Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Probably Very Loud

I'm ashamed to say that when I saw Jack Carter's obit in the New York Times today the first thing I thought about is how much Robert Goulet's son-in-law hated him: "The band dubbed him 'Captain Rage.' He made everyone so unhappy that we had him thrown off the bus." I almost titled this "post" "Captain Rage Is Dead" but it seemed disrespectful to Mr. Carter's family. I found this photo from the NYT obit fascinating. I can't conceive of the occasion. None of these "comic entertainers" go together, for reasons you could never understand unless you were Ward McCarthy or McNeil or me. Just look how uncomfortable Wally Cox is! I was going to do a big analysis for your benefit. I was going to call Rowan and Martin "louche" and talk about the "impish sad clown razzamatazz" of Jimmy Durante. But you know what? Who cares? I sent the photo to McNeil and Ward. Haven't heard back from McNeil, but Ward's response says everything that needs to be said about the gathering: "I imagine it was probably very loud."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Knights Hate Carts

Hey! Remember how I told you when you're reading a big, thick book you should also be reading a smaller book that is easier to carry in case you have to go somewhere? Well, that advice doesn't make sense anymore; all of you have your fancy electronic reading devices, so all books are the same size to you, so I guess the joke's on me. But I continue to live by the olden ways. And since my copy of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY is so heavy, old and delicate - just like me! - I picked out a paperback of some old King Arthur stories for when I need something (physically) lighter. And I was reading this one story where something happens to this knight's horse so he has to ride in a cart for a little ways, and everybody goes crazy about it! The author explains that carts, in the time of which he is writing, were meant only for toting criminals. But I guess that part didn't sink in for me, and I have to say everybody really overreacts. Like, this one guy yells at him, "A man who has ridden in a cart should never enter here. And may God never reward you for it!" Ha ha ha! I don't know why that makes me laugh. Later the knight who rode in the cart defeats another knight in battle and he's just about to cut off that other knight's head but says he'll let him go instead if the defeated knight agrees to... RIDE IN A CART. And the defeated knight says, "May it never please God that I ride in a cart!" He'd rather have his head cut off. Anyway, they really hated carts.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Blockhead

Still reading THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. I've read 50 more pages since last we spoke and we're still in the introduction. He keeps calling people "dizzards"! So even though the meaning is obvious, I decided that this was a good chance to break out my giant old WEBSTER'S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, UNABRIDGED, SECOND EDITION from 1974. And the WEBSTER'S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, UNABRIDGED, SECOND EDITION from 1974 has a simple, two-word definition of dizzard: "a blockhead." I love you, WEBSTER'S NEW TWENTIETH CENTURY DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, UNABRIDGED, SECOND EDITION from 1974!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dystopian Insomnia Trousers

Couldn't sleep so I got up and watched a Charlton Heston dystopian future movie and I was like, "Wow, he made a lot of these! Well, three. But three is a lot. Isn't it? Maybe not." And then, because it was TCM, there was an interstitial piece in which Anthony Hopkins reflected on his brief acquaintance with Katharine Hepburn. He mentioned that she was known for wearing "trousers" and I thought, "Are trousers just pants? Aren't they? Or is there a subtle distinction? Are there some pants that don't qualify as trousers?" And then I thought, "Trousers." I thought maybe I should use that word more often, like, once, even. I thought, "That's a good word. Trousers." Or maybe it just sounds good when Anthony Hopkins says it. Trousers. I couldn't sleep. Trousers.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Catamount Update

"You know, there's a college football team named the Catamounts. Western Carolina University," writes McNeil. McNeil would have us believe there's a WESTERN Carolina! I hastily misread that as "West Virginia," so when I first searched for an image, I discovered that there is a catamount team in West Virginia as well, and this catamount isn't trying so hard to be "cool":
And finally, below we find the Western Carolina mascot at what a press release refers to as his "birthday party," which was attended by some other mascots ("some of his closest mascot friends" says the press release). One of these mascots is named "Ted E. Tourist." He represents a team called the Tourists! Which seems like a bad name for a team. But what bothers me most of all is this bobcat's weird - which is to say, normal - hands (also, is he wearing RINGS on his middle fingers?):


Last night Dr. Theresa had a tune stuck in her head. She was like, "What is this? It's going to drive me crazy. Doodle dit dit dit dit dit dit doodle doodle doo doo doo." So I was like, "It sounds familiar, do it again." And she was like, "Doodle dit dit dit dit dit dit doodle doodle doo doo doo." And then I started humming along with her and we were both standing in the hallway going, "Doodle dit dit dit dit dit dit doodle doodle doo doo doo." And it was just on the threshold of my waking brain. So I was like, "Is there another part to it?" And Dr. Theresa was like, "Yeah! Dit dit DOO! Dit dit DOO!" And it came to me! "It's the theme song to the Jerry Lewis movie WAY... WAY OUT!" I yelled triumphantly. "You've infected me," muttered Dr. Theresa.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Fondest Dream Came True

I guess you could say my fondest dream came true because I got the two biggest Billy Jack fans in town - Ace Atkins and Sara Olsen - together to watch BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, which none of us had ever seen. It turns out to be a straightforward, earnest remake - costarring E.G. Marshall and Pat O'Brien (!) - of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON! Talk about disappointment. When Billy Jack got mad and smashed a glass coffee table 51 minutes into the movie, the first hint of the real Billy Jack as we know him, we all yelled with excitement! "OH BOY! HERE IT COMES!" I may have erroneously predicted. There was one (extremely distasteful) action scene shortly after that, and then we're back to everybody just standing around talking until Billy Jack gets tired and collapses and unless I'm crazy, the movie just keeps going on without him for a little while and we never see him again. I thought about the All-Red Billy Jack (pictured) and the All-Blue Billy Jack who battle for Billy Jack's very soul in THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, and I kind of missed them, and I was kind of sorry for all the bad things I said about THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK.

