Saturday, April 27, 2013

McNeil's Movie Korner

Email from McNeil, dated yesterday: "Guy Kibbee movie on TCM right now! There was a singer in the beginning who looked exactly like Bill Clinton." This has been another installment of "McNeil's Movie Korner."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Couple of Samuel Johnsons

Let me remind you again to go see and hear Melissa Ginsburg at Off Square Books today at 5 PM. I also want to tell you about a reading a week and a day from now: May 2. Ben Greenman is coming down from New York City to read from his new novel THE SLIPPAGE. I'm telling you so early because I am really and truly "flying out" to "the coast" to "act" in "something," and I may not be able to remind you about Ben's reading again in a timely fashion. BUT LISTEN! This is the truth: I am cutting my trip short and making special arrangements to come back to town in time to hear Ben read. So that should tell you something! Trust me, I know that readings are usually terrible. But Melissa and Ben are funny, witty, smart, sly, fascinating, and interesting - like a couple of li'l Samuel Johnsons, but nice! - and any time spent with them or their works is sure to repay you very pleasurably! This is my UNSOLICITED ENDORSEMENT of Ben Greenman and Melissa Ginsburg. YOU HAVE MY PERSONAL GUARANTEE. Melissa: TODAY. Ben: MAY 2. Five o'clock Central Time. Off Square Books. Okay! All right!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Frasier, Briefly

Welcome once again to "Frasier, Briefly." Mere minutes ago I happened to walk into the room and turn off the TV just as Frasier was saying the phrase "symbolically castrated." This has been "Frasier, Briefly."

Hey Great I Bought Another Book About Kings

I just bought another history book about kings, THE PLANTAGENETS by Dan Jones, that's right, after all my whining and complaining about how the last book about kings I bought had too many kings in it. And this book features a LOT OF THE SAME KINGS THAT GOT ON MY NERVES IN THE FIRST PLACE. So why did I buy it? Because there's a sword on the cover? I have read the first sentence, and it's a great first sentence for a history book: "The prince was drunk." (See also.)

Leather Goods

Melissa Ginsburg is reading from her new book of poems DEAR WEATHER GHOST at Off Square Books tomorrow. DON'T MISS IT! Recently, Melissa told me about a book I should read because it has some interesting stuff in it about Emily Brontë, my fave. So I bought it at Square Books, natch. It's a book of "lectures" called MADNESS, RACK, AND HONEY, by Mary Ruefle. Hey remember how I love to say dumb things like "this book is like Sam Shepard's 'blog'" or "that book is like Clarice Lispector's 'blog,'" and it's never true? Well, I want to say that this book is like Mary Ruefle's "blog," and it's still not true. She IS irritated (fascinated?) by commercials the way someone with a "blog" would be. Take the print ad for leather goods featuring Albert Einstein's great-grandson sitting under a tree reading a book called WISDOM (!). Ruefle quotes the ad copy: "Paul Einstein is an accomplished violinist who enjoys reading literature, philosophy, and fine poetry." Fine poetry! Ha! Ruefle has a lot of fun digging into that, in a way that transcends any "blog"... though if she knew, as I do, that Einstein's granddaughter married a bigfoot hunter, I feel in my heart she would bring it up in this essay somehow, just like a "blogger" (me!). I feel absolutely safe in saying that Einstein's granddaughter marrying a bigfoot hunter is Mary Ruefle's kind of thing. What else? I was just over at Ajax, having a chicken po-boy, or as I now call it, "The Osborne," because Kent Osborne ate so very many of them on his recent visit. And there was a guy at the bar who COULD NOT STOP TALKING! It was okay, because most of his talk was entertaining. He talked about varieties of apples and his prowess at tic-tac-toe, to name just two of his many subjects. He yelled, about tic-tac-toe, "If I'm playing defense, YOU WILL NOT WIN! YOU WILL NOT WIN!" (See also.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Well What Do You Know!

