Sunday, December 31, 2017

Waiting For Stuffy

I can't speak for Lee Durkee, but I don't think he entirely approves of my idea to watch all of GREEN ACRES chronologically from the beginning, especially when there are so many prime nuggets to be had by skipping bravely around, the way Julio Cortazar would want us to do. Evidence from a recent communique indicates that Lee has been experimenting with just that method on his own. Lee reveals, "there is a magic realism scarecrow named Stuffy whom Eb interacts with and who at one point leaves his post in the field to go get Eb a hamburger (spoiler: he forgets the ketchup!)." Meanwhile, my lonely search for the exact moment that GREEN ACRES becomes GREEN ACRES continues. Or will it occur so slowly that I can't see it happening, like the opening of a crocus? Or I don't know, is it easy to see a crocus opening? Never mind. I feel bad for Bill Boyle, a GREEN ACRES neophyte whom I forced to watch some early episodes. "I didn't know this was what GREEN ACRES was like," Bill said, as ever a good sport. Well, it's not what GREEN ACRES is like! Bill compared it to THE MONEY PIT and the Chevy Chase vehicle FUNNY FARM. Fair enough! But mortifying to my honor when I had falsely promised the second coming of VIRIDIANA. Bill may never come back to the house again. Once Dr. Theresa and I started watching DEADWOOD, I was able to note the close kinship between the dissembling, painfully transparent, nosy, avaricious, irritating, and oratorically inclined Mr. Haney and his direct descendent (ancestor?) E. B. Farnum. Continuing a line of thought, I guess, the first season of GREEN ACRES is like THE WIRE. It takes Oliver at least nine episodes to decide what he's going to plant in his field. (See also.) Then they spend two or three episodes explaining how the generator works. Doesn't that sound like THE WIRE to you? Very patient, procedural and detailed, with long arcs. But not the GREEN ACRES I remember. In episode 10, Lisa does leave a note for a chicken, to which the chicken seems to respond, but I'm still not convinced we have reached a true level of GREEN ACRES. [Episode 14 establishes beyond doubt that Lisa can communicate with chickens. - ed.] In episode 12, Eb reads a note from Lisa aloud and Lisa's voice inexplicably comes out of him. So I'm tempted to believe we're almost there! I'll let you know when we arrive. Let me remark on a deficiency of this GREEN ACRES box set. It is not formatted for our rectangular television sets we all enjoy today thanks to marvelous advances in science and technology. Rather than seeing our TV pals in their proper aspect ratio, they are made to fill the screen unnaturally, to their aesthetic detriment, a fear addressed by an especially prescient protagonist created by yours truly for my delightful and universally beloved short story collection MOVIE STARS:
In conclusion, I should note that Arnold the pig turns on a TV set in episode 15, which astonishes Oliver, but not me, not sufficiently, being no more than any reasonably intelligent, non-surreal, everyday pig could do.

Notable Uptick In Owl Eyes

Did you know that Hume Cronyn grew up fabulously wealthy? And that he had a brother named Verse who was hit in the head by a cricket ball to less than salubrious effect? Well, you would if you were reading his memoir! But why would you? You wouldn't! Not unless you were joining Megan Abbott and me in our endless parade of show-biz celebrity tell-alls. I've skipped telling you about at least two of the books in the series because they did not have owls in them and now you'll go to your lonesome grave without knowing. But more importantly, young Hume Cronyn moves from Canada to New York City to make it as an actor, and though he has great big bundles of cash to throw around on orchids, he repeatedly lectures his less solvent roommate on the advantages of thrift. "He'd listen to me owl-eyed and impervious," Hume Cronyn reports. It occurs to me that three of the books I have read since September have owl eyes in them - and not even literal owl eyes at that! - instead of whole owls. It's a hot trend to look out for in 2018: owl eyes.

