Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Stupid

So for my scary story class tomorrow I'm teaching the short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," and yes, I looked it up on wikipedia just for yuks, why not, I admit it, I have nothing to hide, shut up, leave me alone, go to ****! And I came across this in the summary of the story: "Ted's closing thoughts reflect a need to scream out of the horror and pain which are compounded with the reality that he has no mouth to do so, hence the title." Ha ha ha! Oh, wikipedia, you are so consistently stupid. Yet how I love your awkward and unnecessary paraphrasing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We Are Able to Confirm

"... staring down at me with sad, sad eyes." So Richard Hudson, the narrator of Charles Willeford's novel THE WOMAN CHASER, describes the clown painting in his stepfather's office toward the end of the book. REPEAT: We are able to confirm at this time that the clown in THE WOMAN CHASER by Charles Willeford is a sad clown, as previously suspected.

Breaking Clown Story

Rereading THE WOMAN CHASER by Charles Willeford for class. Happy to be reminded that - as in THE HUSTLER - a clown painting is prominently featured. But is it a sad clown painting? Details are scant: "a white face, blocked in by thick globs of black." Willeford does refer to the painting's "every wavering, tragic line." More on this breaking story as it develops.

Friday, September 28, 2012

State of the Modern Smoothie

Eating mashed potatoes, taking pain pills and reading ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE VAMPIRE. Gonna be some evening. Yes, I guess that's more of a tweet, but I'm off the twitter. And anyway, I used to "blog" about this kind of stuff before I even knew what twitter was. I WAS A PIONEER! A BRAVE PIONEER. I also have some complaints about smoothies that are better suited to twitter, and I think I will keep them to myself, so that's one good thing, that's one thing you can be grateful for in this crazy world.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hulk Comparison Ends

Mr. Ward writes to remind me that in between being a shoe inventor and a photographer's assistant, Lauren Graham was a brilliant playwright, which is where the Hulk comparison ends, I guess. I guess! I don't want to assume anything. Maybe the Hulk tosses off glittering little one-acts in his spare time. I imagine him in a tattered smoking jacket, holding an enormous ostrich quill.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Everybody Torments Raymond

Hey remember that TV show that used to be about Lauren Graham inventing shoes at the shoe factory? She is no longer inventing shoes! Now she is a photographer's assistant, which seems like a demotion, nothing against photographers' assistants! I can't explain her change in fortune, probably because I missed an episode, or maybe she is like the Hulk as he was portrayed on TV, the way he would go from town to town helping people in need, one week at a shoe factory, the next at a photographer's studio, for example. That (THE INCREDIBLE HULK, I mean) was my sister's favorite TV show before she could really talk. She would cry out in delight at the sound of the opening theme, "Huck! Huck!" I told you she couldn't really talk. Then she would sit there in a terrified trance when the Hulk appeared - a bewitchment from which nothing could stir or distract her! I guess she had mixed emotions! (She also pronounced "root beer" like this: "rt br." WERE WE GIVING HER ROOT BEER BEFORE SHE COULD TALK?) Anyway, Lauren Graham's gruff and sullen photographer boss is portrayed by Ray Romano. Lauren Graham sure does complain about him a lot. Maybe TOO much! Or so her (current) betrothed seemed to think as he sat there ineffectually eating ice cream and contemplating the complex series of facial expressions she exhibited, all unknowing! In this show, Ray Romano has a brooding, wounded quality. Like Heathcliff in WUTHERING HEIGHTS! So I think Lorelai Gilmore and Raymond from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND are going to make out. I guess everybody really does love Raymond! Because he is so tormented! I have to say, though it is a gratuitous swipe, that Jerry Seinfeld could never pull this off. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, I guess! And if the dream of your life is to see Lorelai Gilmore make out with Raymond from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, not that it should be, not by any means, it definitely should not be, unless it is, well, I guess your favorite day in the world will be here soon, you mark my words, it will. (See also.)

