Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Singing and Dancing on an Airplane

Last night I switched over to TCM after the movie TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS had been on for a while. I seemed to recall that this movie was reviled as one of the crummiest movies ever committed to film, so I watched a little of it. When I came in, Dean Martin and Anna Maria Alberghetti were drinking wine and lounging around on a long couch on Dean Martin's lavishly appointed private jet while another Dean - Dean Jones, to be specific (see also) - was doing some kind of strange peeping tom action from the cockpit. And I was like, "What's wrong with this? Nothing!" I was like, "Why, this movie has everything!" I was like my friend Leslie watching CONTINENTAL DIVIDE: "I don't understand why this movie is 'bad.'" Then Dean Martin got up and put on the radio (or a record player? on an airplane!) and started singing to Anna Maria Alberghetti and then they started dancing and singing to one another and I was going with it. So I decided to look up TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS in my copy of the book DINO: LIVING HIGH IN THE DIRTY BUSINESS OF DREAMS by Nick Tosches to check my vague memory of how much TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS was (and is) hated. "The picture almost killed Dean's acting career in one fell swoop," writes Tosches. And, "The picture was a stiff." I will say this: it could not hold my attention, the picture couldn't. I ignored it as I kept reading more passages from DINO: LIVING HIGH IN THE DIRTY BUSINESS OF DREAMS - much more captivating. Wow, I love that book (which I first encountered when Phil Oppenheim loaned me his chunky, tattered mass market paperback)! I remember teaching it in a grad class and this one dude was like, "This book is terrible. Why are we reading about Dean Martin? He's just a jerk." I paraphrase. But anyway, it was as if I had been stabbed in the heart, and if I am recalling correctly, I never recovered and we couldn't really talk about Dean Martin anymore for the rest of the semester due to my trauma. I lost the ability to speak and reason! Say, will the abbreviated remainder of my life be spent nursing festering grudges against students who briefly rubbed me the wrong way? Apparently! So (back to last night) over an hour later I put aside DINO: LIVING HIGH IN THE DIRTY BUSINESS OF DREAMS and glanced at the screen, on which I was startled to discover a slowly revolving platform (seen above) with all these women in pink ball gowns (I guess) playing mandolins (last night I couldn't think of the word "mandolin" and kept mentally calling them "lutes" - like, "Why are all those ladies playing lutes?" A sign of incipient dementia!) and as you can plainly see there were some accordions involved as well. Next thing you know Dean Martin is singing a duet with his butler, all about how hard it is to be a millionaire. His butler sings skeptically in reply. Or replies skeptically in song. Which made me question something Dean Martin said about TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS, as quoted in DINO: LIVING HIGH IN THE DIRTY BUSINESS OF DREAMS: "I may sing one or two songs in it, but it's definitely not a musical." Here's the thing. Okay, if you sing on an airplane along to prerecorded music, that is arguably diegetic sound (as the film scholars say)... but if you start a conversation with your butler that suddenly turns into a duet, you are in a musical, no doubt about it, sorry, Dean Martin. And the butler song was pretty terrible. Yes, things were sagging. Anyway, I have been listening to Dean Martin records all morning, and I listened to him sing a lyric that goes "I'm just a face without a name, walking in the rain," and he sounds jolly about it, like, "Wheee!" Like, "Ha ha, I'm a face without a name, just kidding." And I couldn't help but think of how Frank Sinatra would sing that lyric ("click" here and extrapolate). But sometimes you can't take all those Sinatra mental breakdowns and you just want to hang out with Dean Martin.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Blurt Not Blurted

I was thinking it would be of interest to no one were I to continue keeping a little "blog" diary of all the things I almost say out loud but then refrain from saying as I sit alone eating lunch at the bar at Ajax Diner. So here goes! Today as I enjoyed my "Osborne Sandwich," a guy next to me, who had already slathered his catfish in tartar sauce, cried out to the bartender, "Can I get more tartar sauce?" And I almost said, "Ha ha! You are just like my wife! She loves tartar sauce!" But I said nothing. Still, why the impulse to "connect"? Is my emptiness so vast? This fellow could have learned a thing or two from Dr. Theresa, who always asks for an extra serving of tartar sauce preemptively, while placing her original order. This is a woman who knows herself! Plus her thoughtfulness saves time and trouble for everyone. As I ate my sandwich, by coincidence "Blog" Buddy Wright Thompson was being interviewed on the television set over the bar. The sound was muted but his glowing, benevolent presence watched over me.