Dudes! Come on! I have already startled and astonished you with the news that EVERY CHARLES PORTIS NOVEL HAS AN OWL IN IT. So now I am reading his play DELRAY'S NEW MOON, which is printed in a book called ESCAPE VELOCITY: A CHARLES PORTIS MISCELLANY, edited by Jay Jennings, and just heed this line of dialogue: "They say it's so dark in those woods that the owls fly in the daytime there, and the bats flit." And then Mr. Mingo replies, "And the nighthawk, with his fine white throat." I included that line just because I like it. But the main thing I am trying to tell you is that not only does every Charles Portis novel have an owl in it, every single Charles Portis BOOK of ANY KIND has an owl in it! This is a big day all right. Is there any liquor in the house?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Plastic Owl

Just like old Samuel Johnson himself, Portis waits until the book is almost over to spring his owl on me: "Louise said a plastic owl would have frightened the snake away. Why had I not set out a dummy owl, a great horned owl made of plastic?" That's near the end of GRINGOS. So it is just as I speculated within my tiny mind: EVERY CHARLES PORTIS NOVEL HAS AN OWL IN IT. Well, we are talking about an owl that is NOT there, and a FAKE owl that is NOT there, so an owl that is "in" the book by being doubly absent, but that counts just fine by my crummy standards. And now I am thinking of my old favorite coffee shop back in Atlanta, where the key to the restroom was attached to a big plastic owl so you wouldn't walk away with it. And thus conclude my touching memories of days gone by.

Corny Old Thing

Hey I opened up this book of essays about Shakespeare completely at random and there was Camille Paglia saying that corny old thing I hate about the French loving Jerry Lewis! Somehow she got from Shakespeare to that. (See also.) But at least she wasn't saying it in a bad way. You know, it's usually some kind of weird coded insult that is impossible to figure out. Camille Paglia, on the other hand, seemed kind of happy about the French loving Jerry Lewis. I don't know, I stopped reading.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Quite Melted in Tenderness

In Part X of THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, the chapter concerning 1784, the last year of his life upon the earth, we get this: "a gentleman who had a son whom he imagined to have an extreme degree of timidity, resolved to send him to a publick school, that he might acquire confidence; - 'Sir, (said Johnson,) this is a preposterous expedient for removing his infirmity; such a disposition should be cultivated in the shade. Placing him in a publick school is forcing an owl upon day.'" So at the last possible minute, Dr. Johnson sees to it that there is an owl in the book, allowing me to place it on the list of books with owls in them that is the sole occupation of my lonely days. A few pages later, during his final illness, his friends do something nice for him. "He rose suddenly and quitted the room, quite melted in tenderness." So let's remember him that way, the old crank.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Of Beards and Dolphins

So when the satellite died we lost all our dvr'd movies. Am I sad? I don't know. I guess that depends on whether you think anything matters. Probably not. I lost SOME KIND OF A NUT, which had repressive desublimation written all over it. It's about Dick van Dyke REFUSING TO SHAVE HIS BEARD! It starts from a bee's point of view, sloppily... I mean, it's sometimes the bee's point of view, sometimes almost the bee's point of view, sometimes not at all the bee's point of view, but you get the distinct and troubling impression that the director THINKS he's in the bee's point of view. That's as far as I got. And now Dick van Dyke and his controversial beard are gone! Gone forever! I wanted to watch THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, to see if it matched up with my childhood memories. I recall being in a hotel, the first hotel I ever encountered that was running recent theatrical releases on a special channel, and they just showed THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN over and over. MOVIE CHANNELS WERE A MIND-BLOWING NOVELTY, Y'ALL. Now they're just dirt to us. As I recall, I didn't want to go outside, wherever we were on vacation. I just wanted to sit in the room and watch THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN as many times as possible, and I think I did. It's a talking dolphin movie from screenwriter Buck Henry and director Mike Nichols, that's right, the team behind THE GRADUATE, natch! Of course, I didn't know that at the time. I just knew my eyes were secretly welling up with tears when the dolphin, whose name, I think, was "Pha," said to George C. Scott: "Pha LOVE Pa!" The dolphin called George C. Scott "Pa" because George C. Scott had taught him to talk! So George C. Scott was the dolphin's father figure! I guess! Well, anyway, it's erased, zapped, along with 60 other movies. And I never got around to it. And really, who cares? Ward McCarthy also has fond memories of THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN and mentioned he might try showing it to his kids. I had to remind him that - spoiler alert! - something horrible happens to the dolphins at the end, I am almost certain. As Dr. Theresa would say, and often does, "That's the 1970s for ya!"