Friday, December 22, 2017


I don't "blog" anymore. You may think I do but I assure you that I do not. Sometimes you need an update, though, don't you? I know how you worry! So the other evening I was at Ace Atkins's office and I thought I'd see if he had a copy of THE GREEN RIPPER. He said he probably had several. THE GREEN RIPPER is a novel by John D. MacDonald. You will recall that I gave up on John D. MacDonald. I don't get the appeal of John D. MacDonald. If you "click" here you can read some of the reasons why. But I know you won't. What is wrong with you? You beg me to "blog" but you can't take the time to "click" on the "links." Well! It is really none of my business. But John Hodgman was saying all these nice things about John D. MacDonald in the New York Times some weeks ago, and in particular THE GREEN RIPPER, and although this did not change my feelings about John D. MacDonald I was made sufficiently curious for the actions related above to be the result. Anyhow, Ace contacted me yesterday to say he had located THE GREEN RIPPER and I could come by to fetch it. So I did. Now I took Ace's copy of THE GREEN RIPPER with me across the street from his office to Square Books. As I made a purchase there, I remarked to the cashier that this was Ace's copy of THE GREEN RIPPER and not part of my haul. We got into a little discussion (Bill C. wondered whether it might be a first edition of THE GREEN RIPPER) and it was at this time that I opened the book and discovered it to be, if not a first edition, at least an edition signed by the author. I couldn't imagine that Ace wanted me to drag this copy around town with me! You may recall, though I doubt you will "click" on it to refresh your memory, the time I spilled rye all over Ace's copy of LA BRAVA. So I went back over to Ace's office and returned the signed copy of THE GREEN RIPPER. He was surprised! He had no idea it had been signed, but he looked at the signature and confirmed it - thanks to his expertise - as John D. MacDonald's very own. Ace quickly produced yet another copy of THE GREEN RIPPER to replace the one I had brought back. Copies of THE GREEN RIPPER are just scattered around Ace's office like so many throw pillows in a film by Nancy Meyers. Okay! Now it was time for me to go back to Square Books and meet my pal McKay McFadden, whom I had not seen in the flesh in some years. Before McKay arrived I had time to note that Travis McGee (hero of the John D. MacDonald novels) refers to fat people as "fatties" on the second page of THE GREEN RIPPER, not raising my hopes. (A few pages later, though I did not make it this far at the time, McGee's girlfriend boards his famous houseboat and announces, "Today I jogged with four sets of fatties." There are shady goings-on at her place of employment, which makes me think she will be dead shortly. As Ace once revealed the key to the Travis McGee novels: "The woman always dies." [Further along: "Last week I had a batch of fatties down by the barns" - ed.]) I also read (in another book entirely) about the time U. S. Grant wanted to give his coach driver a Christmas present, so he hurried back down the steps and fell and experienced the debilitating leg injury that was just the start of all the troubles and misfortunes shortly to snowball on him, culminating in his death. Then McKay appeared on the stairs! We greeted one another warmly and McKay said, "I'm sorry I'm late. I just had an encounter with a pig in the woods." I can quote her accurately because I immediately leapt up to borrow a napkin and a pen from the Square Books coffee counter, as seen here:
She went on to describe the "encounter," which was much more horrific, grisly, tragic, and bloody than anything I would call an "encounter," and I shan't disturb you with it on this festive occasion. Conversation moved on to pleasanter subjects and we found before we knew it that we had spent some number of hours catching up, a sufficient number of hours for me to happily inform McKay that it was just about time for John T. Edge's yearly ritualistic dispersal of sausage balls at the City Grocery Bar on the occasion of his birthday. McKay and I, having arrived perhaps five minutes before the party officially began, were, I believe, the first to retrieve sausage balls from the traditional brown paper bag, pellucid as it was with delicious grease. (It occurs to me that I have used the phrase "pellucid with grease" in my "professional" writing at some point - perhaps on more than one occasion; I know it has assaulted my brain repeatedly, in any case - and I apologize for the lazy repetition. I must think it's quite the literary turn of phrase! How I sicken myself.) "I miss my Oxford life," said McKay. I replied with some observation about the many charms of San Francisco, where McKay now finds herself most days. "Oh, it's DAZZLING," she replied, employing a theatrical hand gesture to indicate bedazzlement. And yet her tone belied her adjective! I have never heard the word "dazzling" to drip with such venom, nor seen it accompanied by such bitterly flashing eyes! Not long thereafter, Dr. Theresa arrived, arrayed in silver.
We were able to boast to Tom Franklin (another recent arrival) that we had taken his picture off the TV screen. You see, he was once an extra in DEADWOOD, a show that Dr. Theresa and I are currently watching for the very first time. We proudly described the scene in which Dr. Theresa spotted Tom with her eagle eye and the pains we took to catch his fleeting image, and it was his sad duty to inform us that - although he indeed appears as an extra on the show - the person we thought was him was not him. Later at home we realized that the extra we thought was Tom had long hair and a graying beard, both of which Tom has at the present moment, but neither of which he would have had during the physical production of DEADWOOD. This is not Tom Franklin.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

This Pair of Binoculars

I thought for sure this book would have an owl in it. I read SPY OF THE FIRST PERSON, the final book by Sam Shepard. Man, there was every kind of bird. This is from memory but SPY OF THE FIRST PERSON had wrens in it, I think, and swallows, and blackbirds and robins and blue jays and towhees and crows. I think there was a pelican. Anyway, they were at the beach. With pelicans, I think. I haven't even gotten warmed up on all the kinds of birds in this book. There are birds on the cover. Well, there is no actual owl inside, but there is "this pair of binoculars that looked like owls' eyes," and as everyone knows, that's good enough for me.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sack Wedding

We broke in the GREEN ACRES box set. We knew that it could not, out of the gate, achieve the full flower of surrealism to which the show tended in its maturity, and we were right. Breakout star Arnold the pig was in only the first of the five episodes we watched and his character had not been sufficiently developed. Hank Kimball was foreshadowed in an episode but did not appear. "We have to keep watching until Hank Kimball shows up," said Lee Durkee. Then Hank Kimball showed up and was, in his early incarnation, disappointingly sane, as Lee observed. We perked up when they cut to Sam Drucker marrying a sack of potatoes to a sack of flour. This was more like it! Unfortunately we were given a logical explanation (he was practicing). In a bright spot, a question arose, prompting me to fish out my copy of THE COMPLETE DIRECTORY TO PRIME TIME NETWORK TV SHOWS 1946-PRESENT by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, a book that has been rendered obsolete by the invention of computers.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Even Executives!

Well! "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M. just popped up on the old iPod, and I had one of those Proustian memories that everybody is always having all the time. The year was 1996! Probably. And a very high-ranking official (the president, in fact) of the Turner Entertainment Group, where I was employed at the time, left his job, whether willingly or not, I don't recall. But he had the entire workforce gathered in the courtyard, where he announced his departure. Then he turned and walked away as "Everybody Hurts" suddenly began blasting out of giant speakers. Well, he must have requested that, right? And we all just stood around looking at each other in awkward silence, like, "Wow! That's dramatic!" Such were the thoughts that our silence conveyed. None of us knew what to think. This guy was so high up that most of us had never even met him. But he strode out of our lives as his chosen ballad of universal pain washed over us. I still don't know what to think.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The "Gotta Light" Guy

I think I've been in denial about this. You know, I wrote a book about cigarette lighters and it came out early in 2016 and then I forgot everything about cigarette lighters and no longer cared. But once in a great while, something would come to my attention that I wished I had been able to include in my cigarette lighter book. So somehow I watched all of the new TWIN PEAKS and managed to repress the knowledge that my cigarette lighter book is sort of incomplete without that show's "Gotta Light" Guy. I even know where I would have put him: right after the paragraph about Jerry Lewis and the atomic bomb. I don't "blog" anymore except when it becomes necessary, as in the half-correction of this grave omission.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Such Zests

"Such zests as his particular little phial of cayenne pepper, and his pennyworth of pickles in a saucer, were not wanting." - LITTLE DORRIT

Monday, December 04, 2017

Small Precise Pat

Reading LITTLE DORRIT, recommended by Lee Durkee. Came to a description I like: "a small precise pat of butter, cool, symmetrical, white, and plump." I like where the commas are and where the comma isn't.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Neville Conundrum