Do Look Now

Hey I stuck in a quick allusion to the Nicholas Roeg movie DON'T LOOK NOW when I was typing up the original outline to last night's ADVENTURE TIME episode, "Sky Witch." Ako Castuera and Jesse Moynihan did their usual incredible job and transformed that moment into something even scarier, if you can believe it. I can say no more! Because I don't want to spoil either "Sky Witch" or DON'T LOOK NOW for you... but here's a frame of the scene to which I was alluding, so when you do see it you'll know what I'm talking about. And as I say, Castuera and Moynihan worked a magical transformation, so it's not really an allusion anymore: when you see it, it will be a little secret between you and me. All right! Last night was the first time an ADVENTURE TIME episode I worked on has aired, so I'm really happy. You probably don't care and I don't blame you but so what? Okay you win I'll shut up. Goodbye forever.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Rat Who Owns a Pizza Shop

Now that I am working on ADVENTURE TIME I watch a lot of Cartoon Network and as a consequence I see a lot of Chuck E. Cheese commercials. Most of the time Chuck E. Cheese - a rat who owns a pizza shop - is going nuts and having a wonderful time with all the kids. But there is this one commercial where Chuck E. Cheese locks the place up (I think) and sits in the dark in a certain way - a "folksy" way, maybe? With one knee propped up in front of him? - and talks directly to the viewer, really soberly and quietly, about his "philosophy." Anyway it gives me the creeps. Remember when the guy who owned Men's Warehouse used to rant like a lunatic in his commercials? That was years ago, before you were born. Eventually the marketing department told him to calm down and from then on he whispered huskily until they fired him. Hey I just remembered when I went to freshman orientation in college and made friends with a girl named Lynn who worked at Chuck E. Cheese, and after orientation she took me over there for a free slice of pizza and I thought, "Wow! Life will never get any better than this!"

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Inside Owlball

Found the owl in THE HINDUS: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, which I think means I can stop reading it if I want. Yes, I have once again proven my famous and much beloved statement that every book has an owl in it. There is a particular penance for killing "a cat or a mongoose, a blue jay, a frog, a dog, a lizard, an owl, or a crow." It's quoted from Manu's DHARMA-SHASTRA, reminding me of the time John Aubrey quoted Sir Thomas Browne on the subject of "Owles," ha ha, am I right? Good times. Yeah? Are you with me? Huh? No? Is this all a little "inside owlball," to use the popular phrase? I should try to get a grip.


FOR REAL WARNING! The following "blog" "post" contains excruciating violence! In my big book about Hinduism I read a legend about this guy who got impaled on a stake. An angry king jabs this guy onto a stake, but then the king is like, "Sorry! I changed my mind." But the guy can't pull out the stake. He's really jabbed good! So he decides to make the best of the stake he has poking out of him, "thinking it might be useful for carrying things like flower baskets." Talk about a positive mental attitude! "And so he went about with the stake still inside him, in his neck, ribs, and entrails, and people used to call him 'Tip-of-the-Stake' Mandavya." Some nickname! I bet he kind of got sick of people calling him that, but then again, I don't know, this guy seems pretty cool about everything. And then about 20 pages later I read a couple of different stories about some dude shooting seven arrows into a dog's mouth. Not cool! Though nobody in the stories seems to think it's a big deal, nobody but the dog. Well, I take that back, people find the marksmanship notable but nobody gives a dang about the dog. And now all I can think about is Phineas Gage, the real-life historical figure who got an iron bar through his head and was all, "Whatevs." I first heard about Mr. Gage from my friend Bill from Hubcap City, who wanted to write a rock opera about him as I recall, or maybe a normal opera. Of course, Phineas Gage was not really all, "Whatevs." I think he became sort of a jerk. Yes, I just looked it up on the University of Akron "web" site, which says that Gage became "fitful, irreverent, and grossly profane, showing little deference for his fellows. He was also impatient and obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, unable to settle on any of the plans he devised for future action. His friends said he was 'No longer Gage.'" Yeah, but I mean, come on! Give him a break. A THREE-FOOT, THIRTEEN-POUND IRON BAR WENT THROUGH HIS HEAD. You'd be capricious too. (PS In one of those stories a guy cuts off his own thumb and we didn't even get to that.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tonight's Back Fat Story

