Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Canned Meatballs and Aqua Velva

I'm not sure Hogan is back home from tour yet, where her copy of the dual autobiography of Jim and Henny Backus (I think; so far it's all Jim Backus, though Henny will chime in about Jim's father's excellent golfing skills, for example) is waiting for her. I promised to go slow... and I'm keeping my promise... I'm only on Chapter Three... but I have a great desire to spill the beans about it, as it's all about Jim Backus's friendship with Victor Mature (pictured), which started when they were in military school together (I think that's where Jim won the big football game). DON'T READ THIS, HOGAN. As teenagers they would throw parties in their dorm room, serving drinks made by mixing lemon soda and Aqua Velva. KIDS! DON'T DRINK AFTERSHAVE LOTION. IT WILL LITERALLY KILL YOU. And anyway they don't put the same stuff in it as they did when Jim Backus and Victor Mature were teenagers so what's the point. When he grew up Victor Mature had his own line of canned meatballs. I confirmed this with an old newspaper article - "click" here to read it - which states that Victor Mature "makes love to movie queens for money and peddles television sets and meatballs for fun." As Jen Vafidis points out on twitter we also learn - information not in the book, so far - that "!! his dog is named Genius II because the first Genius is him !!" which strikes me as playful self-deprecation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sexy Vacation

Ha ha, the Banana Guards sure were dumb on last night's ADVENTURE TIME episode! During the meeting when we were talking about that outline I believe I said something like, "Why aren't these guys more on the ball thanks to Root Beer Guy?" (As you may recall, he was promoted to the position of their captain, and maybe because I did his voice I was especially upset that he wasn't apparently too good at his job.) Someone - was it me? - suggested that Root Beer Guy was on a "sexy vacation with his wife"... a line that actually made it into the episode for a little while before being cut somewhere along the way. But it remains in one form: this delightful promotional poster that storyboard artist Seo Kim did for the episode. Look, she even has his little cell phone vibrating with emergency on the table next to him, and he's (I choose to believe) drinking from a coconut with a straw - something I once did in Los Angeles for an ADVENTURE TIME meeting, though that's just a happy coincidence.

"dude that is terrifying"

At the very moment I tweeted about Kent eating chicken last night, Kent happened to be in a bar eating wings. He tweeted a picture at me as proof, to which Pen Ward tweeted in reply, "dude that is terrifying":

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cowboy Combo

"I ate a lot of chicken this weekend, Jack," said Kent near the very beginning of today's ADVENTURE TIME meeting. I asked Kent to describe some of the more memorable chicken he had eaten this weekend. As we chatted, Pen drew this picture of Kent as "Galactus - Destroyer of Chickens." Kent had something called a "cowboy combo" this weekend, which included, if I am recalling correctly, some "mesquite-smoked chicken" of which Kent spoke quite highly, and some ribs.

Adamantine Letters

Went to look up Bellini in MILTON CROSS' ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC and he didn't even have a section! Then I accidentally ran across an aside on him in the Donizetti section and got sad because they casually gave his birth and death dates and poor Bellini died at 34! I think. Anyway, something like that. So today at Square Books I looked him up in a history of opera which I did not buy - which is just like stealing! I even asked for a scrap of paper from Carla behind the coffee counter (more stealing!) so I could write down this thing Bellini said in a letter to his librettist: "Carve into your head in adamantine letters: OPERA MUST MAKE PEOPLE WEEP, FEEL HORRIFIED, DIE THROUGH SINGING." Megan was there, followed by her friends Karen and Dennis in town for a visit and one of the things we talked about was the TV show JUSTIFIED and I said it looked like they were setting up Mary Steenburgen to be the bad guy next season and Megan reminded me of something she had told me before (which I am probably getting as wrong as the Shirley Temple martini pitcher story): that Mary Steenburgen just woke up one morning magically able to play the accordion, having never done it before, can that possibly be what Megan said? I am not even going to research this nor, if I am wrong, correct it.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

They Taste Good

Inspired (I assume) by my newfound love of negronis, my friend Pen had one and declared to me on twitter (I think I am quoting correctly) "They taste bad." Well, I just feel sorry for him! And look! Here is Natasha, the official nicest person in the world, who bought him one (pictured), and just that fact alone should make it taste good! Sometimes I wonder what is going on in the universe. I have to say it should be in a rocks glass. But still.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Adventure Time Time

Hey look here is a photo I stole from somebody on the "internet." She or he seems very nice. You can see Andy and Kent and me here, during our poster-signing session at Wondercon. And you should really "click" on this person's "link" to see how truly horribly I draw BMO (he or she includes an entire poster from all of us), who is really just a rectangle, yet I somehow manage to hilariously (not on purpose) and completely screw it up. My incompetence should give hope to one and all!

