Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sixteen Cucumbers

Mom came to town for a visit. I brought her to the genealogy room at the public library - a strange, dark little room. I can't believe I never "blogged" about that room before. But now I remember: I thought it was good enough to put into one of my failed novels. So I jotted some notes about it in a special jotting book which is now at the bottom of a pile of some other special jotting books, never to be seen again. We poked around the genealogy room and found a thin volume of reminiscences from a man whose name I believe was Glover Moore (?). When Glover was a lad, he and his sister Alice had a pet pig who enjoyed rolling over to have its belly scratched with corncobs several times a day. The pig's tail had two curls in it but sometimes it would run and the curls would straighten out. As it ran, it would say, "U-r-r-gh! U-r-r-gh!" I believe that was the spelling. Anyway, they ate it. The family ate it. I am sorry to tell you. And I was sorry to read it. The pig was "loyal to the end," wrote Glover Moore. And I closed the book and said to my mother, "Glover Moore and his magic pig/ Scratched it with corncobs/ ... 'til it got big." And Mom replied, "I've seen pigs caught and heard them squeal/ Getting ready for the great big meal." And I looked at her across the table and she said with a touch of sadness, "It's true." We also found something called the SNIPES FAMILY COOKBOOK, which included a facsimile of a long letter dated 1899, from Pearl Snipes of Benevolence, Georgia, to her beau Oscar Morrison. Pearl tells Oscar how she received his previous letter while she was at dinner and couldn't eat another bite. Sister teased her about the contents of Oscar's letter, so Pearl ran and shut herself in the other room. The family stood at the door and tried to get her to tell what was in the letter, but she wouldn't reveal a word. She is relieved to have it confirmed that Oscar hasn't been sporting about with another woman. She asks Oscar to give everyone her love and "keep a double portion for yourself." Mom said, "She was forward, wasn't she?" I said, defending Pearl Snipes, "She was his intended!" The letter was signed, "Your devoted intended." I think I have most of that correct. You can't remove the books from the genealogy room, so you have to stuff all the details into your head. Neither Mom nor I had thought to bring pen or paper. I will add that Pearl Snipes placed charmingly arbitrary phrases in quotation marks, kind of like Mattie in TRUE GRIT. The cookbook had a recipe that called for sixteen cucumbers and water with "enough salt to float an egg." There was also a recipe for "Bohemian Coffee Cake," which Mom wanted to copy for Dr. Theresa, having determined with one of Mom's favored genealogy websites that Dr. Theresa is, in part, of Bohemian descent. I said that the coffee cake probably wasn't ACTUALLY Bohemian (there was a recipe for "Martha Washington Cake" with cherry Jell-O, and I don't think Martha Washington ate that) plus there were many stern warnings posted, as I have already noted, about removing materials from the room. As we were leaving the library, whom should we encounter but Carla, who used to work at Square Books, but has recently become a librarian, long a fond wish of hers. Carla showed us her "staff picks" selection, which included my first book. How nice! I know she had lost all hope of ever seeing me at the library. I ran into Carla at the City Grocery Bar and she upbraided me for not being the faithful library patron I had sworn myself to be. She had never seen me there. So it was a sincere "staff pick," I think, with no thought I would ever hear of it. She put me on the shelf with THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, one of my favorite books, and QUEEN OF EARTH, a good movie (pictured). So I felt all right. And I was like, "Hey, Mom, look at that!" Carla told us that the genealogy room is an entity entirely separate from the public library, though housed in the same building - hence the many prohibitions. It has always been empty, in my experience, and running on the honor system, I suppose. There are a number of butterscotch-colored molded plastic chairs stacked up high and teetering in there, and some boxy, dead-looking computers. And Dennis the Menace panels in acrylic stands on the tables, for reasons that elude me. The Snipes family is mightily represented in several thick binders, though as far as I can tell they have no connection whatsoever to Oxford. There is so much Snipes material scattered around that I briefly wondered (though knowing full well the contrary truth) whether the Snipeses were some undiscovered inspiration for the Snopeses.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Literary Matters

