Friday, May 27, 2011

Magic Mirror Time

Hey, since we're all so excited about Dr. Dee all of a sudden, look what I found! This is his own little magic mirror, for real, "The Black Stone into which Dr. Dee used to call his spirits." It's from Mexico and was originally used by Aztec priests! "Click" here to be magically transported to the British Museum for more information.

Our Lofty Pretensions

Burke and I have been discussing Dr. John Dee... NEVER MIND WHY! Maybe we just have lofty pretensions, did you ever think of that? And that made me dig out this book I have, THE BOOK OF ENGLISH MAGIC, the authors of which (Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate) are really alarmingly credulous, but who cares? Turns out there's a whole chapter on Dr. John Dee. Here are some "fave" sentences: "During his time at Cambridge he achieved notoriety - and narrowly escaped conviction for sorcery - by constructing a mechanical flying beetle for a stage production of Aristophanes' PAX. It was so realistic that it terrified members of the audience, who thought it the work of the devil." Edward Kelley, the man Dr. Dee hired to help him communicate with angels, is described as "Often wearing a cowl to disguise the fact that his ears had been lopped, supposedly for forging coins... Kelley clearly took a fancy to Jane and told Dee that the spirits had requested they share each other's wives. Dee was skeptical at first, and Jane herself was far from enthusiastic."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tracey From the Gem Shopping Network

Insomniacs! You could spend your miserable hours in much worse company than that of "Tracey" from the Gem Shopping Network. She keeps up a steady stream of patter - whispering, humming, singing, shouting, doing accents - it's a thrill ride! She'll drop in a non sequitur about the moon landing, or a few bars of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (or "Before the Parade Passes By" or "Winter Wonderland"). Sometimes she just goes, "La la la la la la la la la la la!" On a mournful note, the death of her father came up briefly; she was frank and exhibited no self-pity on the subject. But don't think she is not moving product! Sure, she tells you about the time she broke her leg, but that's just because a bejeweled golden frog that seems to be comically saying "Oh my!" (its hands to its face and its tongue poking out) makes her think of how lucky she is to have such great women friends who took care of her when she broke her leg, and how this frog is just the kind of thing they might give each other as a present and have the giggles over. As for the "Musical Majestic Egg" that plays the love theme from THE TITANIC, she says you could hide an engagement ring in it for a nice surprise or "give it to your granddaughter who hasn't been born yet." Then she talked about how she grew up in a Kentucky jail! Her father was a jailer. Her family lived downstairs. "We ate the same food the prisoners ate," she said. "And it was pretty good food." The first time Tracey went to a country club, she didn't know which fork to use! I love you, Tracey from the Gem Shopping Network! (I'd show you a picture of Tracey, or at least the comical "Oh my!" frog, but the dumb idiot "web" host is still broken and forces me to "blog" on a borrowed computer to which I cannot in good conscience upload pictures.) Note to the government: I am not affiliated with nor compensated by the Gem Shopping Network. I wish!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Dedicated I Am

There is something wrong with stupid dumb old "Blogger," the "web" "host" of this site, so I cannot "blog" from my own "computer." I have to find someone else's! Which I have done. For you. I will tell you what else I did for you today. Remember that old man who writes a column in the local disposable circular? That's right! The one who opines about sad clown Emmett Kelly and the time his parents went to an Al Jolson concert. I promised to find out more about him. Well! His publication, "The LaFa Shopper," has almost zero "web" "presence," which I kind of respect, the way an FBI agent in a terrible movie develops a grudging respect for a clever serial killer. So, my friends, I WALKED TO THEIR OFFICE TODAY WITH MY ACTUAL FEET. It's off the square. And I found out the name of the columnist, which is John Arrechea. I won't lie to you: I was a little worried about him! He is obviously getting on in years, and his column has not appeared in the last several editions of "The LaFa Shopper." This week, for example, there is some horticulturist where John Arrechea should be, talking about "ornamental peppers," and who cares about that? Nobody! The friendly, white-haired receptionist told me not to worry, that Mr. Arrechea's column does not appear every week. I said I was relieved. "He's a good person," she said.

Oh Boy

Speaking of newspapers, in his new book ALPHABETTER JUICE, Roy Blount Jr. has an interesting section on headlines. One of his favorites is "Coconut-Carrying Octopus Found." He calls it "alluring," and he is right. But I saw an AP headline the other day that I found alluring in an opposite way: "Ga. Police: Upset Councilman Spills Food at Diner." It was alluring because it was so boring! By sheer coincidence, as I compose this very "post" I see via his twitter account that Ben Greenman is currently concerned with a "non-story" (AP again!) bearing the headline "Spacewalking Astronaut Gets Something In Eye." Greenman's favorite part seems to be "The spacewalkers noted that the problem with tears in space is that 'they don't fall off of your eye... they kind of stay there.'" But I think MY favorite part is what the astronaut says when he gets something in his eye: "'Oh boy,' Feustel moaned." PS: Blount quotes a scholarly journal as saying that the octopus building a little house out of coconut shells is "the first evidence of tool use in an invertebrate animal." But is that really tool use? Are we to believe then that every bird who makes a nest is "using tools"? I don't think so! I consider it an insult to the mighty crow who with patience and ingenuity fashions a hooked instrument to dig bugs out of a tree. THAT is real tool use, my friends. Let's not throw around "tool use" so casually. PPS: Last night at dinner with Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly I started to talk about crows. "Don't get me started about crows!" I actually exclaimed. And, "Have I mentioned this before?" Everyone replied, "Yes." Said Beth Ann, "And you sent me links about it." So I have become this guy who constantly rambles about crows at social gatherings of every kind, and follows up with helpful e-mails. PPPS: Since I began writing this very long "post," and you really don't want to know how long it takes me, it's too sad, the AP has changed their headline to the disappointingly more specific "Spacewalking Astronaut Gets Stinging Soap In Eye." PPPPS: They also edited out my favorite line, "'Oh boy,' Feustel moaned." That makes me mad! Did NASA contact them and say it reflected badly on the space program? I call it censorship! It really used to be there. It came right after the line (which is still there, for now) "'Sorry, buddy,' Fincke said."