Another 17th-Century Thing

Hey! Remember when I told you about a phrase my grandfather used that came down to us from the 17th century, maybe? Well! I was reading this BARTHOLOMEW FAIR play by Ben Jonson and a character refers to a "catamountain," meaning (according to the glossary) a "leopard or panther." My grandfather used to say "cattymount," meaning some sort of wild animal that my young imagination pictured as a cougar, though I think he was probably talking about a bobcat (pictured). All right, my grandfather said a lot of 17th-century stuff, or at least two 17th-century things, that's all I have for you, goodbye.


Don't even pretend! I know you want to know what McNeil dreamed the other night. And luckily he emailed me about it. I'm going to cut-and-paste his email right here in our latest installment of... McNeilileaks: "Last night I had a dream that my grandfather (long dead) ordered a pack of playing cards that featured Dean Martin images (also long dead) instead of the regular pattern of 7 diamonds, for example. You know the type. My grandfather was a fan of Dino as well. Anyway, when the cards came the images were 52 frames of the same scene from unknown (to us) public domain movie with Dean Martin in a long beard, thick mustache, and black hat...standing outside a house looking straight out of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. 52 images with a slightly different turn of the head of a barely recognizable Dino. A nightmare."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Don't Get Too Excited

Promise not to get too excited but I'm reading THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY just like I promised. I'm only on page 27 and I've already read three or four passages aloud to Dr. Theresa. Like when Robert Burton says that these books they're publishing these days (in 1621) aren't even good enough for a monkey's butt! Do you think I paraphrase too loosely? Allow me to give you the exact quotation: "Any scurrile pamphlet is welcome to our mercenary Stationers in English, they print all, and pound out pamphlets on the leaves of which even a poverty-stricken monkey would not wipe." But he's hard on himself, too, calling his own work "a rhapsody of rags gathered from several dung-hills... toys and fopperies confusedly tumbled out, without art, invention, judgment, wit, learning, harsh, raw, rude, phantastical, absurd, insolent, indiscreet, ill-composed, indigested... thou canst not think worse of me than I do of myself. 'Tis not worth reading, I yield it." On the other hand he compares himself to an innkeeper who, when you complain about the service, "replies, in a surly tone: If you do not like this, get you to another Inn: I resolve, if you like not my writing, go read something else. I do not much esteem thy censure, take thy course." And for some reason I thought of "internet" commenters when I read, "People deem things easy that are already done, nor do they consider the rough places after the road is made."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Overthrows the Gingerbread

So far my favorite stage direction in BARTHOLOMEW FAIR is "Overthrows the gingerbread."

Exit Joan Trash

BARTHOLOMEW FAIR by Ben Jonson really picks up when these punk rock characters Leatherhead and Trash show up. Of course it was 1614 and they didn't have punk rock then as far as I know. And then I'm reading along and there's a stage direction, "Exit Joan Trash." And so it made me even happier that Trash's first name is Joan, somehow that's even MORE punk rock. The characters use the word "punk" a lot, as a matter of fact, though back then it meant "prostitute." When I looked at the dramatis personae to confirm Trash's first name, I noticed that there's a character named "Punk Alice" in the wings.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Secret Ben Jonson Craze

Well, I'm almost done with this book about kings and when I'm done it will all be over, I've read them all, there are no more books about kings, though Peter Ackroyd is a fast writer. Ben Jonson pops up quite a bit in these books about kings and this play of his BARTHOLOMEW FAIR looks pretty okay from the description of it, so I thought I'd go to Square Books and pick up a copy as a way of weaning myself off of this time period and getting back to the real world, such as it is. So I opened up BARTHOLOMEW FAIR and there was a stage direction for someone to enter "hiding his nakedness with a dripping-pan." So I was like, what's this all about, Ben Jonson? I guess I'll find out. Miracle, who works at the store, saw me carrying the book around and told me that she has to keep reshelving Ben Jonson these days! Seems people are going crazy for Ben Jonson. "Maybe it's a secret club," said Miracle. I kind of want to read Burton's ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY - this Peter Ackroyd book makes it sound really good - and I do have a copy, a hardcover from 1927, "Now for the first time with the Latin completely given in translation in an All-English text," the title page says, but who am I kidding? I got it at A Cappella Books in Atlanta, no one knows how many years ago. Hmm, there's an owl right there on the frontispiece (see?) so that's a good sign. ("Bats, Owls the shady bowers over,/ In melancholy darkness hover" goes the accompanying verse.) What else can I tell you? I've already told you how many executions there are in these books. Lately there's been this terrible executioner named Jack Ketch, and when I say "terrible" I mean that he seems to be bad at his job. He messes up one execution so badly that he has to issue an apology. Small comfort!


Megan Abbott has solved the mystery presented in yesterday's "post": Frank Sinatra is saying "It's a daisy!" because that's the famous slogan used by the makers of the Daisy rifle in their advertising... and 4 FOR TEXAS is a cowboy movie... so... yeah... It still doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But I think she's right.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Daisy on the Point Sent Jack to Rest