The Fastest-Selling Cane on Television

I saw a commercial for "the fastest-selling cane on television." I know, that's more of a twitter remark, but I quit twitter, and I quit facebook, and now I just sit here. They should advertise that cane during Frasier reruns! Because Frasier's dad uses a cane. Give me some money!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Meaner Things

"... he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat - the moth, and the fox, and the wolf..." I knew it! I knew DRACULA would have an owl in it.

My New Motto

I read in the New York Times today about a man who got mauled by a tiger. Here's part of the article: "When an N.Y.P.D. sergeant asked Villalobos yesterday why he had jumped into the tiger preserve, he replied that 'everyone in life makes choices.'"

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fave Feather Vomit

It occurs to me that I forgot to tell you yesterday's fave DRACULA phrase: "Renfield has been very sick and has disgorged a whole lot of feathers."

The Phrase That Pays!

Today's favorite phrase from DRACULA: "her body must have been chilled with cold, and her mind somewhat appalled at waking unclad in a churchyard at night" - so remember, if I call you on the telephone today, and you answer by saying, "her body must have been chilled with cold, and her mind somewhat appalled at waking unclad in a churchyard at night," maybe you'll win a prize! To be safe, you should answer the phone like that all day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Owls and Moustaches

I was up at Square Books earlier today, manfully resisting - for the nonce! - the impulse to buy a $50 book with an owl on the cover. I heard a voice: "Owls are very fashionable." It was Lyn. I was surprised and - may I confess it? - alarmed by the news. After all, I am a pioneer in a particular branch of owl studies, and I was not completely comfortable with the thought of hipsters jumping willy-nilly on the owl bandwagon. Lyn explained that she buys many of the gifts for Square Books (that is, she orders the items for the store that are not books); she has noticed an uptick in available owl merchandise. "Lots of owls," she said, predicting what novelties we'll see in the stores this holiday season. "Owls and moustaches." (See also.) You heard it here first.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just Fancy

Reading DRACULA. It's not on my scary story syllabus, I'm just reading it. No owls yet, which is surprising. My fave sentence so far: "He is only nine-and-twenty, and he has an immense lunatic asylum all under his own care." But really you need the sentence before it, too: "Just fancy! He is only nine-and-twenty, and he has an immense lunatic asylum all under his own care." That same character is described on the next page as "Dr. John Seward, the lunatic-asylum man, with the strong jaw and the good forehead."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dance Craze

Watching part of a movie called THE COOL ONES on TCM. It's mostly Roddy McDowall in lots of paisley ascots and sunglasses and convertibles and tight suits, and what's wrong with that? (See also.) He's the millionaire manager (I think) of a band who sings the dance craze hit "Have a Tantrum." When the music stops, everybody freezes. The singers then advise them to "have a tantrum." When the music starts back up, everybody "has a tantrum," shaking and quaking and such. When the music pauses once more, they freeze anew, awaiting the repeated instruction to "have a tantrum," which they obey once more. And so on. Can there be any neater example of repressive desublimation? I think not! Like, you know, is dance itself the very primeval essence of repressive desublimation? All that dangerous potential energy expended in a regimented way, according to explicit instruction from an approved intermediary of the powers that be, as represented, in this case, by Roddy McDowall? Do you care? I find that difficult to believe. Yet here we are.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


So you know Megan Abbott and I brood about THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW a lot, and I recently mentioned to her that Anacani is my new fave Lawrence Welk cast member so Megan sent me this video ("click" here) and Megan knows how I am entranced by youtube comments, so she drew my attention to this one: "so intoxicatingly attractive is Anacani's total femininity." PS Megan also sent me a "link" about Lawrence Welk's Italian daughter-in-law, another performer on the show, who gave birth to Lawrence Welk's grandson Lawrence Welk III, nicknamed "Buns"!