The New York Times has been lavishing us with the obituaries of wealthy eccentrics. Today it's the reclusive daughter of a copper baron: "She ate austere lunches of crackers and sardines and watched television, most avidly 'The Flintstones.' A housekeeper kept the dolls’ dresses impeccably ironed." The other day it was a viscount, who said this as he led a visitor through a gallery of his ancestral portraits: "That’s the second baron, known as Dickie Ducklegs. He spent most of his wife’s fortune building this place and defending a woman in Godalming accused of giving birth to rabbits."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Something Else You Have Been Asking Yourself

Thanks to the twitter account of A.G. Pasquella, bless him, I now know that Art Garfunkel read WUTHERING HEIGHTS in September of 1969. Yes, there is a "web" site that lists every book Art Garfunkel read from 1968-2009. So rest easy tonight! There's an asterisk next to WUTHERING HEIGHTS on the list, and I am not sure what Mr. Garfunkel means by it, but I intend to spend the rest of my life finding out. (PS: The asterisk means it's one of his faves! That didn't take as long to figure out as I thought.)

What You Have Been Asking Yourself

I know what you have been asking yourself about Jason Polan and his determination to draw every person in New York City: "When is he going to make it to Angela Lansbury?" Well, friends, wonder no more!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Latest Report

Everybody, you will be so ecstatic to hear that I have seen another TV commercial I would like to tell you about. It stars one of our local weathermen! (Or maybe he is a news anchor. Anyway, he looks familiar.) He says, "Thinking of remodeling your home? Have you SEEN the latest report? There is only one way to get back OVER 100 percent of your investment... AN IRON FRONT DOOR." I cannot overemphasize the ominousness he brings to the question "Have you SEEN the latest report?" That report sounds like a dilly! Maybe I don't WANT to see it! Of the iron front door, our weatherman makes the astounding promise, "It won't rot." Best of all the iron door company is called "Quantum Entries." Quantum Entries! That is some kind of name. Note to the government, who now regulates such things: this is not a paid endorsement for Quantum Entries brand Iron Doors. It is just a story about a dramatic commercial I saw. There are many commercials I don't like, and I complain about them constantly, but I like commercials about iron front doors and needles with extra big eyes and cactus juice that solves all your problems.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

McNeil's Delight

McNeil delights in sending me to "web" sites I cannot show you due to "blog" safety policy, like the one that says, "The first reaction for many on seeing this magnificent crop circle is usually a 'BiG WOW' coupled with some spine chills and a rising wave of excitement seeing this brilliant transdimensional crop circle message..." That site also reveals that NEWSRADIO cast member Joe Rogan is a "pioneer" who has "adventures" in "invisible realms."

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Wire

Remember the piece of wire that has been holding my eyeglasses together since June 7, 2008? Well, today it came loose. I unwound it then wrapped it back around the necessary spot, and now it's working better than ever! Same piece of wire! First adjustment it has ever needed. This piece of wire just won't quit. Let's hear it for the piece of wire.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Well, I didn't catch the beginning, and I didn't make it to the end, but I feel safe in saying that THE STORY OF WILL ROGERS is the blandest movie ever made, save for the weird spectacle I mentioned in the previous "post": watching Will Rogers, Jr., who plays Will Rogers, woo Jane Wyman as his mother, giving her an awkward smooch in an alleyway, for example, when he hears the news of his own impending birth. Oh, and there's a scene where Woodrow Wilson summons Will Rogers to the White House to demand that he become a writer, which is interesting because that's exactly how I became a writer. Then Will Rogers goes home and drinks a glass of milk and frets about becoming a writer, and Jane Wyman says (I'll paraphrase), "Will Rogers, you do what the president tells you!" Yep, that's the way it works. In his book ALPHABET JUICE, Roy Blount Jr. points out that Walt Whitman and Muhammad Ali (as Cassius Clay) were both juniors; he thinks it no coincidence that one wrote "Song of Myself" and the other declared, "I am the greatest." It's about making "a name for himself," writes Blount, himself a junior, in case you didn't notice. I wonder what he would make of Will Rogers, Jr., or the other juniors we have mentioned on the "blog" who played their fathers in movies: Dick Powell, Jr. (though that was just a cameo), and Jesse James, Jr. And what about Hank Williams, Jr., who dubbed his father's vocals in a biopic and has invoked (to put it politely) his name in so many other ways? Hey, I bet you are wondering why I don't put a comma in the name Roy Blount Jr. What? You're not? I'm going to tell you anyway. Roy Blount Jr. doesn't want a comma, that's why. "One stroke of fuss that I can spare the world," he calls it. If you read the Oxford American essay I wrote about Roy Blount Jr. and Woody Allen, you will see where somebody on the editorial side went behind me and stuck all the commas back in.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Uncomfortable Story of Will Rogers

