apple tree doing better (see August 2007). June 2008: McNeil is troubled by a man who wants to make clouds in the shape of logos. July 2008: McNeil's apples are doing great. August 2008: McNeil refuses to acknowledge that Goofy wears a hat no matter what I say. September 2008: McNeil's grocery store is permanently out of his favorite margarine. October 2008: McNeil on the space elevator. November 2008: McNeil comes across an incomplete episode guide to HELLO, LARRY. December 2008: McNeil thinks the human hand should have more fingers. January 2009: McNeil discovers that gin and raisins cure arthritis. February 2009: McNeil gets a big bruise on his arm. March 2009: McNeil wants a job on a cruise ship. April 2009: McNeil attempts to rescue a wayward balloon. May 2009: McNeil visits the Frogtown Fair. June 2009: McNeil dreams he is watching an endless production number from LI'L ABNER. July 2009: McNeil sends text messages from his cell phone while watching a Frank Sinatra movie. August 2009: McNeil disagrees philosophically with a comic book cover that shows a mad scientist putting a gorilla's brain in a superhero's body. September 2009: McNeil resembles famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. October 2009: McNeil wears a surgical mask. November 2009: McNeil reports that a bird broke the large hadron collider by dropping a bread crumb on it. December 2009: McNeil advises me to like the universe or lump it. January 2010: McNeil eats soup. February 2010: McNeil tells of the hidden civilizations living deep beneath the surface of the earth. March 2010: McNeil recalls a carpet of his youth. April 2010: McNeil starts wearing a necktie. May 2010: McNeil's DNA sample fails to yield results. June 2010: McNeil thinks up some improvements for the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. July 2010: McNeil reads to me from I, THE JURY. August 2010: McNeil finds a hair in his crab cake. September 2010: McNeil has a cold. October 2010: McNeil sends a nine-minute clip of a nice old man speaking at a UFO banquet. November 2010: McNeil sits in his car and looks at pictures of Jennifer Jones. December 2010: McNeil fears a ball of fire in the sky. January 2011: McNeil watches DYNASTY. February 2011: McNeil sees clouds that look like guys on horseback. March 2011: McNeil composes a "still life" photograph. April 2011: McNeil is upset when I interrupt his viewing of MATCH GAME. May 2011: McNeil pines for some old curtains. June 2011: McNeil eats Lucky Charms brand breakfast cereal. July 2011: McNeil investigates the history of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. August 2011: McNeil compares Dean Moriarty to Dean Martin. September 2011: McNeil learns a lesson about pork and beans. October 2011: McNeil finds an article describing Robert Mitchum as "Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates." November 2011: McNeil did nothing in November. December 2011: McNeil discovers scientists creating rainbows in a laboratory. January 2012: McNeil impersonates Paul Lynde. February 2012: McNeil dreams of matches. March 2012: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy (see November 2007, above) used to chart the influence of Jerry Lewis on Carson McCullers. April 2012: McNeil disturbed by the art in his hotel room. May 2012: McNeil considers grave robbing. June 2012: McNeil's idea for "music television." July 2012: McNeil holds his negative feelings in check out of respect when the man who invented electric football dies. August 2012: McNeil reads me an old obituary of Charlie Callas over the phone. September 2012: McNeil concerned about T.J. Hooker's big meaty hands. October 2012: McNeil eats lunch at Target. November 2012: McNeil loves it when Bob Hope slips on a banana peel. December 2012: McNeil sees rocks that look like squirrels. January 2013: McNeil looks at an old, faded photo of a dog gazing into a Bath and Tile Emporium. February 2013: McNeil watches a video in which a hooded figure talks about "our criminal overlords." March 2013: McNeil wakes up at 6:40 in the evening, momentarily thinks it is 6:40 in the morning. April 2013: McNeil sees a singer who looks just like Bill Clinton. May 2013: McNeil is ashamed of himself for not realizing that Ida Lupino directed some episodes of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. June 2013: McNeil mails a cashew tree. July 2013: McNeil watches GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. August 2013: McNeil recalls being rosy-cheeked. September 2013: A fairyland goes on in McNeil's head. October 2013: McNeil recalls tucking in