Our friend Larry threw a great party at the Powerhouse tonight. On a big screen, we all watched a French television interview with our much-missed friend and neighbor (and Larry's wife, of course) Dean Faulkner Wells. Before the presentation I was talking to Bill Griffith (who runs Faulkner's house, Rowan Oak) about his favorite show: ADVENTURE TIME, natch. And then we started talking about the scary ghost movie THE CONJURING, which had given us both nightmares. Bill's nightmare took place at Rowan Oak, where he found a pentagram on the floor and tried to wash it off. "Then a demon grabbed me by the back fat," he said. May I say in conclusion that today's ADVENTURE TIME writers' meeting began with me watching Pendleton Ward watching a Beyoncé video. Later, a kid named "Kid President" came into the writers' room - he is a youtube phenomenon with whom I was previously unacquainted. In between we got a really good outline written for an upcoming episode. Really good!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Big Bob Hope Head Chop Confirmation

Rented CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT because I haven't seen it since I was a little kid, and I wanted to confirm that Bob Hope gets his head chopped off at the end, which terrified me during my cowardly, cringing childhood the way I told you. I don't want to lie to you! Besides, there is nothing anyone enjoys more than reading about the dumb things that scared "bloggers" when they were children. Now I have watched CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT and I can tell you two or three things: 1) IT IS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE. 2) There's a moment when Bob Hope escapes from his tiny dungeon cell using a tunnel that ends up leading to an even tinier cell, filled with other prisoners who have also tried to escape. Is that like Samuel Beckett? No, it's much more like Bunuel. I know I promised many years ago to stop comparing every weird thing in a movie to Bunuel, and I have tried to stick to it, but that really is something that would happen in a Bunuel movie, I can't help it, sue me, that's Bunuel's view of the world in a nutshell, really. All the other prisoners laugh at Bob Hope and he says, "It's not that funny." Bunuel! 3) Yep, he gets his head chopped off. And I remembered what was so scary to me as a child: you see the swift axe (it wasn't a guillotine: that I misremembered) come down almost all the way to his neck before there's a freeze frame. The eternally suspended axe - blurred from the inevitable speed with which death visits us all - looms over Bob Hope's head in his monstrously protracted final second of existence! Then there's some "postmodern" (I guess) biz where Bob steps out of character to beg us - the audience! - for his life... and WE BETRAY HIM. What exactly is being said about complicity, passivity, spectatorship, consumerism, power, the element of Dionysian sacrifice snaking through all popular entertainment? Nothing, probably. Why don't I just go to hell?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gonna Prove to You That Love Is Groovy

Man, I couldn't sleep at all last night! Was it because I watched a scary ghost movie yesterday afternoon? Well, that's really none of your beeswax. And anyway, I also had a huge iced tea at Taylor Grocery, so shut up. So anyway I got up in the dead of night and turned on the TV and there was cynical city slicker Sarah Jessica Parker forced into wholesome country living by contrived circumstances, learning a little something about life by milking a cow. Ugh! I watched the whole thing, of course. At the end, Hugh Grant is saved from an assassin by Mary Steenburgen, Sam Elliott and Wilford Brimley. Wow! So I was sitting there thinking, "Wow." I thought, "Wow, everybody's schedule worked out perfectly to make that happen." Then I looked out the window and saw a fox in our front yard! (See also.) It was cleverly negotiating a white paper bag - one of several dropped nightly after the bars close by young, starry-eyed drunkards whose well-to-do mommies and daddies have sent them off to college without enough God-given sense to use a trash can - to retrieve the leftover chicken-on-a-stick nestled within. Have I told you about chicken-on-a-stick here before? It's a disgusting "local delicacy." I once wrote a whole long article about my complex love-hate relationship with chicken-on-a-stick and even discussed it in an intellectual "panel" format, to the delight of none. But that need not concern you! All you need to think about right now is the fox I saw last night, trotting happily down the sidewalk with his hard-won chicken-on-a-stick in his mouth. So really I should thank the li'l drunkards, who unknowingly arranged such an unexpected treat for my weary eyes and mind! Then it was 3 AM and WAY... WAY OUT was coming on! I can't tell you how many hours I spent on the "internet" this morning looking for stills of Connie Stevens's apartment in WAY... WAY OUT. I found nothing truly suitable, despite all my expert "googling." Above you can see Jerry Lewis and Connie Stevens on her couch, in front of what I first took to be a mural of some kind: please note the strange bubbling texture of the purplish material... at least we are afforded a good look at that. But, you know, I think it is supposed to be a window. In a wider shot, a huge orange-red moon is visible, and at the end of the scene, Connie Stevens, who is an astronaut, shouts to the moon, "Well, what do you know? I'm coming!" or something like that, indicating to me (along with a nearby telescope) that it is supposed to be a window, some kind of futuristic window (the movie, from 1966, takes place in "the future"), and she is addressing the actual moon. In another "screen grab," which you will find at the end of this "post," you can see more of the crazy couch and pillows and yellow-and-orange striped carpet and other furnishings - dig that lamp! - of the type McNeil loves so well, but the image is blurry and faded, and not in the good way, so you're missing the odd vibrancy of the scene. I had more to say about WAY... WAY OUT, lots more (the title of this "post," for example, comes from the theme song to WAY... WAY OUT, about which I planned to wax rhapsodic; would it interest you to know that only moments ago Dr. Theresa, driven past the breaking point, finally said, "Okay, you're going to have to start humming something else now"?), so much more, and it seemed like a great idea, like something about how Dennis Weaver's turn in WAY... WAY OUT is a gloss on his twitching, weeping, writhing weirdo from TOUCH OF EVIL, but who cares? Honestly.