Megan Abbott sent me some pix from a Frank Sinatra exhibit. We were supposed to go see it last time I was in NYC but we did so many other things I guess old Frank slipped through the cracks. Megan sent me a picture of this poster (above) but it was sideways and I couldn't figure out how to straighten it up for you, so I nabbed this version off the "internet" instead. So many questions! Why is Frank saying, "It's a daisy"? What's a daisy? I mean, I know what a daisy is. My first thought was of Kerouac, who wrote a movie (which I've never seen) called PULL MY DAISY. Are daisies a beatnik thing? Is Frank being "hip"? We could also ask why Frank is riding Ursula Andress like a horse and Anita Ekberg is riding Dean Martin like a horse. A lot to unpack there, thematically! And why Frank is holding his hat where it is. But daisies. Kerouac loved Sinatra, of course. He went to see him perform. He recorded himself reading his vampire novel while a Sinatra LP played in the background. I don't think Kerouac has anything to do with this movie poster. Nor does De La Soul, though, if I recall correctly, daisies are an important recurring symbol in their work. You know what I'm getting at: any excuse to bring out my three-volume GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG. I spent so much money on it! And oh boy! There are a dozen different meanings for "daisy" as a noun, PLUS there's an adjective definition and TWO different ways of using daisy as an adverb! And there are 14 or 15 different compound slang expressions beginning with "daisy," including four separate meanings for "daisy chain." I think I'll be here all day. Hey! This has nothing to do with the movie poster anymore - or does it? - but a "daisy" can mean "a perfect blow." Two nice examples are given, one from a newspaper report of a turn-of-the-(last)-century boxing match: "Murphy got most of the punishment, but bided his time until an opening offered in the 9th round, when a 'daisy' on the point sent Jack to rest." Beautiful! And dialogue from a 1916 short-story collection called LIMEHOUSE NIGHTS: "First time I ever knew you pop a daisy on yer brother, though." Well, I've stopped thinking about the movie poster now. I'm going to study all these meanings of "daisy" and related slang words and I'll probably get back to you later.

Grimstone, Barebone

Okay, there's a whole new parliament in this history book and forget Harbottle Grimstone (whose name sadly lacks the final "e" on wikipedia, rendering it the less striking "Grimston"), because there's a new parliamentarian in town, and his name is Isaac Praise-God Barebone. Which rhymes with Harbottle Grimstone, but that's not the point. Even back then they knew that was a pretty peculiar name: "His colourful name and nature led to this nominated parliament becoming known as 'Barebone's Parliament.'"

Friday, June 19, 2015

Harbottle Grimstone

There is a person named Harbottle Grimstone in this history book. Harbottle Grimstone! I can't decide whether he sounds more like somebody from Dickens, somebody from Harry Potter, or somebody from Game of Thrones. What do YOU think? Send your best guess on a postcard to "Funny Old Name" c/o "Writer" Oxford, MS, 38655. I remember a short story by Sheridan Le Fanu called "Mr. Justice Harbottle," that's all I've got for you. Harbottle Grimstone was a member of parliament. He made a couple of speeches, but who didn't? I'm not sure he's in the book for anything other than his cool name, which is laid out there for us without comment. Harbottle Grimstone!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fake Beards of History

Remember King James's special favorite Buckingham, who "danced a number of high and very tiny capers" for the king - if you know what I mean? He and the king's son Charles decide to put on fake beards and go to Spain as "Tom and John Smith." Ha ha! (This is from that Peter Ackroyd book I've been reading.) It's all because Charles wants to woo Maria Anna, the infanta of Spain. But they start getting in trouble right away. "They gave a boatman at Gravesend a gold piece and rode away without asking for change." That's weird! But they're rich and royal and titled and don't know any better. And the boatman was like, "There's something screwy going on here!" (I paraphrase.) "As suspected assassins they were stopped at Canterbury. Buckingham had to take off his false beard in order to assure the mayor." I am wondering whether these were extremely high quality fake beards or if people were just less used to the idea of fake beards back then. (Are people used to the idea now?) Surely the king could supply you with the best fake beards available. They get to Spain and the infanta is even lovelier than Charles imagined! But he makes the mistake of saying something along those lines in the royal court. Far too informal for the Spanish! His lovestruck words cause a stink! Long story short, by the time they get back home, Charles and Buckingham are ready to go to war with Spain! Buckingham is especially mad because they were rude to him over there. This is where wars come from! I am going to tell you about one other thing I read in this book. My grandfather used to describe someone with an especially open smile as "grinning like a mule eating briars." I always wondered where that expression came from. Ackroyd quotes a 1607 pamphlet by Thomas Dekker, in which people are described as "looking scurvily (like mules chomping upon thistles)." So that's a clue, though Dekker and my grandfather seem to mean the phrase in opposite ways. I recall asking my dad what my grandfather meant by "grinning like a mule eating briars" and he said that a mule would roll back its lips while eating briars so as not to get pricked. So my grandfather just meant a big, happy smile showing all your teeth, with none of the pain that you (and Dekker) might associate with the phrase.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Occasional Small Consignments of Bananas

When I was in Atlanta this weekend, my sister and brother-in-law and I kept seeing a headline that had a funny yet mournful ring to it: "Chiquita Banana Dies." They really meant the woman who did the voice of the Chiquita Banana in a popular animated commercial, to which I "link" you here. Please watch it. It's the best commercial ever, a mini-opera and PSA all in one. Plus it sells bananas! You will note that the banana arrives in an ocean liner with a singular purpose: she has "come to say [that] bananas have to ripen in a certain way." All that distance! Just to say that! What a journey! What an idealist this banana is! The commercial first appeared in 1947, and the citizens of the United States - or so the executives at Chiquita Banana seemed to think - required a lot of banana education, which made me wonder when bananas first became popular in the U.S. There was some talk of googling, but I insisted I'd look it up properly in my OXFORD COMPANION TO FOOD when I got home. And I did! "During the 19th century occasional small consignments of bananas were sent by fast ships... Early varieties had not been bred for keeping qualities, so the fruit had to arrive in little more than a fortnight and was an expensive luxury. But all this began to change in the 1870s, when two American entrepreneurs began to ship bananas from the Caribbean to New Orleans, Boston, and New York." But here's the most amazing thing! "As bananas ripen they give off ethylene gas. Most fruits do this during ripening, but bananas produce an exceptionally large amount... A banana put in a lidded box with green tomatoes turns them red. It also helps a hard avocado to ripen overnight." Bananas are magic!