Welcome once again to "Literary Matters," which always stink... until now! Big news for Jimmy and Bill, known and beloved by all "blog" readers, assuming they exist. "Blog" readers, I mean. Bill and Jimmy definitely exist. Here's proof! Jimmy just "landed" a two book deal, starting with his novel GOLDELINE, which is about orphans and bandits and magic! I vow to keep you informed. Meanwhile, Bill's novel GRAVESEND will be published by the renowned French press Rivages as the thousandth volume in their noir series. Jim Thompson wrote the first and James Ellroy wrote the hundredth. So Bill is in good company. Rather, Thompson and Ellroy are in good company. And Rivages is ferrying Bill to France, where they're going to parade him around like a king. Do you think I am kidding? I am not kidding. Here's what the French are saying about GRAVESEND: "Désir, fantasme, désespérance et noirceur sont les maîtres mots de ce roman à la profonde humanité." I don't speak French! But who among us doesn't broil nightly in the realms of désir and fantasme, what with all our profonde humanité and so on? Jimmy and Bill: Good Idea Club members. Coincidence? I'm afraid so. Our next "Literary Matters" shall surely stink again, so until then be sure to partake deeply of the healthy fragrance of deserved success. Bill and Jimmy! Jimmy and Bill!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Great Humanist Reindeer

Hey I was reading the phrase "great humanist reminder" in an article and I thought it said "great humanist reindeer" - ha ha, gee, what crazy mixups we get into with our eyes failing and whatnot. Anyway I want to meet the Great Humanist Reindeer and maybe he or she will grant all my wishes.

Another Real Life Drama Tale of Life

One of our cats has a cold. I was like, "She should get some rest." Then I was like, how could a cat possibly rest any more than it already does? Cats rest all the time! Cats mostly rest! I feel sure I am not the first to ponder this conundrum, nor do I claim to be. It is most likely a standard quip in the hackier cat-focused standup comedy clubs, if such exist. That's it, that's all I've got, goodbye. You've been a great audience.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Musical Question

I saw this title card (designed by Tom Herpich, painted by Joy Ang) for an upcoming ADVENTURE TIME episode and thought it was evocative of Machen, which reminded me that Megan Abbott had recently encouraged me to reread Machen's story "The White People," which I did, though I skipped the prologue, which is cheating. As I recalled, Megan had mentioned how scary the part of the story is in which the nurse is "sweating profoundly" (as opposed to "profusely"), I seemed to think those were Megan's words [maybe it was "prodigiously," or, you know, "profusely" after all - ed.] (in the actual story the nurse is "all streaming with perspiration") so I searched through my emails so I could quote Megan accurately but could not find anything about profound sweat or Arthur Machen in them. Megan, when contacted, said I was thinking of a phone conversation. Isn't this thrilling? Reading the story again, I was struck with this sentence: "And people said the wax man screamed in the burning of the flames." And I couldn't help but wonder whether Robyn Hitchcock might have been inspired by Machen when he asked the musical question, "Is your wax doll still crying in the fire?" A note in the introduction to this collection says that Machen also wrote an "owlishly learned disquisition on various types of tobacco," which makes this a book with an owl in it, but does it count? An owl in a scholarly introduction? I'll put an asterisk by it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Li'l Henry James