Dashed Outside

Well, you know, I am still thinking about that 1972 ghost article from the New York Times. Here is the part I am thinking about today: the paragraph ending, "a woman who died there in bed is said to occasionally return, floating in through the window to frighten occupants, including two young women who once dashed outside 'in a state of relative undress,' Colonel Dionne said." I am thinking of Colonel Dionne's exquisite formality, and whether it represses or perhaps expresses an unseemly lasciviousness - secret, perhaps, only to Colonel Dionne himself! In the version of the article that appeared in the Palm Beach Post, the editors removed the Colonel's title in that quotation, so that it just ends, "Dionne said," not "Colonel Dionne said," robbing it of some color and interest, I think - a tone-deaf choice on the part of the editors of the Palm Beach Post in 1972. Okay now I am done thinking about everything. (See also.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Toilet Ghost

More about the West Point ghost of 1972! I found an article written by cadets for their school newspaper, and what the New York Times DIDN'T tell you is that the ghost first appeared sitting on a toilet. Okay!

Snooty Ectoplasm

Dr. Theresa and Chris Offutt and I went to see the scary ghost movie about the real-life scary ghost-bustin' power couple Ed and Lorraine Warren. So when I got home I decided to check out the New York Times archives to see whether real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren ever got in there for their scary ghost-bustin' power. The earliest relevant article I found was from November 21, 1972, and it starts like this: "The shimmering, opalescent figure of a United States cavalry soldier of the eighteen-thirties - with full uniform, boots, a handlebar mustache and a musket in his ectoplasmic hand - is causing an uproar at the United States Military Academy at West Point." There's no bustin', though: in fact, the article kind of almost BLAMES old Ed and Lorraine for the ghost! I can't "link" to it because it is in a part of the archive you have to pay to unlock (unless you have a subscription). I did find a readily accessible - if much shorter - version for you ("click" here) in the Palm Beach Post from a few days later... but as you will see, the editors of the Palm Beach Post changed the New York Times's original report so that the ghost soldier has a "floating hand" rather than an "ectoplasmic hand." I guess they thought "ectoplasmic" was too snooty! Somehow "opalescent" got a pass.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Let Us Concentrate on the Monkeys