Here's Adam Sandler walking past "my" table at Dan Tana's in the movie SANDY WEXLER, or, as Kent Osborne calls it, SANDLY ADAMS. Did I watch SANDY WEXLER? Apparently I did. I have a comment and a question. The comment: It is really long! It took me two nights to finish it. At one point I was like, well, we must be reaching the end of SANDY WEXLER. So I paused it and saw that there was another hour to go. I couldn't imagine how it would be filled. It shouldn't take two nights to watch a comedy. I did a little math. I'm not good at math, nor did I check the running time of BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, the movie from which SANDY WEXLER lifted most eagerly. But I think you could fit 1.5 BROADWAY DANNY ROSEs into a SANDY WEXLER. That's an estimate! [There are almost exactly 1.548 Broadway Danny Roses in a Sandy Wexler - ed.] Aaron Neville is in SANDY WEXLER, which, combined with the fact that when I went to Rob Schneider's house he compared his own height favorably with that of Aaron Neville, leads me to the question: is Aaron Neville friends with the 90s cast of Saturday Night Live?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Past Is Always Dead

Here's a bar my friend Ward McCarthy and I used to go to in Hollywood, USA, and it looked just like this... kinda goofy and even shabby... or perhaps in a yearning condition of imminent shabbiness. So last time I was in town, my brother's car started overheating and he was nervous to drive me all the way back to Burbank, so I said, "Hey! There's that hotel with that bar where I used to go. I'll just get them to call me a cab!" So I walked in and looked around and the bar wasn't goofy any more... it was all swank and dour and quiet and dark and cool, like where cool people would go to sit alone in the dark. There wasn't a goofy mural... there was just... blank, expensive wood. It made me feel terrible! As if I went back to my hometown and the house where I grew up was gone and there was just a little hill of dirt there, which is something else that happened to me recently.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


You are no doubt aware of my popular theory that every book has an owl in it. I don't "blog" anymore, obviously, yet I am compelled to tell you whenever I read a book with an owl in it. It's not the same thing! The magical new novel GOLDELINE by Jimmy Cajoleas contains any number of owls. Now! We know a few things about Jimmy: 1. Although he was in some classes that I "taught" I cannot and do not take any credit for his development as a writer. Why, I hear he was born with a quill in his hand! Literally! [This is a fanciful conceit, not an actual rumor. - ed.] 2. He was never in one of those classes in which I forced the students to put owls in their stories, cruelly enforcing the "Owl Theory of Literature" which would bring me such notoriety and profit throughout the academic world. So! I can't even take credit for Jimmy's owls. GOLDELINE takes place (so far!) in the woods, and often at night, so, you know, there are going to be some owls there.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

I Am Sorry to Tell You This

Remember this book was written in 1884, okay? So our protagonist's doctor gives him a "nourishing peptone enema" and he loves it! He decides that's the only way he's going to receive nourishment from now on. He's done eating with his mouth! He's going to eat... the other way. I was like, hey, this book from 1884 is shocking me. Our hero commences with a couple of paragraphs of gloating about his new way of eating, not with his mouth. "How delightful it would be... What a saving of time, what a radical deliverance... What an absolute relief from the boredom that results from the necessarily limited choice of dishes! What a vigorous protest... what a slap in the face for old Mother Nature, whose monotonous demands would be permanently silenced!" I leave the remainder of his rantings to your imagination. Well, his plan doesn't work out. It won't surprise you that on the last page or so, he says, "Well, crumble then, society! perish, old world!" That's just the kind of guy he is. We all know how he feels. At that point I believe he's raging about the subpar ingredients in today's (his day's) communion wafers. Oatmeal! Potato flour! You can't consecrate THAT stuff! "Now God refused to come down to earth in the form of potato-flour; that was an undeniable, indisputable fact."

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Big Lemon

Yesterday I handled a lemon that was "just shy of two pounds" in weight. The lemon came from a tree in Melissa Ginsburg's parents' yard. They make no untoward claims. The lemon tree was already producing big lemons when they moved into the house.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

This Guy Has Some Attitude

Still reading AGAINST NATURE. Yesterday our protagonist was going off on "pretentious, conventional, stupid flowers such as the rose," and I was like, ha ha, this guy really hates roses! A couple of pages later he says something that sums up his general attitude: "'It all comes down to syphilis in the end,' Des Esseintes reflected." Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Money Store