The Costco Experience

Here's a picture Ace took when we went to Memphis today. He called out of the blue and off we went. On the way we talked about John D. MacDonald some. I thought I had detected a single similarity between MacDonald and Charles Willeford, two extremely different writers. But I noticed that they are both willing to stop their plots in what I find to be a really pleasant way, and just dally over some other subject for a whole chapter or two, say: not what you expect necessarily from a "crime novel." I asked Ace - who was a newspaperman in Florida, you know - whether he thought it had anything to do with the fact that MacDonald and Willeford are both considered "Florida writers," as stylistically different as they are. Ace gave me a good history lesson on Florida crime writing and the particular idiosyncrasies of John D. MacDonald, and the ride to Memphis whizzed by. Ace was going there to speak at a branch of the Memphis Public Library. When we pulled in I could not help but notice that people were selling barbecue from a tent in the library parking lot. Because we were in Memphis! So I let Ace go in to "speak" and had some barbecue instead. I was drawn to the welcome sight of baloney. Not your thin Oscar Mayer-style slices. Nice thick honest rounds of real baloney, my friends. And they put two on a sandwich, as I now know from experience. I finished my sandwich - a real bargain at $3! - and was about to walk into the library when I overheard the library security guard say to a bystander, "The slaw is exceptional." I asked if he were referring to the slaw they put on the barbecue sandwiches in the library parking lot and he said yes and I quite agreed with him. So I said that I was almost tempted to go back and try the smoked sausage. He revealed that he had first had a smoked sausage and then gone back for the baloney! So we bonded over that. So did I go back and have a smoked sausage sandwich? It is really none of your beeswax. THAT KIND OF PERSONAL DECISION IS BETWEEN ME AND THE LIBRARY SECURITY GUARD. I saw no signage, so I asked the barbecue guys whether they had a restaurant and the main guy said, "No, we ride around." Then he said that his regular spot is on the corner of Winchester and Elvis Presley Boulevard. Go visit! And tell 'em "Bloggy" the "Blog" Mascot sent you. Finally I went in the library and was very pleasantly surprised to find that Ace's fellow speakers included Scott Phillips and Jedidiah Ayres. We were able to catch up a little bit. Then Ace and I had some Gus's Fried Chicken (SIDE NOTE! When Kent sent me the photo to use in my "Kent Eating Chicken" "post" I promised in return to take him to Gus's next time he visits... and he told me he has already been, of course! He has even been to a second secret Tennessee chicken location that John T. Edge told him about! You can't get ahead of Kent Osborne when it comes to chicken). Over chicken, thinking back on the speaking engagement I had just enjoyed, I speculated that our friend Scott was the first person to use the phrase "a pile of genitals" in the Memphis Public Library and Ace responded, "I THINK NOT." Then Ace said, "Have you ever had the Costco experience?" I had to answer in the negative. Turned out, Ace had to go to Costco and renew his membership and buy one million items from Costco. It also turns out the "Costco experience" is pretty much the same as the "grocery store experience." BUT! Then I passed a whole stack of kayaks in the Costco. Kayaks stacked to the skies! And Ace said, "You know they also sell coffins at Costco." He wasn't kidding! They really do. But the final part of the Costco experience is that when you leave they kind of frisk you! Well, they go through your stuff like you're smuggling uranium. There's your Costco experience. We drove back to town and dropped off the frozen stuff and one of Ace's kids hit me with a light saber. (PS Ace's kids are the best! I am recalling the incident with fondness and good humor!) "Chicken, kayaks and coffins," Dr. Theresa said, summing up my own summary of my day. It sounded like the title of a memoir! Maybe of the founder of Costco! When Ace brought me home we found Dr. Theresa and Megan there. They had just finished watching the old live-action Disney chiller THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, inspired by Jimmy's thesis defense, in which he cited it, and they were still a little freaked out by the apparently traumatic alternate endings with which the DVD had come supplied. So I gave Megan her first ever belt of rye. A 13-year-old rye! Oh, this day has been coming.

Abating the Transmission

Sitting at the bar at the Lamar Lounge with Derrick Harriell yesterday, talking about Joe Louis because Derrick wrote a whole series of poems about the man, and I suddenly remembered that we studied Joe Louis in 4th grade Alabama history. Here is what I remember about 4th grade Alabama history. We studied the notable people of Alabama, who apparently were Helen Keller, Joe Louis, George Washington Carver and William Crawford Gorgas. Yesterday, talking to Derrick, I couldn't definitively remember anything about William Crawford Gorgas except his name, or so I thought. I told Derrick "I think he did something with yellow fever or malaria." Well, I looked him up on wikipedia today and it turns out he is known for "abating the transmission of yellow fever and malaria" at the Panama Canal. So I guess 4th grade history really stuck! Way to go, Ms. Matthews! The main thing I remember about my 4th grade teacher Ms. Matthews (I think we were still saying "Miss Matthews" not "Ms." then, but in Alabama it sounds like "Miz" either way) is that she loved the Miami Dolphins and talked about them all the time. All she did was talk about how much she loved Larry Csonka. And William Crawford Gorgas, I guess. Also, I guess she was the first teacher I had a crush on. The previous ones (except Polly Cherry, my happily named kindergarten teacher) were comforting and grandmotherly, but hardly crush material. Wow, this is self-indulgent. Well, you're reading a "blog" so I don't feel sorry for you. This "post" is really only for Hogan, who loves all 4th grade memories of everyone thanks in part to the noble influence of Lynda Barry. The other thing I recall (I'm pretty sure) from 4th grade Alabama history is these lyrics - and almost no others - of the Alabama state song: "Fair thy Coosa, Tallapoosa." Ha ha! Sounds dirty (though I never would have thought that at the time). But it is a paean to rivers, like FINNEGANS WAKE. I believe the state song also has a line about orange trees, which always confused me. Does Alabama have a lot of orange trees? I loved singing "Fair thy Coosa, Tallapoosa," but always felt ambivalent at best when I got to the part about orange trees (if that part actually exists). There's an Alabama town named Satsuma, which is also a kind of citrus fruit.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Much celebration last night because Jimmy (above, with yours truly) and McKay both "defended" themselves and earned their degrees so now "The Man" says they are "writers." And in this one case, "The Man" is really onto something! Because these two are the real deal, all right. And though I haven't taught in a good long while now, I couldn't be prouder. I felt pretty happy and proud seeing Michael Bible back in town for a visit last night, too, and went around the bar taking a lot of false credit for his achievements as well. These people are writers, man! They can't help it! I didn't have a thing to do with that. I just stood there yelling "Go for it!" Also out celebrating: Megan Abbott, who snapped the photo above. She told me that she read in that Shirley Temple autobiography there used to be Shirley Temple martini pitchers with Shirley's cherubic little face on them! And they came with a helpful slogan for mixing: "Gin to the chin/ Vermouth to the tooth." Speaking of which, you will never believe this, but I have not had even one single little drink in this photo (below) with McKay, though I look as if I just lurched dipsomaniacally into an alley and got rolled for my cash by the Easter bunny, and am still suffering from shock and, possibly, a concussion. McKay, it hardly needs noting, looks like her awesome self. (Regretful footnote: I misheard. It was a Shirley Temple milk pitcher, not a martini pitcher, though some devilish "wags" used it in that perverted way and came up with the handy gin/vermouth mnemonic.)