Ha ha, I just finished chapter nine of this big book about Hinduism. You didn't think I could make it, did you? You don't believe in me! You've never believed in me! This chapter was about THE RAMAYANA, a work that Lee Durkee happened to recommend just the other night. And I have coincidentally noticed that there is a big stack of THE RAMAYANA at Square Books, so many copies! Like, maybe a book club was going to read it, then forgot? I have no idea. But my purchase of it seems fated. I read about a "marvelous golden deer, thickly encrusted with precious jewels," which was really "the ogre Maricha in disguise," and that was pretty good, but imagine my excitement when I came to the segment subtitled "MONKEYS," which contained this sentence: "Let us concentrate on the monkeys, as the bears play only a minor role." When someone suggests "Let us concentrate on the monkeys," I always answer, "Okay!" Doniger goes on to rank monkeys in Hindu symbolism as "Neither so glamorous as horses nor so despised as dogs," and I dared to hope for a moment that a monkey might ride a dog like a horse, but no, not in this chapter. I did read this: "Hanuman, the great general of the monkey army, forgets that he has magic powers (to fly, to be become very big and very small, etc.)" and that made me think a little bit of Jake from ADVENTURE TIME.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to "McNeil's Movie Korner," the only place on the "internet" to read about movies you don't care anything about. NEWS FLASH! I emailed McNeil after his recent visit to say we should watch CANCEL MY RESERVATION - Bob Hope's final role as a leading man - next time we get together. McNeil replied: "I don't think I've seen it since it was on the NBC movie of the week way back in the 70s. I can still see Bob holding up a jungle-print bra (a la Mrs. Robinson). I think he's climbing out of a cave? And then it burns? Am I dreaming? Am I having an astral projection?" Friends, I went ahead and watched CANCEL MY RESERVATION, and I can tell you that McNeil was only partially dreaming. Eva Marie Saint and Bob Hope are trapped in a cave, and Bob uses Eva Marie Saint's animal-print bra to fashion a makeshift bow, which he uses to shoot a makeshift flaming arrow out of a hole, attracting the attention of Keenan Wynn and Ralph Bellamy, who are flying over in a helicopter... but WHY, you ask, did I watch CANCEL MY RESERVATION without McNeil? Because McNeil went on: "Maybe it's best to save it up until just before I die, that way I have something to look forward to... like, 'Oh boy, I can't wait til I'm almost dead so I can watch CANCEL MY RESERVATION.' A movie which is appropriate for 'deathbed viewing,' and probably not only because of the title. Is deathbed one word? Why did I put that phrase in quotes? I can't believe I'm still typing..." (A sentiment I have often expressed on the "blog" - a sensation, in fact, that I am experiencing RIGHT NOW. And yet there is no end in sight.) NEWS FLASH! The opening credits of CANCEL MY RESERVATION include "With Anne Archer as Crazy." That's right! Anne Archer's character's name is "Crazy." She's a free-spirited young woman of today! (And only a year later Clint Eastwood directed a movie about a free-spirited young woman named... BREEZY.) As "Crazy" explains her name to Eva Marie Saint, "I pinned it on myself. Until we come together inside, we're all a little crazy." Wise words, "Crazy"! I believe Eva Marie Saint even remarks as much, as she and "Crazy" have some real talk about "women's lib" over coffee and toast. A lot of the movie is played really straight... the talks about "women's lib" and relationships, the murder plot... I noticed in the credits that CANCEL MY RESERVATION is based on a novel by Louis L'Amour - which probably doesn't deserve one of these (!) but there it is anyway. In one of my many books by Bob Hope, I read, "I had planned to produce it with another actor as star, but the deal didn't go through. Then Tom Sarnoff of NBC said, 'Why don't you do BROKEN GUN yourself?' Why not? The script was rewritten, and we shot most of the picture in Carefree, Arizona." That (the rewrite) explains a lot. As straight as it's played, you can feel the anxious presence of Bob Hope's gag writers like invisible creatures from another world, occasionally breaking through the membrane of existence Lovecraft style. In one distasteful instance, Bob obviously took the fellas aside and said, "Hey, there should be a gag where I try to give this kid mouth-to-mouth" (talking about Anne Archer) and they gritted their teeth and buckled down and put it in there, though it's absolutely unnecessary, which made me think of of what McNeil said about Hope's love interest in EIGHT ON THE LAM, and the general information about Hope's "love life" that has been funneled to me over the years by Megan Abbott. Another intrusion into the "reality" of CANCEL MY RESERVATION occurs when Bob imagines being hung in front of a jeering mob that includes Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson, John Wayne and Flip Wilson in cameo appearances. Immediately I thought of two other Hope movies that revolve around Hope being executed or nearly executed: by electric chair in MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE and guillotine in CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT. And there must be more. Is there a scholarly paper to written about Bob Hope's recurring nightmare of public execution? No. Though it occurs to me this may be another motif that Woody Allen picked up from Hope... God help me, I just keep typing, don't I? CANCEL MY RESERVATION is one of those late films of which Dave Kehr remarked, "There’s none of the fearful, anti-hippie humor that had come to dominate his television specials; instead, he seems to be doing his best to keep up, adapting the point of view of a concerned, confused but not wholly unsympathetic parent." From the same article: "Funny they are not, but these last efforts are unexpectedly moving. Hope does his unflappably professional best to pick his way through a cultural landscape that had irreversibly shifted beneath his feet." And that's the word I kept thinking, too, as I watched Hope work here: "professional." NEWS FLASH! McNeil watched GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN on TCM yesterday. He reports: "The director of GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN does the same thing Jerry Lewis does in THE LADIES MAN! Gidget tells a woman on a plane a story that happened only 12 minutes earlier in the movie, and the director replays the scene for the audience to relive (with Gidget providing v/o) - just in case we forgot." I recall that Kent Osborne and I once watched the beginning of THE LADIES MAN together, and the odd editorial choice described by McNeil marked a point of no return for Kent. Here's how Chris Fujiwara puts it in his great Jerry monograph: "Lewis unfolds redundancy for its own sake, as redundancy... The repetition discloses nothing new but only confirms the obsessive nature of Herbert's relation to the scene (and, in a wider sense, the obsessional character that all narrative possesses for Lewis)." Okay! (See also. "See also"? Ha ha ha! Pendarvis, you're a riot! I know nobody's reading this. See also.)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

French Monkey Dog

Dr. Theresa and I are watching the 1973 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (starring her old buddy Michael York) RIGHT NOW and do you know what it has in it? That's right: a monkey riding a dog, one of the "blog's" primary concerns.

