Saturday, June 16, 2018


Much in the manner that James Joyce wanted scholars to pore over his works for entire lifetimes, I am going to spend the weeks and months to come trying to figure out this joke book that Ace Atkins gave me. It is reputedly by Milton Berle, though I suspect he had some help, if you want to call it help. I'm not sure some of these things are jokes! I know it is a joke book because right at the top there it says "Milton Berle's Joke Book." But - and this is a matter for further study, I'll have to get back to you - it seems to aspire to a narrative structure, which seems uncalled for. One section is just Milton Berle imagining what other people famous at the time might say in apparently nonexistent movies that he seems to be creating in his febrile head. (Parenthetically, I will digress: more accurately, upon further scrutiny, the section purports to be made up of movie scripts that a talking elephant named Klinemine Klinemine is reading at the library. You can see why I'm going to need to spend some time with the text.) I will quote one example in full. "BETTY HUTTON (after a quarrel): Leave this house. I never want to see you again. Go this instant. BING CROSBY: I have one last request to make before I go. BETTY (sweetly, oh, very sweetly): Well, what is it? BING (brutally): Before I leave forever, would you mind getting off my lap?" Now if that isn't straight out of the Circe section of ULYSSES, what is? Maybe it's the "sweetly, oh, very sweetly" that sounds Joycean. And the "Klinemine Klinemine" of course: pure multilingual punning and mystical doubling in the tradition of FINNEGANS WAKE. Well! But is it a joke? The Bing Crosby thing, I mean? I don't see how. Why Betty Hutton's sudden change of mood, for example? Are we to take it that her instigating rage was disingenuous? Why? And wouldn't the "joke," such as it is, work better on the radio, assuming it could work at all? In what way could it be convincingly filmed? I feel strongly that Milton Berle isn't providing enough context. In the pure terms of the joke as a platonic object, what's the setup? Are we supposed to believe that Milton Berle is that experimental, or that the elephant with whom he has made friends for the purposes of the plot is that experimental, or, to be as accurate as possible, that the elephant who is friends with Milton Berle goes to the library and seeks out movie scripts that seem to have been cut up and pasted back together by William S. Burroughs, so devoid of traditional structure as to verge on the abstract? On the next page there's a joke about zoo sex, I guess it's all right. I know I'm not "blogging" anymore but I need somewhere to thoroughly analyze this book, which I would truly believe was produced in a lab by a crude form of artificial intelligence if it weren't so old. (PS I didn't realize it was Bloomsday until after I first "posted" this! Dear me, how precocious I am. It's a real freaking shame I don't "blog" anymore.)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

My Greatest Failing

The skimpiest (if not the shortest) chapter of the book I wrote about cigarette lighters is the one on built-in car cigarette lighters. Serious research was elusive. I called the editor of ANTIQUE AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE for some suggested reading on the subject of the very first car cigarette lighters and his response, if I may paraphrase, was "Eh." I read an entire book about Henry Ford's commercial enterprises and found only (as it pertained to my subject) that he was a rabid anti-tobacco activist, but there was no mention of whether that had any effect on the lighters he did or didn't install in his cars. The only funny part was that his son Edsel used to sit in his office and sullenly smoke cigarettes to get on his dad's nerves. He was the only employee of Ford allowed to smoke! Well! None of this improves the skimpiness of my "car cigarette lighter" chapter. So it is the case that while I no longer care at all about what I left out of my cigarette lighter book ("click" here for a partial list), I do bristle with a sense of regret whenever I see an imaginative use of a car cigarette lighter in a movie, such as when Dr. Theresa and I were watching LEPRECHAUN the other night and a quick-thinking Jennifer Aniston burns the attacking leprechaun's nose with a car cigarette lighter.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


Lee Durkee wrote in some time ago to observe that I truly appear to have stopped "blogging" as I constantly and accurately claim to have done. It is the indisputable case that May was my least "bloggy" month ever in all my months and years of "blogging." Why, I even took a trip to Los Angeles in May, and brought along my special jotting book and jotted down some of my special jottings, but I did not "blog" them out. Lee speculated that maybe owls have been scarce. There was, in fact, a second owl in the Roy Blount Jr. book, and not a metaphorical one, either, but as you know, I am not required to tell you about EVERY owl in every book, just one owl per book. I'm glad we have cleared that up. Occasionally I notice jelly in books as well. Like in this Orson Welles biography Megan and I are reading. It's Simon Callow's multi-volume biography, which we are reading out of order for reasons that need not concern you. Anyway, now we're on Volume Two, and James Agee, in a contemporary review, describes Orson in JANE EYRE as having eyes like "side-orders of jelly."

Friday, May 04, 2018

Failure to Launch

I'm just as sick and tired of telling you every time I read a book with an owl in it as you are of hearing about it. But this is where we are. As you know, Megan Abbott and I have a little two-person show-biz book club, which, at one time, unbeknownst to you, we expanded to include Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR, using the rationalization that the rascally knuckleballer had acted in THE LONG GOODBYE. Well! That opened us up, eventually, to ABOUT THREE BRICKS SHY OF A LOAD, Roy Blount Jr.'s book about the 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers. (They, of course, included Mean Joe Greene, who made a famous Coca-Cola commercial, and Terry Bradshaw, who went on to act in such films as FAILURE TO LAUNCH, but we didn't think of that.) Anyhow, early in the book one of Roy's ancestors is spoken of as being "poor as owl dung."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Rehabilitated Owl Ceremony

I don't "blog" anymore but hey, I got this email from Abby the other day: "Last night I ran a 5K to raise money for an organization that rehabilitates injured wild animals in the Atlanta area, and instead of just passing out water along the way like they do at most races, the volunteers were holding rehabilitated owls for inspiration to keep running. If we placed in our age category (I did!) they took pictures of us with the owls as part of the medal ceremony. Best of all, the overall winners of the entire race won paintings that had been painted by the owls. (One of the paintings was actually by a flying squirrel.) I thought that was information that you should have." Yes, Abby, I like everything about it except for my own mental image of owls and squirrels being forced to paint pictures.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Child of Ruins

Sat in the coffee shop reading THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS, freshly purchased from Square Books, and there is an owl in it, which shouldn't have surprised me and, in fact, did not surprise me. "The Owl stepped forward, a bit crazed,/ and said: Abandoned sites are my lair./ I was born in and am a child of ruins,/ so don't think I go to such places to secretly drink." Yeah, sure, you and me both, owl! (Translation by Sholeh Wolpe.)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Damn Owl

Reading Ace Atkins's latest novel in manuscript form and just reached an owl, and not just any owl: "a damn owl." By coincidence, I'm holding down the pages I've finished with this owl paperweight (seen above) given to me by Megan Abbott's mother. In case some of you have forgotten, I make a note of it every time I read a book with an owl in it. No, I don't recall why.