"Blog"trospective 12: Kent Eating Chicken

Listen! I'm not sure what you take me for! But I know it is not funny that Kent Osborne enjoys eating chicken. I guess practically everyone who is not a vegetarian eats tons of chicken. I know it is a dumb joke like when Ed Helms started calling Jim on THE OFFICE "Big Tuna" because he once ate a tuna sandwich (isn't that what happened)? Yet at the same time it is hilarious that Kent enjoys eating chicken. Life is complicated! And that is why you need the following index, or "'blog'trospective," listing for your quick and easy reference every time I have "blogged" about Kent eating chicken. Also, don't forget to avail yourself of the priceless research opportunities represented by our extensive library of previous "blog"trospectives: 1. Tom Franklin 2. Phil Oppenheim 3. Movies 4. The Moon 5. Sandwiches 6. The United States 7. The Beach Boys 8. Arnold Stang 9. Books With Owls in Them 10. Gelatin 11. Monkeys Riding Dogs... and now the most important one of all: 12. Kent Eating Chicken: Abbott, Megan; observes Kent eating chicken wings---after lunch at a chicken place Kent and I see a nice woman with two pet rats for which she seems to be making clothes---almost chokes---bar where Kent used to work is turned into a wings joint; Kent seems glad---Brazilian experimental novel from 1881 reminds me of Kent eating chicken---chicken cooked in his honor---chicken coop on the roof of a bar where Ward McCarthy and I once took Kent; I hilariously hint that Kent would be thrilled by this news---chicken Kent probably didn't eat, a---coincidental wing eating---I eat an "Osborne sandwich" (the chicken sandwich named for Kent Osborne because he ate so many of them)---I eat some things I think might be chicken livers and think of Kent---inspired by Kent's love of chicken, I eat so many "Osbornes" (chicken sandwiches) that a restaurant owner is shocked to see me eating a hamburger for a change---Kent as "Galactus - Destroyer of Chickens"---Kent ate a ton of wings on this trip but I forgot to mention it on the "blog"---Kent eats a certain chicken sandwich - in considerable quantities - whenever he comes to town---Kent eats a chicken sandwich during a meeting---Kent eats a number of chicken po-boys over the course of a week---Kent eats chicken in two Tennessee locations---Kent eats eight consecutive meals with chicken in them---Kent eats terrible chicken nachos only to discover he could have had some Gus's Fried Chicken instead---Kent eats wings after 50 SHADES OF GREY---Kent eats wings and tenders in the same meal---Kent eats wings in a hotel lobby---Kent eats wings on Christmas eve---Kent finds a restaurant called Chicken and Beer---Kent finds Alicia Silverstone's egg salad sandwich recipe; this is not about Kent eating chicken, but chickens lay eggs---Kent fries his own chicken---Kent has wings for lunch and fried chicken for dinner on the same day!---Kent might enjoy hearing about Walt Disney eating fried chicken at the shrine of Joan of Arc---Kent not the only person to enjoy chicken---Kent orders a single chicken wing---Kent reads William Boyle short stories while waiting for chicken to arrive---"The Osborne" chicken sandwich (named for Kent) mistakenly called "The Pendarvis"---owner of Ajax nearly remembers Kent's surname due to Kent's love of Ajax's grilled chicken po-boy---Pen brings Kent some fried chicken from a shawarma place---plans to eat fried chicken during a business meeting. Yeah, I know, half of these are about ME eating chicken. I've learned a valuable lesson about, as Michael Jackson would put it, "the man in the mirror."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Very Select Mint Julep Party

Jim Backus won the big high school football game in the very last seconds! Then he found out his parents "had left the game early for a very select mint julep party." In 1988, at the age of 75, a year before his death, he writes, "I know it sounds silly, but it still hurts." :(

Freud Page One

Megan should be excited to learn - given her famous fascination - that Freud appears on page one of this Doomed Book Club selection, FORGIVE US OUR DIGRESSIONS by Jim and Henny Backus. "All my New York Freudian lady ever said to me was hello when I started with her and good-bye when I left to come to Hollywood. They didn't talk to you back then... I used to have a hell of a job balancing that heavy rock crystal ashtray on my sternum. Yes, I smoked. Everybody smoked. I used to knock off five or six during the psychoanalysis session." Page one! We're off to a good start.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Feel Bad

Gee I feel really bad about all the labels I didn't have room to attach to that last "post."