his t-shirt. November 2013: The cover of a book McNeil buys says it is about Jerry Lewis, but on the inside the book is about Willie Stargell! December 2013: McNeil wants to visit an orgone box factory. January 2014: McNeil did nothing in January. February 2014: McNeil wonders whether Tom Franklin puts his hair in curlers. March 2014: McNeil takes a nap in the car. April 2014: The subject of McNeil pops up in an interview. May 2014: McNeil's emails on the "hollow earth" recalled (see February 2010, above). June 2014: McNeil looks forward to getting drunk and making insensitive remarks as I lie on my deathbed. July 2014: McNeil watches Jim and Henny Backus play themselves in DON'T MAKE WAVES. August 2014: McNeil tells about Robert Mitchum's hangover cure. September 2014: McNeil exaggerates the fate of some owls. October 2014: McNeil is incensed that a candy apple costs eight dollars at the airport. November 2014: McNeil's heart overflows with joy. December 2014: McNeil continues his 7-year chimp investigation (see May 2007, above). January 2015: McNeil listens to a conspiracy theorist who says Jimmy Carter was replaced by a series of robots. February 2015: McNeil recalls doing a report about matches in the eighth grade. March 2015: McNeil takes to bed with the flu! April 2015: McNeil and I establish an amazing psychic link. May 2015: McNeil bitterly recalls the time he brought a John Wayne movie to my apartment and we never watched it. June 2015: McNeil dreams about a bearded Dean Martin. July 2015: McNeil has a disappointing encounter with the Grand Canyon. August 2015: McNeil sees a squirrel holding a stick. September 2015: McNeil is saddened by the news of Dean Jones's death. October 2015: McNeil watches STARFLIGHT: THE PLANE THAT COULDN'T LAND. November 2015: McNeil sends video of Joe Namath making and eating a sandwich. December 2015: A coincidence of the type McNeil especially loves. January 2016: McNeil is in a grocery store and they start playing "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" over the speakers! February 2016: McNeil watches Don Rickles eat in a bathroom. March 2016: McNeil is duly thrilled when Megan Abbott goes to see CRACKING UP on the big screen. April 2016: McNeil swallows a gnat. May 2016: McNeil recalls the details of a screenplay we wrote in our twenties. June 2016: Destruction comes to McNeil's apple tree! July 2016: McNeil spots Dabney Coleman in an I DREAM OF JEANNIE rerun. August 2016: McNeil points out that Dean Martin had granddaughters named Pepper, Montana, and Rio. September 2016: McNeil is called a "filthy troglodyte." October 2016: McNeil advises me on what to do now that ADVENTURE TIME has been canceled. "I say take it easy for a while... just pretend to write when Theresa's around and then sleep or watch movies when she leaves. Oh hell, you know how to work it," writes McNeil.* November 2016: McNeil sees an owl while walking his dog at midnight. December 2016: McNeil finds an Airbnb listing by "eccentric millionaires" for a treehouse featuring "whimsical taxidermy."* January 2017: McNeil notices that there are lots of ants in his writing.* February 2017: McNeil roots for the guy who stole a bucket full of gold flakes.* March 2017: McNeil reads an article suggesting that all the gold on Earth came from the collision of dead stars and says, "Let's go get us some of this!" seemingly suggesting a trip to outer space.* April 2017: McNeil recalls that he was washing dishes in 2015 when the thought of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine came into his head. Then he discovered that Gene Gene the Dancing Machine had just died!* May 2017: McNeil watches ISLAND IN THE SKY with his dog.* June 2017: McNeil is happy to see a movie with rotary phones and "people looking up stuff in a filing cabinet for a change."* July 2017: McNeil begins alerting me to weather situations in my area like he's my mother.* August 2017: McNeil connects heavenly signs and portents with the death of Jerry Lewis. September 2017: A critique by McNeil inspires a choice of airplane reading material. October 2017: McNeil cruelly but fairly shuts down my scheme of crossbreeding an apple with a lemon. November 2017: "Death knows my weak spot!" McNeil exclaims.* December 2017: McNeil leafs through CARIBOU TRAVELER. January 2018: McNeil catches a cold and stays in bed watching old game shows, writing from his sickbed: "Bobby Van looks so healthy...but would be dead only 5 years later... GATHER YE ROSEBUDS!"* February 2018: McNeil gives me a good idea about how to win a coupla sawbucks from likely suckers. March 2018: McNeil's complaint about sleeping: "I dream way too much."