Our Cat Is Famous in Japan

Look, Pendleton Ward drew one of our cats on a cocktail napkin, from memory. He drew this picture for a Japanese director. Now our cat will be famous in Japan! (See also.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Samuel Johnson Is All Right

Samuel Johnson used to make special trips to buy oysters for his cat. So he's all right. Once he said in front of his cat that he had liked some of his former cats better, but thought the cat looked "out of countenance" at this news, so hastened to add, "but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed." Ha ha!

My Life in the Arts

The satellite receiver fizzled out and died so I watched some of EIGHT ON THE LAM on the "streaming video" last night. You remember when Phyllis Diller squirted mustard on some cops, don't you? Well, this time she fed an unsuspecting cop some dog food! Wow! I didn't know Phyllis Diller hated cops so much. Somebody should write an academic paper about it. (Cops were referred to as "fuzz" here, just as in the previous [?] Hope/Diller vehicle BOY, DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER. There was a distasteful and protracted joke in EIGHT ON THE LAM - I sort of couldn't believe what I was seeing - when a baby tries rather forcefully to nurse on Phyllis Diller [!], causing her to exclaim, "Boy, did YOU get a wrong number!" An almost Cronenberg-like, uh, I don't know what I'm talking about.) The dog-food-eating cop, her love interest, was played by Jonathan Winters. EIGHT ON THE LAM is not a fitting tribute to Winters, who died the other day. He never appeared in a film role worthy of his genius. EIGHT ON THE LAM is a "family picture," I guess. There's this one tyke who looks so proud of himself for remembering his lines. He's kind of cute about it so it's hard to begrudge him. He'll say, for example, "Ooh, you said a dirty word!" And then the camera lingers while he kind of smirks because he knows he really delivered the goods. I couldn't help but notice that one of the kids listed in the opening credits was played by "Robert Hope," who must be Bob Hope's son, right? I tried to figure out which one he was. I looked for telltale signs of the famous "Hope nose" to no avail. I suppose this is something I could "google" if I weren't so weary of life all the time. What else? I saw Joe York yesterday. He mentioned reading TREASURE ISLAND on an airplane. SUDDENLY MY PROBLEMS WERE SOLVED BY JOE YORK! Somehow I have never read TREASURE ISLAND and I have been trying to think of something to read on the airplane. I was thinking of picking up VILLETTE again, but I was also resisting that idea. I had such a good time reading JANE EYRE on an airplane, but I feel that VILLETTE might be setting me up for airplane disappointment reminiscent of the second lobster scene in ANNIE HALL. I believe Jimmy once called TREASURE ISLAND his favorite book... did he say Stevenson should have cut the last page? Last paragraph? Or did he love the last paragraph? I can't remember. Gosh, this is boring. I am boring myself typing it. I would like to excuse myself from my own company. So let's liven things up. Remember when Blair Hobbs made Dr. Theresa a Lizzie Borden-themed cheese ball to celebrate her doctorate? Just feast your eyes on this Cheese Jake she made to celebrate the recent visit of the ADVENTURE TIME boys! "I know he doesn't have hair, but I thought he needed some," she said. "Plus, I like chow mein noodles." Late in the evening, she took what was left of Jake and remolded him into a snarling, demonic unicorn. At least that's the way I remember it. Exciting! (Photo by Pendleton Ward.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to McNeil's Movie Korner! McNeil got what he thought was a pretty quick rejection for a short story, so he combed through his old emails, looking for a half-remembered rejection of stunning swiftness ("click" here to read about that one). But he came across something else during his search: "In the process of looking for the record for quickest rejection, I ran across an old email exchange in which we were discussing the film Avanti. On May 8th, 2007 I stated that Avanti was not a good movie. I believe I put not in all caps like this: NOT. I was wrong. I saw it last summer (or fall, I can't remember), and it is a very good movie. I wanted that on the record. Please correct the record." McNeil, a man of honor! Not afraid to look deep within himself! Speaking of old emails, I received one from McNeil back in early March about the film BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: "Pretty good. John Garfield was good in it. Sorta petered out at the end with the mushymushykissykissy." This has been McNeil's Movie Korner.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Few Bats