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Nephew Is a Genius

Last time I went to Atlanta I forgot to bring my little jotting notebook in which to jot my little notes. You won't catch me making that tragic mistake twice. 1. On the drive to Atlanta this weekend, "Jokerman" by Bob Dylan played. Some particular lyric - I can't recall which; by necessity, one cannot jot while driving - made me think for a split second, "Maybe this song is about Jerry Lewis!" (You may "click" here to refresh your memory about the time Bob Dylan got obsessed with Jerry Lewis.) It did have a "sad clown" vibe. But it also has a bunch of mystical stuff about "kings dressed in scarlet" or something. So never mind. Or, wait! THE KING OF COMEDY. I believe he dressed in scarlet. I don't really think "Jokerman" is about Jerry Lewis. But I was driving alone and had time to think. 2. The occasion of the drive was Barry Mills's birthday party. Who should be there but Craig "Sven" Gordon. We reminisced without irony about the old band we used to be in together, just like a couple of living relics from the cliché museum. 3. Somehow the band Kansas came up, prompting Sven to reveal that the lead singer of Kansas moved into his neighborhood for a time and could often be spotted jogging! 4. Chris Lopez came to the party. An interesting beetle landed on his arm. It looked just like a piece of popcorn. 5. Last time I saw Barry's daughter she was two years old. Now she's nine. Barry told her how when she was two, she liked it when I made crazy trumpet noises, it would really make her laugh. So once I was doing that and Dr. Theresa encouraged me like so: "Work it, Jack!" And Barry's two-year-old daughter suddenly shouted, "Work it, Jack!" Ha ha ha! Barry's daughter bore the retelling of this story with good grace uncommon in one of her age. She was thoughtful and polite about the rambling of her elders. 6. Look!
Barry's birthday cake, of admirable fluffiness, was decorated in remembrance of that kids' show that Barry and I used to make. 7. I met a guy who is working on a feature film about the founding of McDonald's, starring Michael Keaton and Laura Dern. He showed me a picture of "the first McDonald's" building and set that he had helped construct in a town north of Atlanta. "It'll be there a few weeks and then it will be gone, like it was never there," he said. I probably said, "I just had a dream about Laura Dern!" I probably said, "Tell her!" 8. I met a woman named Jenny who I thought said she was "as culpable as any vicar." I asked her, "Did you just say you are as culpable as any vicar?" She replied, "No." She also wanted to know what Lopez and I were like when we had "velvet nubs for horns." Or did she say "fuzzy nubs"? My jotting is unclear on this point. Perhaps she said both. She meant to ask what we were like when we were young. Lopez said, anticlimactically, that one of us would generally walk into a bar and the other one would be there, and one of us would say, "Are you gonna finish eating that?" Jenny asked whether we would sit across from one another or on the same side of the booth on such occasions, and the conversation dwindled. 9. Hey! Remember when I was amazed to learn that there were chickens living on the roof of Manuel's Tavern? I finally got to eat some of those eggs, "rooftop eggs" they were called on the menu, when my sister and brother-in-law and nephew Jasper had brunch there. Jasper wanted a pancake and some French fries. My sister was hesitant! But I was a strong advocate for this hugely appealing and innovative idea. I couldn't believe I had never thought of it myself! French fries are a perfect breakfast food. Why doesn't everybody serve French fries with breakfast? They are not that much different than so-called "home fries." My sister finally said okay, and I like to think my relentless nagging had something to do with it. 10. On the drive home, I saw a coyote run across the highway! I don't think I've ever seen one in person before. I know Melissa and Chris have some living out near their place, but coyotes strike me as exotic in our region. I guess they're not. I have to remind myself about the time I was so excited to see some wild turkeys on the side of the highway, and every person I know told me it's no big deal to see wild turkeys and that I was a sucker for being excited. And now I suppose you're all going to tell me that everybody has French fries for breakfast where you come from. Liars!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hee Hee Hee Hee

After all my whining about books about kings, I finished that one Peter Ackroyd book about kings (and queens) and started the NEXT Peter Ackroyd book about kings (and...?). I broke down and bought it at Square Books the other day. Dr. Theresa planned to meet me there and we were to continue on our way to wherever it is we go, so I sat down with my newly purchased book in a chair that was cunningly placed next to the employees' recommendation shelf. And that's how I ended up with some poems by Stevie Smith, recommended by Katelyn (and seemingly disapproved of by the similarly named Kaitlyn, who rang it up). I don't know, the poems were making me laugh and Smith's drawings (like this one) made me think of Thurber's or, really, the doodles of my old friend Eugene. Finally Dr. Theresa showed up so I could stop buying books in short bursts. But none of this is my point. Yesterday, I opened up the Stevie Smith book and happened to read "Outside an owl hunts/ Hee hee hee hee/ Hunting in the Old Park/ From his snowy tree" and I maintain a list of books I read that happen to have owls in them and I don't know why.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

An Arbitrary Quip Recorded Here For Posterity

GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG traces the word "stupe" (meaning "a fool, an idiot") back to 1762. You don't hear it that much, do you? Stephen King uses it in this new book, which reminded me! Back when we were having lunch in NYC, Kent Osborne asked the assembled party if we wanted to see the firehouse from GHOSTBUSTERS and then Tom Herpich asked if we'd like to see "the stoop from SEX AND THE CITY," to which I responded, "That's no way to talk about Sarah Jessica Parker!" Anyway, Pat McHale laughed. And he alone! Let me vitally append that my quip was not grounded in any true opinion of Sarah Jessica Parker. She was the only actor from SEX AND THE CITY I could summon to mind on the spur of the moment. My quip reflects poorly on my slow brain and hasty tongue, not on any supposed deficiency of Ms. Parker's, whose name I used as a matter of convenience.