Lemon Air

Hey I went out of town again and jotted notes about everything I did, who cares? But the day before I went on my trip I was in the doctor's office - a new doctor. He had CIGAR AFICIONADO in the waiting room. I thought that was a weird magazine for a doctor to have in his waiting room (see also). And the first two letters to the editor in CIGAR AFICIONADO were about some readers' disappointment with CIGAR AFICIONADO's take on the Kennedy assassination! But mostly it was pictures of cigars. Ron Perlman, who does the voice of the Lich on ADVENTURE TIME, was on the cover of CIGAR AFICIONADO. I believe the cover said RON PERLMAN: DREAMING BIG. But he just looked disgruntled about something! After I had looked at all the pictures of cigars I picked up Martha Stewart's magazine, which contained this phrase: "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." It was a Halloween snack tip which I found fascinating and disturbing. I kept muttering it aloud because I wanted to remember it and didn't have a pen. "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." I said it a lot, out loud there at the doctor's office. "Peanuts take a sinister turn when sprayed with diluted black food coloring." I started to think (realize?) that "sprayed" and "diluted" are the most awful words in the sentence. It is awful to picture someone "spraying" peanuts with "diluted" black food coloring. Sure, I would have "blogged" about the doctor's office magazines that day, but I was late for an ADVENTURE TIME video conference. So I had to come straight home and jump right into that. Late! Late for a meeting the first time ever. No time for "blogging"! After the meeting I had to take care of a few things and go to bed. Up bright and early for a trip to California for more ADVENTURE TIME doings! Allow me to describe it for you in agonizing detail you won't ever read, as transcribed from my precious little notebook of precious observations. Okay! On the way to the Memphis airport I saw a motel sign advertising "CHITTERLINGS" in the space where they usually say "FREE HBO." Now the first thing I know you're dying to hear is what I read on the airplane. Well, Ace Atkins recently talked Megan Abbott into reading her first novel in the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald. Megan said the book had "wit and soulful women" in it. And so I recalled that McNeil had given me a Travis McGee paperback 20 years ago at least... maybe 30 years ago! And there it has sat, neglected, on various shelves, most recently the drugstore spinner in my home office. Like Megan, I never made the leap to Travis McGee. But now I am finally reading that book McNeil gave me so many decades ago. Ha ha, I am just going to keep typing, though we are only on page one of my notes and I am already bored with my own life. This may be my longest "post" ever! Because I am also going to tell you what I ALMOST read on the airplane but didn't: SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser. Dr. Theresa has raved about it for years. And once when we were visiting Laura Lippman, those two bonded over their love of the book. Later on I discovered that Megan loves it too. Now, this is the same trio who finally got me to crack open MILDRED PIERCE, a masterpiece. But Dr. Theresa's paperback of SISTER CARRIE is mutilated with affection and scholarship: folded, cracked, dog-eared, marked-up, annotated copiously by hand... altogether too physically complicated for casual airplane reading. Ha ha I love how boring I am being right now. I had to get up early - well before dawn - to make it to the plane, and fell into a deep slumber on the runway. When I awoke, I asked my seatmate, "Are we there?" I really thought we had landed at LAX. He had to tell me we still hadn't left the ground in Memphis. What shenanigans! Pen and Kent picked me up at the airport in a white 1951 Bentley! This was the only way for them to top their previous luxurious joke of picking me up in a stretch limo. "How are you going to top yourself now?" I asked Pen. "We're not doing this again," he said somberly in a way that made me believe him. Now here is an amazing coincidence you won't care about: Pen and Kent took me straight to a restaurant I had just read about in a magazine in my doctor's office the day before... in a beer lover's magazine called DRAFT. That's right, my doctor had magazines about cigars AND beer in his office. As we waited for our food there was some saucy music playing and Pen said, "I could teach you how to rhumba." And it turns out he wasn't kidding! (Although we didn't rhumba.) Pen used to be a dance instructor, I learned. Pen said, "Old ladies would occasionally proposition you." ("Click" here to read the interview I did with Megan Abbott when we talk about how Billy Wilder used to be a "taxi dancer," likewise popular with the ladies! Though Pen never went the Billy Wilder route and took any old ladies up on it.) For dinner, Leslie Wolfhard and her husband Steve and Kent took me to the soothingly dark Tam O'Shanter, where Walt Disney used to have lunch every day. I found out that Leslie's favorite movie is NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and that she lived in Atlanta during some of the same years Dr. Theresa and I did. So we got to be nostalgic about the Majestic Diner and stuff like that ("click" here for an interview where I get appallingly mawkish about Atlanta). They put horseradish in the deviled eggs at the Tam O'Shanter. Unless I am nuts, I have never before run across that welcome innovation. Everyone else had prime rib, but I went the more healthy route of corned beef and cabbage. Ha ha ha! But really, I ate all my vegetables and ordered some "mixed peas" on the side. And I even left a little corned beef on my plate, in honor of what I knew would have been Dr. Theresa's wishes (ha ha, she would have commanded me to "order fish" - WHAT! Oh well). For I knew that the next night I would be dining at the steakhouse where Bob Hope used to eat ("The Smokehouse") where I always go, I can't help myself. The Tam O'Shanter is where I drank the first of many negronis on this trip. It was all negronis all the time, brother! I am not sure why. I never had one before. But just before I left, I saw Dr. Theresa and Megan throwing them back at the City Grocery Bar and I guess I thought they looked pretty good. (Well, I did have half a beer at the restaurant from the doctor's office beer magazine, and a small glass of Amontillado [just for the Poe associations]- after a negroni - at a fancy dinner [see below - ha ha, you'll never make it!]) After the Tam O'Shanter I called Dr. Theresa and she said they had been filming a commercial next to our house. Here I am in Hollywood and they're filming a commercial at our house in Mississippi, ha ha ha, what a country. The following morning, in the Starbucks where I once saw the guy from Tenacious D who is not Jack Black, I was reading the New York Times and there was a quote from our friend and neighbor Richard Howorth on the front page of the Arts Section. A welcome and unexpected touch of home! Hey, it looks like I really am going to type up all my notes! I usually skip some of them. I went to my first comic book convention, Wondercon in Anaheim, to be on an ADVENTURE TIME panel. Jesse Moynihan explained that it's not really a "comic book convention." He explained what it was, but I can't remember. All I know is I saw Lou Ferrigno sitting in a booth next to the guy who played the "Soup Nazi" on SEINFELD. They were both selling their autographs for cash, which I guess is something I knew went on, way in the back of my mind. I wondered if it was demoralizing for the "Soup Nazi" to sit under a big banner with the word "Nazi" on it all day. I also spotted Sergio Aragones, which was thrilling! He was a big part of my childhood, drawing all those little comics in the margins of MAD magazine. A bunch of us from ADVENTURE TIME sat at a long table and signed hundreds and hundreds of posters for hundreds and hundreds of people (not for money). Some people wanted me to draw them a picture, not realizing I don't draw at all. So I tried a few pitiful Finns and a BMO ("He's just a rectangle!" I encouraged myself) and once, upon request, a Lady Rainicorn (see also!) who turned out looking like a snake who had been through some unimaginable tragedy. Speaking of posters, Cole Sanchez and Jesse bought me a thoughtful and awesome present at Wondercon... an original poster from the 1973 Clint Eastwood movie where a groovy free spirit teaches a craggy old square businessman all about love... BREEZY! They knew of my obsession with it. (You can see a video of the presentation by "clicking" here. And "click" here for a little more about BREEZY.) Then some super serious and professional and brisk and unsmiling security people hustled us through a bunch of SPINAL TAP-style back rooms and passages and freight elevators and corridors to get us to our panel, where there were - I have to believe - thousands of people in attendance! Above you can see the panel members... from left to right that's Kent, Pen, Andy Ristaino, Adam Muto, me, Steve (with Jessica Dicicco, who plays the Flame Princess on the show, standing in front of him), Jesse, and Kumail Nanjiani of TV's SILICON VALLEY, who plays Prismo on ADVENTURE TIME. We took a shuttle back to Burbank and Kent took me to my hotel and we sat in the lobby and I drank a negroni and Kent ordered some wings. "Yeah!" I exclaimed. "I want to see you eat some chicken while I'm here." Because Kent loves chicken, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! What a country. Then I went to the steakhouse where Bob Hope used to eat and ordered a negroni and my usual, the "Steak Sinatra." And one of my tablemates said, "I used to know one of Bob Hope's mistresses." So that was exciting! My fellow diners included Joey Lauren Adams and my friend "The Hollywood Producer" - I honestly can't recall why I originally thought I needed to cloak him in anonymity but I'm going to stick with it. It's a tradition! I will say he has lost 50 pounds and looks like a superstar! Next up, karaoke. Joey wanted me to sing "Stagger Lee" with her. She said I had introduced it to her, in the Lloyd Price version, on a 45 at my house, and she had loved it ever since, so how could I say no to a duet tinged with such tender associations from the good old days when Joey used to live in town? Rash decision! Management, it turns out, has a foam cannon standing by with which to express its displeasure. Joey and I were deluged in torrents of punitive foam for whatever desecration we were perpetrating on the venerable tale of Stagger Lee. And by we, I mean me. I nobly intercepted the majority of the foam, keeping Joey unscathed - except in her heart! It occurs to me that I was perhaps the sole intended recipient of the foam and not "protecting" Joey at all. Terrible revelation! Joey and the H.P. were just trying to recreate the incredible joy of a previous occasion, The Smokehouse followed by karaoke in the same spot... but YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN. We had fun anyway! And the karaoke place made pretty great negronis. But when I got back to my room, my iPod, set to shuffle, was playing "Wrong 'Em Boyo" by the Clash. Out of 20,000 songs. That's the one that quotes liberally from "Stagger Lee." Technology is sentient. And hurtful. The next day I saw my brother and most of my nephews... one of them was off somewhere petting ducklings. While I was hanging out with the others, a picture came (to my brother's phone) of my absent nephew holding a duckling and I had to admit it looked like he had made a solid choice.
That evening, sitting in my hotel lobby waiting for the cab that was to take me to Laraine Newman's house (!) I read my Travis McGee. One of the "soulful women" Megan was talking about said of an evening on the town that she had had "a lovely, lovely time up until I went owly." Went owly! That's one I never heard before. And so I was able to add to my big long list of books with owls in them. Laraine and her husband Chad took me out to an incredible dinner I can't describe and won't forget. Infinite tiny courses. Tapas is a weak word. Brussels sprouts came with "lemon air." I said lemon air! I guess it is an exhalation that someone gently coaxed from a lemon. Not only was I in great company but the service was down-to-earth and accessible amid the weird splendor of the surroundings and the potentially daunting array of dishes. I had sea urchin for the first time, which I think I am right in describing as "the peanut butter of the sea." Then I went back to their place and watched GAME OF THRONES with Laraine Newman! During the sexy parts I was like - silently - "Oh no I am watching sex stuff with Laraine Newman... and her husband... and their dog." The cabbie on the way back to the hotel wanted to compare the natural disasters of California and Mississippi. He said, and I wrote it down, "Compared to tornados, earthquakes are candy. So your window rattles. A tornado, your house gets up and goes to another state." My flight home was the next day! So I went to the bar and ordered a negroni to take up to my room to help me pack. The bartender said, "That's a man's drink! I could never drink that." I was surprised. I really thought it was "a woman's drink." I associated it with Dr. Theresa and Megan. But maybe he was just angling for a tip. Though I could imagine Bob Hope and Nixon knocking back a few negronis in the Oval Office. Dressed for bed and drinking my Final Negroni, I caught sight of myself in one of the full-length mirrors they put cruelly all over hotel rooms and could not help but note my disturbing psychological resemblance to Martin Sheen at the beginning of APOCALYPSE NOW but, you know, fat. Now we're back to the airport! Seated across from me as I waited to board was a guy dipping extremely "fragrant" chewing tobacco and spitting it into a large clear plastic cup. I'm sure it's perfectly legal and happens in airports every day as far as I know. On the plane they tried to give me a "molasses clove cookie." WHAT! First of all, cloves in a cookie? Maybe that is normal and legal too. But the worst offense was trying to substitute a "molasses clove cookie" for a Biscoff, America's greatest airplane cookie. You may be sure I put up a fuss (i.e., asked politely) and got my Biscoff. On the way back home from the airport, I called Mom to let her know I got back okay. She said how much she had loved the ADVENTURE TIME season premiere and I realized I hadn't seen it yet because of traveling. "It had my favorite character," Mom said. I asked her who that was. "I don't know," said Mom. "She's a peach or a potato." Mom meant Tree Trunks, who is an elephant.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Good Supply of Benzedrine

