Saturday, December 15, 2018

Three Movies

I was sitting here listening to some Stockhausen piano music I just don't understand, and I thought, "Maybe the MILTON CROSS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC will yield up some of its easily digestible and strangely bitter information." But I should have known better! Stockhausen has no place therein. But that made me think of this "blog," now defunct, which was, when it thrived in its way, a medium through which I often explored the twisted psychology of the MILTON CROSS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC. And that made me think of how I once wrote a book about cigarette lighters, and how after I had turned in the final manuscript I continued to learn fascinating tidbits about cigarette lighters, which I collected in an appendix here on the "blog," until the very idea of learning fascinating tidbits began to fill me with dread. Furthermore I was forced to admit, within the course of the rumination thusly recounted, that I saw two movies recently, and a small part of a third movie, all containing cigarette lighter material that I would have dropped into very precise spots in the book, if only I had encountered them in time. I no longer care about that, or anything else, but the fact that I encountered them in such a short span of time, boom, boom, boom, one right after another, left me no choice... well, of course it left me a choice, but here we are. Bill Boyle and I have been watching, independently, a number of later period Clint Eastwood movies, and discussing, through email and other digital means of communication, the ones we have seen in common. It was for this reason that I watched FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, though Bill did not, nor did Dr. Theresa, the latter having already watched it some years ago as part of her research for the doctoral dissertation whence her title springs, and I guess she got out of it everything she wanted to get. Anyhow! A young man aboard a warship lights a lighter in a way I found historically questionable. Allow me to quote Paul Fussell, yes, the same Paul Fussell quotation that I quote in my cigarette lighter book, which is called CIGARETTE LIGHTER, in which he observes that in the paranoia of imminent battle someone "igniting a cigarette on deck is likely to be suspected of disloyalty rather than stupidity." You can't go around lighting your lighter on deck! It could be a traitorous signal, or a giveaway. Then I was skipping from one channel to another and I saw part of LAND OF THE LOST, the film adaptation of that work. Now! Lest you accuse me of finding it puerile, know from previous evidence that I am capable of enjoying literally any movie ever made, and I would not deny having watched the whole thing, had that ever been the case. But I saw just a snippet. One character was using his cigarette lighter to impress the technologically impaired dwellers, covered in hair, of a mysterious dimension, yes, the aforementioned LAND OF THE LOST. Ah! It was a comical "spin" on that old trope. A trope that I bring up in the book without much in the way of concrete examples to support it. Shame! A shame that might have been alleviated somewhat by the inclusion of the example in question... an example that seemed to imply, as I did, that the gesture was well known and ripe for allusion. So! Then Dr. Theresa and I were watching THE SHANGHAI GESTURE (pictured), in which Walter Huston (not pictured) is some old millionaire. At a board meeting he produces a cigarette. A dozen hale men leap up, ready to light it for him! In film, it is a ritual more associated with sex and beauty, and I included in my book plenty of examples of phalanxes of men falling over themselves to light a woman's cigarette. But now I saw, yes! It is also about power... an insight that came, like so many, too late to do any good.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Year End List

As you know, nothing good happened this year, but my friend McNeil did see a bone fall out of the sky ("click" here for more details and a photograph of the actual bone.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

What No Owls

So Clare Boothe (not yet Luce) visits Bernard Baruch's South Carolina mansion, near which "deer, fox, feral pigs, egrets, bald eagles, wild turkeys, and bull alligators populated the surrounding woods and swamps." And when I read that, I was like, what, no owls? Come on! I know there were some owls in there! But owls did not make the cut. Just a few pages later, though, Baruch is "prominent in owlish spectacles."

Monday, November 19, 2018

Owl Decoy

Lee Durkee gave me a copy of A MIRACLE OF CATFISH by Larry Brown. I started reading it just now and right away I thought, "Well, I bet there's an owl in this pretty soon!" And I was right. Page three. Well, an "owl decoy," as previously seen in BAG OF BONES by Stephen King and GRINGOS by Charles Portis. It counts!