Three Ear Holes and Flies Silent

"It's pure built to hunt. Got three ear holes and flies silent. It can open and close each pupil separate from the other one. They ain't a better hunter." So says a character about an owl in Chris Offutt's story "Barred Owl" from his book OUT OF THE WOODS. "Well, reckon you know your owls," the narrator replies. Chris sent me the story because he knows how much I like books with owls in them. This one did not disappoint! A real beaut. But be forewarned there is some gruesome owl business involved! What Chris's character said about owls made me remember something I read once, and I thought I had told you about it before, but I can't seem to find the "post," so I'll tell you again. In her book ON RARE BIRDS, Anita Albus writes of the barn owl, "The sound of bells doesn't faze it if its nest is in a church tower. It's got nothing to do with the bird, and the thundering noise is much too conspicuous for its fine-tuned hearing... It has the best ear of any bird in the world... When it strikes, its eyes are closed." Between the ellipses there's a long discussion of the barn owl's "three-dimensional hearing" but my typing fingers are getting tired. And I could have sworn there was a part about an owl snatching a mouse from deep in a snow bank but I guess that was some other book. Don't worry, I only spent a few hours looking for it. Chris Offutt and Melissa Ginsburg gave a reading the other night in the neighboring village of Water Valley. Dr. Theresa and I went out there to see them. Melissa read some new poems about Freud! Chris read a story from a forthcoming collection and I was getting mighty worried there wouldn't be an owl in it but then WHAMMO BLAMMO just before the ending he slipped in an owl! Whew. Many thanks to Montgomery Clift for portraying Freud in this "post."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gidget Goes to Grad School

I've had my ups and downs with GIDGET so far, but basically I am digging it the most. I think I'll see what the grad students make of it next semester. Why isn't it taught hand-in-hand with ON THE ROAD? It's virtually contemporary and covers lots of the same psychic territory. Is it because ON THE ROAD is so boyish and GIDGET is about a girl? Does my old crackpot Samuel Beckett/Anita Loos theory apply, or am I just full of crap? I guess we'll never know.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Introduction to Gidget

Reading in the introduction to GIDGET about how 15-year-old Kathy Kohner (the real-life Gidget) would tell her dad "about all of the surfers" she knew. "I told him I wanted to write a book. He said, 'Why don't you tell me your stories and I'll write it?'" Hmm. Should I say "Hmm" about that? Hmm. Then it tells how Dad would - "with her permission" - secretly listen to Gidget's phone conversations to get the lingo down pat. That's the introduction. The foreword to this edition is by Kathy Kohner Zuckerman herself, 60 at the time, who says lots of adorable things like "I hope you love the book and go out and 'hang ten' (an old surfing expression)."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Does Gidget Yet Live?"

Read an obit in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago I guess for Terry Tracy, a surfer nicknamed "Tubesteak" - "another word for hot dog" as the New York Times helpfully explains. He was the basis for the character "The Big Kahuna" in the popular beach movie GIDGET. When Megan Abbott was here on her most recent visit, I suggested that GIDGET (the novel on which the movie is based) might be a good bet for our Doomed Book Club. Megan seemed keen on it. As I have abdicated facebook, however, I found it tough to get in touch with the other Doomed Book Club members. I sent out a tentative tweet. Kelly Hogan "favorited" the tweet, but what does that mean, really, in our strange world of today? I trust Hogan with my life, but I think we all know that "favoriting" a tweet is the thing we can do that has the least bearing on what we might comfortably call "reality." What I am trying to say is that I might be reading GIDGET all alone. I picked up my copy at Square Books today. The late Terry Tracy is the one who gave the actual Gidget that very nickname: "Gidget." When I read his obit, I imagined him (and it is terribly crass and impolite, imagining a person on his deathbed, but this did pop into my head) saying, "Does Gidget yet live?" I had John Adams in mind. I thought John Adams asked something similar about Thomas Jefferson on his own deathbed, but wikipedia tells me that he said, "Thomas Jefferson survives" which in my opinion just doesn't have the same ring to it, oh well. But here's the thing. Gidget DOES live! The New York Times reports of the real-life Gidget, "Ms. Zuckerman now works for the beach restaurant Duke’s Malibu, where her job is to greet guests and reminisce about the old days." The novel is by Ms. Zuckerman's father, but is told in HER 15-year-old voice, which opens up a wealth of Freudian reflections, the kind Megan Abbott loves so much. And suddenly I am reminded of an email I just received from McNeil: "I showed my class an episode of T.J. Hooker today. He kept touching his daughter with his big meaty hands. There was a line at the end a lot like Eastwood's 'make my day' - only 18 months earlier!"