Watching CRITIC'S CHOICE from the Freudian angle this time. Rip Torn tells Bob Hope he wants to "make a monkey" out of him. "Overthrow the father image," Bob Hope extrapolates. "Sort of!" says Rip Torn, with an expression just slightly less maniacal than the one he wears in MAIDSTONE. Rip Torn later confronts Bob Hope in the nude! (Rip is in the nude, not Bob.) I can't recall whether this is before or after Bob Hope is about to bite into a hot dog when his son says something precocious about sex. "Sex? What's sex?" says Bob Hope, returning his attention to his hot dog with palpable dismay. Speaking of the precocious son, his best pal's dad is a psychoanalyst, and they sit in a part of the pal's apartment where they can overhear the dad (Jim Backus) with his patients, a conceit "borrowed" by Hope fan Woody Allen in at least two movies (see also). We are done with Freud for now. But I found some support for Megan's idea, stated long ago, that Rip Torn is kind of a beatnik in this movie. He boasts of having "a good supply of Benzedrine" at one point, Benzedrine being the stimulant of choice for beatniks as you know. Dr. Theresa shows the James Garner/Doris Day movie THE THRILL OF IT ALL in some of her gender classes (and wrote about it in her dissertation). That's the one where James Garner, as an obstetrician, gets more credit than the mother for producing a baby, according to Dr. Theresa's analysis. "I want to be a doctor's wife!" cries Doris Day (who has briefly become a "career woman") as the climactic epiphany of the film, if I am recalling Dr. Theresa's description correctly. There's something similarly creepy about CRITIC'S CHOICE, in which Lucille Ball, as the wife of the theater critic played by Bob Hope, is repeatedly mocked for trying to write a play. But you know, watching it this time I am struck by how much more realistically the situation is handled than it was in the TV show PARENTHOOD (which I used to call "the shoe factory show" because it used to take place mostly in a shoe factory) when Lauren Graham's character wrote a theatrical masterpiece without even trying and in fact without even realizing it was a play. That was an actual plot on PARENTHOOD! Now, when Bob Hope sits on a park bench and mercilessly rips apart Lucille Ball's first draft, he's very mean, but the words he says sound like actual words a person might say when critiquing someone's fledgling attempt at a form and, back to Freud, the movie seems to recognize his sublimated insecurity and rage. Ha ha ha, God I bore myself.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bubble House

As promised, here is the "bubble house" or "space house," a large plastic egg dangling from a lamppost in the foreground. The effigies I mentioned yesterday are hardly visible.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where Baby Elvis Was Born

On our way back from the Amory Railroad Festival, Dr. Theresa, who was driving, made a spontaneous stop at Elvis's birthplace in Tupelo. Of the four of us, only Megan - from New York by way of Detroit - had been before! Where you buy your ticket to the humble two-room house, there's a little model of that same house sitting on the counter. Going to the festival (and speaking of houses) Dr. Theresa pointed out an odd little house in, I believe, the town of Nettleton (?). We referred to it as the "bubble house" or the "space house" and probably had some other names for it. On the way back, she got Megan to take a picture of it. I offered my opinion that you shouldn't stand in people's yards and take pictures of their houses, but everyone else pointed out that if you build a house like that you want people to take pictures of it. Also, the homeowners had propped up some human-sized rabbit dolls on a swing. "I'll be inconspicuous," said Megan. Dr. Theresa parked in the church parking lot next door to the space house (a church with a sign out front that said W...E.........LC.......O..M, with the M all the way at the end of the sign, as if they had run out of room - these were those movable plastic letters by the way!). We all had to laugh as Megan pranced brazenly ("Like a sprite!" said Dr. Theresa) to the space house - maybe she gamboled! - and took pictures of it while being in no way inconspicuous. I have not yet received those photographs.