Sunday, November 18, 2018


I don't have to explain myself to you! I don't even "blog" anymore. But anyway before my recent trip I was in Square Books looking for something to read on the airplane and I saw a Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald I had never noticed on the shelf before: NIGHTMARE IN PINK, and I walked right by it and didn't even pick it up because of my many, many problems with those novels, but somehow it stuck in my head. I find - and I'm sure it's some sort of compulsion - that if a book sticks in my head at Square Books, I always go back and buy it the next day. What if I miss out on something? And I went to bed that night thinking, you know, maybe NIGHTMARE IN PINK would be good to read on the airplane, even though I haven't truly enjoyed one of those novels yet, because it's really about weight and size when I'm picking out a book to read on the airplane; content hardly enters into it. And I comforted myself by thinking that no one was going to walk into Square Books overnight and buy NIGHTMARE IN PINK before I returned the next day. How bizarre that would be. But, reader, someone did. I went back and NIGHTMARE IN PINK was gone, and even though I didn't actually want to read it, and had already, the day before, bought the book I was going to read on the airplane instead, I felt cheated. Cheated by life! So in the following days, as I prepared for my trip, I would walk by the bookstore and look at the empty spot where NIGHTMARE IN PINK used to be. Okay! Upon my return, I was in Square Books one day and glanced at the shelf and NIGHTMARE IN PINK was back in stock... so I bought it! I read a little of it and put it aside because Megan and I got started on our book club book. At least my strange need to purchase this volume from a series I don't enjoy had been sated. Anyway! Last night I couldn't sleep and there was NIGHTMARE IN PINK, so I read some more of it. Yes, Travis McGee's morbid horror of being devoured by a woman was intact. "Any minute now the sticky tongue would flick out and snare me and yank me into that greedy maw." That's Travis McGee describing a woman. Now, there's a sort of woman that Travis McGee claims to like a lot, that he spends a lot of time striving to convince us he likes a lot, and, as Ace Atkins has pointed out to me, that woman "always dies." Now! I will say this for John D. MacDonald's technique, or maybe this is more about Ace's insight: wondering when the one woman Travis McGee "likes" is going to die keeps you reading. Like, "Oh no! Don't get too attached, McGee!" It introduces a distasteful (and possibly entirely external) source of suspense. So anyway, after spending some time with the woman whose "maw" terrifies him, Travis McGee goes back to the woman he claims to like and she says to him, "Wanna play owl?" And now you know why we're here: for reasons long forgotten, I keep a list ("click" here!) of every book I read that has an owl in it. After Travis McGee and his friend "play owl," and never mind what that is, I sincerely regret to inform you that they play something called "naked owl."

Friday, November 16, 2018

Most Admirable of All

You know I don't "blog" anymore but people keep sending me new information about plovers' eggs. Megan sent me a passage from an old cookbook that says plovers' eggs are "incomparable in a salad or sandwich; and most admirable of all set like large opals in aspic jelly."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Regarding Plovers' Eggs

I'm sure you've been wondering whether there was any controversial fallout over yesterday's plovers' eggs "post." As a matter of fact, novelist Jeff Abbott introduced me to a storyline in which Jimmy Olsen is called upon to rustle up some plovers' eggs (see above). The tale introduced a young Jeff Abbott to the concept of plovers and their eggs and he never forgot it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Is Up With Plovers' Eggs

As you know, Megan Abbott and I read a lot of celebrity biographies together. We just read one about Gloria Swanson, in which we learn that "she developed a taste for plovers' eggs." Then we moved on to Clare Boothe Luce: "Mr. Higganbotham gave her an extravagant eleventh 'birthday' feast of plovers' eggs, consommé, turbot, chicken, asparagus, vanilla soufflé, and a cake with eleven candles." Anyway, what the hell is up with plovers' eggs.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Brian and the Birthday Boy and Me

Here are my friend Brian and me at that birthday party I was telling you about. Sure, the birthday party guy was supposed to be anonymous, and that's his picture my thumb is poking at, but it would take some kind of internet genius to figure it all out, and nobody cares, plus he looks like a magnificent sad prince, so I feel okay about everything.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Pen Runs Over a Bottle