Writers Need to Watch More TV

I went to Square Books and tried to buy FINDERS KEEPERS by Stephen King and Kaitlyn told me, "Don't do it! It's a sequel! You won't understand it!" Bill C., who also works there, wisely suggested that I ask Tom Franklin, who knows everything about Stephen King, whether I could read that one without reading the first one. Tom gave me the go-ahead! So I went back the next day and bought it, and soon thereafter I had lunch with Tom, and he said, "You know, I've been thinking, why NOT read the first one? It's good!" But it was too late. Hey! I just want to say that early on in FINDERS KEEPERS, Stephen King demonstrates only the loosest grasp of SpongeBob SquarePants. He doesn't know what network it's on, and he seems to think it takes place in a moralistic world where bad kids don't get their allowances...? This, tonally, does not seem like SpongeBob SquarePants to me. Which reminds me! When did UNDERWORLD by Don DeLillo come out? Ah, yes, 1997, when I was working for TBS. And I found it aggravating at the time that DeLillo seemed to think TBS and CNN were the exact same thing. All I'm saying is I have a really cramped view of the world.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Dream Neighbors

Hey remember how you don't care what I dream and I don't care that you don't care? Here we go again! So I dreamed that the neighbors were doing construction (as they are in real, waking life) and one of their machines, parked in our driveway, was run by a small dog that had to walk around and around incessantly on a long leash, tangling and untangling it (that part is only in the dream). So some of the other neighbors gathered (not real ones; dream neighbors) to comment on this little fluffy white dog who had to walk around and around, powering this huge machine. Some, such as Dr. Theresa and I, thought it was awful! Others thought it wasn't so bad. One woman said, "It's the same thing the dog would be doing anyway, going for a walk," and I made a sarcastic remark about how it wasn't the same to get on a merry-go-round and to take a trip to Disneyland. That's what I said in the dream. This angered the woman. She said quietly, to end the conversation, "That's that." I said, "I beg your pardon?" and she hissed, much louder, "THAT'S THAT." And she hissed a great hiss. So then Laura Dern came up! She was on my side. She was like, "Let me handle this." So she did a trick where she took an old rocking chair apart without using her hands - I'm just telling you what I dreamed! - and there were some roller skates concealed in the inner workings of the rocking chair, and Laura Dern put them on and did an "eccentric dance" with skates on. A player piano started playing! (It was a piano from my childhood, and I assured Dr. Theresa it had always been a player piano because I didn't want her to be scared. BUT IT HAD NEVER BEEN A PLAYER PIANO.) Some guy started playing the harmonica, blatantly disregarding that he was playing in a different key than the piano, which I worried would enrage the neighbor even further. But Laura Dern started singing like this: "Wah wah wah!" Somehow it reconciled the piano and the harmonica. The hissing neighbor reluctantly enjoyed the performance, and an uneasy truce occurred, thanks to the antics of Laura Dern! So the neighbors all left and finally we could get back to the wedding celebration that was going on! Yes, one of my older relatives (I guess) had married Phyllis Diller! Who is dead in real life. Also, Pendleton Ward was staying with us. Secretly! He had been hiding out during the dog controversy. Also, there was a casket in the room where the wedding reception was. And someone was inside it! Kind of under glass, Snow White style.
And Phyllis Diller said to me, "You've loved me since you were a kid, haven't you?" And I said, "I've loved you since I was in the womb!" which got a huge laugh in the dream. Ha ha, it's cool to mention wombs in a dream, right? And Phyllis Diller said she was planning on going out on the town with me one New Year's Eve so I could impress my friends. "I'll go dressed as Carol Burnett!" she said, which was some kind of joke - about Halloween, I think? - and everybody else laughed but it took me a second to catch on. I know I dreamed about the dog because I read about the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, right before I went to bed. After they had lopped off her head, a little dog ran out of her clothes, where it had been concealed the whole time! "Yelping, it slid in her blood," writes Peter Ackroyd. Sorry! But that's real life, not a nightmare, though it seems like a nightmare, and I read it before retiring as a violent storm raged.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Fun Facts From Real Life

Tonight Dr. Theresa and I ate some oysters harvested from a place called "Alligator Harbor," which sounded gross to me. I don't even know why. Not the place itself! I'm sure the place itself is nice. It sounds nice! The surrounding area. I'm sure it's pleasant. I can almost picture it, postcard style. Alligator Harbor! I guess what I didn't like was the thought of some oysters that have been lying around in alligator poop...? Is that the image that came unbidden to my mind? Dear Lord, it is all my own fault, forgive me. We have often, and without a care in the world, eaten oysters harvested from a place called "Murder Point." This "post" used to be a lot tighter. Alligator Harbor/Murder Point/Ha ha ha. I came back in and "fixed" it. I felt that I needed to distinguish the almost certainly lovely locale of Alligator Harbor from the slimy oysters I imagined, for no good reason, coming out of the filthy waters (the waters, by the way, are surely not filthy!) surrounding Alligator Harbor (which were, in fact, the actual oysters from Alligator Harbor, I mean, fine and delicious). Maybe I'll just come back to this "post" and make it a little longer every day and that's all I'll do until somebody stops me.

Bears Are Going Crazy

Talked to Mom today and she said that certain bears are going crazy.

Different Worlds!

One thing that Megan Abbott and I found out on my recent trip to NYC is that we have vastly different cultural ideas about what a "prairie oyster" is.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Bishop of London

Just reading in this book by Peter Ackroyd how Queen Elizabeth I had a toothache. "A tooth-drawer named Fenatus outlined the safest method of removing the offending tooth." But the queen was nervous so the bishop of London "volunteered to calm her nerves by losing one of his few remaining teeth." So they pulled the old bishop's tooth and then Elizabeth was like aw, that doesn't look so bad. So she had her tooth pulled too. "One of his few remaining teeth"! That old bishop of London. I'll say something else about Queen Elizabeth. She had nicknames for her subordinates, stuff like "Monkey" and "Frog" and "Lids" and "Spirit" and I'm forgetting a few. She was like George W. Bush! In that way.