A Piece of Mop Sitting on an Old Rag

Lee Durkee and I watched the 1969 version of HAMLET, with Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia, and when she came out to do her "mad scene" (pictured) she was all, "They say the owl was a baker's daughter" and I turned and gave Lee a big thumbs up and he laughed resignedly because you know what that means: HAMLET has an owl in it. I looked it up in the facsimile of the Second Quarto that Lee gave me for my birthday and they spell it my favorite way, "Owle," just like John Aubrey. Lee has been reading lots of Flannery O'Connor lately, and - good sport that he is - he sent me this passage from WISE BLOOD: "Over in one corner on the floor of the cage, there was an eye. The eye was in the middle of something that looked like a piece of mop sitting on an old rag. He squinted close to the wire and saw that the piece of mop was an owl with one eye open. It was looking directly at Hazel Motes. 'That ain't nothing but a ole hoot owl,' he moaned."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thinking About Boom Boom

Strolling past a new (I think) restaurant on the square, I saw that their sidewalk sandwich board advertised, on one side, a "BOOM BOOM CHICKEN SANDWICH" and on the other a "STEAK SCRAP SANDWICH," and that is all, just the names, no descriptions, black magic marker, stark. I am not certain these sound like delicious sandwiches! A "scrap" is something you feed to a dog, for example, and has the word "crap" contained conspicuously within it, pardon my French. Nor do you want your chicken associated with explosions of whatever kind. Speaking of boom boom, I have been watching reruns of THE SOPRANOS for some months now, weeknights on one of the HBO channels. When that show was on the air, I was sure that the theme song talked about waking up with a "boom boom in your eye." Just the other day, several years late, I realized that the character to which the song is addressed in fact has a "blue moon" in his or her eye.

Whoa, Tony Curtis!

Another one of my birthday presents was a book called AMERICAN PRINCE: A MEMOIR by Tony Curtis. Whoa, Tony Curtis! You can't call yourself a prince in the title of a book you write about yourself! Besides, Prince is the American Prince. Everybody is going to think your book is about Prince, Tony Curtis. Kirk Douglas called his memoir THE RAGMAN'S SON if I am recalling correctly. Get it? His humble beginnings! I know you have been dead for a couple of years, Tony Curtis, so I am sorry to pick on you like this. Hey, you know how I check every index of every book to see if Jerry Lewis is in it, with varying results? I knew before peeking that Jerry would be all over AMERICAN PRINCE. The book came out in 2008 and Tony Curtis was still seething about Jerry flicking cigarette ash on his shoulder just before a take in BOEING, BOEING, as a joke (see also). "I had put together a really beautiful wardrobe in this picture," pouts the late Tony Curtis.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