1. Lee was about to pull up to give me a ride to Memphis when I discovered that the button on my jacket was precariously loose. It took the desperate combined efforts of Dr. Theresa and me to thread a needle. Suddenly that infomercial I saw in January 2011 about an innovative needle with a huge eye didn't seem so damn funny anymore. Once we got the needle threaded, precious seconds ticking away, Dr. Theresa secured that button in place like a speed demon. But that wasn't the end of the troubles! This is exciting already. So! 2. When Lee and I were about halfway to Memphis, I glanced down to discover that I was wearing the wrong shoes. For you see, I had an appointment at the Magic Castle in Hollywood later in the week, thanks to my friend Kate, who is a magician, and they (the Magic Castle, not magicians in general, nor Kate in particular) have a dress code, for which reason, and with some exaltation, I had recently purchased my very first ascot. Anyway, Dr. Theresa had to mail me my shoes. Or they would have never let me into the Magic Castle! 3. The Von's across from my hotel in Burbank no longer stocks the gigantic bottles of seltzer I like. 4. I saw Kent, who happened to be visiting from his new home (well, he's been there a long time now!) in Vermont. He wasn't going to the Magic Castle with us but asked whether I had been with him at the Magic Castle years ago when a guy made a baby appear. I said I thought I would remember something like that, but now I wonder. Was I? Did I? Would I? 5. Kent told me a dream he had had the night before, which I will abbreviate to its ruin. A yellow cobra comes out of a faucet and starts fighting a rat. Then a monkey runs into the room, grabs up the cobra, and begins choking the rat with it! I suggested that the yellow cobra coming out of the faucet meant that Kent needed to pee. 6. In TENDER IS THE NIGHT (the book I brought to read on the airplane) someone's monocle falls out due to a surfeit of emotion! Like in a cartoon! 7. Kent walked by while I was talking on the phone to Dr. Theresa. "Did you tell her about my dream?" he asked. Ha ha! Sure, we kidded him, it was the top of our agenda. Dr. Theresa used to call Kent "Big City" as part of an inside joke. Now, as she decided during the very phone call being described, she's going to call him "Big Maple." Because of Vermont. He has a beard now! Because of, I assume, Vermont. As these shenanigans were taking place I was about to leave for the Magic Castle, so Kent fussily rearranged my ascot (which I had tied myself; I'm not so hot with ties, but noting the ascot loophole in the Magic Castle's dress code, I deduced that an ascot would be easier to tie than a regular necktie... and I was right! An ascot, in its raw appearance, is like a big clown tie). 8. There are some things I can't tell you about the Magic Castle but maybe one day I will. One of them involved the invisible piano player who performs there. I wish I could tell you! Another guy kept making lemons appear out of thin air. Where were those lemons coming from? It was crazy! Magic is crazy. 9. At a Holiday Inn with Julia Pott, Pen, and Kent. "It is happening again," Julia kept saying during the karaoke at the Holiday Inn, purposely and accurately invoking TWIN PEAKS. Everyone there had chosen a sad song, as if by psychic prearrangement. Pen and Julia are especially fine dancers. Kent is a great dancer too, but what I remember is Kent and me sitting at a tall two-top with our really bad drinks, watching the fluid motions of Julia and Pen under the spell of a scrawny white-haired stranger moaning a song of absent love. (Pictured, above, a higher floor of the Holiday Inn.) 10. Back at my own hotel, alone... they were shutting down the bar when I came in... as I was sipping my nightcap a couple sat down next to me, a man and a woman. "The bar is closed," said the bartender, Harvey by name. "But we're getting married tomorrow!" objected the woman. Harvey has been known to do me a favor, so I proclaimed with a flourish, "Oh, allow me to get these two some champagne!" To which the bride-to-be responded quite severely, "No." Then, after a pause, "I want a 'chard.'" So I was like, "Never mind!" She went on: "Champagne is for tomorrow." And I said, "I understand." Why was I trying to force champagne down the throat of these innocent victims? And so to bed, as Samuel Pepys would say. 11. Now we have reached Saturday, and - speaking of Samuel Pepys - a bawdy section of our tale, so be forewarned, as bawdiness was not an area in which I normally dabbled, back in the days when I "blogged." At home on the Saturday in question, Dr. Theresa was suffering the calamity of a football game day. The streets were wild, she reported, and the home team was playing a team called "something like the Cockmasters," an assertion on her part that made both of us laugh even as she said it. "Well, it's something like that," she repeated, and vowed to find out. I begged her not to enter "Cockmasters" into the search engine of the computer. Anyway, it was the Gamecocks, which Dr. Theresa said she liked even less than Cockmasters, given the actual name's association with the practice of animal cruelty. 