He Made Us Nervous

You know what else we saw at the Amory Railroad Festival? This bounce house with a giant Batman on the front of it. It was an unlicensed Batman, or so Jimmy speculated, because there was a Spider-Man painted on the bounce house too, and they belong to different corporations. The bouncing inside the bounce house caused Batman to thrust his hips obscenely at the festival crowd. "You have to go in through his legs," Jimmy observed. Megan titled this photo "He Made Us Nervous." Walking back to the car we heard the screams of the people on the wildly careening carnival rides. "They're strong screams, full-throated, from the diaphragm," said Megan, a connoisseur of screams.

Shirley Temple Hobo Movie

Our friend Jill Stevens told Dr. Theresa and me about her hometown's railroad festival practically as soon as we moved to Oxford, and we've been talking about going to the Amory Railroad Festival ever since. It's finally happening. Jill said she can't make it but her kids will be there. Every year we talk about going with Jill and every year for some reason we can't make it. UNTIL NOW! This is how long we've been talking about it: Jill didn't have any kids when we were first discussing it, and now she has two! Two kids old enough to go to a railroad festival! When Jill was a girl the festival was centered on hobo culture and hoboes came from all over the U.S. to participate. Hobo culture still seems to play a part in the festival, though it can't possibly be as exciting as when Jill was a girl and Steam Train, the official King of the Hoboes, would come each year and speak to her enthralled class. Megan Abbott hasn't been talking about going to the railroad festival quite as long as we have, just since my birthday party in 2009, where the subject came up. When Jimmy and Megan and I were at a bar not too long ago, I said, "You know, John Hodgman is interested in hoboes." "But is he interested IRONICALLY?" Megan asked in an accusatory tone. "Irony is the enemy," she went on, which both Jimmy and I misheard as "He is the enemy," meaning Hodgman. But that's not what she said! Well, I made a "hobo mix tape" for the car. Jimmy's coming with us! I'll take up this "post" upon our return. Okay, we're back! On the way, Megan said, "Shirley Temple should have made a hobo movie." Then we stopped at a gas station for directions because we thought we were lost even though we weren't. Next to the gas station, a used bookstore was going out of business. Megan walked in and nabbed a copy of Shirley Temple's autobiography. I got a "Harlequin Medical Romance" entitled THE BROODING DOC'S REDEMPTION. The first sentence of THE BROODING DOC'S REDEMPTION is "This was ridiculous." We had a great time at the festival. I was famished upon arrival. Jimmy and I availed ourselves of rib sandwiches (pictured). The bones were still in the ribs, a problem I believe I have encountered in rib sandwiches before: how can you eat a sandwich with a bone in it? And yet, as Fitzgerald said, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to rib sandwiches with the bones in them." Dr. Theresa and Megan had catfish, piping hot from the fryer and perfectly seasoned. They accidentally gave Dr. Theresa two catfish sandwiches and refused to take payment for the extra. Friends, I devoured that bonus catfish sandwich. Both sandwiches, may it be said, were of the most basic variety imaginable: bread and meat; bread and fish. Nothing else. The Earl of Sandwich would have been proud to see his original intentions so purely honored. Then we walked over to where Jill had said the hoboes would be, and there they were. We didn't know what to do, really. They seemed to be having a fine time just talking among themselves and it seemed rude to interrupt. Later we speculated that if Jill had been there she would have guided us in the proper etiquette. As it was, we passed silently by the campfire. "Numbers are dwindling," the festival's Official Program says of hobo participation. "Many of the original hobos have since 'caught the westbound,' which is to say they have passed away." Then there was a list of some of the hoboes expected to attend, including Mad Mary and Double Bob.

Buyer's Remorse

Ace was amused by the tale of how the frog on a toilet he gave me nearly drove me insane. But he's still angry with himself for not buying the (unauthorized, we assume) Mickey Mouse on a toilet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ace's Office

Walked up to Ace's office today, and guess what? Wright Thompson was there too. Ace just got back from France, where he had "pig snouts and veal feet for dinner." Ace said of the veal feet, "It was like potato salad, except instead of potatoes it was cartilage."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cowering Under Ivy

Hey look just so you know I'm not obliged to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book. Like, if an owl appears on page 3 of a book I don't have to tell you again if another owl appears on page 60. That's not my job! But another owl has appeared in UNCLE SILAS by Sheridan Le Fanu and I think I'll tell you about it because BOTH times the owl represents our narrator's weird French governess and anyway I like a lot of the phrases here and really I can do whatever I want and no one can stop me: "I could no more stir than the bird who, cowering under its ivy, sees the white owl sailing back and forward under its predatory cruise."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


In this gothic Sheridan Le Fanu novel I have been reading, our heroine is nearly snatched by two "ruffianly-looking" men who call themselves Lord Lollipop and Sir Simon Sugarstick. IT'S TERRIFYING. Also I did not know that "ruffian" had an adverbial form. But it does! You can be old like me and still learn exciting new things you should have already known. It's terrifying.

Dr. Theresa Solves a Mystery

For three or four days a noise in my little home office here has been driving me crazy, Poe-style: tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... almost too quiet to hear. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Finally I called in Dr. Theresa to investigate. She asked for silence and sat in the center of the room. Then, almost immediately, she started laughing. "I think it's that frog on a toilet," she said. Yes, faithful readers, she was referring to that gift presented so ceremoniously to us by Ace Atkins: a novelty frog on a pink toilet, which harnesses the mighty solar power of our life-giving sun to bob its head in a humorous fashion. The thing is, the frog has never worked before. And those three or four days over which it kept going tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap... were gray and overcast! With nary a beam of sunlight to start it a-bobbing. Dr. Theresa cannot solve that part of the mystery. No one can. There it was, beating its little plastic head against the side of my printer. Tap-tap-tap... tap-tap-tap...

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lucy's Pelvis

Watched the first few minutes of CRITIC'S CHOICE, starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, which I dvr'd from TCM, and which contains, in those first few minutes, a lot of uncomfortable talk about Lucy's pelvis. I was uncomfortable, anyway. This time I noted that CRITIC'S CHOICE is based on a novel by Ira Levin. And not too long ago BACHELOR IN PARADISE, based on a story by Vera Caspary, became a Doomed Book Club selection. Like Caspary, Levin is known for darker material not easily transformed into Bob Hope movies. Also, Jim Backus, a volume of whose dual autobiography with his wife is coincidentally the current Doomed Book Club selection, appears in CRITIC'S CHOICE. So I was like, "Wow, life is interesting!" And then I suddenly realized: No it's not. Why did I ever think it was?

