Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tremain on the Brain

References to the celebrated children's classic JOHNNY TREMAIN (which I never got around to reading, and at this point I guess that ship has sailed) have been popping up around here. There's an essay in THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE about its tremendous effect on the young George Saunders. And just yesterday I came across a tender, sorrowful panel by Alison Bechdel, anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007, involving a reading of JOHNNY TREMAIN. Now the Saunders essay, taken with his Vonnegut and Barthelme essays in the same book, will give you a master class in writing, if you care to take the time, for the price of a paperback book! Or you can borrow it from the library if necessary. There's a little gem on comma placement in the TREMAIN essay that encapsulates what makes a good sentence. The part of the Vonnegut essay where the author's younger self comes to realize WHY Vonnegut uses aliens and other supposedly lowbrow tropes in his fiction is a fine lesson in how to really dig in to what matters as a writer. And his analysis of Barthelme's "The School" shows you what it FEELS like to write a good story and is full of practical advice such as "ENDING IS STOPPING WITHOUT SUCKING." About the Bechdel - what a powerful excerpt. It makes you want to run out and get the entire graphic novel, FUN HOME, from which it is taken. That's the pernicious thing about books! Watch out! Books want to make you read other books. One book is always conspiratorially suggesting another. And if you go down that path, how will you ever get any "blogging" done?

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

McNeil has been digging. This one comes with a label that says "Limited Time Only," so I guess you'd better hurry.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Hard to watch, says McNeil.


Just going through my new copy of THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007, edited by Chris Ware, purchased from the good people at Square Books. That's Square Books, for all your bookish needs. Anyway, I came across a caption that I quite enjoyed. It occurs in a piece by Aline and R. Crumb. I will quote it now: "A POIGNANT MOMENT FILLED WITH INTENSE EMOTION AND FREE PICKLES!" (Exclamation point theirs.) Why do I like that caption so much? Who knows? But I think I love it, even out of context. Especially out of context! "A POIGNANT MOMENT FILLED WITH INTENSE EMOTION AND FREE PICKLES!" Think about it and get back to me.

Friday, September 28, 2007

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Ah! Here you go.

Today In Donald Barthelme News

I want everyone to go out and get McSweeney's print issue #24. You can learn a lot about "blog" hero Donald Barthelme! I think it will encourage you to purchase or borrow some of his books. In McSweeney's #24, there are reflective pieces on Barthelme from George Saunders (actually, it's the same essay that we have mentioned at an earlier date), Grace Paley, the wonderful writer Padgett Powell, and many others. Plus there are two early, uncollected Barthelme stories that we can't bring ourselves to read yet because we want to save them! Meanwhile, you turn the issue over and there's a whole other issue attached (you know how they're always doing fancy things). It's chock full of fiction I haven't even dug into yet, though I noticed that the story by Jonathan Ames is about a guy (Jonathan Ames) pretending to be a detective. I was hoping to make such a conceit into my next novel, whenever I get around to fixing the one that is due on Monday! And you know how nervous I am about "used" ideas. But what the heck. My own McSweeney's print story, back in issue 20, was about a guy pretending to be a detective. I can't seem to write about anything else, so I'm not going to worry about it. McNeil has written a good short story on the same theme, called "The Hotel Sissy." It's out at a couple of places right now, awaiting acceptance. I'll let you know when someone snaps it up. I wonder if we've stumbled on a new genre! In his story, Ames's fictional surrogate talks about the fact that he doesn't know how detectives get their licenses, so he just pretends to be one. This is the very same reason (unwillingness to do even the smallest bit of research) that I enjoy writing about pretend detectives rather than real ones. I wish I could write a good, straight, funny, terrifying, accurate, tight, exciting, explosive, non-ironic, emotionally true crime novel like Laura Lippman! But I don't have the discipline. OR all the many other talents and qualities it takes aside from discipline. Speaking of McNeil, I really need to "write" today, but if McNeil comes through with a new episode of MGMIEET I will certainly "post" it. Otherwise, it's time to get to work and this is all you'll hear from me today! Okay!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Blog" Gets Even Classier

One of the "blog" sisters-in-law (the one married to the PBIL, or present brother-in-law, as opposed to the FBIL) was moved by our recent entry on a man called Brent Butt. It turns out that she sees a physician by the name of Dr. Butt.

This Is It

Well, we have been providing, by my calculations, an average of 2.8 "posts" per day for an entire year. And not all of them have been short like this or this or this. Some of them have been quite long, like this or this. Sometimes we had to apologize, they were so long. Many times they were chock full of wisdom and insight. Or tips on how to play Candyland. Some days we did no "posts." One day we did thirteen. And now if you will excuse us, we are going to check into a monastery and renounce the world forever.

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Today's attraction.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

True Story!

Phil Oppenheim has a Corner Gas t-shirt! He picked it up at the CBC gift shop. Will wonders never cease? No, apparently they will not.

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Here's what we've been waiting for: Today's episode of MGMIEET. This one's epic! Check it out. I just can't start working on the novel every day until I know I have given you people something exciting to watch courtesy of McNeil.