1. If we know anything about Bill Boyle, it is that he suggests decadent or disturbing books to me AND he sometimes gives me something to read on an airplane. This time he recommended a decadent book and I took it upon myself to bring it on the airplane. "I don't want to tell you anything about it," said Bill. "There's a tortoise encrusted with precious jewels." Well! I knew that much from the back of the book. And if that's on the back of the book you have to wonder what else is in there. The book is AGAINST NATURE - no, that's the title - by Joris-Karl Huysmans. 2. Lee Durkee gave me a ride to Memphis. See, the closest airport is in Memphis and my flight is always so early and this time I thought I'd stay overnight closer to the airport... for convenience! But! The last time I tried that, I found my "motel by the airport" experience disenchanting. So I decided to stay somewhere "nicer." I recalled that Elvis fan Ace Atkins had once stayed at an Elvis-themed hotel in Memphis, which sounded like a diverting choice. After my no-refund advance booking (it was cheaper) I read that the place had been shut down temporarily some months ago due to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. "Oh, I'm sure they've taken care of it," Ace assured me with the casual air of the physically fit. My room was on the second floor but somehow the ground came right up to the window anyway. So the second floor was also a ground floor. I'm not sure I'm being clear. Some grass and dirt came right up to my window, and just beyond that, the dark, forbidding woods. Woods in Memphis! With naught but a pane of glass betwixt me and them. The window reached the ground, I mean. Something could stroll right through it. It looked like "Young Goodman Brown" out there. I vaguely recall from that Elvis book I was reading that Gladys was frightened by some bushes growing outside the Presley home. Now I know how she felt. 3. Two tiny spots like dried ketchup on my nice gray jacket that I am not actually sure is gray. Is it blue? Back at home, Dr. Theresa and I dismissed these spots as "a shadow" or "a fold in the material" but now I can see in the vast hallway mirror near the swirling white staircase at the Elvis-themed hotel that they are definitely spots of uncouth ketchup. 4. Sitting in the airport reading "he had gone to those unconventional supper-parties where drunken women loosen their dresses at dessert and beat the table with their heads." (!) 5. Flight. Beastie Boys came on the iPod, amiably rhyming "cellular" and "the hell you were," which I noted to tell Jon Host on my return. 6. The airplane food was something I'd never seen before. I might call it "an open-faced breakfast pie." In the center was a slurry composed of everything you've ever had for breakfast. Some of what I think was the egg portion was colored pink for reasons I never managed to grasp. I ate it. 7. An early impression, though the book was first published in 1884, is that AGAINST NATURE advocates for Pen Ward's pet mode of existence, virtual reality: "Nature, he used to say, has had her day; she has finally and utterly exhausted the patience of sensitive observers by the revolting uniformity of her landscapes and skyscrapers. After all, what platitudinous limitations she imposes, like a tradesman specializing in a single line of business; what petty-minded restrictions, like a shopkeeper stocking one article to the exclusion of all others; what a monotonous store of meadows and trees, what a commonplace display of mountains and seas! In fact, there is not a single one of her inventions, deemed so subtle and sublime, that human ingenuity cannot manufacture." 8. A new bartender at my hotel in Burbank asked where I was from and when I told him, a guy at the other end of the bar shouted, "A lot of great writers come from Mississippi!" This is a true fact, but I must tell you from my travels that this is never the first thing a stranger will say upon hearing the word "Mississippi." And I hasten to add that Mississippi has brought endless negative reactions on itself. But it was nice to hear something milder for a change. This guy, who did not hail from the South, I should say, was not up to speed on some contemporary Mississippi writers so I pitched him Mary Miller pretty hard. 9. Went back to Dan Tana's and got the same table! Been there three times, got the same table three times. Let's call it "my table." Let's call it that! I'm scared to ever go back in case I don't get it again. 10. Reading the paper the next morning I see that our friend and former neighbor Jesmyn Ward won another National Book Award, and it felt doubly right after hearing what the nice man at the bar had said about Mississippi writers. 11. My brother sent a pic of us at Dan Tana's. As he remarks, my face is vampirically blurred, as if photography cannot quite capture it. Here we see me in the preparation stages of jotting in my famous book of jottings, no doubt about the fact that we are getting our "regular table." A rare appearance of the jotting book in action!
You may also notice that my hair is sticking up and so is my brother's. That's going to be our gimmick now: the brothers whose hair sticks up. 12. Disagreement with a bartender about Robert Walker's performance in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. 13. I went to the ADVENTURE TIME wrap party and danced with Andy Merrill. You may remember him as Brak from SPACE GHOST COAST TO COAST! As you can see below, we freaked out because Weird Al was RIGHT BEHIND US.
14. Laraine Newman and I saw Jeffrey Katzenberg in a grocery store. He's gotta eat too! We had lunch (not with Jeffrey Katzenberg). The young woman in charge of the host station spoke engagingly and learnedly to us of Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare. She knew a lot about THE CHERRY ORCHARD and also a lot about actual cherries and how to grow them, and what mistakes not to make when growing cherries, and what the cherries mean in THE CHERRY ORCHARD. I mean WHY CHERRIES? This is the question she answered. Fascinating and delightful! But I don't think I'll tell you. From our outdoor table we could see a bridge that Laraine told me was featured in one of the old, original PLANET OF THE APES movies. I said that Sal Mineo played an ape in one of those and Laraine sort of doubted me! She texted famed comedian Dana Gould right then and there and he immediately confirmed it with his knowledge. Dana Gould is Laraine's version of Google! 15. As the sun was going down I walked alone in the unfamiliar part of town from whence I had parted with Laraine. I found a fancy restaurant tucked - nay, almost buried - in an unlikely location. The bartender had played Hamlet twice! 16. The next morning I went to the Starbucks where I have seen Andrea Martin and (on a separate occasion) the guy from Tenacious D who is not Jack Black. Got the last New York Times from the rack and discovered something small and green on it. Small, green, and sticky. Bright green, emerald, holding there fast, hard candy vehemently licked and rejected or a foul lozenge someone had coughed up? Anyway, I touched it. I've visited this Starbucks often enough to recognize some of the customers who have been going there for years. There's one guy who blows his nose a lot. There he was, blowing his nose! Just like old times. He's been blowing his nose in that Starbucks since at least 2012. 17. "... birds with rats' heads and vegetable tails." When I read that I was like, "Nothing as prosaic as an owl is going to be in THIS book!" But in the very next paragraph: "a patch of virgin forest packed with monkeys, owls and screech-owls"! 18. Breakfast with my brother and nephews at Musso & Frank, where they are breakfast regulars, received warmly by all. My brother adjusted the blinds like he owned the joint! 19. After breakfast, we went to what my brother called "the money store," which turned out to be a hot, cramped box specializing in old coins and old silver and smelling like old farts. My eldest nephew and I looked at some olden utensils. "Look, they have the nicest spork ever made," said my nephew. 20. Dr. Theresa called: the wind blew and a huge limb, itself "the size of a tree" crashed to the earth right outside our house. It was a calamity! Also a miscreant peed in our backyard and ran away hitching up his pants under a fiery barrage of Dr. Theresa's righteous scolding. 21. Pen and I ate at The Smokehouse. Pen audaciously ordered the "steak Sinatra" with salmon instead of steak! We pondered what Frank might have made of that. We summoned up Frank Sinatra's violent, indignant ghost. The waiter said he would have to check what sort of surcharges would be involved. "A million dollars!" Pen predicted. But the waiter came back and said that according to the kitchen, steak Sinatra with salmon instead of steak costs ONE DOLLAR LESS than steak Sinatra! Then another waiter came in bearing a chicken pot pie that astounded everyone in the room. It was as large as... a pie. Like... a whole, entire flaky pie you might see on display for its beauty and wholesomeness in a bakery case. I swear, every person at every table was marveling that such a thing as this could be a chicken pot pie. Everyone stared in wonder - and dare I say envy? - at the recipient of the flabbergasting chicken pot pie. I thought of Dr. Theresa, who loves chicken pot pie, and I thought of her again as Pen and I enjoyed wedge salads, Dr. Theresa being one of our nation's leading proponents of the wedge salad. 22. At the airport I sat right next to a guy who had a big jotting book in the exact color and style of my small jotting book! I waved my tiny version of his large jotting book at him in excited solidarity. His wife laughed merrily at my antics and did not call airport security. 23. I don't "blog" anymore.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hoot Owls of East Tupelo