12. Talked by phone to Megan Abbott. We spent some incredible amount of time (I will say 20 minutes) just parsing the monocle sentence from TENDER IS THE NIGHT (see #6, above): "His monocle fell out, with no whiskers to hide in - he drew himself up." Megan solved it for me. She also said I sounded sedated, like late-stage Judy Garland. From Megan that's a compliment! 13. "I'm happy talking to an idiot." - Rae Gray. 14. Saw Rae Gray and Ashly Burch and many others at a kind of sendoff before Kent returned to Vermont. Talked about books a lot with Rae and Ashly and we laughed uproariously about a number of things, as well as becoming somber and contemplative when the occasion arose. Steve Little was there and when he saw my jotting book he produced his own jotting book in solidarity! Then I admitted I had neglected to bring a pen and he seemed disappointed in me. 14. My friend had a birthday party. Hmm! I can't remember why he's always anonymous. Maybe I made him anonymous because I didn't know him that well when he started appearing on the "blog." Anyway, now he's anonymous forever and subsequently my tales of his birthday party will be shrouded in vagueness and mystery... like why were at least half a dozen cast members of VERONICA MARS there, supplemented by the equally dazzling stars of iZOMBIE and PARTY DOWN? See? Already I've said too much... let me be clear. My friend was not the creator of VERONICA MARS, whom I did meet for the first time that night, however, and who, upon learning that I reside in Mississippi, told me he had played at a club in Jackson in 1985, but he couldn't remember the name. I was pleased to correctly assume he meant a place named W.C. Don's, and to tell him the possibly true fact which I barely recalled hearing somewhere that it had burned to the ground. I played there in 1990. We just missed each other! He swiftly produced a photo of himself with a mullet in front of W.C. Don's. 15. My friend Joey, knowing me to be a huge VERONICA MARS fan, introduced me to Kristen Bell, to whom I remarked how surreal it was for me to see the residents of Neptune (the town where the show takes place) walking around, which prompted her to explain to me the concept of acting, ha ha! I'm making it sound like she thought I didn't know the difference between fiction and reality but that wasn't the case... I hope! No, she was explaining from long experience why people feel and act the way they do when they see someone who performed in something in which they (the viewer) became emotionally invested. But just for a joke (and because it was true) I pretended to conflate another actor from the show with his character, leaning in and murmuring confidentially, "Don't be alarmed, but Logan is standing right behind you." And then an incredible thing happened. Kristen Bell became Veronica Mars! Her voice and posture changed instantly, and she said in character, "That's okay, I have eyes in the back of my head." What a good sport to indulge me so! And what a dexterous display. It was something to witness, and I felt lucky to witness it. Then I ate some creamed corn. 16. The next day Pen and I were out doing stuff and we stopped on a side street. Pen said, "I'm going to park my car better." We were already on the sidewalk. Pen hopped back in his car and pulled up a few inches and immediately ran over a bottle that disintegrated into a million sprinkles of brown glass with a terrible BANG! I jumped and started laughing. We had just been discussing Groucho Marx in the car, and that's where my mind was. "I'm going to park my car better." POW! The timing was perfect. In a movie, his tire would have gone pssssssssssst, but the tire was fine. 17. "You think you're with a decent candy maker and then he starts screamin' at you," is one thing Pen said about Willy Wonka. 18. "It was often easier to give a show than to watch one." - TENDER IS THE NIGHT. 19. Sitting in the airport thinking I have nice shoes but my socks are falling down. As long as I bought an ascot, why not sock garters? 20. Also I saw a man with shoes so shiny they made me ashamed. Maybe his shoes were TOO shiny. Blindingly gleaming they were! Dr. Theresa always says she likes a leather shoe that's been broken in so it has some character. She understands me! 21. Rising to depart from the plane which had returned me to the Memphis airport, I heard a plaintive meowing behind me that made me pine for home. Why, this passenger had been traveling with her cat the whole time and I never knew.

