Monday, March 28, 2016

The Prominence of Corn Flakes

In my friend Tom Bissell's book - the one in which he visits the graves of all twelve apostles - Eusebius does something "owlishly," according to Tom, and you know what that means: Tom's book goes on my big long list of books with owls in them. I happened to notice in Tom's index that Domino's Pizza gets four separate page citations. Curious! Tom and a friend have just spent an evening at a place called "The Disco Room" in Patras, and yet "The Disco Room" does not appear in the index. So I expect big things, in a religious or historical context, from Domino's Pizza. DOMINUS PIZZA? No, I'm not going to read ahead and spoil it for myself. It's a mystery akin to the prominence of corn flakes in the autobiography of Hal Needham.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Scenes From a Sandwich

Watched Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. It's mostly about how much they enjoy sandwiches. Like, another couple comes over for dinner and after dinner the woman throws a drink in the man's face. Then they leave and Liv Ullmann and her husband decide they want some "beer and sandwiches." In a later scene the husband is eating a sandwich and it makes Liv Ullmann hungry and she wants a sandwich too! And I was like, "There should be a drinking game for every time Liv Ullman and her husband eat sandwiches!" But right after that sandwich - during that sandwich! - things take a grim turn and I suspected there would be no more sandwiches. Much later, after one dramatic moment, the husband says to Liv Ullmann, "Let's go get a beer and a..." and I was like "A sandwich? A sandwich?" but the husband said "mixed grill." And I was like, "What IS a mixed grill, even?" It's not a sandwich. I was very disappointed. Finally they go back to their little country getaway where they ate sandwiches years before, and on the way Liv Ullmann even talks about how she "stocked up on food," and I was like, "Oh boy! I just know they are going to have a sandwich for old times' sake." But there were no more sandwiches. :(

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Talking Baby Goat

Up until now I have been shamefully uninterested in reading the Apocrypha. Curious, but not curious enough to do anything about it. But now! Remember when I told you that my friend Tom Bissell was going to visit the graves of all twelve apostles and write a book about it? Well, he did it. And in one paragraph he catalogs some of the characters we'll meet in the Apocrypha: "fish resurrected from the dead, sentient dogs... unusually loquacious demons... a talking baby goat and leopard, who adorably take Communion together... of all things, a werewolf."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

If Such Fury Be In Vegetals

Now we are to the part of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY that addresses the power of love. Burton says that even trees fall in love. He sounds like Cole Porter! "Boughs live for love, and every flourishing tree in turn feels the passion." Palm trees are especially prone to falling in love, we find out. "Ammianus Marcellinus reports that they marry one another, and fall in love if they grow in sight; and when the wind brings the smell to them, they are marvellously affected." Caretakers should "stroke many Palms that grow together, and so stroking again the Palm that is enamored, they carry kisses from the one to the other." Burton asks what we're all thinking: "If such fury be in vegetals, what shall we think of sensible creatures?" He doesn't mean "fury" in a negative way. I'd say he means "passion" - though, as we have seen, he uses that word too. "But for an old fool to dote, to see an old lecher, what more odious, what can be more absurd? and yet what so common? Who so furious?... How many decrepit, hoary, harsh, writhen, bursten-bellied, crooked, toothless, bald, blear-eyed, impotent, rotten, old men shall you see flickering still in every place!" Okay, okay, gee whiz. I wanted to get to that interesting use of "furious," so I skipped over some things, including "Fishes pine away for love and wax lean."

Monday, March 21, 2016

Swooning Near Some Birch Trees

Megan Abbott said that QUEEN OF EARTH made her think of PERSONA and I think she must be right because I rewatched PERSONA yesterday and it gave me QUEEN OF EARTH style nightmares! One of the people in my nightmare was even wearing a crown, though no one in QUEEN OF EARTH actually wears a crown. She had been declared legally dead but the doctors brought her back to life. In the meantime, though, her maid, to whom she had left everything in her will, had completely taken over. She was like, "THE MOMENT YOU DIED, I BECAME YOU!" And she took the crown off this other character's head and placed it on her own as the first character wailed in terror. So as you can see, I dreamed a low-grade version of PERSONA. But I also woke up thinking, "That's a neat gimmicky plot!" Has anyone written a movie or book where someone is declared legally dead for a few minutes and someone else... ah, forget it. It's already boring me. I remembered (from buying it when it came out) that Bergman's autobiography THE MAGIC LANTERN was frustratingly opaque about the content of his movies, but I got it out anyway and looked up PERSONA and the most he had to say about it was that during the press junket he felt too dizzy to be photographed under some birch trees, ha ha! I don't mean to laugh. Also I came upon this paragraph: "Ghosts, devils and demons, good, evil or just annoying, they have blown in my face, pushed me, pricked me with pins, plucked at my jersey. They have spoken, hissed or whispered. Clear voices, not particularly comprehensible but impossible to ignore." My first thought was DID INGMAR BERGMAN WEAR A LOT OF JERSEYS? Huh, right underneath that is a description of an operation for which Bergman was given too much anesthetic. Obviously, that must have contributed to my nightmare too. Thanks for nothing, Ingmar Bergman.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Colors That Don't Have Names