Redolent of Cocoa Butter

The horrible chocolate wine makes an appearance in the Megan Abbott interview (the shocking truth about the horrible chocolate wine may stun and amaze you!), a fact to which Megan alluded in a tweet. As a result, she is now "followed" on "twitter" by "Top Brass Vodka: 80 PROOF WHITE CHOCOLATE ALMOND DESSERT VODKA - REDOLENT OF COCOA BUTTER." Sounds classy!

Trudy Kockenlocker

I brag at the beginning of that interview with Megan Abbott about the lack of fact checking. What a thing to brag about! Now I'm thinking I grossly exaggerated the influence of LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT (the Cain novel) on MILLER'S CROSSING... BUT! In LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT there is an Italian gangster named Caspar whose voice is "trembling with rage" one minute and the next minute he's nodding parentally as his fat wife and kid come in and tell him about the kid's day (while our henchman protagonist is sitting there) and then he gives the kid a penny. So does that sound familiar? Yes, because it is also a good description of a scene in MILLER'S CROSSING. But my overstated comparison has the side effect of wrongfully undercutting Megan's valid point (in the interview) that the men's relationship in Hammett's THE GLASS KEY is "Unique in all literature, really." What else? I spell Kockenlocker with a C, mistakenly. (Pictured, Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker. Hutton's father abandoned the family when she was a baby! She was singing in a speakeasy by the time she was three! Facts half-remembered and vaguely alluded to in the interview.)

Monday, April 07, 2014

Weird French Governess Strikes Again

Every book has an owl in it, but seldom have I been less surprised to find an owl in a book than when I found one in UNCLE SILAS by Sheridan Le Fanu. As you well might imagine, it is the narrator's weird French governess who is compared to an owl: "She looked steadily in my face and very wickedly. I gazed at her with dazzled eyes - I suppose as the feathered prey do at the owl that glares on them by night."

Important Correction

Hogan says that's not a birthday cake decorated to resemble a record player on the cover of that book! It's a TV-set cake with a Mr. Magoo cartoon playing on it.

10,000 Pieces of Toast

Watched THE NAKED CITY just now on TCM. It was great! Here's how the omniscient offscreen narrator describes people reading about a murder victim in their morning papers: "Yesterday Jean Baxter was just another pretty girl. Today she's the marmalade on ten thousand pieces of toast."

Please Forgive Me

In that last "posting" I lazily neglected to provide "hyperlinks" for Marilyn Monroe, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, David Niven, Nick Tosches, ha ha, I had almost 30 more people to list (okay, here's one for Scott Phillips, who saw Jim Backus on a train when he was four) but now I'm tired again. PLEASE FORGIVE ME

I'm Not Your Psychiatrist

"Click" here to read an interview I did with Megan Abbott for LENT. The online magazine, not the period of sacred deprivation! Maybe before you read it you will want to check out the following list I have helpfully compiled of people we mention by name in our interview, in order of appearance. That doesn't even include the people we mention, but NOT by name, such as our parents! Perhaps such a list will encourage you to read the interview. Or maybe you will become discouraged and lethargic! Maybe you will think this list is a good enough substitute for reading the interview. Or maybe your reaction will be one of blankness and disregard. I'm not your psychiatrist! 1. Jerry Lewis (Ha ha, I know! I can't help it. I literally cannot have a conversation without mentioning Jerry Lewis - usually right at the outset, like this.) 2. Beth Ann Fennelly 3. William Faulkner 4. Sigmund Freud (Ha ha! Just as I cannot have a conversation without mentioning Jerry Lewis, Megan is sure to bring up old Sigmund Freud. It just happens! Jerry Lewis is to me as Sigmund Freud is to Megan Abbott.) 5. David Lynch 6. Dashiell Hammett 7. James M. Cain 8. Eleanor Parker (pictured) 9. Arlene Dahl 10. Rhonda Fleming 11. Douglas Sirk 12. Georges Simenon 13. Anton Chekhov 14. Bill Griffith 15. Dorothy B. Hughes 16. Tom Franklin 17. Richard Dreyfuss 18. Rosemary Clooney 19. Nathaniel Hawthorne 20. Flannery O'Connor 21. Mickey Spillane 22. Raymond Chandler 23. John Banville 24. Humprhey Bogart 25. Ross MacDonald 26. Eudora Welty 27. Spencer Tracy 28. Katharine Hepburn 29. Margaret Millar 30. Barry Hannah 31. Harold Bloom 32. Hamlin Garland 33. Ernest Hemingway 34. Sherwood Anderson 35. Dean Martin Okay, I'm tired of making "links" now and nobody "clicks" on them anyway. 36. Marilyn Monroe 37. Stan Laurel 38. Oliver Hardy 39. Bud Abbott 40. Lou Costello 41. David Niven 42. Nick Tosches 43. Betty Hutton 44. Judy Garland 45. Danny Thomas 46. McNeil (I'll mention here, uselessly, that McNeil recently had a short story up at LENT... I told about it on twitter, which many more people read than this "blog.") 47. Preston Sturges 48. Billy Wilder 49. Dr. Theresa 50. Dave Kehr 51. Bob Hope 52. Andrew Sarris 53. Wallace Shawn 54. Fred MacMurray 55. Shirley MacLaine 56. Cameron Crowe 57. Gloria Swanson 58. Nancy Olsen 59. Audrey Wilder 60. Alfred Hitchcock 61. Pat Hitchcock 62. Alma Hitchcock 63. Vincent Minnelli 64. H.P. Lovecraft 65. Raymond Carver 66. Edith Wharton 67. Michael Chabon 68. Louisa May Alcott 69. Philip Roth (Reading PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT recently, I came upon a line that might serve as an epigraph for this interview: "The disproportionate and the melodramatic, this is my daily bread!") 70. Claudia Roth Pierpont 71. Scott Phillips - Be sure to use your newest computer while reading the interview. On my old one from 2004 the italics don't show up. But on Dr. Theresa's spiffy newer model, they do! And Megan and I EMPHASIZE lots of WORDS.

It's Working

Hogan is trying to get me to read this book (pictured - I think that's Hogan's thumb!) for Doomed Book Club, and it's working. "you'll love it!" she raves via twitter. "so far, there's a LOT of exclamation points & PHYLLIS DILLER wrote the preface!" Is that a birthday cake shaped like a record player on the cover? I guess I'll have to wait till my copy comes to find out.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pig Head Song

Okay now this weird French governess in this novel is singing "a quaint old Bretagne ballad, about a lady with a pig's head." Uh, here's some of it: "And she would sing like a funeral bell, with a ding-dong tune./ The pigs were afraid, and viewed her aloof;/ And women feared her and stood afar./ She could do without sleep for a year and a day;/ She could sleep like a corpse for a month or more./ No one knew how this lady fed -/ On acorns or on flesh." WHAT!