Friday, October 19, 2018

They Deliver

You know I don't "blog" anymore, but McNeil has been reading the entire New York Times for Oct. 1, 1953, so I have little choice but to alert you when he sends me messages like "Gimbels is having a 3-day liquor sale. You can get a 4/5 quart bottle of Town and Racquet bourbon for $3.09. They deliver!"

Monday, October 15, 2018

Yeah I Guess

I was reading an article in the Washington Post about a Roman "vampire burial site," and at the end of the article, they suggested hyperlinks for further reading, which is how I came upon an old article about a guy who believes the earth is flat, so he launched himself in a homemade rocket. And they quoted him: "Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess.... At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight." Never have I more closely identified with a person who believes the earth is flat.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Billy Whiskers Temporarily Revitalizes "Blog"

I don't "blog" anymore, but people can't stop talking about BILLY WHISKERS. Chris Offutt writes in to say he has read all the Billy Whiskers books. McNeil, intrigued by Offutt's revelation of an entire library of Billy Whiskers literature, took to the internet, where he found a favorite cover: BILLY WHISKERS IN MISCHIEF. Surely there will be the devil to pay when that rascally goat Billy Whiskers discovers roller skating.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

An Ambitious Goat

In yesterday's "post" I forgot to include the imdb summary of the movie BILLY WHISKERS: "Billy Whiskers is an ambitious goat who's looking for the right career. He tries driving a taxi, but finds that it doesn't suit him. He finally finds his niche as a fireman, and becomes a hero by rescuing a baby from a burning house."

Friday, October 05, 2018

McNeil Month By Month

It's my friend McNeil's birthday, and you know what that means! Even though I no longer "blog," I am going to tell you what he has been doing every month since the inception of the defunct "blog." When I - due to the cessation of the "blog" - lack a digital record for "hyperlinking" I will mark that entry with an asterisk. Otherwise, feel free to "click" for more information with which to celebrate the continued existence of McNeil. 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 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 cruelly but fairly shuts down my scheme of crossbreeding an apple with a lemon. November 2017: "Death knows my weak spot!" McNeil exclaims.* December 2017: McNeil leafs through CARIBOU TRAVELER. January 2018: McNeil catches a cold and stays in bed watching old game shows, writing from his sickbed: "Bobby Van looks so healthy...but would be dead only 5 years later... GATHER YE ROSEBUDS!"* February 2018: McNeil gives me a good idea about how to win a coupla sawbucks from likely suckers. March 2018: McNeil's complaint about sleeping: "I dream way too much."* April 2018: McNeil watches a movie in which Dean Martin claims to "make a hell of an owl stew.* May 2018: I ask McNeil what lightning is for (see January 2008) and he explains it to me.* June 2018: McNeil's mom stumbles on an old book about the comical dog Marmaduke from McNeil's younger days and is excited to deliver it to him.* July 2018: While walking his dog, McNeil sees a bone fall out of the sky. August 2018: Having made it to season five, McNeil, though a stalwart fan, watches what he considers to be the worst episode of BEWITCHED so far.* September 2018: McNeil finds one page of a history skit we did in ninth grade. October 2018: McNeil emails a still from the silent movie BILLY WHISKERS (above), the subject of an innocuous, decades-long inside joke. Using me as an intermediary, he also consults Ace Atkins about the little-known film version of DARKER THAN AMBER... set in Florida but filmed, as Ace explains, mostly in Germany!*