Final Nail

So Theresa and I were "flipping around" on the "television" around midnight when we came across the credits of a sitcom we had never seen or heard of. I was as amazed as you are that there is a sitcom I have never seen. The cast members' names flew by and I did a double take. "Was that guy's name Brent Butt?" I said. "Yes," Theresa responded drily. "Wow!" I said. "A man named Brent Butt." (I would like to state at this point that this is the final nail in the coffin of "blog" respectability... or "blog"spectability, as it is called in certain "blircles.") Then the title appeared: CORNER GAS created by Brent Butt. That made me laugh, unlike the few minutes of the sitcom we watched thereafter. Perhaps we didn't give it enough of a chance! The plot involved an old man finding a pair of pants on the side of the road, I believe. The show looked homemade, which was interesting yet also troubling. Well, as I said, I didn't give it a real chance. But come on! CORNER GAS created by Brent Butt! Think about it! And yes, I know I'm supposed to be working on my novel. (Pictured, Brent Butt.)

Mutual "Blog"preciation Society

Phil Oppenheim reports that he watched and enjoyed the Carlos Jacott film HIGHBALL, thanks to the "blog's" placement of it in the McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival. By coincidence, McNeil called yesterday to say that Phil ought to have a "blog" feature in which he recommends "old-timey books" (McNeil's memorable phrase), McNeil having enjoyed his Stephen Leacock recommendation so much. See? McNeil and Phil have never met, yet their cultural tastes have been cross-pollinated thanks to the "blog"! This is what "blogging" is all about, people. But I do believe it's safe to say that with our pal Anonymous's mention of Kevin Sorbo, we are no longer in danger of being considered a "litblog." That was a close one!

Redacted Sorbo

This "post" has been censored at the request of the original guest "blogger," for reasons too complicated to explain. "If you liked *** ***** ******** ** ******* **** (as I did), do NOT be tempted to **** ******* **** ***: *** ********. It's ******* ******** ****, and you certainly don't need me to confirm that Kevin Sorbo ** ** ****." Thanks for the heads up, Anonymous!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mekons Say

The Mekons say they will be playing here at 10PM CST, live on your computer. TONIGHT!


We'd like to thank McNeil for his efforts to help keep the "blog" going. I hope you're availing yourself of his daily contributions, which are only a "click" away. I know things have been slow and slight on my end. I'm trying to smooth out a big snag in the middle of my novel. In the meantime, explore the world of McNeil, or take a look at some of these forgotten "links" of yore.

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Advisory: May contain impalement.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Makes You Think

We're getting very, very close to the one-year anniversary of the "blog." It really makes you think... about what a horrible waste of time it has been.

What They Were

Pileated woodpeckers!

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

Please enjoy today's feature with a simple "click" of your "mouse." Don't miss a single episode of McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre! Come back soon!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What It Is

What IS McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre? To put it simply, McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre is a daily feature of the "blog," in fact the "blog's" only genuine daily feature, which means there's a new installment EVERY DAY. Here's how McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre works. Jeff McNeil spends a number of hours looking up stuff on YouTube. Then he sends me something he found. After that, I "post" it here for your convenience. It's just one of the many ways in which McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre is working for you. For more information on the early days of McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre, "click" here. Thank you.

McNeil's Gold Medal International Emergency Exit Theatre

"Click" here for today's feature.

Pickle Rescue Team

The folks are on their way up for a visit, bearing a load of our "fave" pickles. Speaking of people giving us food, John T. Edge brought over a package of Conecuh County Sausage, another good thing that comes - like the pickles - from Alabama. He knows how much we like our Conecuh County Sausage with breakfast OR in a pot of lima beans (it's pretty great with any meal at any time of day) and he found a place near here that carries it. People are nice! We surprised him with a bag of good old Aurora coffee from HIS former dwelling place (and ours) Atlanta. Pickles! Sausage! Coffee!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Phil's Radio Korner

We proudly unveil the newest of all our brand new features: Phil's Radio Korner. This is where Phil Oppenheim tells you about good things he has heard on the radio. Now we turn it over to Phil: "You ever listen to Bob Dylan’s “Theme Time Radio Hour” (on XM, but easily found online, too)? I was listening to an old episode (“Food”) when Bob played a song that I hadn’t heard before, but loved instantly. You know Mingus’s 'Eat That Chicken' from the album 'Oh Yeah'? It sounds like a signal beamed in from the craziest, drunkest, Dixieland band, playing for winos and conspirators in some dark abandoned bar (Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, maybe?)." Thanks for the recommendation, Phil! This has been Phil's Radio Korner.

McNeil Presents

Still not a good title for our brand new feature. Today McNeil presents a tribute to the recently passed Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

McNeil's Tube

Welcome once again to our newest daily feature. Don't worry, I'm going to think of a better title tomorrow. One that won't make you sick! For now, as promised, I will "link" to the inscrutable beauty of McNeil's daily YouTube clip without editorializing: "Click" here. I will, however, "post" an aside about a former clip. Last night I went to hear Singleton read... a treat as always. Anyway, while I was standing in line to get my book signed, another guy remarked to me, "You never know who you're going to see in Oxford. It's like on the old Dean Martin show when Dean would open the door and you always wondered who would be standing there." I was amazed! I told him that I had just "posted" such an incident on my "blog" the other day. "No way!" he cried. Either he was pulling my leg (in which case he was quite a good leg puller) or once again (as I prefer to believe) the "blog" exerts its mystical powers on the physical universe. Yes, that's probably it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Other Good Thing

Oh, and the other good thing we did in 1,000 "posts," aside from "Pistachios," is find a nice "link" to a Sonny Rollins performance.