I've seen a lot of interesting things about lighters lately but I'm not even going to tell you. Remember when I wrote a book about cigarette lighters? And then occasionally I would run across some tidbit I was sad not to have put in the book? Well, as the months advance, my feelings of urgency grow remote. BUT! I was watching PARIS HOLIDAY yesterday and Anita Ekberg cozies up to Bob Hope and asks for a light (as a pretext for picking his pocket). "If we were any closer, we wouldn't need the lighter," cracks Bob. And I know if I had seen it in time, that scene would have gone straight in to my lengthy section on sexual aspects of cigarette-lighting - ha ha, yes, my nonfiction book about cigarette lighters is just as thrilling as it sounds. Now I will change the subject! But I will return to the subject. PARIS HOLIDAY has a scene in which Bob's head appears in the business end of a guillotine. So often his movies contain a fantasy of official (usually public) execution, whether by axe, noose, electric chair, or some other means. I'd bet a million dollars he faces a firing squad in one. What's going on, Bob? I'll say again that somebody should write a paper about it but I'm too tired. Speaking of gruesome scholarly papers, I had an email from Liam. He has moved away, so he caught me up on some of his recent activities: "I was going to medical history lectures where I learned about 'mumia' (which, as you may know, was a cure-all made from mummies) and about people who thought/think that people can't see colors that don't have names." Later in our correspondence he sent me an extraordinarily gruesome article by the person who had lectured on "mumia." AND! It contained more than one point very relevant to my cigarette lighter book, particularly clarifying or confirming some of the more harrowing tales of terror that Ted Ballard told me in his metal barn filled with his collection of 30,000 lighters on a lonesome stretch of road in Oklahoma. I can't "link" to the article because it's just too gruesome. And I can't quote from it because quoting from it without "linking" to it would be rude.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Read a review in today's New York Times of a new production of KRAPP'S LAST TAPE. There was a lot of musing about the way Krapp eats a banana. And I was like, gee, I have been thinking about bananas a lot lately. There was this sentence in that Norman Mailer book about Lee Harvey Oswald: "As they cross the border into Texas, Oswald is eating a banana." Also: "That's all right, Oswald is told, take your time, you can finish your banana." And who can forget the menacing bananas of THE FORBIDDEN ROOM? What can all these bananas mean, what are the bananas trying to tell me?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Flickering Existence

Not by any plan, I have been watching and enjoying a number of John Huston movies lately: UNDER THE VOLCANO, MOBY-DICK and the one he made about Toulouse-Lautrec. So last night I watched THE DEAD. I didn't even consider that today would be St. Patrick's day! No, I just live by the seat of my pants, free and easy. I liked THE DEAD much better than the first time I saw it, back when it came out. Then I was a young punk who was very offended about the way they chopped up the last paragraph of James Joyce's short story, which I probably called "my favorite paragraph" at the time. This time I knew it was coming, so I was all right. Here's a funny fact. I don't think it's a spoiler or will get me in any kind of trouble because it was nipped in the bud. But not long ago I got the urgent idea to end an ADVENTURE TIME outline with Princess Bubblegum reading the last paragraph of "The Dead" to Finn and Jake. Ha ha! I knew it would never get into the show. It didn't make much sense, even. But I convinced myself that it flowed naturally from what had come before. Not the whole last paragraph! I'm not totally crazy! I had Princess Bubblegum starting with "Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland." I probably used to call that "one of my favorite sentences in literature" when I was a young smarty, and I probably still feel that way. Adam was very nice about it. He made the note "I'm not deleting this" on the document. Ha ha! But he did go on to provide some reasonable notes about why this particular episode we were working on should possibly not end with Princess Bubblegum reciting the conclusion of "The Dead." Dr. Theresa didn't watch THE DEAD with me last night, but she told me a funny story about going to see it when it came out. She was just a teenager at the time and saw the title THE DEAD on a marquee and assumed it was a horror movie. You know how she likes horror movies! So she went in expecting a good scare. Ha ha! Well, the short story does have these lines in it, which sound fairly Lovecraftian out of context: "His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence." Scary! So after I watched THE DEAD I wanted to read the short story again. So I got out my paperback of DUBLINERS. And I was like, this is a neat old paperback from the 1950s with a crease in the cover. I know I didn't have this paperback originally. I think I bought it to replace my first copy of DUBLINERS, which I gave away. And then I remembered the circumstances. I was in my 20s and a French girl came to visit Mobile, Alabama. I don't say "girl" condescendingly - I mean to express that we were naive boys and girls then. So three of us boys were keen to escort her around all the time. And we were so jealous of one another that all three of us took her everywhere. Like, if we went to a restaurant, it was a table for four: her and three guys, frantically jostling for position at the table. I recall the restaurant: The Ivory Chopstick. I remember that we all ordered two desserts. Two desserts apiece, I mean. We were so thin in those days. The Ivory Chopstick didn't have a liquor license and they got around it by offering strawberries floating in red wine and an obscenely soaked baba au rhum after dinner. I remember that we took her to a party on the water at Jimmy Buffett's mother's house (!?!). Long story. We all knew Jimmy Buffett's mother in those days. Tom Franklin was at that party and we delighted in strutting around the dock with our new French friend in front of him. I remember that we took her to somebody's house and showed her THE AFRICAN QUEEN on a tiny TV such as poor people like us had in those days. We thought she'd be impressed! (Strange coincidence! Another John Huston movie.) I remember that after the movie she said, "It was not so good." Ha ha! Thus we failed American culture. But I did get to drive her out to my hometown of Bayou La Batre without the other two guys coming along. And that's where I gave her my copy of DUBLINERS. And that's the exciting story of why I eventually purchased this strange but attractive 1950s edition of DUBLINERS instead of that one Penguin paperback everybody else has. So! After watching the movie last night, I wanted to read the story again. But I wanted a little noise on in the background. Don't you ever want just a little noise in the background while you're reading? So I turned on TCM, and because it was Jerry Lewis's birthday, they were showing CRACKING UP! And I thought: this is perfect. I just watched CRACKING UP the other night, so it won't be distracting. But I kept pausing in my reading of "The Dead" to laugh at CRACKING UP. For example, I'd happen to glance up and Jerry would be staring at me, straight into the camera. He does that a lot in CRACKING UP. Or he'd grunt or yelp or do what I can only call his "vocalise." And that was "cracking me up" especially last night. And then there was the scene when a server in a restaurant offers him a choice of many different kinds of salad dressing, including "bleu cheese" and "brown cheese." The phrase "brown cheese" really got me! Was it Joycean, "brown cheese," or that impossibly long and incantatory list of salad dressings, was THAT Joycean? Have I called Jerry "Joycean" before? I'll check. Yes, "click" here!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Well, I am getting pretty cocky with my reading! I thought to myself, you picked up THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY again, Pendarvis, I bet you can handle a return to THE FAERIE QUEENE, you old rascal! Yes, that thought was brewing. Brewing! And the other day I was in that used book stall I like and I saw a tattered old paperback called A PREFACE TO THE FAERIE QUEENE, and I was like, I better get that! Because unlike THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY or THE DECAMERON, I bet you can't just put down THE FAERIE QUEENE for a number of months and breezily pick up where you left off without a care in the world. And there's no way I was going to go back and read those first six cantos again. So many cantos. Cantos! So many. Something in this paperback A PREFACE TO THE FAERIE QUEENE will surely have a section that reminds me of what happened in those first six cantos of THE FAERIE QUEENE! But so far I have read only the first sentence of A PREFACE TO THE FAERIE QUEENE, which is, "I would have called this book 'Spencer and the Romantic Epic' except that I have already written two books with the word 'romantic' in the title, and I should like to break the habit." How pleasantly dry! Oh, the British. Wait, let me check the "About the Author" note. Yes, he is British. How could I have doubted myself? I also see the name George Boyle scribbled in the front of the book in blue ink... the previous owner... quite a coincidence, as I took my copy of THE FAERIE QUEENE out of the house yesterday when I went to meet Bill Boyle for coffee - this mysterious George perhaps a distant relative! - and I knew I was going to be early. The last time I went to this coffee shop I forgot to bring anything to read and I had to sit there looking at a confrontational painting of a grinning skull with flowers coming out of it until my friends arrived. Another solution would be: don't get there early all the time, fool! Ha ha, we have another contender for most boring "post" ever, but I can't lie to you: the more boring it is the more I enjoy typing it. So I am going to keep going. As I am sure you are aware, all the books I am reading now are big and heavy. THE FAERIE QUEENE is more compact and manageable, though it is a precious and fragile old volume, but gee, the weather was so nice yesterday, I was sure nothing bad would happen to it. So I got to the coffee shop early and waited for Bill. Maybe I was sitting in a shadow but I found it hard to make out the words. There was no shadow! My old eyes are going. And the print is so tiny and smushed together. And, as I had not prepared myself adequately with A PREFACE TO THE FAERIE QUEENE, I had no recollection of why all these characters were fighting each other or what the hell was going on. The sudden appearance of a giant named Orgoglio cheered me up considerably! "Orgoglio! Orgoglio!" I whispered to myself. But they were blasting Billy Joel pretty loud at the coffee shop, I have to say, and his somber shouting about the time he "wore a younger man's clothes" and his assertive screeching about everything he was determined to prove to his "Uptown Girl" made it hard to concentrate on the dark, blurry, smushed-up tiny print of THE FAERIE QUEENE, so I just shut the book and sat there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I Put on a Cat Head