There are hoot owls in ELVIS AND GLADYS, Elaine Dundy's book about Elvis Presley and his mother, one of an endless series of celebrity biographies that Megan Abbott and I are reading together (see also), but I don't tell you about all of them because some of them don't have owls in them. In a footnote, Dundy finds it interesting that both Elvis and Marilyn Monroe had mothers named Gladys, which reminded me, although I've never seen it, of an infamous scene in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, that's fine. Okay, I guess Batman stops fighting Superman because he finds out they both have moms named Martha. Not that Elvis and Marilyn were ever engaged in some kind of cosmic battle (that I know of) but I would watch that movie.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Merry Meat Christmas

Some time after midnight I was watching FRASIER on the Hallmark Channel and they played an ad for a TV movie called MARRY ME AT CHRISTMAS, which, when the title appeared on the screen, appeared to my weary eyes as MERRY MEAT CHRISTMAS.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Slips My Mind

"There would be no ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE without GREEN ACRES," Lee Durkee said last night. He was reluctant to go so far as to say outright that Marquez had "ripped it off" but I think I could have pried a more assertive contention along those lines out of him with a little more effort and/or liquor. Lee also made a compelling case for the Buddha-like characteristics of Lisa Douglas (pictured) on the show, though the details somewhat elude me now. I think it mostly had to do with her clear-eyed, peaceful acceptance of her unusual neighbors, in contrast with Oliver's prickly resentment. I informed Lee of the New York Times's chronic and utter inability to grasp the subtleties of GREEN ACRES and he responded with appropriate indignation and shock. Meanwhile, through the medium of email, Ace Atkins informed/exhorted me "Eb lives in Laurel. We should go meet him!" That's Laurel, Mississippi, for those unacquainted. And if you don't know who Eb is, I'm just sad for you. The occasion of both conversations was the arrival of my GREEN ACRES box set, the entire series. As you know, I don't "blog" anymore, but I'm afraid this acquisition is going to force me to have to "blog" some more as time goes on. But that's also what I thought about THE BIG VALLEY.

Friday, October 13, 2017


You know I don't "blog" anymore unless it's firmly in the national interest, such as what I call "McNeilileaks," in which I reveal the private contents of my friend McNeil's emails without his permission. So I emailed McNeil about my surefire scheme to make a fortune by crossbreeding an apple with a lemon, producing a sweet lemon! Just think how much easier it would be to make lemonade, among other uses for this versatile fruit of my creation. McNeil shut me down succinctly! "What you will end up with is a sour apple - which already exists. What you might end up with is a lemon-sized sweet fruit, like a tangerine, which already exists." Ouch! The truth hurt. But remember, this is the same McNeil who wanted to steal people's skeletons and make diamonds out of them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Possessed of a Cat, Surpassing in Beauty

I was standing around in Square Books yesterday, killing time before Beth Ann Fennelly's reading, and I picked up a book about animals, but I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the title even though it had an owl in it. What chiefly surprised me about this particular owl is that it appears, according to the book I picked up, in Fragment B of Christopher Smart's JUBILATE AGNO, a fragment from which I have often read, but I have never noticed the owl. In my defense, that is a long fragment! And it starts with letting a lot people rejoice... like, hundreds? People or angels or saints or something. All rejoicing. Or being allowed or encouraged to rejoice. I guess. "Let Bukki rejoice with the Buzzard" is one example. "Let Hur rejoice with the Water-wag-tail." Okay! Whatever you say, Christopher Smart. Hundreds of those, maybe. And eventually we get to Shephatiah, who is supposed to "rejoice with the little Owl, which is the winged cat." I never thought of owls that way before, but I'm buying it. And Christopher Smart adds, "For I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless almighty God."