1,000th "Post" Proves Big, Ugly Letdown For Everyone

It is with a heavy heart that I admit "McNeil Out Sick" - a hastily written apology for our insufficient supply of pointless crud; that's right! We felt we weren't giving you enough crud fast enough, and we were SORRY ABOUT IT! - is the "blog's" 1,000th "post." It makes the regrettable 900th "post" read like Ovid. But look, piling up 1,000 "posts" has taken a lot out of everyone. I suppose I will go ahead with the long planned highlight of this occasion, and unveil the single greatest of our 1,000 "posts," as determined by a poll of experts from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was "Pistachios." Now. No more celebrations until 1,500.

McNeil Out Sick

McNeil is taking a nap. So already, on our second day of our new daily feature, it's a bust. To assuage your disappointment, we present this old YouTube classic uncovered by Theresa. Since the original "posting" we have discovered that Mel Brooks cowrote the movie it came from... which clears things up considerably. But still.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dear Bird Correspondent

Dear Bird Correspondent, Theresa and I just returned from a walk, during which we witnessed three large redheaded woodpeckers having either a party or a fight. The noises they made were alarming! There was definitely something going down in birdland. They went, WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO WOO or WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH - a tropical, monkeyish sound. It strikes me that perhaps this kind of sound is the basis for the famed Woody Woodpecker laugh. Or are you going to tell us that Theresa and I are crazy, and woodpeckers only make that pecking sound? That's the kind of thing you usually tell us! Something counterintuitive and depressingly true! Hey, bird correspondent, I think you would get a kick out of this Chris Bachelder essay on woodpeckers (or IS IT about woodpeckers? That's part of the mystery of the article). Any other thoughts on woodpeckers or personal woodpecker stories you have would be appreciated.

A New Public Service

I think we can all acknowledge how good McNeil is at finding pointless YouTube "clips." So from now on we're going to present a new one each and every day. What McNeil enjoys about today's "clip" is the "kittenish way" (McNeil's memorable phrasing) that Dean Martin curls up on the couch... and Martin's utter and apparent indifference to everything - especially the fact that he is on television. He is also happy that nothing Robert Mitchum says in the "clip" is intelligible and - palpably - no one cares. McNeil wishes that there were TV shows nowadays that displayed the same open and appropriate lack of effort. In the future, we believe we will let McNeil's "clips" speak for themselves, with no leading annotation.

Meet Quaquaversal

Hey, that offhand remark about "sheesh," a fairly common expression, reminded me that I should tell you about my new friend "quaquaversal." You'll find that word several times in George Singleton's WORK SHIRTS FOR MADMEN. One of the great comic conceits of the novel is the way the word seems to jump from character to character like a virus. Anyway, we like to tell you when we find new words, even if John Cheever just made them up and tricked us. Oh yes, the recurrence of sheesh reminded me of something else: the last two movies that Theresa and I watched (before MCCABE & MRS. MILLER) were CITY FOR CONQUEST starring Jimmy Cagney and THEY GOT ME COVERED starring Bob Hope. Well, in the former, a minor character uses the phrase "strictly from hunger." In the latter, Hope walks into a Hungarian restaurant and says, "strictly from Hungary." So, it was a well known phrase, common enough for Hope to play around with. I've heard that phrase in a lot of old movies and the meaning seems pretty clear, I think (it seems to refer to something you do because you need the money, not because you're moved with inspiration). I feel as if I've seen it prominently featured (maybe in the title?) in an essay by S.J. Perelman or Woody Allen or somebody. Well, anyway, that's a funny old phrase that's been popping up around the house lately, in case you care. I hope you don't! P.S. I had up a nice picture of Brett Somers, but "The Man" decided it belonged to him and took it away! Hey, I just thought of another connection: George Singleton wrote a great short story in which a minor Flannery O'Connor character spends his time watching MATCH GAME on the Game Show Network. Given his novel's references to Sartre, I feel safe in saying that cable TV functions in a NO EXIT capacity for the purposes of Singleton's story - and who knows, maybe in real life! But I like TV.