I read in the New York Times the other day about some autobiographical writings by Henry James, in which James (I'll paraphrase and misremember freely now) recalled being a kid, tossing and turning in bed at night, wondering what secrets might be found in HOT CORN, a scandalous book his father wouldn't let him read. So I ordered a first edition of HOT CORN. There were print-on-demand versions available, but I've had very bad luck with those. I've read the first 49 pages of HOT CORN and maybe Henry James wasn't missing much. There's a good deal of padding. In fact, Chapter Two seems strangely similar to Chapter One. But what about the hot corn, you ask? There's plenty! "Katy, the Hot Corn girl... Hot corn! here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot... 'Hot corn, hot corn!' now pealing in the midnight air... what shall be my title? What better could I have than HOT CORN... the poor little girl that sits shivering by the path, crying hot corn... Take care, little hot corn girl, or you will be run over... She is nothing but a hot corn girl... And a pale-faced little girl sits upon the steps of the Bank of the Republic, adding to that constant cry, 'Hot corn! Hot corn!'... 'Hot corn, here's your nice hot corn!'... Do you think when I get a little bigger, the old woman is going to keep me in the street all day and half the night, peddling peanuts and selling hot corn?... Her children are in the street, filling the night air with an appealing cry, 'Hot corn, hot corn, who'll buy my nice hot corn?'... it is the hot corn girl... Julia is no older, and but little bigger, and she has often stopped in her walk to eat hot corn... they had begged, and stole, and peddled hot corn and pea-nuts together... Here's your nice Hot Corn, smoking hot, smoking hot, just from the pot!... This chapter was published under the simple title 'Hot Corn'... Here they live - barely live - in holes almost as hot as the hot corn... Hot corn! Hot corn! here's your nice hot corn... I discovered the owner of the hot corn cry... 'Some corn, sir,' lisped the little sufferer... 'give me some corn, you little wolf's whelp'... 'please buy some corn, sir'... Oh dear! now there goes a man, and I did not cry hot corn, what shall I do?... I dashed the corn in the gutter... I almost involuntarily cried, 'hot corn,' as I saw the hot spirit of that grain, under the guises of 'pure gin' - 'old rum' - 'pale brandy' - 'pure port'... crying 'Hot corn' to gain a penny for the purchase of a drink of the fiery dragon... from some side street, came up the cry of 'Hot corn! - hot corn!'... like a lost spirit on the midnight air - 'Hot corn, hot corn! - here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot - hot - hot - hot corn.'... send delicate little girls at midnight through the streets, crying 'Hot corn'... 'Hot corn,' then, be the watchword... the little girl whose wailing cry has been the inciting cause of this present dish of 'Hot Corn - smoking hot!'" That's just the first two chapters and I'm sure I've missed some of the hot corn. Retyping it I do fall under the spell... it's not subtle ("Hot corn, hot corn! - here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot - hot - hot - hot corn" stands out). One does begin to worry about the hot corn girls. I wonder whether HOT CORN influenced my friend Eugene's book JENNIE THE WATERCRESS GIRL, for which I'm searching around the house now (Eugene a "pure port" lover, coincidentally), though I'm sure Eugene was tapping into a whole subgenre with which I'm unfamiliar... there's Stephen Crane's MAGGIE (a favorite of Bill Taft's), which must be related, maybe even (wild speculation) inspired by the subtitle characters of HOT CORN ("Little Katy, Madalina the Rag-Picker's Daughter, Wild Maggie, &c")... and of course Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" (which appears in my cigarette lighter book). Now I also have the urge to finally read Upton Sinclair's book-length anti-alcohol sermon THE CUP OF FURY, which Hogan testified made her crave a cold martini.

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to McNeil's Movie Korner, the only place on the "internet" that deals with movies. As usual, McNeil is way ahead of me. I'm very familiar with MONEY JUNGLE, the LP by Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charles Mingus, but I know nothing about THE MONEY JUNGLE, McNeil's recommendation for today. "Everything we love about a movie is included," he writes, "plus there's the bonus of watching Don Rickles eating in a bathroom."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

We Break In Bob Hope's Coasters

Last night Dr. Theresa cooked chicken in Kent's honor. I showed Kent some of Bob Hope's coasters that I bought at an auction. In an impulsive and correct gesture, Kent used one of Bob Hope's coasters for his beer. Soon we were all using Bob Hope's coasters! We had never used them before, although Dr. Theresa has used one of Bob Hope's ashtrays and, as I am sure you will recall, one of Bob Hope's cocktail forks to check the consistency of her figgy pudding last Christmas.
Don't worry, Bob Hope! We are putting your stuff to good use. When Kent opened a couple of beers he humorously placed the bottle caps on Burt Reynolds's eyes, as seen here. Later, Kent and I walked up to the City Grocery Bar, where we happily ran into Lee Durkee and talked politics on the balcony.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Scarlet Fever Isn't All That

I took a very quick stroll around the square - less than half an hour - but what an adventure! First I heard someone yelling at me from a car across the street: "Dirty Grandpa! Hey, Dirty Grandpa!" I stopped and looked around, confirming to one and all that I indeed thought of myself as the dirty grandpa. The source of the catcalling was Ace Atkins, who, I may mention, refused to go see DIRTY GRANDPA with us last night. Then I passed by a young woman on the sidewalk. She was telling her friend about a case of scarlet fever she had contracted. "That's very rare!" her friend said with what sounded like delight and congratulations. "Oh, I don't think it's all that anymore," the young woman replied dismissively (modestly?). And so I continued on my way to Square Books, where I filled two empty spots on my recommendation shelf. For you see, Kent Osborne himself had purchased DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott and THE PINE BARRENS by John McPhee. Kent's reading habits are none of your business, but I just told you anyway. Kent almost choked on some Gus's fried chicken the other day and he said that as he thought he was dying his foremost consideration was how great such a death would be for my "blog" and I said I would never "blog" about his death so lightly! But now I just don't know what kind of person I am.