The Astonishing Tale of the Lost Pens

When Megan and Dan and I were having drinks at the 21 Club - or "21" as I call it - I wanted to jot down one of Megan's heartbreaking anecdotes about the troubled life of Frances Farmer, but I had lost my pen earlier in the day. Just as Megan was going to loan me a pen, the waiter silently swooped out of nowhere, pen at the ready! A "21 Club" pen. Later, as our party was thinking about leaving, the waiter told me to keep the pen. A gracious and unnecessary gesture! A thoughtful remembrance! The pen that I had lost earlier that day was the pen I once told you about that had an owl by Alexander Wilson on it. I belittled the pen at the time, and mocked myself for having so many things with owls on them. But you know what? It was a really nice pen. High quality! I have to say my feelings of loss were soothed by the kind waiter at the 21 Club - or "21" as I call it. AND the mother of my friend Pen - no relation to the writing utensil - gave me a beautiful fountain pen on the same trip. So I came home much richer in pens than when I left. BUT HERE IS THE BIG MYSTERY YOU HAVE BEEN DYING TO HEAR ABOUT. On my PREVIOUS visit to New York City I ALSO LOST A FINE PEN. I don't think I mentioned it at the time. That one was silver and had a certain heft. Two visits to New York City, two lost pens... and not just any pens. Two of the nicest pens I have ever carried around. Don't worry, I'll never take the pen that Pen's mom gave me out of the house. It's way too nice. It's by far the nicest pen I've ever had, the kind of pen with which you should only write deeply personal letters by a roaring fire, and we don't have a fireplace. But then you should throw those letters into the fire, that's how nice this pen is. HERE'S THE THING! I fly all over the place, constantly jotting this and that, AND YET I HAVE NEVER LOST A PEN EXCEPT IN NEW YORK CITY. New York City: the city that swallows pens. Well, the Peabody Awards ceremony was in New York City one week ago today, so I guess I better milk it with this final picture of me holding a Peabody Award in New York City one week ago today. There must be a statute of limitations, even for a shameless glory hog such as myself. I didn't carry a pen that night because I was afraid that the ink might leak all over my new pants. TRUE STORY.

The Krebs

Melissa Ginsburg and Chris Offutt dropped by last night. They gave us a bunch of neat old matchbooks (in case my cigarette lighter book becomes a big hit and I want to write a sequel, Chris claimed ironically). I showed Chris one of Bob Hope's ashtrays from the time I bought a couple of Bob Hope's ashtrays and he wisely suggested that I display some of the old matchbooks in the Bob Hope ashtray. I've been picking through them and so far the best match (ha ha, "match") seems to be this one from a place called "The Krebs" in (according to the narrow top of the matchbook) Skaneateles, NY. Sounds like a town Bob probably slogged through in his old vaudeville days. And as you can see from the founding date proudly displayed, The Krebs would have been around back then. Much nicer than the diner where his vaudeville partner allegedly died from eating tainted coconut cream pie. The Krebs served Lobster Newburg, according to the infinitesimal amount of research I've done on the subject. By the time Bob could have afforded it, I doubt he was passing through Skaneateles anymore, if he ever did. Who am I kidding? Bob went everywhere! You can also see from the matchbook cover that the phone number for the restaurant was "14." That's some phone number! I remember when I was a little kid in Bayou La Batre you could call anybody in town by dialing just four numbers, okay children, I'm going to crawl back into my hole now.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Ward Ward Ward

Gee I almost forgot to tell you what almost happened. See, when I had lunch with my friend Ward the other day, my friend Pen wanted to come along and his LAST name is Ward. And here's the thing. My MIDDLE NAME is Ward. So I was really looking forward to it. I was like, this is going to be a lunch with three guys where one guy's first name is Ward, one guy's middle name is Ward and one guy's last name is Ward. At the last minute, plans changed. But it almost happened! It almost happened!

Bye Chi

That rhymes, which is appropriate, because Chiyuma Elliott is a poet and she is moving back from whence she came: Berkeley, California, home of the famed Bravermans from NBC's beloved family dramedy PARENTHOOD. So anyway today we had our final cheeseburgers at Handy Andy's - our preferred meeting spot - and talked about Scriabin for literally hours. That ain't happening anymore! Sad.

Pals About It

Jimmy writes in to tell me that Stephen King is, like me, a fan of Plastic Man. "Maybe y'all could be pals about it," Jimmy says with typical Jimmyism. That's my word for optimism!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