Dr. "M.'s" TV Korner: Special Emmy Edition With Extra Vitriol

WARNING: The following "post" contains a dangerous concentration of vitriol and bile! You know that's not the way we usually roll at the "blog," but we are so grateful to have another episode of Dr. "M.'s" TV Korner that we're going to let the doc get it all off her chest and try to censor with a light touch if we can. SECONDARY WARNING: For those with a tendency toward eye strain, please note that we have not yet mastered paragraph breaks, though we are still trying, sort of, not really. And now, we turn it over to Dr. "M.," who writes: "First off, I must recommend HEROES to you and Theresa. [The Farmer] and I have been watching season 1 in prep for season 2, which will feature a guest arc from...wait for it...our girl, Kristen Bell. Did you see her [on Emmy] night? What a lovely lady she is. Hubba hubba I would even say if I was into objectifying women. [Please note, this is still Dr. "M." writing, and she is a woman so maybe it is okay for her to dance around such tendencies - ed.] In any case, HEROES is nicely satisfying my craving for LOST-like suspense and intrigue. Here goes...Are you sure you are ready? The Emmys were a sore disappointment except for the final award and the moment when Steve Carrell ran on stage to accept Ricky Gervais' award. I mean, Sally Field over Edie Falco? Are you kidding me? And James Spader over James Gandolfini? Egregious, blasphemy, etc. [More rage has been deleted here, but on the same subjects - ed.] I didn't like the stage set-up; I didn't like Ryan Seacrest and his incessant clapping together of the hands; I didn't like Katherine Heigel saying she had worked her a** off. Honey, until you are Robert Duvall's age and still acting and winning awards, you don't get to say that. I DID like Locke's (Terry O'Quinn's) pink shirt and sparkly tie. A bold but effective choice. I never liked Everybody Loves Raymond, and both Ray Romano and Brad Garrett reminded me of why. [Here we differ with Dr. "M.," though at the "blog" we have always marveled at - and sort of felt awful about - the horrific portrayal of inner-family damage, abuse, and neglect on RAYMOND, which is really of Eugene O'Neill proportions, though we still think Romano and Garrett are talented and funny - ed.] I love 30 Rock and am so glad it got the recognition it deserves. I love Ricky Gervais and EXTRAS and am so glad he got the recognition he deserves. I think America Ferrera is a class act. * **** Sally Field ** *** ********--have you ******* ****** ************, Sally? If you forget what you memorized, then just make something else up. Sheesh." Here Dr. "M.'s" ruminations come to an abrupt end. (Two final notes: We agree with those asterisks, Dr. "M."! Also, this is the second time we have run across the word "sheesh" in the past couple of days. That's funny! It's a word you don't see in print that often, or hear out loud, either, for that matter. The other sheesh was in THE BRAINDEAD MEGAPHONE by occasional "blog" contact and reluctant - indeed unaware - "blog" guru George Saunders. No, I have not given up on THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES already! I am not daunted! I am no pushover! Besides, the author, Jane Jacobs, manages to be breezy and authoritative at the same time somehow. But these sparkling Saunders essays - can't I think of a better word than sparkling? Well, not right now, but I know there is one and I guess that counts for something - make for a refreshing break. Though "break" implies an ephemeral quality, while the essays are many-faceted and built to last. If you want to know how to write a short story, you can hardly do better than read Saunders's appreciation and analysis of "The School" by Donald Barthleme. It's too late for me - I'm hopelessly lost and corrupted as a "writer" - but maybe you will get some good out of it! In fact I know you will!)

Sorry, McNeil

This one's for McNeil, though I hope he doesn't find out from me. The man who spotted the Mel Shavelson obit and grasped its significance is nobody's slouch, so he probably already knows. But here it is: Brett Somers, the wife of Jack Klugman and a reliable game show fixture of our callow youth, has passed away. When I was a kid, watching her smoke her cigarettes and make her witty cracks, she reminded me of one of my grandmothers - the smoking, remark-making one. Back then everybody had two grandmothers - one who smoked and made statements and one who didn't. I'm not sure when grieving the passing of MATCH GAME cast members became the primary purpose of the "blog," but I believe she was in a "clip" McNeil "posted" here recently (see the Klugman "link," above), and it would be churlish not to give her some appreciation and express our condolences.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Advice For Youthful Writers

Hey, you know how I've mentioned from time to time that music might be better than writing? Well, tonight Theresa and I were at Tom Franklin's house watching Robert Altman's MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (note the ampersand!) and I said, "Sometimes I think movies might be better than writing." And Tom agreed. The scene taking place showed a guy dancing on the black ice of the town's mud road. Tom had said, just prior to my comment, "That's something you could never imagine," which spurred my reply. So all I'm saying, writers, is: until we can write something as good as the scene where the guy dances on the ice, we haven't learned all we might from the movies. Don't forget! We don't get automatic "art" points because our work comes out on acid-free paper. A TV show might be better than a poem! A comic book might be better than a novel! Watch out! This is really a note to myself, despite the adjective in the title (note that I did not say, "the titular adjective"). Well, I did not mention Julie Christie in this "post," but isn't it nicer to have a picture of Julie Christie as Mrs. Miller than some guy dancing on ice in the dark?

Another Good Movie With Cats In It

Hey remembered when I called Kent and his movie star cat was meowing in the background? The reason I was calling him was to say he should watch DAY FOR NIGHT. I think Truffaut's work can be seen in some ways as a predecessor of the kind of movies Kent has been making these days. By a strange coincidence which just now struck me, a wonderful emblematic scene from DAY FOR NIGHT involves a cat who will not do what it is supposed to do on camera (much like Kent's cat - see the first "link" in this "post"). There's a charming denouement (yes, I said charming denouement) that's sort of a takeoff on the old Busby Berkley plot of the understudy who goes on at the last minute and wows everybody.