I am watching THE STORY OF WILL ROGERS on TCM right now. Will Rogers is being played by his real-life son Will Rogers, Jr. Right now he is courting Jane Wyman, who I assume is playing his future mother. That's weird, right? Will Rogers, Jr., having to pretend to fall in love with his own mother? I can't be the only person who has thought of this. But I might be the only person who remembers who Will Rogers was.

Yes, Please

Here are three things about ALPHABETTER JUICE, Roy Blount Jr.'s sequel to his lexicological compendium ALPHABET JUICE. 1) Citing the OED (!) as his source, Mr. Blount informs us that Q-tips were invented in 1923 and originally called "Baby Gays." 2) Mr. Blount gives Jerry Lewis some grief for once proclaiming, "My humility in this moment is staggering." 3) The entry under "clown" begins, "Want to hear a sad clown story?" Yes, please!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Old Man Column

Remember when I told you about the old man who wrote a column about his collector plates featuring sad clown Emmett Kelly? Well, last week (I think it was) his column was about the time his parents left him with a babysitter and went to an Al Jolson concert (!!!???!!!). I didn't see him in this week's edition of the "LaFa Shopper." I'm going to try to track down his name so I can tell you more about him.

I Like Trees

I was just over at Square Books looking at all the books. And I saw one with the subtitle "One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers." Look, don't get me wrong, I like trees. In fact, you might just say I love trees. If you don't believe me, check out this dumb old interview I did in which the last thing I mention (with horrific sentimentality) is a tree. But there are still lots of reasons why "One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers" is the least exciting subtitle ever, including the desperation of the word "famous," which seems to sense, like the host of a terrible party, how dull the rest of the subtitle is. By way of contrast, let us examine the subtitle of STUNTMAN! by Hal Needham, our current Doomed Book Club selection: "My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life." That's a subtitle that tells you Hal Needham might just narrowly avoid being murdered by a serial killer in his book! Which is something that happens in STUNTMAN! for real! I doubt it happens on one man's serendipitous journey to find trees. The only thing that saves Hal Needham is drinking booze instead of milk. Let that be a lesson, kids! The milk has been drugged by the serial killer! I should add that in STUNTMAN!, Hal Needham begins his professional life as a tree climber: "As Lenny and I watched, I commented a little too loud that those guys didn't know how to climb a tree. A voice from behind said, 'And I suppose you do.' I shot back, 'You can bet your house on that, son.'" Then Hal Needham climbs the tree and everybody is stunned at his prodigious tree-climbing skills. Now THAT'S how you handle a tree! As my friend the Hollywood producer pointed out, it (Hal Needham blurts out something inappropriate; people laugh at Hal Needham; Hal Needham makes them look like idiots; everybody suddenly loves Hal Needham and gives him lots of money) is the template for just about everything that happens in STUNTMAN!

What I Also Like

I also like the end of that commercial where the guy looks at the camera and says, "Towels?" with a big grimace on his face. Except he says, "TOWELS?" I can imagine the director egging him on: "If this is going to work, you have to go bigger with the towels line!" It really cries out to be followed by a trombone with a wah-wah mute or a loud disruptive BOING! of some kind, but all it gets is a couple of dainty flute arpeggios.


Hey, there's this thing ("click" here) on the "blog" of Megan Abbott and Sara Gran. Go look at it. NOW, I said! Look at it first before you read the rest of this "post" so I don't spoil it for you. Okay! Did you look at it? Promise? My favorite thing is the comments section where somebody writes, "Nobody would have the [nerve] to say something to Frank’s face about that coat," and Megan Abbott replies to said commenter, "I would say something. And that something would be: 'I am in love with you, Frank Sinatra!'"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oh Yeah!

Oh yeah, John Currence was on TREME last night. He said (I think I'm getting this right), "Come back in six months for the best fried chicken you'll ever eat." That was him! I was surprised to hear about Ashton Kutcher taking over for Charlie Sheen on TWO AND A HALF MEN. Currence is on so many TV shows lately I just sort of assumed it would be him.


Hey, here's an obituary headline in today's New York Times: "Wallace McCain Dies at 81; Fed the World Frozen Fries." I don't know. Does that seem kind of... backhanded for an obituary headline?


You know, when I was reading in STUNTMAN! about Hal Needham tossing his friend's solid gold lighter out the window of a speeding car as a joke, I was reminded of this passage from Dean Faulkner Wells's memoir EVERY DAY BY THE SUN: "He finished LIGHT IN AUGUST in early spring. Family lore has it that his relationship with Estelle had deteriorated so badly that one afternoon as he drove with her to the square, she threw his just-completed manuscript out the car window. He parked at the curbside and went about methodically picking up the invaluable sheets of paper. Estelle did not help him."