Thursday, October 05, 2017

McNeil Month By Month

I know a lot of you are worried because I don't "blog" anymore, so how am I going to do my annual birthday tribute to McNeil, in which I give you "links" to the things he has done every month? Well, smooth your furrowed brows and put your troubled minds at ease! Remember, ever since the "blog" officially ended, on the day (coincidentally, or maybe it demoralized me) our TV blew up in April 2016, I have kept a physical log of McNeil's activities, on which I intend to draw here. Naturally, this new style of entry will not lead you back to a particular "link." I guess I will mark them with an asterisk. With such limitations casting a shadow over the proceedings I am delighted nonetheless to present our usual timely tribute to the continued existence of McNeil, yes, I give you "McNeil Month By Month": September 2006: McNeil contends that he does not enjoy the "Little Dot" comic book. October 2006: McNeil furnishes a memorable quotation. November 2006: McNeil recalls playing Aerosmith on a jukebox. December 2006: First appearance of "McNeil's Movie Korner." January 2007: McNeil's system for winning at craps. February 2007: McNeil doesn't see what's so hard about reading a newspaper and eating a sandwich at the same time. March 2007: McNeil and I are talking about Bob Denver when HE SUDDENLY APPEARS ON TELEVISION! April 2007: Wild turkeys roam McNeil's neighborhood. May 2007: McNeil gets in touch with an Australian reporter regarding a historical chimp. June 2007: First McNeil's Movie Korner Film Festival announced. July 2007: Medicine changes McNeil's taste buds. August 2007: McNeil's trees not producing apples. September 2007: McNeil pinpoints a problem with the "blog." October 2007: McNeil presents a video entitled "Jerry's pre-defecation chills." November 2007: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy. December 2007: What is McNeil's favorite movie? January 2008: McNeil explains why the wind blows. February 2008: McNeil admires the paintings of Gerhard Richter. March 2008: McNeil comes up with an idea for a Lifetime TV movie. April 2008: McNeil's shirt. May 2008: McNeil's apple tree doing better (see August 2007). June 2008: McNeil is troubled by a man who wants to make clouds in the shape of logos. July 2008: McNeil's apples are doing great. August 2008: McNeil refuses to acknowledge that Goofy wears a hat no matter what I say. September 2008: McNeil's grocery store is permanently out of his favorite margarine. October 2008: McNeil on the space elevator. November 2008: McNeil comes across an incomplete episode guide to HELLO, LARRY. December 2008: McNeil thinks the human hand should have more fingers. January 2009: McNeil discovers that gin and raisins cure arthritis. February 2009: McNeil gets a big bruise on his arm. March 2009: McNeil wants a job on a cruise ship. April 2009: McNeil attempts to rescue a wayward balloon. May 2009: McNeil visits the Frogtown Fair. June 2009: McNeil dreams he is watching an endless production number from LI'L ABNER. July 2009: McNeil sends text messages from his cell phone while watching a Frank Sinatra movie. August 2009: McNeil disagrees philosophically with a comic book cover that shows a mad scientist putting a gorilla's brain in a superhero's body. September 2009: McNeil resembles famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. October 2009: McNeil wears a surgical mask. November 2009: McNeil reports that a bird broke the large hadron collider by dropping a bread crumb on it. December 2009: McNeil advises me to like the universe or lump it. January 2010: McNeil eats soup. February 2010: McNeil tells of the hidden civilizations living deep beneath the surface of the earth. March 2010: McNeil recalls a carpet of his youth. April 2010: McNeil starts wearing a necktie. May 2010: McNeil's DNA sample fails to yield results. June 2010: McNeil thinks up some improvements for the movie 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. July 2010: McNeil reads to me from I, THE JURY. August 2010: McNeil finds a hair in his crab cake. September 2010: McNeil has a cold. October 2010: McNeil sends a nine-minute clip of a nice old man speaking at a UFO banquet. November 2010: McNeil sits in his car and looks at pictures of Jennifer Jones. December 2010: McNeil fears a ball of fire in the sky. January 2011: McNeil watches DYNASTY. February 2011: McNeil sees clouds that look like guys on horseback. March 2011: McNeil composes a "still life" photograph. April 2011: McNeil is upset when I interrupt his viewing of MATCH GAME. May 2011: McNeil pines for some old curtains. June 2011: McNeil eats Lucky Charms brand breakfast cereal. July 2011: McNeil investigates the history of the Phar-Mor drugstore chain. August 2011: McNeil compares Dean Moriarty to Dean Martin. September 2011: McNeil learns a lesson about pork and beans. October 2011: McNeil finds an article describing Robert Mitchum as "Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates." November 2011: McNeil did nothing in November. December 2011: McNeil discovers scientists creating rainbows in a laboratory. January 2012: McNeil impersonates Paul Lynde. February 2012: McNeil dreams of matches. March 2012: McNeil's Theory of Potential Energy (see November 2007, above) used to chart the influence of Jerry Lewis on Carson McCullers. April 2012: McNeil disturbed by the art in his hotel room. May 2012: McNeil considers grave robbing. June 2012: McNeil's idea for "music television." July 2012: McNeil holds his negative feelings in check out of respect when the man who invented electric football dies. August 2012: McNeil reads me an old obituary of Charlie Callas over the phone. September 2012: McNeil concerned about T.J. Hooker's big meaty hands. October 2012: McNeil eats lunch at Target. November 2012: McNeil loves it when Bob Hope slips on a banana peel. December 2012: McNeil sees rocks that look like squirrels. January 2013: McNeil looks at an old, faded photo of a dog gazing into a Bath and Tile Emporium. February 2013: McNeil watches a video in which a hooded figure talks about "our criminal overlords." March 2013: McNeil wakes up at 6:40 in the evening, momentarily thinks it is 6:40 in the morning. April 2013: McNeil sees a singer who looks just like Bill Clinton. May 2013: McNeil is ashamed of himself for not realizing that Ida Lupino directed some episodes of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. June 2013: McNeil mails a cashew tree. July 2013: McNeil watches GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. August 2013: McNeil recalls being rosy-cheeked. September 2013: A fairyland goes on in McNeil's head. October 2013: McNeil recalls tucking in his t-shirt. November 2013: The cover of a book McNeil buys says it is about Jerry Lewis, but on the inside the book is about Willie Stargell! December 2013: McNeil wants to visit an orgone box factory. January 2014: McNeil did nothing in January. February 2014: McNeil wonders whether Tom Franklin puts his hair in curlers. March 2014: McNeil takes a nap in the car. April 2014: The subject of McNeil pops up in an interview. May 2014: McNeil's emails on the "hollow earth" recalled (see February 2010, above). June 2014: McNeil looks forward to getting drunk and making insensitive remarks as I lie on my deathbed. July 2014: McNeil watches Jim and Henny Backus play themselves in DON'T MAKE WAVES. August 2014: McNeil tells about Robert Mitchum's hangover cure. September 2014: McNeil exaggerates the fate of some owls. October 2014: McNeil is incensed that a candy apple costs eight dollars at the airport. November 2014: McNeil's heart overflows with joy. December 2014: McNeil continues his 7-year chimp investigation (see May 2007, above). January 2015: McNeil listens to a conspiracy theorist who says Jimmy Carter was replaced by a series of robots. February 2015: McNeil recalls doing a report about matches in the eighth grade. March 2015: McNeil takes to bed with the flu! April 2015: McNeil and I establish an amazing psychic link. May 2015: McNeil bitterly recalls the time he brought a John Wayne movie to my apartment and we never watched it. June 2015: McNeil dreams about a bearded Dean Martin. July 2015: McNeil has a disappointing encounter with the Grand Canyon. August 2015: McNeil sees a squirrel holding a stick. September 2015: McNeil is saddened by the news of Dean Jones's death. October 2015: McNeil watches STARFLIGHT: THE PLANE THAT COULDN'T LAND. November 2015: McNeil sends video of Joe Namath making and eating a sandwich. December 2015: A coincidence of the type McNeil especially loves. January 2016: McNeil is in a grocery store and they start playing "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" over the speakers! February 2016: McNeil watches Don Rickles eat in a bathroom. March 2016: McNeil is duly thrilled when Megan Abbott goes to see CRACKING UP on the big screen. April 2016: McNeil swallows a gnat. May 2016: McNeil recalls the details of a screenplay we wrote in our twenties. June 2016: Destruction comes to McNeil's apple tree! July 2016: McNeil spots Dabney Coleman in an I DREAM OF JEANNIE rerun. August 2016: McNeil points out that Dean Martin had granddaughters named Pepper, Montana, and Rio. September 2016: McNeil is called a "filthy troglodyte." October 2016: McNeil advises me on what to do now that ADVENTURE TIME has been canceled. "I say take it easy for a while... just pretend to write when Theresa's around and then sleep or watch movies when she leaves. Oh hell, you know how to work it," writes McNeil.* November 2016: McNeil sees an owl while walking his dog at midnight. December 2016: McNeil finds an Airbnb listing by "eccentric millionaires" for a treehouse featuring "whimsical taxidermy."* January 2017: McNeil notices that there are lots of ants in his writing.* February 2017: McNeil roots for the guy who stole a bucket full of gold flakes.* March 2017: McNeil reads an article suggesting that all the gold on Earth came from the collision of dead stars and says, "Let's go get us some of this!" seemingly suggesting a trip to outer space.* April 2017: McNeil recalls that he was washing dishes in 2015 when the thought of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine (pictured, above) came into his head. Then he discovered that Gene Gene the Dancing Machine had just died!* May 2017: McNeil watches ISLAND IN THE SKY with his dog.* June 2017: McNeil is happy to see a movie with rotary phones and "people looking up stuff in a filing cabinet for a change." July 2017: McNeil begins alerting me to weather situations in my area like he's my mother.* August 2017: McNeil connects heavenly signs and portents with the death of Jerry Lewis. September 2017: A critique by McNeil inspires a choice of airplane reading material. October 2017: McNeil contemplates buying a stranger's home movies on eBay, including "Trip to Juarez w/Frank and Irene."*