The Handy Classics Helper

Okay, then, what about this? McNeil called today with a question that I could only answer by consulting my OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY. This book was a hefty investment, though it's not as big or expensive as the Tim Lucas book on Mario Bava. And see, it's just been sitting on a table doing nothing ever since I got it. So even though Theresa answered the question correctly (yes, the Titans were gods) it was pleasant to crack open the old OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY and double check. That gave me an idea. Does anyone have any questions about classical times? Then contact me c/o The Amphibious "Blogging" Command Module, Oxford, MS, because I will be glad to look up the answer in the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY. I'll be kind of like our dearly beloved bird correspondent, except I'll know about classical things instead of birds. Also, I won't really know them. I'll just look them up in a book. But still. It's something to do.


So I was just thinking, you know, even though we live in the Central Time Zone now, I still think of Eastern Standard Time as the "real" time - which is funny, because I was born and raised in Central Time. Yep.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Caution: McNeil At Work

McNeil has been hard at work again, by which I mean he's been fiddling around on YouTube. Today he hoped to settle an argument we got into about whether or not Paul Lynde was on the sitcom TEMPERATURE'S RISING. That's right: we got into an argument about whether or not Paul Lynde - who maybe you've almost forgotten - was on the sitcom TEMPERATURE'S RISING, which you've never heard of. McNeil submitted this clip as evidence of (and reason for) my "confusion." But I hate to tell McNeil that Paul Lynde joined the cast when the show was revamped and the title was changed to THE NEW TEMPERATURE'S RISING. Hope this puts everyone's mind at ease! McNeil also suggested that I find a good YouTube clip of Sonny Rollins for the "blog." So I did. "Click" on it!

The "Blog" In Its Wisdom

Hey everybody, remember when I said that "blog" hero Sonny Rollins was engaging us in a 50-year conversation or brilliant words to that effect? An account in today's New York Times proves me right - me and the million other people who have probably said the same thing only better. Someone at the Library of Congress has kindly dug out some rare (never released) tapes of Mr. Rollins playing at Carnegie Hall 50 years ago. Soon he will return to Carnegie Hall and play the same set, then both incarnations will be released on a single CD. Get in line, people! Mr. Rollins provides great clues for living.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


So I was on the telephone with Kent Osborne the other night and I heard a cat meowing in the background. "I didn't know you had a cat," I said. Kent explained that yes, he had a cat, and told the story of how he acquired it. "It sure is meowing a lot," I said. "I know," Kent said. "I keep trying to make a movie of her meowing but she won't do it on camera." Well, folks, as this "link" will show, Kent was not kidding. As an extra bonus, I would like to tell you that Kent's cat is almost IDENTICAL to one of our cats - strangely, the similarity appears in the little video, but not in the still photo accompanying this "post." Oh yeah! See? Now THIS is what I call "blogging." This feels like great "blogging" to me! I'm back!

You Don't Care

Having completed Singleton's sprawling WORK SHIRTS, which earned its twisty references to The Three Stooges, Flann O'Brien's AT SWIM TWO BIRDS, and BEING AND NOTHINGNESS, I turn my bloodshot eyes to THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES by Jane Jacobs. Somehow I was put in the mood for a thick, chunky book with lots of big ideas. So far it seems fiery! And that's just the introduction. Meanwhile, Tom Franklin can't find enough nice things to say about AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND by Brock Clarke. He's racing through it and enjoying every moment. This has been one in a series of slabs of meaningless filler - no reflection on the high quality of the books mentioned.

McNeil's Movie Korner: The Shirley Jones Adjustment

"Bees can be domesticated," McNeil called to say, trying in vain to bolster his argument in a previous "post." He also wished to confirm for the record that he had mistaken Edie Adams (pictured) for Shirley Jones in the previous edition of McNeil's Movie Korner. McNeil once sat through an entire movie thinking Patrick O'Neal was Peter Lawford. By utter coincidence, we have done the same thing before, back in the old Pendarvis Building. But that doesn't make it right. Does any of this matter? I have a notion, and that notion is no. But look. What do you want from me?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Titular Out

We have used the word titular here and here and here and here and here. That's plenty. One of the titulars even contains a "link" to one of the other titulars! Titular now joins other sad words and phrases in exile from the "blog."

McNeil's Movie Korner?

This latest edition of McNeil's Movie Korner comes equipped with a titular question mark, as the more astute of you will observe. We cannot be entirely sure it comes from McNeil, though all physical evidence points in that direction. Still, judge for yourself: "Watching a few minutes of UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE before I go to work...something I always do. It helps psych me up for unloading trucks. Anyway, I noticed that Hilary Clinton and Shirley Jones look an awful lot alike." You can see the problems! 1) We are pretty sure that Shirley Jones is not in UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE - a mistake the real McNeil would never make. Is he thinking, perhaps, of Dean Jones? This produces even more problems and concerns. 2) Hilary Clinton and Shirley Jones look nothing alike! But we are indebted to McNeil for lighting a fire under the recently lethargic "blog." Perhaps that was his generous intent all along.

McNeil's Theory

The problem with the "blog," contends McNeil, is that I don't live in an apartment anymore. "You don't have any upstairs neighbors with dogs to 'blog' about," McNeil observed in a recent phone conversation. "Yeah, but the other day a lizard got into the house," I replied. "Now I 'blog' about wildlife, like yellow jackets." McNeil claimed that yellow jackets did not count as wildlife. "Well, they're not domesticated," I said. "They don't perform useful chores for man." McNeil was still not convinced. "Huh. Are yellow jackets wildlife? Hey, maybe you could 'blog' about that," he said.