And now it comes to pass that I must tell you how I went to New York City for the Peabody Awards ceremony and all the marvels and wonders that the Good Lord did cause me to witness there. I know the first thing you want to know is "WHAT DID YOU READ ON THE AIRPLANE?" Calm down! Thanks to my precious book of jottings, I can tell you everything. 1. That cursed book about the Middle Ages got me thinking about THE DECAMERON. Wouldn't you know that Bill Boyle, knowing of my keen interest, purchased me a nice chunky mass-market paperback - perfect for airplanes - that promised "the complete text of this ravishingly rich and robust work." So I started reading THE DECAMERON and the guy starts right off about how people are dying like goats in the street. But he's quick to reassure us that he has to get that part out of the way so the fun stuff can start! 2. I turned down a Biscoff offered to me by a flight attendant! The world's greatest cookie. All part of my ongoing effort to button my suit for the Peabody Awards. 3. Met Megan Abbott at the Temple Bar, a great bar of the darkest kind, where I had the most refreshing gimlet of my young life. I mean, it was a dark bar. Megan took pics of our drinks and gee just look how dark they are.
Having sworn off hooch for two weeks (part of the aforementioned jacket buttoning resolution) I was ready for some gimlets. Kent Osborne showed up! And soon enough, Pendleton Ward! A fellow there in the Temple Bar pooh-poohed the artistry of BARRY LYNDON and I cursed him succinctly! That's not like me. OR IS IT? Pen drew several pictures of me on coasters and gave them to Megan. They were much like the religious icons of yore, immortalizing my various stages of peacefulness and cursing. In one of them I have my arm around Kent and I believe I am saying of him, "This guy is the king of love." I'll show you that one. The others are hilarious and I will keep digital copies of them for my own enjoyment and, perhaps, edification, but I shall never show them in public, festooned as they are with the vilest profanities. 4. We went to the hotel, where Pen taught Megan to rhumba! There is a vine of it happening if you would care to "click" here to see it. 5. Then Pen taught me to rhumba (as he had once promised to do). He had to remind me not to lead. He warned me before he dipped me. Today I don't remember how to rhumba. 6. On the bathroom wallpaper in the hotel room: whimsical black-and-white line drawings of wry cartoon birds. Closer inspection revealed that a previous guest had taken a pencil and decorated random birds here and there with graphic bits of anatomy I shan't shock you by naming.
7. Now here's the part about the Peabody Awards. I wore a tie pin that Megan had given me the night before at the Temple Bar. This picture was supposed to show off the tie pin for Megan (that's why I'm pointing) but you can't see it. It's in the shape of a cigarette lighter! 8. Before we left for the Peabodys, Pen's mom gave all of us really nice pens! Because her son's name is Pen, as she explained, and also because of our professions. Very thoughtful! 9. Now look. Here is the gang who went up onstage to get the Peabody Award for ADVENTURE TIME.
You can see that we are all dudes. I feel very lucky to have been invited, but I am also sorry for whatever quirk of timing or fate or scheduling or process that means you don't see any of the women here who are so integral to giving ADVENTURE TIME its voice. The show wouldn't be the same without Seo Kim (last night's episode was a perfect example!) or Rebecca Sugar or Natasha Allegri or Ako Castuera or Ashly Burch or Elizabeth Ito, and I could name many, many other women, past and present contributors to the show, who put their personal stamp on it and just as easily could have been up there with Pen and Adam and Kent. Not taking away at all from the immense talent of the guys you see assembled above. In fact there are infinite combos of women AND men absent from that picture who would be just as appropriate to share that stage with Adam and Pen and Kent (three people who should be in ANY picture celebrating the show). Once again, I feel really lucky that it happened to work out that I could attend. But I'm getting ahead of myself chronologically; don't you want to hear about the delicious pigs in blankets they had at the pre-Peabody reception? The server called them "cocktail franks." 9b. Speaking of bad chronology, and speaking of Natasha, she tweeted this last night: "bury me with my husband hugging me." That reminded me of the "Classics Illustrated" comic book of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which I probably haven't thought of in at least 40 years. So I dug up the final panel, and boy what an impression it must have made on me, because it's just the way I remember it:
To which, when I tweeted it back at her, Natasha responded: "so romantic!!! so romantic that i can't think of a good bone joke!" And that's just one reason I love Natasha. 10. Fred Armisen hosted the show. Remember when I met him before he was famous and he was just some non-famous guy having a sour day? 11. We stood backstage behind Amy Schumer and her gang, who were to receive their award just before us. Tina Fey was there! Kent pointed her out to me but I could only see a vague figure gracefully flitting in the dark.
12. Steven Soderbergh was at the table next to ours! I told him how much Dr. Theresa and I love THE LIMEY and he said, "That's not something I hear very often." Ha ha ha! Here's a shot from Dr. Theresa's very favorite scene in THE LIMEY. 13. And at another adjacent table sat Ray McKinnon.
You remember him from beating up George Clooney in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU! I met him at the Ajax Diner here in Oxford, Mississippi, a couple of years ago, so I was able to strike up a little conversation about some mutual friends of ours. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to introduce him to Tom Herpich, who is a huge fan of Mr. McKinnon's TV show RECTIFY. I missed my window on that! Boy did I feel guilty. For a good portion of the "after party" I chased Mr. McKinnon around like the prince going after Cinderella, but I never found him. I really wanted to introduce him to Tom. I apologized to Tom perhaps to a point at which I should have begun apologizing for apologizing, which I may have also done. 14. Ray McKinnon wasn't the only Peabody recipient I knew from home. Isn't that weird? Tina Antolini was there to pick up an award for a radio show she works on. And I've had drinks with her at City Grocery Bar! Oxford is weird. 15. The Adventure Time folks rode to the show in a stretch limo that had tiny lights on the ceiling that kept changing color. I said, "I want the inside of my coffin lid to look like this." And Pen's mom said, "That's the sixth joke you've made about death!" 15b. Somewhat related: I guess after I went to bed on that previous night, the night before the Peabodys, a few people stayed in the hotel bar and Pen decided with some passion that we should all dress as English peas for the Peabody ceremony. These would be, then, our "pea bodies." And according to Kent, it came close to happening, if only a quick enough delivery had been possible. Look at the casual morbidity of this tweeted report:
16. I talked to Amy Schumer at the Peabody "after party." I was curious about the dynamic in an interview I'd seen her do with Jerry Seinfeld. I think I kind of put down Jerry Seinfeld...? For being "old-fashioned"? Ha ha! I don't know what I was talking about. Why was I trying to subtly badmouth Jerry Seinfeld? What did he ever do to me except try to make my life a little nicer? Amy Schumer told me that he's like her best friend now, pretty much, so I was like, "Okay!" I kept clinking her glass with mine, like giving her a toast, every time I told her how great she was. Ha ha ha! What a jerk. I just kept habitually clinking her glass each time I made another expression of genuine if hackneyed praise. I suddenly realized I had clinked her glass about half a dozen times and I apologized. She was nice and said, "No, I like it."