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Amazing Cigarette Lighter I Don't Care About

There is an amazing cigarette lighter in the Eve Babitz book I'm reading right now and I would tell you about it if I cared about anything.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Third Owl

Well, there have been two more owls in ULYSSES. I don't need to remind YOU that it's not my responsibility to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book, but the third owl is unusual enough to warrant comment, plus it is an actual owl, not - like the first two - a figurative one. It sits on the mantelpiece of Mr. Bloom, "an embalmed owl, matrimonial gift of Alderman John Hooper" with a "clear melancholy wise bright motionless compassionate gaze."

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Farewell, Noble Instrument

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore, but something has happened. Do you remember when a waiter at '21' gave me a pen to keep? Of course you do. Otherwise, you would have a heart of stone. I am sad to tell you that the pen - which, as I calculate, was given to me on the evening of June 1, 2015 - has just run out of ink. Still, here was an instrument of admirable, nay, miraculous stamina. Who knows how long the employees of '21' had used it before one of them passed it along to me? How I will miss it. I jotted something with it almost every day. I was jotting something for a secret job I can't tell you about when it inked its last. Faithful to the end!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Plaintive Hot Dog Reflection

As you know, Megan Abbott and I are in the habit of reading celebrity bios together. Right now we are reading the most astonishingly inept biography yet, I think - the writing and editing (and even the proofreading) so dismal that I shan't name it, though I have to relate that its subject is Mickey Rooney. Like, we have to send paragraphs back and forth to each other for analysis. What do they mean? How did they end up in the book? Was it a production mistake? Something breaks through occasionally... like the weary, plaintive quotation of an interview subject who invested in Mickey's hot dog restaurant: "They sold square hot dogs in a bun. Square hot dogs. I think that says it all." But! There is one loopy paragraph that, while still not good, rises out of the book, leaps off the page, because its tone becomes so unlike any of the other clunky, jumbled passages which make up the rest. The authors are describing an agent of Mickey's later years whose bedroom was filled with raccoons, both living and stuffed. The entire paragraph is worth quoting, if only to demonstrate that I'm not kidding about the writing, but sadly I have only enough energy to type up the end of it: "But it was the raccoons, the raccoons! Those eyes, red in the soft light, were unwavering; they would stare at you as she fed them. You would never forget them." You will have to take my word for it that nothing else in the text matches the urgency of "the raccoons, the raccoons!" and the desperate slip into the second person. For two seconds the writing verges into the expressively personal. Somebody is really haunted by those raccoons.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Never Cried Crack

I was rereading ULYSSES yesterday or the day before and came upon "by the holy farmer, he never cried crack till he brought him home as drunk as a boiled owl"... I don't "blog" anymore. But I do let you know when I read a book with an owl in it. And the idea that owls are drunk or seem drunk is prevalent, so it must be noted.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Action Northam

Spoiler alert for the movie MIMIC, which Dr. Theresa and I were watching last night: when noted action hero Jeremy Northam needs to light his lighter to blow up all the monster bugs, it won't work, and he is forced to strike a spark by using an ice pick against a metal grate. Now! As you may know, I am somewhat like the Ancient Mariner, though my predicament is different. I am forced to roam the earth, noticing things I should have put in my cigarette lighter book but didn't. This scene would have fit comfortably into one of the sections in which I mention sparks being struck by unusual methods OR in my reflection on lighters that won't work at crucial moments in popular culture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Important Bone Happening

You know I stopped "blogging" for good but sometimes something happens that MUST be reported. Like, McNeil was walking his dog today and A BONE FELL OUT OF THE SKY. McNeil took a picture of the bone and sent it to me and here it is. (See also.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