There's This

Well, in fact I did get a pleasant email from someone inviting me to be in an anthology alongside several people I have mentioned on the "blog": Lynda Barry (pictured), Brock Clarke (author of AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND), Hollis Gillespie, Maud Newton, and Amanda Stern. Very nice company! Also on the list, a lot of other people I've heard of but have never mentioned on the "blog" because I'm only one man and can't spend all my time mentioning everybody on earth although I know it seems at times as if I certainly can and have every intention of doing so and never doing anything else. Speaking of which, the only trouble with being in the anthology is that it would require me to actually write something. Well, I'll let you know how THAT turns out.

How the "Blog" "Works"

People send me emails. I cut-and-paste the emails into the "blog." No emails = no "blog." Is this a fair system? Am I pulling my share of the load? A resounding no to both questions. But it's the only system we've got, people. What's that thing some olden dude said about democracy? Something witty. I don't have the energy to look it up.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Last night I thought up a pretty good "tip" to help you get even more enjoyment out of Bunuel's SIMON OF THE DESERT. But this morning I realized that much of my startled enjoyment of the film came from NOT knowing that particular tip in advance. As I was either going to sleep or waking up I had another brilliant idea - for a lengthy "post" discussing the acting techniques of Bing Crosby and Peter Lorre as unheralded predecessors of Brando's stylized naturalism. But now I am fully awake and see the problems with such a "post." First of all, it would be 100,000 words long! Secondly, no one would care. Thirdly, it might be insane. But I don't think so. Speaking of Peter Lorre, it turns out that his movie THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS is filled with cigarette holders as far as the eye can see. But we don't talk about that anymore on the "blog." What I am trying to tell you: the "blog" is out of "ideas."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What I Have

"Blogger's" block

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mysterious Powers of the "Blog"

You know about the mysterious quality of the "blog," namely how a thing or idea, once "blogged" about, will shortly thereafter manifest itself on the physical plane. I don't think there's any denying it! I mean, look. We "blogged" about the green anole lizard the other day. Well, yesterday we ended up chasing one through the house! We hoped to catch it and put it outside but it was fast. One of the cats was particularly interested in its whereabouts, which at the present time remain unknown. When Theresa shook it off the curtain it fell on the carpet and turned a mustard yellow. Then as it dashed away, Theresa observed an electric blue streak down its back - the same color, we assume, as the Czech absinthe that Phil Oppenheim has been known to guzzle. More on the lizard as details come in.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hoover Time

Ha ha! Sing the title of this "post" to the tune of "Hammer Time" and you'll have a blast the old-fashioned way, using only the powers of your imagination. So, did you know that Herbert Hoover liked to go outside and walk around and look at stuff? You did if you watched last night's live in-depth tour of the Hoover Presidential Library on C-Span! I called Mr. Ward to tell him it was on and he sounded unimpressed! I was kind of dismayed. I said, "You can call in live with a question!" And he said, "Oh. Uh-huh."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Barry B.'s Bookmobile

Here's an email from Barry B. "Hey Y'all, My book on Mario Bava by Tim Lucas just arrived. I'm not opening it til tonight. I'm pretty excited. It weighs 12 pounds..." (Ellipses his, indicating sublime anticipation.) Now why should there be a twelve-pound book about Mario Bava? Check out Tim Lucas's "web" site for all the answers. The press release gives a pretty fascinating account of a book that was 32 YEARS IN THE MAKING! The words of Douglas Sirk bear repeating, we think. This reminds Theresa and me of the New Year's Day we celebrated by watching Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES with Barry B. over a plate of collard greens, cornbread, and black-eye peas. Happy times!

Daily Raven Reference

Once more, life imitates "blog." McNeil relates the story of a woman rescued by ravens. It's a tip of the hat from McNeil to our bird correspondent. "I'll bet she's all a-twitter," said McNeil, of the story's likely impact on said correspondent. "Get it?"

Thursday, September 06, 2007

All Worked Up

I was just reading a new entry about the literary critic James Wood over on the "The Elegant Variation." For some reason, that always gets me worked up! My mind drifts back to the cherubic "public intellectual" (not James Wood) I saw on C-Span 2, and how sad and depressed he was because he couldn't "tap his toes" to John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins. Hey, you know, John Coltrane doesn't care, buddy! John Coltrane is all like, "zzeeiwheeidiipppidoooo" on his saxophone and there's no answer for that! Oh, I'm getting all worked up thinking about it. So anyway, reading about James Wood today gave me an idea for a New Yorker style cartoon. See, there's a fireman running out of a burning building holding a baby he has saved, and there's a guy in a business suit standing on the sidewalk with his hands cupped around his mouth yelling, "YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!" Somebody let me know if this idea has already been taken. It seems kind of obvious, like everything else.