Why Didn't You Say So?

A reporter for the LA Times has written a book about Area 51, you know, where all the UFOs are stored. But the reviewer for the New York Times wants to make it very clear that the author does not believe in UFOs. Just "a real, disc-shaped, hovering object." Plus, "She suggests that the supposed space creatures were human guinea pigs." Okay! That makes me feel better.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Wheelbarrow Full of Money

I have made it to the middle of STUNTMAN!, yes, the glossy center pages with photographs, the best part of any nonfiction book. I haven't made it to SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II (or even the original SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT) in the text, but in the photo section is an ad that Hal Needham took out in VARIETY after the opening of that sequel, quoting some devastating reviews ("His intentional carelessness concerning the art of filmmaking demonstrates a total lack of regard for his audience") and contrasting them with the fact that SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II had "THE BIGGEST OPENING WEEK IN THE HISTORY OF THE FILM BUSINESS!" The ad is illustrated with a photo of Hal Needham sitting on a wheelbarrow full of money in front of a bank, shrugging sarcastically! That is some ad. My friend thinks it misses the point. He acutely recalls the feeling of betrayal that came over him as a boy (and worshipper of the original) watching SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II. Instead of trying to win the race - SPOILER ALERT! - the Bandit decides to save a sick elephant or something. People want to see the Bandit win the race! That's what my friend says. And that's what the critics were getting at. My friend was particularly upset by the part Barry B. once described on this "blog" as "a scene where 30 or so semi and dump trucks were up against 30 or so law vehicles and they were driving around in circles running into each other like a rodeo." That's when everyone was craving a plot the most, thought my friend, and that's exactly the moment when Hal Needham became entranced by the mere logistics of what he was doing and left the fans behind. Hal Needham may have believed he was shaming the critics by sitting on his wheelbarrow full of money, but he was really sort of shaming the audience. That's the thinking around these parts, anyway.

Greatest Present Ever

We went to a cookout over at Lee Durkee's, and guess what? Dean Faulkner Wells and her husband Larry were there, and they surprised Dr. Theresa with a present: a copy of one of her favorite novels, TRUE GRIT, inscribed to her PERSONALLY by their friend, the extremely reclusive Charles Portis. That is very nice! Plus they have ruined my gifts to my wife forever. But it was worth it!

What I Have Learned

What I have learned from STUNTMAN!, the autobiography of Hal Needham (our current Doomed Book Club selection), is that when a stuntman wants to play a joke on another stuntman, he shoots his friend with an arrow, for example. "[I] let out a scream of pain," Needham reports of one such merry prank. This reminds me of the time in another Doomed Book Club selection when comedian Joe E. Lewis joshed with a heckler by throwing scalding liquid in his face. Good times!

Three Bean Salad

Doomed Book Club member Scott Phillips reports that Orson Bean has come up three times this week! 1) Somebody told him that Orson Bean's daughter dated (dates?) a raving political pundit of some note. 2) Orson Bean appeared as a clue (answer?) in the New York Times crossword puzzle. 3) Orson Bean appeared on this very "blog," in connection with the very Doomed Book Club of which Mr. Phillips is a very member! Conclusion: it means something. It must mean something. If you wondered how the universe works, this is how the universe works. The universe is trying to tell Scott something, and it involves Orson Bean.

These Gleaming Vessels: A Brief History of the Casserole

I was having a conversation about casserole - never mind with whom! Why must you pry into every aspect of my fascinating life? My friend and I were wondering about the origins and exact definition of a casserole. I promised to go home and look up "casserole" in my OXFORD COMPANION TO FOOD, but I never did... UNTIL NOW. Hold onto your hats! A casserole is "a covered heat proof vessel in which food is cooked and served or, by extension, the food cooked in such a vessel. The word has a complicated history, starting with a classical Greek term for a cup (kuathos), progressing to a Latin word (cattia), which could mean both ladle and pan, then becoming an old French word." The author of THE OXFORD COMPANION TO FOOD goes on to note "the remarkable fact [if you say so - ed.] that there has been a sudden and complete change in the meaning of casserole in English in the last 100 years." Have you stopped reading yet? If so you will not find out that "some time around the 1870s" a casserole stopped being "a dish of cooked rice moulded into the shape of a casserole cooking pot and then filled with a savoury mixture, say of chicken or sweetbreads" and for no apparent reason, out of the blue, became "a dish of meat, vegetable, and stock or other liquid, cooked slowly in the oven in a closed pot, its current sense. On the French side, it is of interest [sure it is - ed.] that when Favre wrote his huge culinary encyclopedia (1883-92) a casserole was defined as a tinned copper cooking pot, well suited to being displayed on the wall in order to impress visitors with the wealth and highly civilized lifestyle of the owners 'who live on food prepared in these gleaming vessels.'"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Doomed Book Club Update

My friend the Hollywood producer who really exists is in town, so we were able to have an in-person meeting of part of the Doomed Book Club. So far the most exciting part of STUNTMAN! for me is when Hal Needham sees a salad for the first time. It blows his mind! He is 23 and just out of the army. "Do I eat it, throw it on the floor, or just look at it stupidly?" he wonders. Eventually the waitress comes and takes it away. So far that salad is the only thing in the book that has gotten him down, including a parachute that never opens. But don't worry! Within a chapter, Hal Needham is having a T-bone, some oysters, and a salad with blue cheese with TV western star Richard Boone (pictured). "For a country boy, you catch on fast," Richard Boone observes. I was poking around in the index, as is my wont, and I came across this intriguing entry: "Kellogg's Corn Flakes, 155-57." That seems to be a lot of space to spend on corn flakes in your autobiography! I haven't peeked, so I don't know what's up with the corn flakes. Stay tuned. My friend ended our meeting by singing this song ("click" here) from the animated version of THE HOBBIT starring the voice talent of Orson Bean. I don't know why he did that, but I'm glad he did.