Movie Theater Pizza

About a month ago, when DIRTY GRANDPA opened, I mentioned in an ADVENTURE TIME meeting (in which I regularly participate from Oxford, Mississippi, while everyone else is in Burbank), that I wished Kent were in town so we could go see DIRTY GRANDPA together. Kent reminded me that he was coming here for a visit soon. I said I wasn't sure whether DIRTY GRANDPA would be playing, and Kent predicted it would still be "the number one movie in the country, like TITANIC." We shared a chuckle, you may be sure! So Kent finally got to town, and DIRTY GRANDPA was still playing, and we went to see it, accompanied by Bill Boyle, a De Niro expert and completist. Kent and I arrived at the movie theater an hour early, ha ha! But it is not a joke, despite my ha ha. Kent ordered himself a little cheese pizza from the movie theater's kitchen. I prayed to God he would consume it before Bill arrived. Bill, as you know, makes the best pizza in town, and such a movie theater cheese pizza would be an affront to him!
So Bill arrived and we all stepped into the movie theater to watch DIRTY GRANDPA, on practically the one-year anniversary of when Kent and I went to see 50 SHADES OF GREY in Silver Lake. Bill and Kent and I had the whole place to ourselves for DIRTY GRANDPA! But just before the movie started (or was it just after?) an earnest young couple came in to test the boundaries of their tender new love by going to see DIRTY GRANDPA. The credit sequence was striking, as you may see above. "It's like a Godard movie!" I kept screaming into the emptiness. I was also proud to notice that Dirty Grandpa wore a hat just like a hat I wore when I was twenty. Here you can see it on the movie poster Kent photographed right outside the theater. I think a bird has pooped on the Plexiglas, just under the "n" in "Grandpa."
Or that may be the designer's flourish, emphasizing the dirtiness of the Dirty Grandpa. After the movie, Bill and Kent and I adjourned to the City Grocery Bar to discuss many aspects of DIRTY GRANDPA.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chocolate Shell Gently Cracking

I recorded the movie BEST FRIENDS off of TCM. In one scene, Ron Silver pops through a doorway and he's eating an Eskimo Pie. I'm sorry to use the word "eskimo," because it is offensive. But Ron Silver's performance made me crave that brand-name ice cream treat. I can't remember the last time I had one. Ron Silver seems to be enjoying his brand-name ice cream treat so very much. And kudos to the sound department! You can really make out the gentle and enticing crackling of the chocolate shell under Ron Silver's careful teeth. Or did I just imagine that? Either way, that's some tactile filmmaking.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Famous Novelty Pencil

You've heard about famous writers jotting things on bar napkins! Well, her features are obscured but trust me: this is famed author Mary Miller writing on a bar napkin with a giant novelty pencil belonging to Chris Offutt (his torso looming in the background). Yes, it is a giant pencil, but it really works. I saw the whole thing go down.
Photo by Bill Boyle.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Doing the Thing

You know, sometimes I reap writing lessons from ADVENTURE TIME meetings, such as who to punch and what not to punch. Yesterday I got a good one! I had typed up a line of clichéd dialogue for Jake, which Adam called out, and I oh-so-cleverly explained that it was SUPPOSED to be a cliché. I had done it on purpose! Adam replied, "If you're doing the thing, you're also doing the thing." Well! That hit me with a certain brilliant force. I stopped everything to jot it down in one of my famous books of jottings, even as Adam started trying to phrase it in what he thought was a "better" way, but it was too late: I had already jotted. And besides, there was no better way to say it. I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day, kind of chanting it to myself. "If you're doing the thing, you're also doing the thing." For a second it reminded me of Beckett, and then I thought, no, Gertrude Stein.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Going Pretty Good

Well, Chris's new book is so jaw-dropping and fantastically compelling that I read it in one day. I almost never read a book in one day. I think I've read, for example, three more pages of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY since the last time I mentioned it (October 10, since you're probably keeping track), though I was going along pretty good with that one for a while. So I'm back to the Norman Mailer book about Lee Harvey Oswald sooner than I thought. It contains touching interviews with innocent people who knew him back in Minsk. At the time of the interviews they're going gray and soft and thinking about their youth. One of Oswald's Russian sweethearts loved Deanna Durbin movies. I don't know why that detail stands out. Marina Oswald was interviewed for the book. When she read it - as recounted in the Mailer bio I read - she said, "Tolstoy, he's not!" Ha ha! (Another review: after Marilyn Monroe read THE DEER PARK she said that Mailer was "too impressed by power.") Anyway, Megan sent me the "link" to the whole Warren Commission report, so that's probably healthy.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Good Owl Sound

Walked up to Square Books and bought Chris Offutt's acclaimed new memoir MY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER. Thanks to Chris I will be setting aside this pretty interesting Norman Mailer book about Lee Harvey Oswald because I can't wait to start Chris's book. In fact, I already have. In fact, I'm on page 14. And in fact, there's an owl on page 14. "An owl moaned along the ridge." That's good! Good verb. In all the many books I've read with owls in them, I don't believe any author but Chris has displayed the good sense to have their owl "moan." It gives back all the eeriness of the owl's cry that has been leached out through our tired centuries of "hooting."