In Between

I've told you about how I'm reading George Singleton's paranoid, vertiginous high comedy WORK SHIRTS FOR MADMEN, because after all, it matters to the nation what people with "blogs" are reading. But I forgot to tell you what I read in between the Singleton book and NIGHTMARE ALLEY. Okay, so now I'll tell you: two short books by Lynda Barry. One was called THE FREDDIE STORIES. The other was ONE HUNDRED DEMONS. Lynda Barry is good! You will like her. May I just lay this on you: ONE HUNDRED DEMONS, much like ANAGRAMS by Lorrie Moore, makes reference to Jerry Lewis. (Pictured, Marlys. She is one of Lynda Barry's finest creations.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Big Chart

One day I'm going to make a big chart.


So, many of you have written in to ask how Theresa is passing her time in Oxford. Writing her dissertation, thanks for asking, and I must say that it seems to be going gangbusters! Right now she's working on her chapter on Patty Hearst and reading Hearst's autobiography - the title of which, EVERY SECRET THING, is also the title of a gripping novel by Laura Lippman. Maneuvering around on the "internet" for research purposes, Theresa ran across a fellow (Brian Joseph Davis is his name) who has a new novel about Hearst (I, TANIA, it's called) coming out. Theresa and Mr. Davis are well on their way to becoming "cyber" chums! That's how it is with these computers these days! And look at his "web" site. You will find to your surprise that he cites The Mekons as an influence on his work! Everything sure is crazy, isn't it? Hey, the other weird thing I just thought of is that the "link" to Lippman's novel, above, contains a reference to John Waters, whose work figures heavily in Theresa's current chapter. Oh yeah, and at that cookout the other evening, we discovered that one of the guests collects Patty Hearst memorabilia! And knows someone who married Patty Hearst's sister or something. Looks like everything's coming up Patty.

And What About Rats

As long as the "blog" seems to be headed in this zoological direction (I believe it all started with this rabbit), we should cut-and-paste an email we just received from old "Blog" Buddy Caroline. "I witnessed incontrovertible evidence of the distinction between rat and squirrel this week," Caroline reports. "And truly, up to this point, I have always thought of squirrels as rats with a good hairdresser and tree climbing prowess. But d***! [mild profanity deleted - ed.] I was following a BMW out of Reynoldstown and all of a sudden, what I take to be a squirrel comes flying out of the road directly in the path of the fancy car ahead and I brace for a squirrel to heaven moment. When- at the same time, I realize - (1) the squirrel in question has left home without her fuzzy tail, (2) the varmint is not a squirrel at all and is actually a huge rat, and (3) the rodent proceeds to pull off a semi-miraculous mary lou retton-esque bounce right off the designer hubcap, flips over its heels and runs right back under the home-in-renovation that it came out of... I only wish I were a savvy cell-phone wielding twenty something video junkie and this could all be posted on YouTube right now," Caroline concludes. "Instead, I am just eaten up on the inside wondering how and why squirrels don't have this built in bump and twist maneuver skill down?"

Let's Change the Subject

Lizards! So, I've been reading the new George Singleton book, WORK SHIRTS FOR MADMEN. It makes me laugh... sometimes in bed after Theresa is asleep. So I kind of choke with politeness. Anyway, lizards! I opened it up to where I left off last night, and what's the first thing I read? Something about "those little green lizards that change colors but ain't really chameleons." And why is this sentence fragment worthy of mention on the "blog"? Well, my brother and I were just talking about those lizards on the phone LAST NIGHT! And trying to think of what they were called. In fact, we said they weren't really chameleons, and used (almost) Singleton's exact words, with the exception of "ain't," I think. It came up because my brother found one (of the lizards, I mean) in his garage in Beverly Hills, California, yesterday. But it was OVER A FOOT LONG! Which is not normal. Adding to the many portentous coincidences, my brother knew nothing about the giant crow that has been the cause of so much contention recently in this eastern branch of the family. He was independently seeing his own giant animals! Nor did either of us have any way of guessing that those lizards would come up immediately in the book I happen to be reading. By the way, the correct name for those lizards is anole. Thanks, George Singleton! Thanks, universe!

Dear Bird Correspondent

And now the bird correspondent tackles McNeil's question about the buzzard. To begin with, she affirms that "buzzard" is synonymous with "vulture" in the rural Southern U.S. "But if you go over to Europe, a buzzard is brown hawk closely related to our red-tailed hawk," she adds. "I would also find it ominous to see a vulture perched on a suburban roof, which is odd behavior. Because of their very tiny brains, I'd hesitate to credit this species with psychic ability. It probably smells something dead at your neighbor's house. Vultures are the only birds with a sense of smell, and it's highly developed. If something is dead they will find it. Is your consternation related to suspected murder or, like, the ritual sacrifice of small animals? Incidentally, I've always found it creepy how many vultures there are (a lot!) in the state of Florida relative to road kill (not so much)." The bird correspondent goes on to make a joke about the retirement homes of Florida, a kind of joke that is too morbid for the peppy spirit of the "blog." Even that "small animal" crack was pretty close but we let it slip by. We can see once again our profound differences with the bird correspondent in the matter of love for small mammals. We can only assume that her remark is directed at cats, as usual. (The accompanying illustration was sent by the bird correspondent as another shaming jape. We imagine she is implying that THIS is how big of a thing I hallucinated in the yard. In any case, it is nice to have an illustration, as the angry progeny of Sir Vincent Raven [I can only assume] have removed my photo of that fine old gentleman.) P.P.S. That's weird! As soon as I typed the former parenthetical statement, the picture of Sir Vincent Raven came back! But for how long...?