Ruffling Feathers

The other night I was reading about the mating habits of barn owls... oh come on! I am not trying to be "sexy"! I am just trying to tell you how it is in the real world. The information was in a book called ON RARE BIRDS by Anita Albus. You know how I love my bird books! What? You don't know how I love my bird books? What's wrong with you? Where have you been all these years? The first part of the book is about extinct birds, and there is nothing like reading about extinct birds for taking the fun out of life. So I generally skip that part of the book and go for the threatened and endangered birds, like our friend the barn owl. When I got to the frisky part about "his staccato cackle and her buzzy cheeps" and a "snoring crescendo" (!) I started to think about those terrible animal noises we heard the other night and wonder if maybe whatever was going on with whatever kind of creature was actually romantic and not terrifying and depressing, yeah, but no, I don't know, I think it was pretty terrifying, yes, I'm sure it was terrifying, I was terrified. "The birds thoroughly ruffle each other's feathers afterward" writes Anita Albus. I'm just telling you like it is! Then, on an unrelated subject (though in the same volume), I read about how some kingfisher nestlings took turns pooping neatly through a hole in a flowerpot, their makeshift nest. This is life, people! What can I tell you? An ornithologist is quoted: "You would never on your life look into that hole unless you wanted to risk getting a free gift in the face." That probably sounds better in German, from which it is translated. Pictured, a kingfisher, not looking amused at what he's reading here.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lame Twitter Joke Gateway to Evil

So I was over there on the twitter the other day and I thought I would make a joke about how, were I asked to write a celebrity profile of Tina Fey for a famous glossy magazine, I would call it "Lady Haha," and how everyone would hate me. You will agree I am sure that it was a delightful spoof of magazine article titles - take that, magazine article titles! - utilizing some "wordplay" on the name of the celebrity singer "Lady Gaga" - something for the youngsters to "identify" with! Truly my wonderful twitter joke had it all. But then I "googled" the term "Lady Haha" and found 66,300 matches, which disheartened me. Moreover, it seemed that maybe there was a real performer calling herself "Lady Haha." Was she some kind of "Weird Al" of the 21st century? I certainly had my fingers crossed as I "googled" "Lady Haha" + wikipedia to double check, because other than rearranging my recommendation shelf at Square Books (yesterday I added a "Wacky Packages" [pictured] compilation and ARMIES OF THE NIGHT by Norman Mailer! Check it out!), I honestly have nothing better to do with my life. Friends, I was led DIRECTLY and AGAINST MY WILL by "Google" to that crazy article Phil sent me about how the CIA is controlling Lady Gaga with brainwashing techniques as part of a Masonic plot to take over the world... yes, to that evil part of the "internet" I have warned you about from which no one ever returns - the same part that explains how Bob Hope is controlling people's minds and actions from beyond the grave with his powerful brain waves. Beware! The author of the article compliments a "surprisingly accurate" wikipedia entry - I'll bet! - on the whole subject. I'm struck by how much I sound like a pawn of the CIA. But the important thing to learn from this is that EVERYTHING on the "internet" - even your mildest twitter gag - will eventually lead you to an article about how the CIA is controlling Lady Gaga with brainwashing techniques as part of a Masonic plot to take over the world... it's the black hole at the center of the "internet"! Heed me, people! PS The other day Lee Durkee sent me something from the same part of the "internet" about a demon head they have found on Mars. Don't "click"! Just to be on the safe side, don't "click" on anything ever, promise? I am saving you from yourself!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