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Dr. Theresa

This nice picture of Dr. Theresa comes to us from Jon Langford, who sent it yesterday. He snapped it on Faulkner's lawn that time.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Great Babies of Show Business

You know my cigarette lighter book's publication date has come and gone. It is no use for me to think about cigarette lighters any more! If it ever was. But I read an article by R. Emmet Sweeney which included the phrase "ill-fated cigarette lighter" and I had to know more! So I tweeted at him and he tweeted back at me thusly: He was speaking, of course, of SUSAN SLADE. So I watched it last night and here are my controversial comments, including numerous spoilers. 1. Lloyd Nolan was always an old man. 2. Lloyd Nolan has a funny way of letting his mouth hang open while other actors talk. 3. Connie Stevens's approach to acting is to repeat a word very carefully to make it appear she's thinking: "I... I..." "You... you..." "I wouldn't put... put it that way." She has an "illegitimate" baby that she tries to pass off as her baby brother and she is always saying, "I can't leave my baby... brother! My baby brother!" She (her character, Susan Slade) is remarkably terrible at remembering to pretend her baby is her baby brother. 3. Speaking of the baby, that is a truly great performance by a baby! He always seems to know his motivation. I'd put that baby up against the baby in Altman's version of POPEYE for all-time great performance by a baby. Connie Stevens sings him a lullaby and he reacts by drifting off to sleep! For example. 4. Here is where the lighter comes in, and it's horrific. The baby in the movie is always grabbing a lighter and playing with it. Then, in the true Chekhovian manner, he sets himself on fire! And they show a doll (it's supposed to be the baby) lying on the floor with flames leaping out of it! Terrifying. You're a little relieved because the "baby" is so obviously a doll, but that also makes it scarier! Don't worry, the baby is going to be all right, they tell us, though we never see the baby in the movie again. I suppose I would have been obliged to include this scene in my cigarette lighter book but I'm just as happy that I didn't. 5. Look at this ashtray!
I don't think this poorly captured, blurry frame can get across the ominous thrill of the camera closing in on this tableau as the telephone rings with no one in the house to answer it. Lynchian! And the ashtray almost glows. I was thinking McNeil would love this ashtray.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

I Ruin Everything

Last night we realized LOVE LETTERS was on TCM. But it had already been on for twelve minutes! Aw, that's not so bad, we reasoned. I had been meaning to record it, but I did not. All we knew was that it had Joseph Cotten ("One of my top five!" - Dr. Theresa) and Jennifer Jones in it, the same couple from PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, which Dr. Theresa loves so much that Megan Abbott sent her a lobby card from it. So we missed the first twelve minutes (maybe the first ten, accounting for Robert Osborne's introduction) and then I paused it numerous times because I was cooking dinner and had to go stir this or check that. So at some point I meant to pause it again, but accidentally hit the "2" button... which is just beneath the "pause" button... and our viewing changed to a withered grayish man in an infomerical about mortgages on channel 2! And by the time I got it back on TCM, the movie had advanced considerably - an unintended consequence of my constant pausing, now all undone! - and could not be rewound. We found ourselves suddenly smack dab in a flashback where answers to all the mysterious questions were coming to light! BONK! A shadow on the wall showed a heavy object bonking down on a man's head. In the movie, I mean.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Finding a Skeleton

Yeah, I have Norman Mailer's nonfiction book about Lee Harvey Oswald but I'm not sure I want to be a man who reads three books about the Kennedy assassination in a row, and also perhaps I have read too much Norman Mailer lately. So I started reading HARVEST HOME by Thomas Tryon. And anyway, this guy finds a human skeleton in a hollow tree. But at the beginning of the next chapter he's like, "During the next several days I had little chance to dwell on my shocking discovery." You know why? Because of his "countless chores." That's right! Puttering around the house can really take your mind off finding a human skeleton in a hollow tree.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Famous Lipstick

Look! Here is Taylor Swift walking down the street wearing her famous lipstick and if you will look to the far right, there's our unmistakable pal Kent Osborne looking so very happy in the background. This paparazzi photo was taken back when we were in New York for the Peabody Awards but I guess it only came to Kent's attention yesterday.