Common Sword-nosed Bat, Sooty Moustached Bat, Naked-rumped Tomb Bat, Hammer-headed Fruit Bat, Greater Ghost Bat, Hairy Slit-faced Bat, Little Japanese Horseshoe Bat, Hairy Little Fruit Bat, Velvety Fruit-eating Bat, Golden Bat, Visored Bat, Wrinkle-faced Bat, Smoky Thumbless Bat, Little Goblin Bat, Cinnamon Dog-faced Bat, Painted Bat, Pallid Bat, Great Evening Bat, Hoary Bat, Shaggy Bat, Sombre Bat, Mourning Bat, Slender Yellow Bat, Tiny Yellow Bat, Greenish Yellow Bat, Little Yellow Bat, Least Yellow Bat - these are just a few of the hundreds of bats from MAMMALS OF THE WORLD: A CHECKLIST.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Delicate and Keen Reproach of the Fair Quaker

I like this "Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker lady." She gets the best of Samuel Johnson in a couple of arguments. Once, he says, "(with eyes sparkling benignantly,) 'Very well, indeed, Madam. You have said very well.'" But another time, "He was irritated still more by [her] delicate and keen reproach; and roared out another tremendous volley, which one might fancy could be heard across the Atlantick." (That's the way Boswell spells Atlantic, okay?) And I guess Johnson liked the looks of Mrs. Knowles, too: "Mr. Wilkes held a candle to shew a fine print of a female figure which hung in the room, and pointed out the elegant contour of the bosom with the finger of an arch connoisseur. He afterwards, in a conversation with me, waggishly insisted, that all the time Johnson shewed visible signs of a fervent admiration of the corresponding charms of the fair Quaker."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Faulkner Time!

Went to Faulkner's house today with Pen and Kent... Bill Griffith was an amazing host as always, plus he turns out to be a huge ADVENTURE TIME fan, so he and Pen and Kent (photo by me!) had a lot to talk about. Bill had fascinating questions and theories about ADVENTURE TIME, which he magically bent until they came back to Faulkner. Bill even said that Faulkner would have loved ADVENTURE TIME... I don't know. He tried to enlist me in support of that idea, but I couldn't make myself say it, even though Bill has some intricate and compelling hypotheses - which I am not at liberty to divulge here! - about Faulkner's secret love of television. But somehow, indirectly, Bill's notions reminded me of my reckless theory, which I bandied about with absolutely no supporting evidence in my scary story class last semester, that Lovecraft might have had some influence on Faulkner, or maybe the other way around, and Bill confirmed that Faulkner had some Lovecraft books in his library! Which proves nothing, but still. And then when we were walking outside after the wonderful tour, Bill pointed out an enormous, glistening rat snake slithering across Faulkner's porch! Enormous! Kent and Pen took out their phones to get a picture but they weren't quite fast enough for the rat snake, big and ponderous as it was.

All These Quick and Lively Sallies

All right, Samuel Johnson is growing on me, just as Burke predicted. Could this be Stockholm syndrome? He's starting to feel more like Don Rickles. "All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit."

Monday, April 08, 2013

Old Sugar Fingers

So what I am slowly gathering from this LIFE OF JOHNSON is that the proximity of fingers to your beverage was a constant concern back then. Johnson complains about something that happened to him on his one trip to France: "the footman took the sugar in his fingers, and threw it into my coffee. I was going to put it aside; but hearing it was made on purpose for me, I e'en tasted Tom's fingers." Later, during tea, the spout of the teapot is clogged, and the same footman BLOWS INTO THE SPOUT TO CLEAR IT. All right, I have to admit I'm with Johnson on this one, not cool, man.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Mrs. Abington's Jelly

So all of Samuel Johnson's friends notice that after he squeezes an orange into his drink at the club, he secretly (so he thinks) slips the squeezed-out orange into his pocket. It's a regular habit. One day Boswell is over at Johnson's house and sees "some fresh peels nicely scraped and cut into pieces" on the table. Says Boswell: "O, Sir, I now partly see what you do with the squeezed oranges which you put into your pocket at the Club." But Johnson steadfastly refuses to tell him what else he does with the dried, sliced, leftover peels! That's my favorite part of the book so far for some reason. Then Johnson goes to the home of some friends for dinner and brags about a fancier dinner he was at the night before, telling the hostess, "Mrs. Abington's jelly, my dear lady, was better than yours." Boswell plays it off like Johnson is just joshing around but gee what an old crab.