All-Star Entertainment Wrap-Up

Welcome once again dear friends to "All-Star Entertainment Wrap-Up," your one spot on the "internet" for all the latest fabulous celebrity news of fabulous celebrities in the news. The great American filmmakers John Sayles and Maggie Renzi were in Oxford last night. Mr. Sayles appeared at Off Square Books to read from his new novel A MOMENT IN THE SUN. (The government now requires "bloggers" to mention things like this, so I will say that A MOMENT IN THE SUN is published by McSweeney's, where I also do some work, and they sent me a copy.) After the reading, practically the whole audience headed over to the City Grocery Bar, and so did Mr. Sayles and Ms. Renzi. Yes, since you asked, somehow I managed to bring up Jerry Lewis. Mr. Sayles did not react with horror. He said of Jerry, "He did it all." I was comparing the structure of Mr. Sayles's book THINKING IN PICTURES with that of Lewis's THE TOTAL FILM-MAKER. (The fact that they both "do it all" accounts for the similarity, I think.) Mr. Sayles politely pretended that he might get himself a copy of THE TOTAL FILM-MAKER someday. Dr. Theresa and John Sayles discussed 19th-century illustrators and Lizzie Borden! Ms. Renzi and I spoke of our shared affection for Doris Day. It was funny and interesting to hear John Sayles and Maggie Renzi very knowledgeably discuss WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL (pictured). Many things were spoken of by many people in many combinations! Then we went home. Dr. Theresa and I were awakened at 3 in the morning by the sound of some animals attacking one another maybe. I'd like to pretend there is some chance it was an animal party, but who am I kidding? There was some cooing or whimpering, some screeching, and a third unidentifiable noise - as many as four or five animals involved from the horrific sound of it. We did something stupid. We went outside with what turned out to be an extremely weak flashlight to see if we could help whatever animal needed help. Luckily (for us, I guess), we never found the source of the terrible sounds (which kept going on and on), although at one point Dr. Theresa swore they were coming from the top of a tree. Well, I couldn't get back to sleep after that. I watched several episodes of THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW that happened to be on, and in between chuckling, I contemplated the abyss. I am glad we were not devoured by angry raccoons or what have you. Step outside your nice little house in the middle of the night and you suddenly find yourself in hell. So that's something to think about! As Lillian Gish says in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, "It's a hard world for little things." That's it for this edition of "All-Star Entertainment Wrap-Up." Until next time, stay away from wild animals that are fighting, remember that only the thinnest of dreamy membranes protects you from the nightmarish wilderness that secretly surrounds us all, and keep "reaching" for the "stars"!

Recommendation Shelf Madness

I try to keep my recommendation shelf over at Square Books fresh for you! The other day I added a few items, including DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott, some Robert Walser stories, and the 50th anniversary hardcover edition of CATCH-22. Friends, when I checked my shelf yesterday, the latter had SOLD! That's right, my magical recommendation shelf sold a hardcover of a 50-year-old book! Let me reemphasize that I am singlehandedly keeping the publishing industry alive. So there was a hole that needed to be filled, and I filled it with THE COWS by Lydia Davis, a charming and wonderful and illuminating book that is about exactly what it says it is about: the cows. To quote: "They come out from behind the barn as though something is going to happen, and then nothing happens."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Doomed Book Club Shows Vague Signs of Not Being Doomed

The Doomed Book Club is back in business maybe! We are going to read STUNTMAN!, the autobiography of Hal Needham, a stuntman. He also happened to direct several iconic Burt Reynolds movies! Plus the Doomed Book Club just got a new member: my friend the anonymous Hollywood producer who actually exists! This is going to be big. Either that or nothing will happen. Or something in between.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Wisecrack Proves Untenable

You know I was on the set taking notes for my Oxford American column while they were shooting part of last night's TREME. But not the horrific part! I certainly did not know that was coming. I never would have made my wisecrack yesterday about "lurking behind the furniture and being a creep." That just seems awful now, dreadful. It makes me feel terrible. Obviously they did not entrust me with such vital plot points. I was there for a few innocuous bits, such as when Jon Seda was enjoying some music in a hotel lounge with a lovely date. Yes, let's talk about that more lighthearted thing! For example, I wrote in my column that Jon Seda's companion was wearing a "black dress." But then the people at the TREME production offices told the OA fact checker it was a gray dress. (Yes, Natalie is the champion fact checker of all time - accept no substitutes! - and these are the kinds of things she checks - all things! Working with Natalie is like an advanced course in epistemology.) So that got changed. I thought, "Hmmm, I could have sworn it was a black dress." I saw it again last night on the air, and people, THAT IS A BLACK DRESS! Unless it is "charcoal gray" or something, yes, something my unfashionable eyes cannot comprehend. It just goes to show you how there is no truth. All right! So let's think about these small things - no truth and all - and not the devastating parts that threaten to crush our souls.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Kent Represents

I know what all of you are asking: "Why so many photos BY Kent Osborne but none OF Kent Osborne? After all, isn't he the very same Kent Osborne that THE NEW YORKER magazine says represents stillness and death?" Yes he is! However, as you can see from this photograph of Kent with Dr. Theresa, he actually represents niceness!

Maybe This Is What I Meant

From THE GREEK MYTHS by Robert Graves (this has something to do with my last "post" - reread it if you don't believe me!): "Therefore, having coaxed Metis to a couch with honeyed words, Zeus suddenly opened his mouth and swallowed her, and that was the end of Metis, though he claimed afterward that she gave him counsel from inside his belly. In due process of time, he was seized by a raging headache." (Oh, I forgot to tell you, Metis was pregnant with Zeus's baby when he swallowed her!) A breach was made "in Zeus's skull, from which Athene sprang, fully armed, with a mighty shout." Happy Mother's Day!