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I Figured Out Richard and Linda

Spoilers for the new TWIN PEAKS! Spoilers or the ravings of a madman? You be the judge! But I took some Benadryl for allergies and it put me to sleep. When I awoke, I was thinking of a clue the giant gives in that show, telling our protagonist to remember the names Richard and Linda. I woke up with an anagram almost completed. And it worked better when I spelled Linda the way Lynda Barry does it. But it wasn't just right until I used the Spanish word for "and," making an anagram for "RICHARD Y LINDA" instead. And do you know what that anagram is? A signature! If you remove David Lynch's surname from "RICHARD Y LINDA" all you have left are double letters. Isn't that curious? And this show was all about doubles. Without "LYNCH," the only remaining letters are AA II RR DD. The AA means "Twin Peaks." Just look! Those are two matching mountains, with "twin peaks." Snowcapped, even! The II is "two I's" (two selves) or just the Roman numeral II, as in Twin Peaks 2. The RR is for the Double R and for Rancho Rosa, the production company/fictional subdivision. And the DD is for Dougie/Dale or the two Dales or David/Dale, or dreamer/dream (dissociative disorder?) or Directed by David... So: RICHARD Y LINDA = AA II RR DD LYNCH. One translation: "Twin Peaks 2, a Rancho Rosa production directed by David Lynch." Possibly. I apologize to the hundreds of people who have already figured this out. I tried to google it a little bit, but it's not so easy to google. This interpretation is especially hard on Mark Frost. Anyway, I'd like to say thank you to the makers of Benadryl.

Monday, September 18, 2017

I Explain Victor Marilyn to an Uncaring World

You know I don't "blog" anymore, but watching ADVENTURE TIME last night I was reminded that the recent episode "Son of Rap Bear" contains possibly the most obscure allusion to Jerry Lewis possible, which I would not even mention, seeing as how I don't "blog" anymore, but I thought it was a poignant coincidence, Jerry Lewis having recently died. Now this allusion is so obscure that even I didn't know about it, Mr. Big Shot So-Called Jerry Lewis Expert. In the meeting during which we were writing the outline for the episode - and I forget how the subject came up - Kent Osborne happened to mention a phone prank that Jerry had played on an unsuspecting sycophant. So we all listened to it... and somewhere, deep inside there, Jerry invents a nonexistent character named "Victor Marilyn" with which to bedevil his hapless dupe. I mean, I guess you have to sit through four and a half minutes of that phone prank before you even reach "Victor Marilyn." And that's why the devious Toronto (the ADVENTURE TIME character, not the city!) uses the pseudonymous business card you see above. I am glad to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Karl Malden Wouldn't Sit Anywhere Else