Lee Durkee and I took a leisurely, sociable walk around town last evening. I stopped to put on this mask I saw in the window of Off Square Books. It has my germs in it now. And I have its. (That reminds me of the old S.J. Perelman cartoon caption, "I have Bright's disease and he has mine.") I had neglected to bring my wallet, or I might have surprised Dr. Theresa by wearing the cat head in the door when I got home... in retrospect a prank that could have gone awry. The mask cost thirty-two dollars, which seemed like a lot to me, but Lee said it was a high-quality cat mask and the price seemed reasonable, considering. It was smothering and difficult to remove.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Admiration of the Beholders

"I saw (saith he) a melancholy man at Rome, that by no remedies could be healed, but when by chance he was wounded in the head, and the skull broken, he was excellently cured. Another, to the admiration of the beholders, breaking his head with a fall from on high, was instantly recovered of his dotage." Why did I wait so long to come back to THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY? It's full of great tips! Also a recipe for alkermes, "made of cider, rose-water, sugar... colored red by kermes, a dyestuff made from a Mediterranean insect." Burton recommends adding "Bezoar stone," which consists of "concretions found in the stomachs of animals." Or as we call it today, "Mountain Dew."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Literary Matters

It's time once more for "Literary Matters"! They are almost always pointless and these are especially so. 1. You know how every time I read a book with an owl in it, I feel compelled to add it to my big long list of books with owls in them. And yet sometimes, through no fault of my own, I hear about a book with an owl in it that I haven't even read! Such is my curse. Today I read in the New York Times about a book (FOR A LITTLE WHILE by Rick Bass) with a character named Gray Owl (see also). The reviewer loved the name Gray Owl so much that he or she mentioned it six times. SIX TIMES! In a 13-paragraph book review. Do the math! Do it! Now, I could've told you that a book by Rick Bass would have an owl in it. But now I'll never get to find out for myself. 2. One time I was at Lyn's house for dinner and boy was I loudly explaining the art of writing to a quiet, polite man who good-humoredly bore the brunt of my intellect. When Lyn's husband Doug was walking me to the gate, he told me that my lucky pupil had been Rick Bass. 3. Reading this Norman Mailer book about Lee Harvey Oswald, I discover that Oswald once gave a lecture on communism at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. I used to loiter around that very campus, and I never knew. I don't know why I loitered there, either. I did not attend classes there! I seem to recall that one night, past midnight, a bunch of us boys and girls piled into a very small car and went to the campus of Spring Hill College and roamed around. I think we looked at a statue of St. Ignatius! Boy did we know how to have fun. And there was some talk of a ghostly priest, and I said with highly successful theatricality, "Who's that right OVER THERE?" and a young woman screamed and dumped an entire icy Coke in my lap. But none of us knew that Lee Harvey Oswald had come there to give a lecture on communism on July 27, 1963. Or if anyone did, nobody brought it up.