Fun With Columns

Hey everybody, I got my BELIEVER magazine in the mail yesterday and was reading my column and thinking, "Hey, this one turned out okay." I don't usually think things like that! So check it out. Jason Polan's illustration is perfect and surprising as usual. There is an article on Mars in there that promises to be good. I'm sure it's all good, the whole issue! As you know, TREME comes on tonight. I wrote about being on the set in my most recent OXFORD AMERICAN column. I believe tonight's episode is the one they were shooting while I was there for my article. So as you watch it, you can imagine me lurking around behind the furniture and being a creep. What fun you're certain to have with that activity! You're welcome! During the Oxford Conference For the Book I was at a party where noted editor, writer, and intellectual Sven Birkets gave me an idea for a BELIEVER column. I haven't used it yet, but when I do I will be sure to give Mr. Birkets credit. It takes me all month to think up an idea, but a great one just popped out of his mouth spontaneously, like, I don't know, some Greek god that got born out of somebody's mouth. That probably happened, right? Sven Birkets would know. Oh, how I hate him! Not really. I was being humorous! My true feelings were and are of astonishment and gratitude. They always are. I walk around being astonished a lot. Plus that mention of the conference allows me to present this leftover picture of Michael Kupperman and Joe Matt with me in the background like, "Hey fellas! I'm part of the gang, too, right fellas? Hey, let's be buddies! Who wants a soda? My treat! Aw, c'mon, fellas! You know I can't run that fast! Where ya goin', fellas? Okay, I'll catch up with you later! You're gonna come over and see my treehouse, right fellas? It's real neat and everything! I have board games." Photo by Kent Osborne.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Freud Is Just Like My Mom

From CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS: "This newly-won power over space and time, this subjugation of the forces of nature, which is the fulfillment of a longing that goes back thousands of years, has not increased the amount of pleasurable satisfaction which [people] may expect from life... One would like to ask: is there, then, no positive gain in pleasure, no unequivocal increase in my feeling of happiness, if I can, as often as I please, hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away...?... If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice." Mom? Is that you?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Grinning Variations

One thing you can say about Mickey Spillane's famed detective Mike Hammer: he sure does grin a lot. I would say it is the main thing he does, aside from shooting people in the stomach. Here are three of the literally billions of examples from VENGEANCE IS MINE! (exclamation point Spillane's): 1) My grin split into a smile and that into a laugh. 2) I forced a grin through the frown. 3) "You don't have much faith in yourself, kid," I grinned.

Jerry Plays a Trick

Dick Van Dyke has a new autobiography out, I guess. I was over at Square Books checking the index for Jerry Lewis references, which is one of my hobbies, as you know. THERE'S ONLY ONE! So shame on Dick Van Dyke. But here's how it goes: Dick Van Dyke is about to meet the queen. Jerry is across the room or something, and just as the queen extends her hand to Dick Van Dyke, Jerry yells out "HEY DICK!" Dick Van Dyke looks around, all flustered, and his meeting with the queen is ruined! Dick Van Dyke doesn't seem to think it was too funny. I think it was! Go, Jerry!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

McNeil Sad About Curtains

McNeil wants the curtains in the old photo that came to us via Michael Kupperman. You know McNeil and his curtains! "What about the owl?" I suggested. "You can buy a stuffed owl anywhere," McNeil said with surprising authority. "Those curtains don't exist anymore." He sounded tough. But all the while his heart was breaking!

Literary Matters

Oh no! It is time once again for "Literary Matters," just what everybody hates. With good reason! But these particular literary matters are pretty nice for a change and there are just two of them so shut up. 1) A wonderful time at Off Square Books yesterday: master of the short story Jim Shepard - who both in visage and temperament somewhat resembles the great Groucho Marx - read from his new book YOU THINK THAT'S BAD. (He was a handsome man, Groucho was. Just yesterday on TCM I saw a snippet of an interview with Maureen O'Sullivan [pictured] in which she said "I could have been in love with him." But she also said something weird, which was that she told him, "I don't like funny men" and made him stop telling jokes when he was around her.) Jim Shepard was reading from his short story "Minotaur" (which contained a reference to sad clown Emmett Kelly!) and we were all bobbing our heads and nodding and chuckling with pleasure when suddenly - BOOM! - there was a revelation that socked us in the gut and the whole audience sort of went "oof." The audience made a noise! I think this is a sign of a good reading. Most readings are terrible, as we know. But if you literally get the wind knocked out of you, that's a good one. I heard something similar happen - a gasp - a few years ago when my friend Pia Z. Erhardt read her short story "The Man." We were "on tour" together and the gasp occurred each time she read it! 2) I took PARROTS OF THE WORLD off of my recommendation shelf at Square Books and replaced it with CROW PLANET, the volume from which I extract much of this "blog's" crow information. Nothing against PARROTS OF THE WORLD! They are very colorful! But I believe my decision was the right one. When I left the store yesterday, I saw Michael Bible leafing through CROW PLANET with what appeared to be great interest. The shelf does its job! Oh! Somebody put a bunch of books ON TOP of my recommendation shelf but I DO NOT ENDORSE THOSE! Michael kindly drew some arrows pointing downward on my recommendation sign to help alert you to that fact. I cannot speak for the books above the sign!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Lugubrious Volleyball Accompaniment