Weird French Governess

Very gray today, perfect for reading this novel UNCLE SILAS by Sheridan Le Fanu. Right now the narrator's weird, brandy-guzzling French governess (she has a spurious doctor's note for the brandy!) is scaring the narrator with a story as they sit outside the narrator's mother's tomb (!). She says, "I 'av seen the ghosts myself. I saw one, for example, last night, shape like a monkey, sitting in the corner, with his arms around his knees; very wicked, old, old man his face was like, and white eyes so large." As I say, perfect day to read that. Reminds me of the demon monkey in Le Fanu's story "Green Tea" - that one, whose eyes are red, not white, is probably the greatest phantom monkey in all of literature, though I've only run across these two as far as I remember. I tried reading some of Edith Wharton's ghost stories not too long ago. Had a little trouble getting into them. There are some glowing eyes in one (I think it's called "The Eyes") that owe an obvious debt to Le Fanu (she singles him out for praise in her introduction) but the trouble with that is there is no monkey attached.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Swedenborg Pops Up

Hey Swedenborg pops up on page 3 of this Sheridan Le Fanu novel.

A Countenance Rather Sensitive and Melancholy

Yesterday I laughed out loud, and hard, when I saw a book called THE DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT: PLIGHT OF A FEATHERED PARIAH at Square Books. I guess it was a similar feeling to when I first saw that someone had written a book about seahorses called POSEIDON'S STEED. Ha ha ha! That's still funny. So dramatic. But I immediately felt guilty about laughing at the cormorant. I don't know anything about cormorants. So I bought the book to make up for laughing at it. And just glancing through it, God, people are awful to cormorants. I don't want to read this book! It's really sad. I didn't know people were so mean to cormorants. And there I was at the checkout counter, not having even cracked the book open, nonchalantly joking with Richard about how everybody apparently hates cormorants judging from the title of this book, and Richard said, "DOUBLE-CRESTED cormorants" and we parted agreeing that everybody is probably totally cool with single-crested cormorants, but yeah, it's not funny anymore. The dust jacket flap says the double-crested cormorant is "an iridescent black waterbird superbly adapted to catch fish. It belongs to a family of birds vilified since biblical times and persecuted around the world." And then I opened up the book right to some horrible stuff happening to cormorants. Oh no. And PART I is called "What Are Cormorants?" and starts with a beautiful drawing of two happy cormorants being affectionate (I think), anyway they're sort of nuzzling sweetly. Now I feel terrible. Poor cormorants! Sorry for "cormoranting" about it, ha ha! Then I went to City Grocery Bar, where McKay McFadden took this photo of Megan Abbott reading my tarot cards with a "phone app" (I guess) as Bill Boyle contemplates what it all means and I don't know if the tarot works on a "phone app"! I guess we'll find out! I had the feeling that Megan, just to be nice, was giving an overly positive spin to my hellish cards of inevitable doom. Oh, at Off Square Books I bought a gothic novel by Sheridan Le Fanu for a cool four dollars. So I'm pretty excited about that. I was telling Megan about the first two paragraphs. The first one is a long description of a room, and the next one is a description of a girl in the room: "A girl of a little more than seventeen, looking, I believe, younger still; slight and rather tall, with a great deal of golden hair, dark grey-eyed, and with a countenance rather sensitive and melancholy, was sitting at the tea-table, in a reverie. I was that girl." I found the passage unusual and very satisfying.

Thursday, April 03, 2014


Hi! In case you don't know me, I am the guy who tells you every time he reads a book with an owl in it. So last night I happened to grab up my copy of HISTORY, MYTHS, AND SACRED FORMULAS OF THE CHEROKEES by James Mooney to look up something in the index ("tobacco" - none of your beeswax why!) and I accidentally saw some index entries for "SCREECH-OWL, Cherokee name for." So I looked and saw, "As in other languages, many of the bird names are onomatopes, as wahuhu (the screech owl), uguku (the hooting owl)..." (See also.) I am leaving out some important pronunciation marks because I am lazy. But if I were in charge of the Cherokee language I would make wahuhu the name of the hooting owl, not the screeching owl! But nobody asked me. Then I saw a legend about a screech owl getting his eyes burned out by hot air rushing up from the center of a hollow tree. Sorry! But that's what it said in this book. It was in the Cherokee story of the first fire, this book tells me. I was reminded of that Chinese folklore about baby owls pecking out their parents' eyes. Sorry again! What do you want from me? I'm the guy who "blogs" about owls. Goodbye!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Where Is the Hilarity

Last night there were so many good ideas that Good Idea Club lasted until after one in the morning! Bill Boyle brought that book he bought at the library for a quarter, the one by a divorced ex-preacher who promises, on the cover, True Stories, Quips, Squeaky Clean Humor, Jokes, and Hilarity. It was a slimmer volume than I expected. We guessed 60 pages or so, but it was hard to tell because there were no page numbers! Each joke had its own title in bold print and caps, and I happened to open to one called CAT AUTOPSY - you may be sure I did not read it. But I failed to see how that grisly subject could be an example of squeaky clean humor or hilarity, and I know it wasn't a "true story" because - as I gleaned from a peek at the first sentence - the main character was TV's beloved coroner Quincy (pictured), which seemed weirdly specific and "topical" in a book of knee-slappers by a divorced ex-preacher, but who am I to say? McKay mentioned an NPR story she had heard that morning which made her think of me, something about a book the title of which she could not recall, but which she paraphrased as "HOW TO MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS BY TURNING YOUR CAT INTO A CELEBRITY." See, once I was working on a book called YOUR CAT CAN BE A MOVIE STAR! which was really a novel about a tortured soul in the guise of a how-to book. But McKay's report left me with the sinking feeling that there is really very little difference between an actual book about how to turn your cat into a movie star and a novel about a tortured soul in the format of an actual book about how to turn your cat into a movie star. It's like when Larry King tweets about corn muffins! No genius can create something more satisfying than that. Real life far outstrips our wry approximations of it. Later on the back porch Bill Boyle read us many squeaky clean quips and jokes in his quiet, measured, thoughtful voice. We got a big kick out of it! And mostly Bill kept a straight face. I guess at some point in the evening I said, "We're lucky, you know? We come in at the tail-end of a gross tradition," which I know I said because Jimmy tweeted it. Ran into Jimmy today and asked him what in the world I was talking about. Jimmy said I was talking about literature.