An Unforgettable Adventure

Once in a great while I like to astound you with one of my spine-tingling adventures from real life. So! The other day I went to the dry cleaners with a jacket and also the white shirt upon which a friendly jostle from Pat McHale had caused me to spill a quantity of red wine. As I was about to get out of the car, I reached into the pocket of the jacket and pulled out a coaster from The Temple Bar in NYC, upon the reverse side of which Pen (or Kent? - something in the curve and thickness of that forefinger makes me think Pen) had drawn a happy little "thumbs-up" character. Now, it was raining! You must understand the meteorological aspect of the situation to thoroughly enjoy the ins and outs of my rousing tale. I sat in the car figuring out where to put the coaster so I wouldn't forget it and it wouldn't get rained on, made of paper as it was. I was so preoccupied with the matter that - "as in uffish thought [I] stood" (Lewis Carroll) - I locked my keys in the car! Not having a cellphone, I had to use the dry cleaners' phone to leave a message for Dr. Theresa. A message I prayed she would receive! After transacting the business for which I had embarked upon this ill-omened journey I stood in front of the dry cleaners, a conveniently extended portion of the roof sparing me from the weather. Every time someone pulled into the parking lot I made eye contact. Who knew what vehicular form my salvation might take? Many unspoken - indeed, telepathic! - communications, conveying human feeling in all its glorious and abysmal range, blossomed in these numerous though brief encounters. At last the dapper manager of the dry cleaners himself stepped forth and offered me a ride somewhere far away from the dry cleaners. Perhaps I was too scruffy and emotionally confrontational to be standing outside a respectable dry cleaning establishment! But I think he was just being nice. My faith in Dr. Theresa and her network of generous acquaintances being what it was, I declined his offer. And at last, here came Blair Hobbs, graciously transporting Dr. Theresa, who had brought her own set of car keys. "I'll drive," said Dr. Theresa. We stopped to get some cat food since we were near the place where we get cat food.

Margot Sings of the Aswang

Hey! Remember when I told you about aswangs in the works of Norman Mailer and Lynda Barry? Go on, "click" on it, it won't kill you. But an aswang will! I was watching THE FORBIDDEN ROOM last night and up popped a title card: "Margot sings of the aswang - the jungle vampire" - and, reader, that's just what she did, that title card wasn't messing around. There's Margot above, singing of the aswang, accompanied by hiccups and seizures, mystical or otherwise. Nor were we done with aswangs after Margot's descriptive song on the habits of aswangs. Just as one example, Margot is later menaced by what I think another title card calls "blackened banana figures." These are talking rotten bananas, or "ASWANG BANANA!" as a third title card shrieks. Doing the bare minimum amount of research on the semi-reliable websites most readily available to us, I see that the aswang does supposedly leave a "banana trunk" in its victim's place... "a banana trunk carved in the cadaver's likeness" elaborates another website, but who's to say which website has the most reliable aswang information? I'll tell you what that reminded me of, though: faerie lore! Like, when the fairies spirit away a human baby and replace it with a block of wood. I remember some scholarly interpretation I read somewhere, something about the block of wood being a psychological representation of the coffin... but I walked all around the house last night and I couldn't figure out which book I was thinking of, I opened a lot of books, it occurs to me I might have too many books of faerie lore.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Is This a Desolate Hill

Hey! Remember when I wrote that book about cigarette lighters? And occasionally I used to see a little something I wished I had thought to include in my book about cigarette lighters? Last night I watched POINT BREAK for the first time ever - that's right! - and when the guy in the Reagan mask used a lighter and some gas to torch a car, it seemed like a significant vision, and I thought, eh, MAYBE I would have put that in my cigarette lighter book, but I didn't really care that I hadn't. BUT THEN I watched CRACKING UP. Hey! Remember how my old copy of CRACKING UP was defective? So, by utter coincidence, I ordered a new copy just a day or two before Megan Abbott went to see CRACKING UP at MoMA. And I haven't seen the ending in some years.
And near the end, Jerry goes up on a desolate hill and douses himself with gasoline and tries to set himself on fire... but he can't find his lighter! And I knew JUST where I should and would have put that in my manuscript. I wanted to include a still from that sequence for you, but I couldn't find a good one on the "internet," so here's one from PIERROT LE FEU, which, if I am recalling correctly, ends on a desolate hill with some explosive materials.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Old Paperbacks

Met Bill Boyle and Ace for coffee last night. Afterward, Ace and I walked back to his office on the square. Ace had to pick up some things for a plane trip he's making today, and he mused aloud, glancing over his bookshelves, about what he should read on the plane. Maybe John D. MacDonald, he was thinking. I jokingly suggested I COULD GO ON SINGING, MacDonald's novelization of a Judy Garland movie. Ace has it! He has every single John D. MacDonald book, as you can confirm via this interview ("click" here) I did with him a while back. Ace picked up one and fretted over bringing a "vintage paperback" on an airplane, which reminded me that I had been considering just such a thing. (Ha ha ha! Are you still reading this? I don't care.) I need to figure out something to read on an airplane pretty soon. All the things I'm reading now are big, heavy, bulky monsters that no one would enjoy carrying through an airport in today's complicated times: THE BOOK OF MAGIC, OSWALD'S TALE, and I'm finally back into THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY, come on! Get real! Get with it! So, someone... I think it was Kent Osborne... recently told me he (or she) was reading Vonnegut again. Was it Kent? [It wasn't. - ed.] I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember (see also). That - combined with the sighting of a colorful row of spines along a shelf at Square Books: slick new(ish) Vonnegut paperbacks - made me remember a neat little cardboard box I had requested and received for Christmas when I was about 13, a cardboard box of five mass-market Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks.
Here, I found a picture of one on the "internet." I have a deep feeling that this could be the most boring "post" I've ever written and yet I feel no compulsion whatsoever to stop. For example, here's something funny I remember about this cardboard box of Kurt Vonnegut books. It used to have WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE in it but I removed it and hid it somewhere in shame or fear and, with some effort, squeezed my older and somewhat fatter copy of Vonnegut's PLAYER PIANO into its place (to avoid uncomfortable questions, I suppose). Why? I have the vague notion that something offended or terrified me about WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE! Whereas I spent a lot of time casting the movie of PLAYER PIANO that I was going to make when I grew up. All I remember is that Peter Sellers was in it. Wait, I'm almost to the point. I remembered that although I've had this cardboard box for around 40 years (see also), there are two books in there I've never read! What a crummy way to treat such a nice Christmas gift. What an ingrate! So I thought I might read my 40-year-old paperback of THE SIRENS OF TITAN on my upcoming airplane ride. I like everything about this edition (above)! Look at the purple pulpy (purply?) cover! Look at this dude in the loincloth and the (I assume) sirens in question. I like the price of 1.95 on the cover! I like that the edges of the pages are green-blue. I'll show you:
Are the pages of current mass-market paperbacks still edged in blue or red or gold? Once again I'm reminded that I'm just not observant enough to be a "writer." So THE SIRENS OF TITAN looked pristine!
And I opened it up and the first eight pages fell out. But I don't think that's going to stop me. Crack it open in the middle and you can see that most of the glue holding the book together has dissolved. I still feel okay.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