Hogan's description of the TV movie SOMEONE I TOUCHED sent me racing to the streaming video. "Forget the others I've touched, others I've touched," advises Cloris Leachman, singing the theme song to SOMEONE I TOUCHED, which involves the phrase "someone I touched" A LOT. Foreground shots seem to indicate that the theme song to SOMEONE I TOUCHED is coming out of a transistor radio during a volleyball game at the beach! Pretty lugubrious accompaniment to a volleyball game, I would say. "Yes, everything dies..." sings Cloris Leachman lugubriously. What a downer! There's a long pause before she adds, "but this feeling gentle and warm." Whew! What a relief. For a second I thought that everything dies. "You'll always be someone I touched," Cloris Leachman reassures us at the end of the song. Then, just as Hogan said, a man with a moustache comes up to Glynnis O'Connor (pictured) and tells her she has syphilis. She shrugs it off: "That's no big deal these days is it?" And the guy replies, "No, no big deal." I don't want to tell you how to start your 1975 TV movie about syphilis, but that is a terrible way to start it! We know we have like an hour and a half to go, so we want it to be a big deal!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Mysterious, Shadowy Pacino

Who is this mysterious, shadowy figure? I will tell you. It is Al Pacino, as photographed by my brother from a long, long distance. Upon closer inspection, "he was wearing a cut-up red t-shirt around his head like a sweatband," my brother reports.

You're Welcome, Publishing Industry

I just went to check on my recommendation shelf at Square Books and Clarice Lispector was gone! Ah yes, the shelf is doing its job. You're welcome, publishing industry! This shelf is going to put you back on your feet. I replaced the Lispector with Samuel Beckett. Which one? Go to Square Books and find out! More shelf updates as they occur. I am very serious about my shelf responsibilities. Yeah, it's pretty much all I have going on.

Hogan Celebrates Cloris Leachman's Birthday In a Special Way

"okay this has been haunting me..." The promising opening sentence of a recent email from Kelly Hogan! There has not been a paragraph break on this "blog" in its nearly five years of existence, so we are not going to start trying to figure it out now. But Kelly's choices in that matter are so expressive that I will indicate them by means of dashes (double dashes are Hogan's; caps, alarmed parenthetical question marks and other alarmed punctuation are likewise Hogan's). This message has been abridged and there are some editorial comments. And now, the email: "the other night -- a night during which I ate take-out Wisconsin fish-fry from the local tavern The Night Owl (there's your owl -- hey!)... a night which I later learned was the eve of Cloris Leachman's 85th birthday [recall that Hogan is an expert on celebrity birthdays, especially celebrities' 85th birthdays - ed.] - I coincidentally watched a movie starring Cloris on Netflix instant view -- a movie that I thought would be some "brain recess" - a 1975 movie-of-the-week about syphilis! - it's called 'Someone I Touched' aieee! - the title alone will give you 'something' - Cloris sang the title theme song too! - and KENNETH MARS plays her boss! [subsequent emails with Hogan confirmed that the film is not a comedy - ed.] - Glynnis O'Connor is in it! she is innocently playing volleyball at the beginning and a disease control guy comes to the beach and takes off his tie (??) and interrupts the game at 12-ALL to tell her she is infected! he doesn't even let her finish the game first! - it is incredibly chauvinistic! the moustaches are out of control!"

Sunday, May 01, 2011

I Can Sing Like a Girl

Y'all know TREME is back on, right? Most of the time you are excruciatingly nervous, like, WHAT IS DAVID SIMON GOING TO PUT THESE PEOPLE THROUGH? REALITY? (He wrote tonight's episode.) Your terror gives way to melancholy, eased along by sweet music (real music AND the music of the editing - there's something symphonic and daring about the editing on TREME, a musical logic). Take these lines from the Clarence "Frogman" Henry song that closes tonight's episode, my favorite lyrical boast: "I can sing like a girl, and I can sing like a frog." By the end of the show, that song takes on surprising weight. And I should say the scenes set in a New York restaurant kitchen with a maniac chef (pictured) are perfect nightmare comedy. TREME sings like a girl and it sings like a frog. It really has it all! Melancholy, creeping terror, music, and nightmare comedy. That's everything, right? I think that's everything.

Thanks, Freud!

Still reading CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS: "The man who sees his pursuit of happiness come to nothing in later years can still find consolation in the yield of pleasure of chronic intoxication; or he can embark on the desperate attempt at rebellion seen in a psychosis." Gee! It's so hard to pick just one.

Paradoxical Skydiving Reflections

My friend from Hubcap City has adventures wherever he goes! For example, on his way home to Atlanta after visiting us the other day, as he writes: "About ten miles out of Birmingham, I wound up trapped at a gas station. My gas tank was empty and I couldn’t drive any farther, but I couldn’t buy any gas because the gas station power had been knocked out by the tornadoes. Absent electricity, the gas pumps were all dead. I had to wait in the parking lot until the gas station hooked up their backup generator. Six hours of waiting later, I was back on the road... I met a lot of nice people in the parking lot. One guy told me all about his fraternal twin (who is a felon but still his mother’s favorite) and the time they went skydiving. 'It’s almost impossible to die skydiving,' the guy told me. He explained about the gear and the backup systems all skydivers wear. He then went on to cite the surprising number of people who did, in fact, die while skydiving. 'When it’s your time, it’s your time,' he said. Before I could offer an equally fatalistic rejoinder, he ran off yelling at a lady in a beat up Ford Focus who was about to back into his shiny Lexus."