When I go on a trip I still take my famous jotting book but I hardly jot in it anymore because I don't "blog" anymore, rendering the very act of jotting questionable. And besides, as Adam Muto rightly admonished me last time I won an Emmy (this is my subtle way of telling you that I just came back from Los Angeles with another one!) I should look up and experience the world directly rather than jotting about it while it's right there in my face. In fact, if you "click" on that previous "link" you will see a photo of me with my jotting book open and ready for jotting backstage in the immediate aftermath of the awards presentation two years ago. I'm the problem with America! But you know, I'm glad I brought the jotting book because I AM required to "blog" whenever I read a book with an owl in it, and on this trip there appeared in my path THREE books with owls in them. I couldn't believe it. It was a bonanza! Let's get right to them! Well, first I stopped by Square Books for something to read on the airplane, as I like to do. And I was drawn again to the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald, though I never enjoy them the way I'm supposed to. But now I guess they say "airplane" to me because of some sick compulsion. I picked up this one called DARKER THAN AMBER and I was like, "This seems familiar." Because they all seem familiar. And the titles are interchangeable. So I put it back on the shelf and went home empty-handed. And I sat there and thought, why do I know that title? And I poked around on the "blog" and saw that my friend McNeil had mentioned DARKER THAN AMBER as being particularly sexist. But as far as I could tell from my own "blog" I hadn't read it, and perversely I decided to get it and see if McNeil was right. And McNeil was right! In fact, I would argue that Travis McGee goes beyond (?) mere misogyny into a psychotic fear of sex. Now, of course, we can't confuse the author with his creation, but I would argue that McGee is presented as an aspirational character. "Jake leaned back on his heels and stared up at me, like a man admiring a tall building," is a typically modest self-description by our narrator. And now please forgive me but I'm going to quote just a smidgen of the misogyny so you won't think I'm exaggerating. You have been warned. Here we find catalogued McGee's disapproval of women who have had too many boyfriends: "she suffers a sea change wherein her juices alter from honey to acid, her eyes change to glass, her heart becomes a stone, and her mouth a windy cave from whence, with each moisturous gasping, comes a tiny stink of death." What! What kind of writing do you call that? Moisturous! Moisturous? It has a certain purple tone that KNOWS it has a tone (A CERTAIN PURPLE TONE sounds like the title of a Travis McGee novel)... hmm... a tone approaching parody, but wanting it both ways... what is called in the business "kidding on the square," as I was once informed by Rob Schneider. Ha ha! But "tiny stink of death"? That's one of the grossest phrases I've come across. And later McGee refers to a woman's mouth as a "round horror-hole," okay? A ROUND HORROR-HOLE. Wow, I'm forgetting the owl. Weren't we talking about owls? McGee says that the eye of a corpse is "like a cheap glass eye in a stuffed owl." And you know what color that eye is? "Darker than amber," that's what color. So I was lying in bed reading this in the hotel room and Dr. Theresa was lying there too reading her own book - what a picture of contentment I am sure we made! - and she said, "Hey! This has an owl in it!" The owl in her book, she said, flew right into an inn and caused much consternation and dialogue. So! I finished Travis McGee and started a book of Sam Shepard short stories I had picked up at Skylight during one of our jaunts across the city. And in the very first story, some owls settle into a eucalyptus tree. So anyway that is a lot of owls in a lot of books for one trip. Speaking of Skylight Books! I ran into the actor Steve Little there, forced a copy of my most recent story collection on him (they had a couple of copies) and kind of harassed him until he fled the store. This is an accurate depiction of events. And speaking of Sam Shepard! So, T-Bone Burnett was one of the presenters at the Creative Arts Emmys, and I was determined to meet him at the ball following the show. And I did! Megan Abbott and I had been reading Sam Shepard's ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK, in which T-Bone Burnett appears, leading me to make the following brilliant remark to the distinguished musical icon of whom I have been a lifelong fan: "I saw a picture of you dressed up like a wizard!" (See above.) I'm getting everything out of order.
Let me check my jotting book and see which of my sparse jottings I've left out. Oh, went back to Dan Tana's and got the same booth. I was like, "Hey, I liked that booth when I was here before, can we have it?" And the maître d' was like, sure! "Karl Malden wouldn't sit anywhere else," he informed us. So here we are sitting where Karl Malden would be sitting were he still among the living. But he can't do a thing about it now! Photo by my brother. Well, I'm flipping through these pages and I hardly jotted anything, it turns out. I'm not sorry. On the plane ride to Los Angeles I was sufficiently convinced that my Biscoff cookie bore the face of a holy saint to request that Dr. Theresa take a photo of it, which she gamely did.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Kinda Scary

I half-watched some of a Frank Capra movie on TCM last night and I'm not gonna say it reminded me of David Lynch, even though it did, but I am aware that everything reminds me of David Lynch now because I just watched a lot of David Lynch.
(Megan Abbott did point out the IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE quality of the recent TWIN PEAKS finale.) But the title of the Capra movie I half-watched is A HOLE IN THE HEAD, which isn't comforting, is it? So Frank Sinatra and his little son are trying to sleep and Carolyn Jones suddenly appears in their window, dancing in her swimsuit and long gloves. It was supposed to be funny! But it struck me as eerie. Once again, this is all my own fault. Then Carolyn Jones shows up with a whole apple in her mouth and strikes a Laura Palmer pose:
The way Sinatra expresses affection for his son is to say he's gonna sock him or punch him or "flatten" him. He's consistently violent in his love imagery, but we never think he's really gonna flatten his son. At one point he says wistfully, "He's a funny kid, you know? I could beat him up, anything, leave him someplace, and I bet he'd still love me. Kinda scary." KINDA!
The background (and foreground) is filled with strange, silent animals, for which I choose this monkey that blows bubbles as representative. The monkey that blows bubbles is next to a photo of Eleanor Parker's husband and son, whom she matter-of-factly describes drowning together before her eyes. Frank Sinatra's little boy is immediately taken with Eleanor Parker because (I think it's obvious) she is like his dead mother come back to life.
She catches the little boy staring at her because she reminds him so much of his dead mother (I believe is the subtext) and gives him a sultry wink as he peeps at her from behind a porcelain dog. Oh, and Dub Taylor works the desk at Frank Sinatra's hotel, where they use the same kind of keychains you get at the Great Northern.
You know, I really have more screen shots than I know what to do with. You should see the ones I'm skipping. There was this disturbingly infantile character (below), a very poor man's Jerry Lewis, who, in his father's words, "runs to the toilet" whenever there's a customer in the store (the same father, Edward G. Robinson, who complains about his "underwear crawling up" on him, a complaint I do not recall hearing expressed so bluntly - or indeed at all - in any other 50s movies; does he say "crawling" or "creeping"? Does it matter?) and you know how much Jerry Lewis reminds me of David Lynch, even though this is not Jerry Lewis, just a tulpa.
I hardly know what to end with.
Well, here's a guy in a white dinner jacket with a pistol on a diving board. Moments later he will pretend to shoot himself in the head with a blank for a laugh, but I don't think that's where the title comes from.