From a Sparrow's Nest

Waiting for an ADVENTURE TIME meeting to start, still looking at this magic book. I just read an excerpt from the Book of Tobit: "warm droppings fell from a sparrow's nest on his eyes and blinded him while he slept." I haven't reached the magic part yet. But it reminded me of when that bird pooped on McNeil's face at the beach in 2009.

The Hedgehog of Emptiness

I was a little early for lunch with Tom Franklin yesterday, so I stopped by Square Books, not intending to buy. But they had a big anthology of writings about magic, dating from ancient times to the Enlightenment, just sitting there propped up by the register. So I bought two copies, one for Tom and one for myself. An impulse purchase! Very clever, Square Books. At lunch, people would come up to our table to say hello and there we were, each with a large, black book next to his plate, the word MAGIC engraved on the rough, jacketless cover in huge gold letters. So we looked like a couple of evil old wizards in a book club, as we realized too late. (As you will notice, I have represented the overall tone with a picture of Paul Lynde as "Uncle Arthur," making his head appear in a silver serving dish.) No sooner had I brought the book home and thumbed through the first few entries (skipping some Bible stories I knew too well) than I found "Nightjar and screech owl shall take it,/ night owl and raven nesting there." And so it was without much surprise that it went on my big long list of books with owls in them that nobody cares about (the list, I mean). The passage was taken from Isaiah, but the translation looked funny to me so I checked in the old-timey goodness of my Geneva Bible: "But the pelicane & the hedgehog fhal poffeffe it, and the great owle, & the raue fhal dwell in it, & he fhal ftretch out vpon it the line of vanitie, and the ftones of emptines." I wonder why the last "s" in stones and emptiness looks like an s while all the other s's look like f's! Obviously it has to do with placement. But I don't care enough to think about it too much. (By the way, the magic anthology boringly translates "stones of emptiness" as "weight of ruin." Boo!) I wonder how pelican and hedgehog became nightjar and screech owl! (I won't lie to you, I had to look up "nightjar." I figured it was a bird. It was a bird.) I cared just enough to check my facsimile of the original King James Bible about this hedgehog business. "The cormorant and the bitterne shall possesse it, the owle also and the rauen shall dwell in it, and he shall stretch out vpon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptinesse." I'll tweet this to Jimmy. He'll care.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Extreme Remedies

Don't you want to hear about my hiccups? Sure, why wouldn't you? I had them early in the morning, but then I read about a man who hiccuped from 1922-1990 and it seemed for a short spell that the story had literally scared me out of hiccuping. So I went out and met Tom Franklin and hiccuped all the way through lunch with him. My hiccups were gone for my ADVENTURE TIME meeting late in the afternoon, but they came back this evening, shortly after the meeting had concluded. And reader, I am hiccuping as I type this. Hiccuping from morning until night! Mom warned me by phone not to try any "extreme remedies." I laughed and asked her what that meant. "Don't hold your breath until you pass out," she suggested. I promised I wouldn't.

The Lion's Den

I cannot say for certain that my 90th birthday tribute to Jerry Lewis was what prompted Megan Abbott to go see CRACKING UP at the Museum of Modern Art yesterday afternoon, but I like to think I had a little something to do with it. I'm going to lay out the sequence of events through our correspondence, kind of like Bram Stoker piecing together all those documents for DRACULA. I noticed an email from Megan in my inbox at around twenty minutes before three o'clock, Central Time, asking whether she should go see CRACKING UP at 4 PM. New York City, of course, abides by Eastern Time. If you will do your math, you will see that time was of the essence! My response was measured: "YES! My God, I hope you're not getting this too late. You only have 20 minutes to get there, hurry, hurry!" I also rushed over to twitter, in case Megan was not checking her email, and tweeted like so: I soon received a heartening "I'm here" via email. Trying to prepare her, as I thought was only my duty, I quoted P.B. Shelley on things "semi-real" and Megan responded that she was having a beer to open her "doors of perception." (Can it be a coincidence that the movie was scheduled to start at what is known affectionately in Oxford, Mississippi, as "Megan Abbott Time?") A photo of her ticket stub appeared on twitter. I immediately emailed that photo to McNeil, who responded "Wow!!! WOW!!!" - sentiments I subsequently conveyed to Megan. Thus spurred on, she responded, "I couldn't even finish my beer; I was too excited!" It was at this juncture that communications were severed for some hours, as I had a doctor's appointment. When I returned, I picked up THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY, which has been lying there untouched for some time, and discovered that my bookmark lay, by another coincidence, at the beginning of a chapter in which Robert Burton explains why doctors are the worst (though his thoughts do not apply to my friendly and helpful doctor): "according to that witty Epigram of Maximilianus Urentius, what's the difference? How (he asks) does the Surgeon differ from the Physician? One kills by hand, the other by drugs; and both differ from the hangman only in that they do slowly what he does quickly." Then I was like, why am I reading this? Surely Megan is out of CRACKING UP by now. And so it proved. I had an email from McNeil, asking "What's up with the $0.00?" I could see it was tearing him up inside!
I explained some of Megan's benefits as a paying member of MoMA, which seemed to calm him down. In the meantime, I had also received two emails from Megan, one seemingly sent just before the movie started and one after it had concluded. BEFORE: "You should see all the other lunatics here!" AFTER: "Watching it was akin to sinking into psychosexual quicksand!" Now! I must tell you that as I first read that response, and again as I cut-and-pasted it just now, I could not help but notice that were TWO extra, unnecessary spaces between "sinking into" and "psychosexual quicksand." Implying what? I'm no Freud! But one may imagine that had Megan written this on a postcard with a pencil, we might have a fascinating palimpsest to analyze. I left Megan a phone message to ask whether there had been any learned introduction or if they had just shown the film ("like BOOM!" is the way I believe I put it). Then I got to thinking about her "BEFORE" response, the one about the lunatics in the theater, and I was seized with an awful vision of Megan as the only woman in a Jerry Lewis audience, surrounded by, I don't know, creeps in Jerry Lewis outfits, each more eager than the last to pledge his troth! So I left a message about that. "I sent you into the lion's den!" I may have yelled into the receiver. This morning I had more emails from McNeil and Megan. One implied that my phone messages had arrived during a "book event" that Megan was attending with Laura Lippman. I can only hope they discussed Jerry a little over wine and cheese! If so, you may look forward to a postscript. "He had me at the slippery office!" Megan wrote later. McNeil's email also mentioned it: "Damn! I would have loved to have seen that on the big screen. That psychiatrist's office..." and of course he went on to mention the green carpet that he is convinced Jerry has reused fetishistically in his films for decades: "that green carpet in the motel room...ooh la la" being his exact words. Megan went on: "I have to say, I've never heard a MoMA audience (more male, yes, but not heavily so) laugh more at any movie and I was loud among them. I can't recall seeing many movies that made me quite so vividly uncomfortable either! In his movies, there's just no ground under our feet, is there?"