Owl Time with Lord Dunsany

Have you heard of Lord Dunsany? Yeah, me neither. But I came across him when I was studying up on H.P. Lovecraft. He was a big Lovecraft influence. "And a great white owl came by, going up and down in the dark." All right? So IN THE LAND OF TIME, a collection of stories by Lord Dunsany, is a book with an owl in it, so shut up. So all I do is tell you when I read a book with an owl in it, so what? And every book has an owl in it, so it takes up a lot of my time, and my work and relationships inevitably suffer, so leave me alone. What do you do? Save sick babies? Well, okay, that's pretty good.

Cultural Studies

Welcome once again to "Cultural Studies," the part of the "blog" for studying culture. Last night I watched DAS RHEINGOLD on PBS. A solid two hours of it is some guys standing around arguing over a bill. In song form! SPOILER ALERT! They finally decide to put a woman in a big fishing net and cover her with golden trinkets and when she's all covered up, that's how much money they get. And for you comic book fans, Thor and Loki are in it! But they call them Donner and Loge. Loki gets all the best lines. Thor kind of sulks around in the background. He looks like Seth Meyers from Saturday Night Live. But I know it's him from his trademark hammer and right near the end just when you think it's all over and you can stretch your legs he suddenly brags for a while about how he's going to make it thunder then everybody climbs on a rainbow and goes to Heaven, natch. Hey, you may be asking yourself what this supervillain who turns to silk by touching a curtain has to do with DAS RHEINGOLD. Nothing, baby. I kept looking for a good picture of Thor on the "internet" and this popped up instead. CULTURE!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Things Got Fancy

Part of me - most of me (all of me?) - knows that you don't care about my big long list of every book with an owl in it. Yet here we are. When Megan Abbott was here most recently we talked about H.P. Lovecraft a good bit and she told me about a comic book that was part noir and part Lovecraft and she said she was going to send it to me and Megan Abbott always does what she says so she sent it to me and I have it and here it is. It is called FATALE by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and it is dedicated to - a comic book with a dedication page! Things got fancy as I reached my twilight years though no one alerted me - Megan Abbott and Joe Hill, and look! It talks about "a silk ribbon that's wound around the world every night, held in the beak of an owl" and that must be some owl all right. Laura Lippman was here recently too, and we went together to a live broadcast of the Thacker Mountain Radio show and Padgett Powell read about butter-and-sugar sandwiches, which appear in his new book, and we have noticed butter-and-sugar sandwiches in books before - books by James Whorton, Jr., Harper Lee, and Toni Morrison - but we haven't made a list, not yet we haven't, although we have made a list of sandwiches in general, but I know you don't care, you don't care about owls or sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Clown Dust

Bill Boyle read the novel THE HUSTLER over the weekend. He says, "It's amazing! Way better than the movie." Plus it has a sad clown in it, and Bill has kindly taken the time to type up for us every mention of the sad clown: "The walls were of gray, cracked plaster, but on one of them, over a painted brick fireplace with broken bricks, hung a huge picture in a white frame. The picture was of a sad-looking clown in a bright orange suit, holding a staff. Eddie looked at this carefully, not understanding what it meant, but liking it. The clown looked mean as a snake... He [Fast Eddie] walked back into the living room and, not looking at Sarah, looked instead at the clown. The clown looked back, sad and mean, holding the wooden staff. His fingers were painted in only sketchily, but they were graceful and sure of themselves. The clown was, apparently, unhappy, but was not to be pushed around; a good, solid clown and a figure to be respected... The apartment was clean, cleaner than he had ever seen it. Even the clown's frame had been dusted off!... He was looking at her [Sarah's] face, fascinated by her skin, which seemed to glow in the soft light from the living room lamp. But he felt nothing, only a simple, admiring fascination, as if he were looking at the orange clown on Sarah's wall, the one in the white frame. The clown that had once seemed ready to tell him something." I guess my favorite thing is the exclamation point that signals how incredible it is for someone to dust a clown painting. Bill watched the movie again, keeping an eye out for sad clowns and spied nary a one, to his disappointment. I would only point out that Jackie Gleason is in it, Jackie Gleason - whose sad-clownness has been debated on this very "blog." I don't think anyone will disagree that the best thing to do was illustrate this "post" with a creepy Jackie Gleason doll.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Convention Report