"Do you exist?" Ace Atkins asked McNeil to his face the other night, settling a question - we hope! - that has persistently plagued the "blog." McNeil affirmed that he does indeed exist. Barry B., who was also in town for my birthday, reported that, back in Atlanta, Phil recently remarked again upon his disbelief in McNeil - RECENTLY! - which seems incredible, given that Phil once sent McNeil something in the mail. Did he think he was mailing something to a ghost? Oh, how we stubbornly ignore the evidence in front of our eyes. While he was in town McNeil inspected the cashew tree he mailed me for my birthday, speaking of mail. I have to say, it's looking kind of sickly. I think often of the song "Grandfather's Clock," which is about some old dude who dies when his clock stops ticking (or his clock stops ticking when he dies) and I worry about keeping the birthday cashew tree alive on similar principles of sympathetic magic. But I draw some consolation from SIBLEY'S GUIDE TO TREES, which I've been coveting at Square Books, and which my sister and brother-in-law kindly got me for my birthday (yes, they were also in town! As you will see, everyone was in town. It was really nice! And though I kept saying NO PRESENTS, people gave me stuff, perhaps most startlingly Bill Griffith, who strode across Snackbar with a machete [for me]. "Like ADVENTURE TIME, get it?" he said). For example, I read about deciduous trees in the introduction, and took some comfort from looking at the sickly tree and thinking, "Oh! It's deciduous, that's all. Yes, that's what a deciduous tree must look like." Sometimes we can deceive ourselves with our fancy book-learning, maybe! As far as I can tell, this kind of straight-up cashew tree doesn't generally grow in the United States, though trees in "the cashew family" (including various pistachios) do. "Many species in the family exude a blackish resin from broken twigs and develop blackish spots on the leaves." Check! "Many species in the cashew family... have toxic oils in their leaves and stems." Gosh! Poison ivy and poison oak are related to the cashew. Gee! Yesterday I was thankfully able to point out to McNeil a few new, tender shoots on the cashew tree, nestled among the blackening and withering leaves. But we're not here to talk about trees! I'm sure the main thing you'd like to know is whether we had another "McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival" while McNeil was here. We did not. And yet a peculiar mini-film-festival did occur. Dr. Theresa and Leslie (who was also in town: see?) were idly flipping around the movie channels for something to watch when they came across THREE FUGITIVES, that Martin Short/Nick Nolte team-up that everyone was probably waiting for once upon a time. Some quality of the film - Dr. Theresa and Leslie referred to it as "flatness" - they found compelling and numbing. I came in after they had already succumbed to the flatfooted vibe it exerted. McNeil came in to find all three of us staring dumbly at THREE FUGITIVES. Martin Short is an an unwilling bank robber who needs money for his moppet of a daughter who has LOST THE ABILITY TO SPEAK. "Charlie Chaplin has a lot to answer for," I said at one point. (I think it was a long shot of the Little Girl Who Couldn't Talk alone at the very end of a park bench, her hands folded in her lap, and Martin Short was really pushing the wet-eyed, gulping sad clown thing, to use Bruce Handy's definition of the term, which is looser than mine.) Late in the film Dr. Theresa and Leslie came out of the coma-like trances into which THREE FUGITIVES had lulled them for a segment in which Martin Short is forced to pretend to be a pregnant woman, Nick Nolte "her" concerned husband and the little girl is transformed into the "couple's" little boy. The academic portions of their brains kicked into overdrive at the sight of the gruff loner Nolte learning to be a "true man" by performing the role of the "man." Perhaps he, without changing his physical appearance, was in the most elaborate "drag" of all! The next day (or was it the day after?) in the post-celebration haze, a groggy Dr. Theresa and Leslie felt they "needed" another movie exhibiting the same "flatness" as THREE FUGITIVES, and charged me with finding one that was just beginning on one of the movie channels, which is how we came by chance to FEDS, a buddy comedy starring Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross (pictured) as would-be FBI agents. Once again I was moved to say, "Charlie Chaplin has a lot to answer for," but I can't remember why. Besides, the real phantoms hanging over both THREE FUGITIVES and FEDS were Martin and Lewis, of course. Martin Short (who often impersonates Lewis) and Mary Gross are the child-like ids (Mary Gross in a gun shop sticks a pistol in the front of her pants and does a strange, wiggling Jerry-like dance) while De Mornay and Nolte are the loners, the smooth operators, who learn to allow themselves to become dependent on their "weaker" counterparts. (And, as McNeil pointed out during the cross-dressing sequence of THREE FUGITIVES, Jerry often took the "female" role, appearing, for example, in remakes of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR and NOTHING SACRED in the parts originally played by Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard.) Ha ha ha, I know nobody is reading this! McNeil (who came over in time to catch almost all of FEDS) wondered whether there was a sequel, a FEDS 2, and though it seemed obvious that no one had scrambled for a follow-up buddy comedy from Mary Gross and Rebecca De Mornay, McNeil checked his iPhone, just to make sure. And of course there was no FEDS 2. Yet a sequence that played over the final credits seemed to promise just that. The ridiculous optimism we need in order to continue living! Leslie argued with force and clarity that both THREE FUGITIVES and FEDS were about the fact that we become the roles we perform. Then some great monster in the scheduling department saw to it that CONTINENTAL DIVIDE came on right after FEDS. What a double feature! As no one felt capable of movement, we sat through CONTINENTAL DIVIDE - marking the second time I have seen it in four months, a preposterous circumstance I never would have believed had some Cassandra informed me of it in advance. Yet Leslie, who had never seen it, championed CONTINENTAL DIVIDE for a long spell, repeating "I don't see why this movie is 'bad,'" at a number of points. Well into the second act she spoke of its charms convincingly, citing, for instance, the cinematography that made everything in Chicago look like "old Polaroids," and exclaiming when Blair Brown busted up the shotguns of some eagle poachers against a rock that it was just the kind of thing she (Leslie) always fantasized about doing. But soon, beaten down by the movie's numerous willful missteps, she gave up, finally concluding that CONTINENTAL DIVIDE seemed like a movie that was stitched together entirely of scenes that had been edited out of some other movie. McNeil pointed out that it aspired to the condition of the "screwball comedy," yet lacked that genre's essential ingredient: unnatural speed. The director, he thought, could have improved the movie a lot simply by getting everyone to talk faster. Thwarted by a misguided allegiance to so-called "realism"! Hey, I don't want you to think we only watched movies. Leslie also went through an old community cookbook reading recipe titles and we'd make up songs about them - or, more accurately, imagine who might have recorded a song with such a name, like "Impossible Cheeseburger Pie" (Bob Dylan) and "Baptist Pound Cake" (Leonard Cohen; "Baptist Pound Cake" being a sexy, taboo metaphor - some woman takes pity on Leonard Cohen and feeds him "Baptist Pound Cake" in "the alley behind the church.") In summation: 1) Sometimes we can deceive ourselves with our fancy book-learning. 2) We stubbornly ignore the evidence in front of us. 3) We become the roles we perform. 4) Ridiculous optimism is required for the merest survival. These seem like terrible birthday lessons! So why was everything so much fun?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Llamas Will Steal Your Heart