* April 2018: McNeil watches a movie in which Dean Martin claims to "make a hell of an owl stew."* May 2018: I ask McNeil what lightning is for (see January 2008) and he explains it to me.* June 2018: McNeil's mom stumbles on an old book about the comical dog Marmaduke from McNeil's younger days and is excited to deliver it to him.* July 2018: While walking his dog, McNeil sees a bone fall out of the sky. August 2018: Having made it to season five, McNeil, though a stalwart fan, watches what he considers to be the worst episode of BEWITCHED so far.* September 2018: McNeil finds one page of a history skit we did in ninth grade. October 2018: McNeil emails a still from the silent movie BILLY WHISKERS, the subject of an innocuous, decades-long inside joke. Using me as an intermediary, he also consults Ace Atkins about the little-known film version of DARKER THAN AMBER... set in Florida but filmed, as Ace explains, mostly in Germany!* November 2018: McNeil asks me whether Jack Lemmon was left handed. I don't know.* December 2018: McNeil tells me about deluxe reissues of two Paul McCartney albums I've never heard of.* January 2019: McNeil says he only ever bought one cassette tape in his life. (It was Bruce Springsteen's "The River.")* February 2019: McNeil watches IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and finds it difficult to believe a hardware store would close that long for lunch.* March 2019: McNeil tells me about a used car dealer in his town who secretly dealt drugs and would use his commercials to let people know a shipment had come in. If this guy's dog was on the hood of his car in the commercial, he was ready to deal some drugs!* April 2019: McNeil is thinking about the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.* May 2019: McNeil follows up on an email from 2015.* June 2019: Working on a secret project with McNeil. It never comes to fruition. July 2019: McNeil sees a guy in a parking lot trying unsuccessfully to fit a rolled-up rug in his car.* August 2019: McNeil cuts down his apple tree. September 2019: McNeil remarks that Brendan Gleeson should play Donald Trump... a prediction that recently came true!* October 2019: McNeil is at the dentist's office, where the muted cartoon on the television provides the caption "frightened quacking."* November 2019: McNeil is shirt shopping when he realizes that the age of some of his old shirts makes it likely that any new shirt he buys might be the last shirt he will ever need.* December 2019: McNeil watches the old Frosty the Snowman cartoon (see illustration above) and is disappointed that Frosty lets himself get trapped in the hothouse again.* January 2020: There's a new vending machine at McNeil's workplace. It dispenses "gloves, knee pads, safety vests - even socks."* February 2020: A comic book cover McNeil likes. March 2020: McNeil ponders inventing "powdered meat." April 2020: McNeil misremembers an idea we discussed in 2005. May 2020: Something McNeil and I noticed in 2014 comes up. June 2020: McNeil gets seven shots of novacaine.* July 2020: McNeil begins noticing obelisks. August 2020: McNeil goes fishing with Dean Martin in the realm of dreams. September 2020: McNeil finds an article that his grandmother clipped from a newspaper... on the back is an intriguing but incomplete item about murder among circus performers.* October 2020: McNeil tells me about a fusion reactor in France.* November 2020: McNeil has a dream about "the best chocolate milkshakes in the world."* December 2020: McNeil reminisces about fence posts. January 2021: McNeil's fascination with obelisks continues to inspire. February 2021: McNeil's decade-old observation about gin and raisins confirmed by the New York Times. March 2021: McNeil has an idea for a toilet that plays commercials.* April 2021: There's a photo of Jerry Lewis hanging in the breakroom where McNeil works, and he had nothing to do with it!* May 2021: McNeil watches a live feed of a stork's nest. He's pretty sure they're storks.* June 2021: Ernest Borgnine's personality is assessed at "a million watts." McNeil rates him 11 watts at most. July 2021: McNeil watches half of CHANGE OF HABIT (see illustration above) and it's not as bad as he remembered.* August 2021: McNeil is envious that the fictional character Travis McGee gets to live on a boat.* September 2021: A guy at work asks McNeil if he has change for a quarter, because he's going to "drop a dime" on McNeil.* October 2021: McNeil and I coincidentally have doctor's appointments ON THE SAME DAY!!!!!!*

