Friday, January 17, 2020

Infinite Truck Drivers

On a recent visit home, Mom started singing a song I had never heard before, which went, in Mom's version, "Bring me another cup of coffee/ It is the best in the land/ Bring me another cup of coffee/ For I am a truck driving man." So! It was quite a coincidence when I recently acquired a trove of songs by Bakersfield musicians, one of which was called "Truck Drivin' Man." It was just the song I heard my mother singing, except she had some of the chorus wrong. It actually goes, "Pour me another cup of coffee/ It is the best in the land/ I'll put a nickel in the jukebox/ And play the 'Truck Drivin' Man.'" Now! In a seeming paradox, the narrator of the song seems to be playing on a jukebox the very song to which we are listening, but that song could not exist to be played on the jukebox until the singer (as distinct from the narrator, who identifies as an actual truck driver, not a professional singer of truck driving songs) had recorded it. The singer, then, is projecting a future in which his own recording is not only possible, but essential. A leap of faith! Yet that is not the most interesting aspect. More than an advertisement for itself, this song is an endless universe willing itself into existence. I mean! Are we meant to think that the narrator of the song is listening to the same song that WE know as "Truck Drivin' Man"? If so, he must be listening to a second narrator, who, within THAT song, is listening to the song "Truck Drivin' Man" on another jukebox, in which yet another narrator in turn is listening to the song "Truck Drivin' Man" on yet another jukebox, and so on, into all of eternity. I don't "blog" anymore, but some thoughts have nowhere else to go.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Capering About Spreading Tension

Speaking of books with owls in them, Jeanine Basinger, in her book on the movie musical, summarizes one Danny Kaye number: "He barks like a dog, crows like a rooster, hoots like an owl, and mews like a kitten." She doesn't mean it in a good way. Danny Kaye seems to irritate her greatly. For perspective, she describes his presence in another movie as "capering about spreading tension."

Friday, January 10, 2020

Happy New Year

Though I have a compulsion to tell you every time I read a book with an owl in it, I hope I have made it completely clear that I don't have to tell you EVERY time a single book has an owl in it. Like, if there's an owl on page 14 and then another owl on page 63, I only have to tell you about the first owl. So get off my back! BUT! This book DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT has had at least FIVE more owls in it since the last time we spoke of it, which seems worth mentioning. Now, you may ask yourself why it is taking me so long to read DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT, to which I respond that it is none of your damn business, but for one thing, it is too large to take on an airplane, according to my strict rules, and I was on lots of airplanes in 2019, some I didn't even bother to tell you about. For another thing, Megan and I are fully committed to our unceasing diet of books about celebrities, so leave us alone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Even the Warts

In today's New York Times, Gary Larson says "I think it’s possible to keep refining something until you’ve managed to kill it. Even the warts probably play a role." I mention it here for reasons you can discern if you "click" here, which I have no doubt you won't. As long as I am here (I don't "blog" anymore) I should mention watching HELLZAPOPPIN' (pictured) for the first time. Somebody asks for a light and Olsen or Johnson (I never figured out which was which - I'm going to ask Phil!) wheels out a giant cigarette lighter about five feet tall. As you know, I wrote a book about cigarette lighters a long time ago, and it used to be the case that I would encounter a cigarette lighter that should have gone in the book, but it was too late. And I used to feel bad, so I made a list. I don't feel bad anymore, but when you see a five-foot-tall cigarette lighter, you realize it should have gone into your book. And finally, this has nothing to do with books that have owls in them, another subject with which I am obsessed, but I was watching ONE HOUR WITH YOU and Jeanette MacDonald makes an unusual request of Maurice Chevalier: "Darling, look like an owl." Her request goes unfulfilled, I am sad to report, and Maurice Chevalier does not even attempt to look like an owl. In fact, he refuses! I kept waiting for the subject to come up again. It never did. :(

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.]