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Ninety Paths to Jerry

Soon it will be Jerry Lewis's 90th birthday. So I have "punched up" an old "post." In the old days there were only fifty, but now there are NINETY different ways to approach Jerry, should you find him unapproachable. I present this as a public service. Choose the path that's right for you! 1. How is Edgar Allan Poe like Jerry Lewis? 2. For that matter, what would Kierkegaard say about Jerry Lewis? 3. Bob Dylan got "deeply into" Jerry Lewis. 4. Jerry was a hero to Richard Pryor. 5. Jerry shares expressionistic instincts with iconic rappers. 6. He made Orson Welles laugh. 7. Freudian aspects of Jerry. 8. He played a gig with Thelonious Monk. 9. A trusted method of immersing yourself in Jerryness. 10. Don't believe me? Take it from bestselling novelist Laura Lippman! 11. Don't believe Laura Lippman? Perhaps famed method actor Edward Norton is more to your taste. 12. Consider Jerry Lewis as the forefather of David Lynch. 13. So can it be a coincidence that Louis CK cast Lynch in a part originally written for Jerry Lewis? 14. As muse to hardboiled Don Carpenter. 15. Jerry's spectacular use of color. 16. Jerry is the inventor of anti-comedy, his aesthetic also appropriated by the cinematic underground. 17. Read the great Jerry monograph by Chris Fujiwara. 18. Jerry a hero to Michael Palin of the Monty Python comedy troupe. 19. Jerry an inspiration for the British version of THE OFFICE that everyone used to love so much. 20. Jerry makes me think of the French painter Henri Rosseau. 21. Do you think Jerry is redundant? No, he is "unfolding redundancy." Joke's on you!
22. Do you like Godard? Well, Godard based some of his scenes on Jerry Lewis scenes. Like this and that. 23. Some maintain that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY would have been better with Jerry in it. 24. Speaking of which, was Jerry an influence on Boorman's groundbreaking POINT BLANK? I don't know, but he should have starred in it. 25. How about that prescient scene in THE BELLBOY that anticipates Scorsese's THE KING OF COMEDY? 26. The Cinderfella dance! 27. Jerry frequently appears in THE BELIEVER magazine, if that's your cup of tea. 28. I intuit a connection between Jerry and J.D. Salinger. 29. And supposedly Salinger considered Jerry to direct the movie version of CATCHER IN THE RYE, maybe. I said maybe! 30. Jerry's influence on GOODFELLAS. 31. Jerry Lewis is part of Philip K. Dick's mystic vision of the entire universe. 32. You should watch lots of Jerry Lewis so you can practice the fun habit of saying things like Jerry Lewis. 33. Even nature itself aspires to sound like Jerry Lewis. 34. Jerry Lewis is a good singer. 35. Maybe you identify with Jerry's world-weary attitude. 36. He hung out in a diner with Marilyn Monroe. 37. Blair Hobbs detects an aesthetic kinship between Jerry and the photographer William Eggleston. 38. Jerry was an inspiration to Bruce Springsteen. 39. Think of Jerry as a poet. 40. Need a dissertation topic? How about "Medical Ethics in the Films of Jerry Lewis"? 41. In a hilarious practical joke, Jerry ruined Dick van Dyke's meeting with the queen! 42. Jerry was instrumental in getting the great Stan Laurel his honorary Oscar. 43. Jerry is handsome! 44. Maybe you are a "conspiracy theory buff." Well, for real the CIA tampered with one of Jerry's movies. 45. Maybe you're an animal lover. Well, Jerry bought a hearing aid for his dog. 46. Jerry is subversive! 47. Quentin Tarantino + Jerry Lewis = True Love 4ever. 48. (Maybe because he anticipated one of Tarantino's more radical and disruptive narrative decisions by 40 years.) 49. Does he irritate you and make you uncomfortable? MAYBE THAT'S JUST WHAT JERRY WANTS! 50. For example, he once stuck his nose in Frank Sinatra's eye. 51. And took some of the starch out of Tony Curtis by flicking ashes on his jacket. 52. Jerry is complicated. He "both depicts and manifests inadvertent disclosure." - J. Hoberman. 53. Jerry's influence on the Beastie Boys. 54. Jerry appears in works by acknowledged comic geniuses John Hodgman and Michael Kupperman.
55. But perhaps you prefer authors from Mississippi, a chunk of land with a notable literary history. If so, you should be aware that Tom Franklin and Frederick Barthelme have put Jerry Lewis in their well-regarded "Mississippi" novels. 56. So has Don DeLillo, though he is not from Mississippi, nor are his novels set there. 57. ARE you a historian, by the way? Then consider Jerry's breakup with Dean in its implications as "a national trauma." 58. Francis Ford Coppola cites Jerry as an influence. 59. Which reminds me: I recently read an interview that Scorsese did with Lewis in which he (Scorsese) cites THE LADIES MAN as an influence. I always assumed the scene in question was drawn from SATYRICON. But SATYRICON came out after THE LADIES MAN, so maybe SATYRICON was influenced by Jerry too! I just now decided that, while typing this. 60. Jerry's darker side a fruitful subject for literary speculation. 61. Speaking of which, John Waters said Jerry Lewis was "probably a monster!" Can there be a higher compliment? 62. Although (see previous "link") John Waters went on to praise his taste in costuming. So that subject is worth contemplation. 63. Though, intriguingly, to Waters's original hypothesis, Jerry repeatedly acknowledges the collusion of the innocent with the monstrous, especially within a single individual. (See also.) 64. Jerry's art provides some of the same challenges and rewards as Sun Ra's. 65. Jerry envisioned hosting Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Hoffa and Helen Keller on a talk show. I still want to write that play.
66. Fascinating undercurrents to his on- and off-screen chemistry with Dean Martin. 67. I wrote a pretty good article about him once if you can find it. 68. And this "post" is all right. 69. Try to solve Jerry's universal problem. 70. The complex transparency of Jerry's genius can be profitably compared to Brian Wilson's. 71. Jerry reveals the intrinsic flaws in the very notion of successful human communication. 72. Maybe that's why he's constantly "rewriting his own being." 73. But before he rewrote himself too much, here's a 13-minute clip of young Jerry at his brashest and most engaging. 74. Jerry's anarchic devouring of the hand that feeds him. 75. Maybe you are from the "dance world." Did you know that many highbrow choreographers turn to Jerry Lewis for inspiration? 76. Similarities between Jerry and the great Italian giallo director Mario Bava, if that's your thing. 77. Jerry is a model of tact and restraint compared to the makers of Jason Bateman movies. 78. As Jerry is, so you will be. As you are, so once was he. 79. Jerry, like Elvis, was a target of snobbery and classism. 80. I mean, even when he ended the Oscar broadcast EARLY, the powers-that-be still despised him. He gets under "the man's" skin. 81. For example, when everybody in "the establishment" was dumping on Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE, Jerry was one of the first to proclaim its greatness. 82. Did he inspire a character in a Wes Anderson movie? Probably not. But I think he inspired a character in a Noah Baumbach movie. 83. Touchstone for towering cartoonists Lynda Barry and Gilbert Hernandez. 84. Jerry deemed a subject worthy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. 85. Jerry cut short his formal education and set out to educate himself. 86. Jonathan Rosenbaum knows a lot about movies and he loves Jerry Lewis. 87. Tough-to-please James Wolcott likewise. 88. Camille Paglia seems happy about Jerry Lewis. 89. Jerry blurs assumptions about gender. 90. Hey, Sandra Bullock likes Jerry Lewis.