Monday, October 04, 2021

Helpful Thoughts

Back before I stopped "blogging," I would use this space, among other things, to collect many quotations that felt creatively helpful to me... a commonplace book, of sorts... once I even printed them all out and handed them to a classroom full of bewildered students, back when I had students. A few examples spring to mind, like Sun Ra's advice (I'll paraphrase) to eat peach pie every day, and one day you'll discover that it tastes like something other than peach pie. Or the Maine antiques dealer who said, "I think I'm becoming more and more attracted to things that aren't worth anything." There were many, many more, now scattered to the winds. Well, I still run across helpful thoughts, but I have no place to put them. Like, there was a New York Times article about a plant that lives for a thousand years, and a scientist was quoted as saying, "From weird things, you discover weird things that help you understand things that you didn’t know you didn’t understand." I jotted that in a manuscript I had started in which the protagonist tells the stories of the knights of the round table to his cats. Yeah, I got about two paragraphs into that one before stopping. And just yesterday, I was reading another celebrity biography, as part of my continuing program of adult education with Megan Abbott. It's a Lee Grant memoir, which came highly recommended by Bill Boyle. Anyway, Martha Graham just told Lee Grant, "Ugly is better than pretty!" Exclamation point original to the text.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Four Owls

I am under no obligation to tell you this, but THE SONG OF THE LARK had four owls in it. The first, as we have seen, was dumbfounded by sunlight, which is excusable for an owl, I think. Another owl with eyesight problems comes next: "He stood still, blinking like an owl at their two heads shining in the sun." Okay! Next comes - and this will be a paraphrase, for I can't find the page - a guy telling another guy, "A man would have to be an owl to live like this, all alone." That's pretty close. I'm sure Willa Cather said it better. Finally, one character describes another in this manner: "as stupid as an owl and as coarse as a pig." Altogether, not a flattering portrait of owls in this book.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

In the Blaze of the Open Plain

As you well know, I don't "blog" anymore, unless I read a book with an owl in it, in which case it goes on my long list of books I have read with owls in them, which I keep for forgotten reasons. So the other day I picked up Willa Cather's THE SONG OF THE LARK from Square Books, because there is some interesting stuff about it in that Wagner book I was reading, which I also picked up from Square Books. That is the tricky thing about books! One book makes you read another book. It's a conspiracy and it never ends. Anyway: "In the blaze of the open plain she was stupid and blind like an owl."

Monday, September 06, 2021

Ghost Nap

Well, I decided to take a nap. And I was like, "I sure wish I had something to read while I drift off to sleep." You see, I'm reading a biography of Tom Stoppard right now, but it is too bulky for napping purposes. There is no way to get comfortable with it. Also, the last thing I read in it was the phrase "Her poems are moist and pulsating," which I suppose was meant to be a compliment, but filled me with a Cronenbergian sense of horror no doubt unintended by the author. So I checked out the bookcase next to my side of the bed and found an academic treatise on ghost sightings, which provided just what I was looking for, filled as it was with deadpan sentences of the type I enjoy, such as, "The obvious explanation for headless ghosts is that they represent those who had their heads chopped off." A few pages later, there is a quotation from an 18th-century man who thought he saw a ghost: "I perceived my hair to heave my hat from my head, and my teeth to chatter in my mouth." That gave me a chuckle! A hat popping off a head in fright was something I might have associated with the capering of Stan Laurel, but I never before read a claim that it had happened to an actual person in real life. Soothed by such imagery, I fell into a dreamless slumber.