A Niceness of Touch

No sooner had I asked Burke for some encouragement about reading THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON than here it came, through the ether: "I just flipped through it now" (wrote Burke) "and I couldn't remember why I loved every page - and just today I got the unabridged copy in the mail. No kidding! But here's one thing: I see it as a comedy of hero worship. Johnson IS a pill!" Burke goes on to praise "the funny formal way [Boswell] tries to rationalize Johnson's shortcomings. So that's one of the main things I liked about it... I also liked anything having to do with Johnson's blind female roommate/best friend. That's all the encouragement I have!" And sure enough, just after receiving Burke's email, I reached a point in the book where Boswell is really excited to have tea with Samuel Johnson and Samuel Johnson's friend Mrs. Williams, but then he (Boswell) is grossed out when blind Mrs. Williams, who is serving, appears to stick her finger in his tea to make sure the cup is properly filled. (A footnote informs me that Boswell was mistaken on that point: "She had acquired... such a niceness of touch, as to know, by the feeling of the outside of the cup, how near it was to being full." The same footnote says that Johnson could drink 12 cups of tea in a sitting and claimed to have once enjoyed 25.) And Burke was right: the lift I received from Mrs. Williams propelled me through 22 more pages but I'm slowing down again - Samuel Johnson keeps being a sour old jerk. It's like looking in a mirror! Maybe that's the problem.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

A Long Series of Jumbo Salesmen

Lydia Davis wrote a wonderful story collection called SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT but I am starting to think Samuel Johnson is just kind of a pill. Right now he is making fun of Oliver Goldsmith's coat. Shut up, Samuel Johnson! How much longer can I go on? Shoot me some encouragement, Burke! But I am still reading Portis for my class, so naturally I have come across some sentences worth stopping to "blog" about, this time from Portis's article recollecting some motels of his past. 1) "I gave the desk bell my customary one ding, not a loutish three or four." 2) "These clerks are trained in their motel academies to watch for furtive movement in the back seats of cars, for the hairy domes of human heads, those of wives, tykes, and grannies left crouching low in idling Plymouths." 3) "That central crater in the mattress hadn't been wallowed out overnight, but rather by a long series of jumbo salesmen, snorting and thrashing about in troubled sleep."

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I'm Done

Like what am I supposed to "blog" about? Reading yesterday in the New York Times about a cabaret performer named Meow Meow? Of course there is a cabaret performer named Meow Meow. Well there was an obit today with a headline that described the deceased as "fitful." That's no good in your obituary headline. And the other day there was an obit of a guy whose claim to fame was telling Elvis Presley to stick to truck driving because he'd never make it as a singer. It took up his whole obituary, pretty much! Reminded me of this other obituary ("click" here).

Monday, April 01, 2013

Mr. Gentleman

I have not gone to Hollywood yet, if that's what you - if you exist, which I doubt - were worrying about! No, I just haven't thought of anything worth "blogging" about lately, which is kind of astonishing considering some of the stuff I have "blogged" about. I mean, I saw a few minutes of a movie called SNOWBOARD ACADEMY, and it reminded me of KING LEAR, what with Joe Flaherty dividing up his ski resort amongst his offspring (pictured) and Jim Varney as a stand-up comedian who functions as the "king's" sidekick and fool. But I covered that in short order on twitter, an appropriately puny venue for my anemic observations. And then what? I got to a few more pages of THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON and discovered that Boswell had a friend named Mr. Gentleman. I thought that was funny, but it is probably not. And THE MISSOURI BREAKS was on TV last night and one of the characters quoted Samuel Johnson. Is it too early to start drinking?