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.