Sunday, March 06, 2016


My mom was really excited because my sister is turning 39 and my Great Aunt Vida is turning 93 on the SAME DAY. So tonight Mom called to say that she just realized this was happening on March 9th... or 3/9! "Remember three-nine-nine-three-three-nine!" Mom urged.

Sorry You're Welcome and Good Morning

"Knew this would interest and depress you. Sorry you're welcome and good morning," writes Lee Durkee, enclosing a "link" to an article about monkeys riding dogs. I should "link" to the whole thing because I'm going to quote it: "Lepard has been married four times. It’s always been the monkeys and the dogs first." But that doesn't mean you have to "click" on it. The very idea depresses me so much that I don't even feel like checking to see whether this is the same monkey-and-dog impresario depicted by Anya Groner and Elizabeth Kaiser some years ago, though the mention of "neon green tassels" makes me suspect he is. On a related note, I neglected to "link" to that "boring interview" (McNeil's words!) yesterday. And as boring as it may be, it has inspired some lively email exchanges. McNeil likes this part: "Sheldon was a very good actor. He had to choke me in a scene. And he really choked me!" McNeil humorously hints that the interviewer was considering a similar tactic by this point. I like the part where Marvin Kaplan, the interviewee, recalls being stunned, vexed, astonished and amazed to discover that a man might prefer cats over dogs. He has never heard of such a thing!

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Do You Remember Mabel

McNeil sent the above movie still, accompanied by the following note: "of all the times I have watched THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, I don't think I have ever noticed this famous guy standing in front of Buddy when he enters The Purple Pit." Ha ha, I like McNeil wanton use of the term "famous guy." I recognized the gentleman in question as the hapless telephone company employee (?) from TV's ALICE. OR DID I? I thought for years that this same fellow (Marvin Kaplan, above) played Jeff Goldblum's sinister flunky in DEEP COVER. I was impressed by his versatility and boldness! But while it was Marvin Kaplan in ALICE, it wasn't him in DEEP COVER. It was this guy, Sydney Lassick (below).
So I guess Marvin Kaplan didn't have any versatility and boldness after all. As you will see, however (perhaps with the aid of a magnifying glass), both Kaplan and Lassick are wearing jauntily patterned newsboy caps in their official imdb photos, as if to continue confounding me from beyond the grave (though one of them is still alive).
Later, McNeil appended a "boring interview" with Kaplan to his original message. Excerpts: "MARVIN KAPLAN: My favorite whom I met, but never worked with was Mikhail Rasumny. Remember Mr. Rasumny? INTERVIEWER: No. MARVIN KAPLAN: You don't?... MARVIN KAPLAN: Do you remember Mabel? INTERVIEWER: No. ... MARVIN KAPLAN: They were all top people. Irene Tedrow. Remember Irene? INTERVIEWER (silence): No. ... MARVIN KAPLAN: Remember Ruthie? INTERVIEWER (silence): No. You're stumping me."