17. Okay! So after you go onstage, you're led to a "press area" and you miss most of the rest of the show. (We've completely abandoned chronology now, who cares?) When I finally got back to the audience area, my chair was gone! The ADVENTURE TIME table had one less chair. So I went and sat on the other side of the room with the people from the show Radiolab. I have to say they were the nicest, sweetest bunch of people at the Peabodys! Everybody loved talking to them. They love ADVENTURE TIME and Pen feels just the same way about their show. I have a lot of happy memories of riding around in a car with my brother and my nephews and all of us just enjoying Radiolab. So, anyway, those people are just as nice as you might think. They let me sit at their table a long time! 18. I have to say this about the Peabody Awards: the people who win them are doing serious work! This one guy came out and introduced his friend who shared the stage with him. The Chinese authorities had tried to take her bodily organs! Just take them! I mean, what can you say? And here she is. It's a miracle she's alive. And there was another winner who showed a clip of a beautiful child singing a song about freedom, and as she's singing, a bomb suddenly destroys the street she's standing on. Just right at that moment! It was one of the most powerful and visceral things I've ever seen and it was an introductory clip at an awards show. And I want to say this about Pen: he watched all of those documentaries in their entirety to prepare for the show. Pen is a man with great perspective. He cares about the world and that's one thing that makes his work so personal and good. 19. Pat McHale was part of the ADVENTURE TIME contingent, so I got to meet him for the first time and he was a treat to be around. I talked about how much I loved his casting of Jack Jones as a crooning frog in his masterpiece OVER THE GARDEN WALL and after saying a lot of nice things about Jack Jones, he began to analyze Rudy Vallee's singing technique.
You can't know, as an old man who works with young people all the time, what a tonic it was to my poor heart to hear a fresh-faced youngster such as Pat McHale rhapsodize about Rudy Vallee. IT JUST DOESN'T HAPPEN IN MY LINE OF WORK. Then Pat said that his grandmother had been a dancer at Radio City Music Hall! He said she had a problem with Frank Sinatra... something about how he handled a microphone. 20. Now I'm going to type about how I ate a lot of good vegetables. Ha ha ha! Vegetables! Too bad for you. I went to a place that had great fresh seasonal vegetables. Tom Herpich brought us there. And pleased were one and all by his felicitous choice. Lunch with Kent and Pat and Adam and Tom. Kent was talking about the films of Eric Schaeffer, which he finds morally, emotionally and aesthetically repugnant.
I hope I am not misrepresenting Kent's opinion! Blame me, not Kent. Let's say that I am not sufficiently describing Kent's complex attitude. Anyway, Kent was describing a particularly pornographic obsession that haunts Mr. Schaeffer's oeuvre and I said, "Hey, Kent, there are some little kids at that table over there!" and Kent said, "They have to learn about Eric Schaeffer sometime." Ha ha! Kent's witty implication was that the very idea of Eric Schaeffer was the offensive part of the conversation, you see. The next day my old friend Ward McCarthy suggested the very same place for lunch and I was only too happy to go back. I was excited! Like, "I will try different vegetables this time!" Vegetables! 21. I had eaten so many vegetables that I felt no guilt whatsoever about the mountain of fried clams I consumed that evening at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. Clams are something we just don't have in the South... or shouldn't. I recall a time that Caroline Young and I had clams in a seedy dive in Atlanta, GA, with unspeakable results. BUT! I am getting both ahead of and behind my story. It's not a story, is it? 22. Megan and I went to MOMA and saw Martin Scorsese's collection of movie posters, which were on display. Here's one for THE KILLERS, the Don Siegel version, and I am standing under Lee Marvin's legs, I guess.
But you can't see the guy so there is some possibility that I am standing under Ronald Reagan's legs. They could be Clu Gulager's leg's too. I would rank the possibilities like this: first, Lee Marvin, second Clu Gulager. There is really very little chance that I am standing under Ronald Reagan's legs. Honestly, they are abstract legs and could belong to any "killer." 23. We went up to the Yoko Ono exhibit, which I found to be a barrel of fun! I just loved it. I can't speak for Megan. She would go around a corner and come back and command me, "Don't go around that corner, Jack!" Later, telling Dan about our day, she described whatever was around that corner as "very gynecological." She was looking out for me! Well, Megan I both saw the movie of the waddling butt that just waddles along and I guess we averted our eyes from it most of the time. It doesn't do anything but waddle along, we got the gist. I believe Megan read the placard next to it, in which the waddling was described as "a sexless march," if I am remembering what Megan read aloud correctly. But I found Yoko Ono's art to be fresh and fun. Once again, I cannot speak for Megan. 24. But I was disappointed that Yoko's apple was in pristine shape. There's an apple on a pedestal and (I think) it's just supposed to stay there until it rots. I have to say, that is one hale apple she has there! In sadly perfect condition. 25. As we were leaving the exhibit, we had a chance to participate in the "bag performance." There were two "facilitators" there and no line. Megan urged me to do it. But the bare feet of the facilitators seemed ominous and then Megan and I read the plaque and discovered that we were expected to take off all our clothes and get in a bag together and, I don't know, stumble around. We didn't. 26. Speaking of facilitators, Megan took me to St. Patrick's cathedral to show off its beauty. She said the lines on Ash Wednesday had been crazy! But once you got inside it was very efficient, with 25 ash stations, and 25 priests - facilitators, I call them - just throwing that ash on you in frenzied handfuls (from what I imagined were large buckets); sounded like to me they had a real penitence factory going there.
27. After dinner at the Oyster Bar, Megan and Dan and I went to the famous 21 Club for a nightcap. I remembered from reading (as much as could of) that Errol Flynn autobiography that something big happened to Errol Flynn at the 21 Club... either an unexpected moment of graciousness from a kind friend or stranger at his lowest point of abjection or maybe he beat up some guys there, or maybe both! 28. So the mural in the men's room at the 21 Club is hard to understand. It shows a guy peeing into a goldfish bowl. I'm pretty sure! From an impressive distance. And the goldfish is surprised and for some reason a lady's skirt is flying up. Also in surprise? And as long as we are talking about restrooms, let's go back to the Oyster Bar, in which Megan snapped this shot of a sofa in the Ladies' Room:
29. Megan's nightcap conversation at the 21 Club! She said that she's a direct descendant of Mary, Queen of Scots! Probably the least surprising news I've ever heard. Then she said, "You know, Frances Farmer never got a lobotomy." I'm pretty sure that came out of nowhere. "After she went on a binge," said Megan, "she said to the arresting officer, 'Hasn't anyone ever broken your heart?'" Then Megan asked us rhetorically, "Doesn't that just kill you?" And it did! It killed us.