The other llama article in today's New York Times quotes a guy saying, "Llamas will steal your heart."

Close-Knit Llama Community

Skimmed the llama article. (Note: there is actually more than one llama article in today's New York Times.) Anyhow, it mentions the "close-knit llama community" and uses the word poop in its scatological sense, like others in the stunningly vast catalogue of poop-based New York Times articles.

Soft Irritation

A headline from the "Home & Garden" section of today's New York Times: "The Case for Miniature Llamas." What is this feeling I have? A soft, almost comforting irritation? A more fluid experience, swinging between mild bemusement and nearly physical revulsion? I get it a lot from New York Times headlines, whatever it is. Is it the person I imagine, reading the New York Times in a breakfast nook and calling into the other room, "Honey, we simply MUST get a miniature llama"? No... why should I care whether or not this person I just made up wants a miniature llama? Or that he is drinking tea for breakfast instead of coffee? Is this a class thing? Do I hate people with breakfast nooks? Or any kind of nooks? Is it nooks I hate? Nook. That's a funny word. Nook. Nook. Or is it the intellectual that the headline writer fantasizes, stroking his goatee and musing, half to himself, "Hmm, this article makes a good case for miniature llamas"? Is it the retired crank on the manual typewriter, composing a strongly worded rebuttal to the editor at this very moment ("There is a very good case to be made for miniature llamas, but unfortunately, this is not it. What the author fails to recognize...")? Is it that I am secretly a combination of all three of these hypothetical people? I think it's just the headline. I know it's just the headline, because I didn't read the article. A certain precocity? Is it preciously deadpan? "The Case for Miniature Llamas." Maybe I have mental problems. Nook.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Vegetable of the Day

Stopped by Square Books and noticed that there's a new bio of Alexander Wilson... but I didn't buy it because I no longer wish to think about the horrible death of Meriwether Lewis. Because I recently planted a tree I went upstairs to the nature section and looked up what color leaves are supposed to be. Green. Uh-oh. Then it was off to Ajax for lunch. I heard the bartender tell the guy next to me at the bar that the vegetable of the day was corn-and-tomato salad, and I had an impulse to shout, "I highly recommend it!" But I said nothing (see also). Why? Why so withholding, Pendarvis? I was reading a Tao Lin book as I ate lunch, and thanks to my famous suggestibility I started daydreaming about what a Tao Lin character would make of my repressed desire to suggest the corn-and-tomato salad. It seemed to me like the sort of mental behavior a Tao Lin character would self-analyze. (I could imagine it, but I don't have the talent to set it down properly here.) I noticed that every time the guy took a sip of iced tea he slammed his glass on the bar with what appeared to be unconscious violence. I kept thinking, "This guy is intense!"

Monday, July 01, 2013

Long Story

Well now I am glad I pressed on with this book THE HINDUS: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY by Wendy Doniger. (I'm only on page 78; is that really "pressing on"?) It's lively and conversational, full of playful asides: "I'd love to know what the scholars who came up with these ideas were smoking," she remarks of her predecessors. When she mentions a mythical sage "who had a single antelope horn growing out of his forehead," she explains parenthetically, "(his mother was a white-footed antelope; it's a long story)."