Friday, March 04, 2016

Reading Too Much Into It

I'm lucky enough to have an advance reading copy of Megan Abbott's next book, YOU WILL KNOW ME. I see that a LeRoy Neiman tiger poster appears in it. Megan told me about that poster, which is why it also coincidentally appears in MY next book, MOVIE STARS, in which, as I now see thanks to Megan, I consistently misspell LeRoy Neiman's name with a small "r." But the important thing is that the LeRoy Neiman tiger poster is literature's next big trend. I also came across a subtle allusion to Brian Keith's "Uncle Bill" (pictured) from the TV show FAMILY AFFAIR... a touchstone that is pure Megan, as I know from many a conversation. Last night I was trying to piece together what makes something a "Megan Abbott" novel, other than the fact that Megan Abbott wrote it. Is it that you feel you're on sure footing and then things start to slip away from under you? Characters' nightmares seem truer than their daily lives. I'm grasping here. I know that Megan likes David Lynch, and often cites him as an influence, but it's not precisely Lynchian. Lynch can show you a ceiling fan and fill you with dread. Megan achieves something of the same effect with words. Ordinary things aren't ordinary for her. Uneasiness, I decided. That's what you feel. Megan Abbott is our great author of unease. I already had that phrase in my mind - "our great author of unease" - when I came on this sentence in YOU WILL KNOW ME: "It was upsetting, like the seam of something had been torn, ever so slightly." Yes, it's the "ever so slightly" that marks this perception as Megan's, maybe, and separates her from everyone else. Also, the evocative vagueness of "the seam of something." It's not that Megan "peels back layers" the way people say David Lynch does... it's that the world itself is already hallucinatory and gothic. There's no need to peel back any layers! Megan and I discuss this, or something related to this, in an old interview I hope you will "click" on: see pp. 14-16 (MEGAN: "It’s like the thing that students sometimes say: 'You’re reading too much into it.' And of course that’s what students always say when they’re frightened about what they’re reading"). I'm not saying Megan Abbott and Emily Brontë share a worldview, necessarily, but there's a scene in WUTHERING HEIGHTS that I wrote about for the Rumpus once, "when the housekeeper goes back to visit a sweet little boy she used to take care of, and in the short intervening time something has happened to him. He throws a stone at her head and curses. She tempts him with an orange: '"Who has taught you those fine words, my barn," I inquired. "The curate?" "Damn the curate, and thee! Give me that," he replied. "Tell us where you got your lessons, and you shall have it," said I. "Who’s your master?" "Devil daddy," was his answer.'" Very uneasy, queasy, skating around the edge of normal life. Hmm, maybe it's the orange that seems like a Megan Abbott touch, an otherworldly fruit or shining spot on those bleak moors. In conclusion, there's a significant doodle in YOU WILL KNOW ME that looks "like a cartoon owl." So I can put YOU WILL KNOW ME on my stupid list of all the books I read with owls in them, trying to pin it down and categorize it with my sickening brand of whimsy. Yes, yes, that's it, Pendarvis, laugh your unease away. IF YOU CAN! The last book I read featuring a "cartoon owl" was by Ace Atkins, a close friend of Megan's and mine. Surely this is an area for further investigation, he quipped, narrowly avoiding the abyss.

Thursday, March 03, 2016


Julia's tale of being an extra in a Burt Reynolds movie reminded Kent of the time he was an extra in BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (there he is, lower left). The desk assigned to his character had a bottle of Tabasco on it, for reasons that Kent does not know to this very day. So after Tom Hanks completed one take, he walked by and said to Kent, "There's Tabasco on your desk." In Kent's modest retelling, he said something back like, "Yes sir, Mr. Hanks!" So Tom Hanks completed another take and walked by again and said to Kent, "Tabasco!"

Eyebrows For Days

My new ADVENTURE TIME coworker Julia Pott mentioned today that she was an extra in a Burt Reynolds movie. Look! There she is. Back there behind Charles Durning, on a balcony or terrace, I suppose, studying a menu. I asked whether she had any good Burt Reynolds stories and she said, "He just told me to get out of his seat. He said, 'Little lady! Get out of my chair!' Then he laughed and I laughed." They were on a break from shooting and Julia had accidentally alighted in the spot reserved for Burt in the scene. I asked her for more details. "He had eyebrows for days," she said.

Graham Ogden

Last night I was watching the movie version of UNDER THE VOLCANO and Albert Finney had this awful neighbor who made me think of the character actor Grady Sutton. But he didn't really look like Grady Sutton, nor did he behave in the usual sweet and befuddled Grady Sutton manner. Something about him made me think of Grady Sutton, though. I knew he couldn't be Grady Sutton. I figured Grady Sutton was certainly dead by the time of UNDER THE VOLCANO. [Wrong! Grady Sutton died in 1995, if you can believe it. - ed.] But the point is, I couldn't think of Grady Sutton's name. It was driving me crazy. "Is this the beginning of the end?" I asked myself. I kept thinking, "What is that guy's name? Graham Ogden? Graham Ogden? It's something like Graham Ogden." It's all over for me. But I did get up this morning and check the "internet": a professor at a school of dentistry, a real estate agent, an Old Testament scholar... these are just a few of the many Graham Ogdens in the world, to my surprise.
I know I should have led off with a photograph of Grady Sutton but I was too mesmerized by the shot of Jacqueline Bisset in UNDER THE VOLCANO, standing between an orange (?) wall and an aquamarine (?) armoire (?), a color move which should have made me think of Jerry Lewis, but didn't.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Croutons

I emailed John Currence about a great new idea for croutons I had yesterday. Sorry I can't be more specific! Do you know what certain highly placed food professionals would give to hear my crouton idea? Anyway, John emailed me back all the way from INDIA to say, "Let's make this happen!!!" That's how good my crouton idea is. Three exclamation points. I won't lie to you: these croutons are going to be labor-intensive and wasteful.