Map of Shame

Sheri Joseph, our bird correspondent, sent along this map (pictured) to shame me into admitting that I could not have seen a raven in the yard. The map shows some of the places one might see a raven in the yard, and none of them are Mississippi. Please do not misinterpret the title of this "post"! We do not think it is a shame that there are ravens in so many North American locations. Far from it! We refer only to the shame that the bird correspondent wishes to pile upon us. For example, she asks in the email accompanying her map of shame, "So, describe big for me. Like, how big? Like, compared to a squatting human 2-year-old?" Now we can only describe the tone of this question as shaming! And, uh, we don't know. Almost as big as a duck? We know that we did not use the bird correspondent's "squatting 2-year-old" standard. Maybe that's a special ornithology scale we know nothing about. In any case, let us concede that we are crazy and have hallucinations and consider the matter closed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Bird Correspondent Marathon Continues

No, it was truly big, Dear Bird Correspondent. A lost raven, perhaps? You know, like in Poe? I mean, it was BIG! Bigger than a normal crow. And yes, I know what a vulture looks like. I would wager that anyone from Alabama can point to a vulture with some amount of certainty. But here is an astounding coincidence of the kind we so enjoy at the "blog": At the same time that I received your question about a vulture, I received a question from McNeil TO you, about a buzzard. Is a buzzard the same as a vulture? Because in Alabama, we say buzzard. So really I should qualify my former remark. Anyhow, I will turn it over to McNeil, who has what he calls a "grudging" question... but I think we can all tell that he has overcome his former antagonism toward your important work. It's his way of being sweet! Here, then, McNeil's question: "I live in a suburban neighborhood and saw a buzzard perched on a neighbor's roof - a prominent section just over their garage. It looked pretty ominous. These neighbors have been giving me and several others on the block some degree of consternation. I would like to know if buzzards possess some sort of psychic ability. In other words, is the buzzard telling me that I am right and they are wrong and that the neighbors will soon 'get it'?"

From the Desk of the Bird Correspondent

The bird correspondent replies: "Dear Jack--Are you the one Concerned about this giant crow? Someone in another area might have seen a raven, which are freaking big, but not you in the flatlands of Mississippi. A crow is crow-sized and not likely to vary all that much. Do you know how to recognize a vulture? That's about the only thing in your area that would be both solid black and bigger than a crow. A blackbird is a different thing and comes in many varieties all grouped under this umbrella term, and all are smaller than crows. Maybe it just looked really big because it was close." (Pictured, Sir Vincent Raven, whose picture I found on the "internet." He was apparently some old British dude and I don't think he had anything to do with ravens, really. - ed.)

Dear Bird Correspondent

Dear Bird Correspondent, We just saw the biggest crow EVER! It was in our yard. Is this cause for concern? How big do crows get? Also, what's a blackbird? Is it just, like, a small crow or something? signed, Concerned

Monday, September 03, 2007


It's Labor Day! So Theresa and I went over to the neighbor's house for some delicious hot dogs and hamburgers. Then it was back home, where we watched the Douglas Sirk film ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. In the little booklet that came with the DVD, Sirk is quoted as saying, "There is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains an element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art." And I was like, "You said it, Douglas Sirk!" In fact, I made a mildly related observation on this very "blog" once, only not as well. So don't take it from me! Take it from Douglas Sirk. Over and out. (P.S. That's Jane Wyman in the picture but that's not Rock Hudson, of course. It's the guy who plays her crummy son.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

In Which Dr. "M." Has a Drink

In a recent email, Dr. "M." corroborates Theresa's account of spotting Morgan Freeman in the Oxford, Mississippi, area. It seems, according to Dr. "M.'s" report, that a few years ago she cornered Mr. Freeman at an Oxford cocktail party and - fueled by perhaps three martinis - attempted to engage him on serious political issues until he managed to get away. Dr. "M." remembers little about the encounter save for the patterns on Mr. Freeman's sweater, at which she stared with intensity as she spoke. Speaking of drinks, Dr. "M." enjoyed her first Pimm's Cup the other night, inspired by "blog" recommendations. The rest of her meal was not up to par. Let us hear it in Dr. "M.'s" own words, in her capacity as "blog" food critic: "I ended up sending back my dinner! I ordered the veggie plate of all things, and it was as if someone had poured an entire canister of salt on top. I mean, it was salty, people! Unbelievably salty. My tongue felt as if someone had cleaned it with a salty abrasive. (Yes, sometimes my mouth does need to be washed out with soap, but not salt!! Ugh.) I then ordered a side salad to replace it because the Farmer was close to done with his pork chop/ mac-n-cheese dish (also salty!) and I didn't want to get a whole new plate of food. The salad was terrible. Why, you ask? Because the dressing was super-salty!! The Farmer can confirm the oversaltedness of everything because I made him taste it. It was just like that SNL skit with Tom Hanks where he makes everyone try the spoiled milk. Just like that." Needless to say, Dr. "M.'s" meal did not take place in New Orleans, the home of the Pimm's Cup, where food is good. We hesitate to even name the city in which such a meal was served. In fact, we will not. Dr. "M." signed off with this happier information: "My dad wrote a column once about holding a hummingbird in his hand."