As you have probably forgotten - so shame on you! - "blog" correspondent McNeil lives in Charlotte, where the Democratic National Convention is taking place as we speak. I have asked McNeil to provide relevant reports... what the media AREN'T telling you! McNeil responds: "Yesterday (Labor Day!) the Police Department's Animal Control van stopped in front of my house. A very pleasant woman came to the door and said they had received a complaint that my cat had been attacking (!) the caller's (whiner's!) cat. I have 2 indoor cats, a puny outdoor stray we feed, and her 2 6-week old kittens. The kittens were on the front porch (with their cute innocent faces uplifted) when the pleasant cop arrived so she cooed at them. Anyway, I finally deduced that the evil cat in question is a Siamese cat [not McNeil's - ed.]... As she left, [the cop] said everyone on the 'force' was working 80 hours this week because of the convention... but she was okay with that because she has the following week off - which she was going to spend canning."


Day four without air conditioning. The fish is okay. I, on the other hand, am starting to give off a distinct Colonel Kurtz vibe. On a positive note, Laura Lippman will be at Off Square Books tomorrow at the usual time to read from her brand new novel. Megan Abbott last week, now Laura Lippman! After that, plans include the return of life to its inevitable downward spiral.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Abandoned Vampire Bicycles

Spurred on by the childhood recollections of Megan Abbott, I have watched two movie versions of Sheridan Le Fanu's story "Carmilla," both available via "streaming video" on the "internet." Ironically (?) the tawdry Hammer Studios version, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, is by far the most faithful to the original story, though of course it takes some liberties. BLOOD AND ROSES (pictured), statelier and more evocative, owing something to VERTIGO, certainly has more of the dreamy quality that Abbott recalls, containing, in fact, a black-and-white dream sequence involving, in one of its tamer images, a courtyard filled with abandoned bicycles, though very little of Le Fanu's original story remains (they even misspell his name in the credits). An airplane figures significantly in BLOOD AND ROSES, which would have surprised Le Fanu.

Sometimes the Writhing Fiend

I happened to be preparing to teach the vampire story "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu in my "scary story class" while Megan Abbott was here, so we ended up talking about that, too. Megan was mesmerized by a movie version of the story, heavily edited, that was on TV all the time when she was a little girl. It gave her "wiggly stomach sensations," a turn of phrase I trust she will not mind me showcasing here, as she has already used it publicly on the twitter. Her experience of the film was all the more dream-like, she said, because back then "They would cut to a commercial whenever they felt like it, in the middle of a scene." (Above, a frame from an Italian movie version of "Carmilla," almost certainly not the one Megan used to watch, though we're still figuring out which one she did.) I love the story "Carmilla." The last paragraph is great, and I should quote some of it to you, though if you haven't read the story it might not make sense, but will definitely spoil the pleasure of discovering it for yourself, but really, who cares? You're not even reading this anymore. "... and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations - sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing-room door." Checking out the footnotes in my copy of Le Fanu, I noticed that he relied for background research on an 18th-century treatise on vampirism by the French priest Augustin Calmet. And I happen to have a copy! So I dug it out. Calmet goes around collecting these "true" stories of vampires and spirits and such, and one thing I like about the book is the understatement. "That same night [the vampire] got up again, and by his presence alarmed several persons." Ha ha! I'll bet! Well, to be fair, they were alarmed because they had dug him up and put a stake through his heart, and he didn't even care: "This man when in that condition derided them for what they made him suffer, and told them they were very good to give him thus a stick to defend himself from dogs." Wow! When you stop and break that down, it's like an awesome bad-a** one-liner from a modern action movie. Way to go, vampire!