My Slowly Growing Appendix

Hey, you remember how I wrote a book about cigarette lighters then immediately stopped caring about cigarette lighters, but once in a while I see something that really should have gone into my book about cigarette lighters so I add it to a very slowly growing appendix. Well, last night Dr. Theresa and I watched STARGATE, and when an alien kid grows mesmerized by Kurt Russell's cigarette lighter, it speaks to a trope I introduced on page 46, if you want to grab your copy of my cigarette lighter book and pencil it in, because I knew this trope existed, but I didn't provide any examples, because I really couldn't think of any, so I wrote about things that were sort of like it (accurately noting, as does become apparent in STARGATE, "It's always a short leap to the more ominous flare of gunpowder") and now, thanks to watching STARGATE last night, I have an example of the rather gross trope where the white man comes to a "remote" place and blows everybody's mind with his cigarette lighter, goodbye.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I was reading this article ("click" here) that Megan Abbott wrote about Raymond Chandler, and I thought that in the illustration (above) Chandler resembled the actor Edward Norton. So I googled "edward norton" + "raymond chandler" to see if anyone agreed with me and it doesn't appear that anyone does. What came up most often was the movie BIRDMAN, in which Mr. Norton appeared. A surprising number of news outlets seemed to believe that the short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" (which plays a large role in the movie BIRDMAN) was written by Raymond Chandler. One of them... I'll name them and shame them!... IndieWire... IndieWire thinks that BIRDMAN itself is a Raymond Chandler short story! "Based on a Raymond Chandler short story, the narrative centers on a former actor who once played an iconic superhero," claims IndieWire like a bunch of dummies. Okay! Well, I crafted a "tweet" on the subject but it was really too dense for a tweet, so I deleted it, and though I don't "blog" anymore, here we are, and nobody cares, and why should anybody?

Monday, July 09, 2018

Dean Cake Birthday Head

For my birthday McNeil sent this photo of Dean Martin's head coming out of a cake. For the first and only time in his life, Jerry appears to be embarrassed.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Much in the manner that James Joyce wanted scholars to pore over his works for entire lifetimes, I am going to spend the weeks and months to come trying to figure out this joke book that Ace Atkins gave me. It is reputedly by Milton Berle, though I suspect he had some help, if you want to call it help. I'm not sure some of these things are jokes! I know it is a joke book because right at the top there it says "Milton Berle's Joke Book." But - and this is a matter for further study, I'll have to get back to you - it seems to aspire to a narrative structure, which seems uncalled for. One section is just Milton Berle imagining what other people famous at the time might say in apparently nonexistent movies that he seems to be creating in his febrile head. (Parenthetically, I will digress: more accurately, upon further scrutiny, the section purports to be made up of movie scripts that a talking elephant named Klinemine Klinemine is reading at the library. You can see why I'm going to need to spend some time with the text.) I will quote one example in full. "BETTY HUTTON (after a quarrel): Leave this house. I never want to see you again. Go this instant. BING CROSBY: I have one last request to make before I go. BETTY (sweetly, oh, very sweetly): Well, what is it? BING (brutally): Before I leave forever, would you mind getting off my lap?" Now if that isn't straight out of the Circe section of ULYSSES, what is? Maybe it's the "sweetly, oh, very sweetly" that sounds Joycean. And the "Klinemine Klinemine" of course: pure multilingual punning and mystical doubling in the tradition of FINNEGANS WAKE. Well! But is it a joke? The Bing Crosby thing, I mean? I don't see how. Why Betty Hutton's sudden change of mood, for example? Are we to take it that her instigating rage was disingenuous? Why? And wouldn't the "joke," such as it is, work better on the radio, assuming it could work at all? In what way could it be convincingly filmed? I feel strongly that Milton Berle isn't providing enough context. In the pure terms of the joke as a platonic object, what's the setup? Are we supposed to believe that Milton Berle is that experimental, or that the elephant with whom he has made friends for the purposes of the plot is that experimental, or, to be as accurate as possible, that the elephant who is friends with Milton Berle goes to the library and seeks out movie scripts that seem to have been cut up and pasted back together by William S. Burroughs, so devoid of traditional structure as to verge on the abstract? On the next page there's a joke about zoo sex, I guess it's all right. I know I'm not "blogging" anymore but I need somewhere to thoroughly analyze this book, which I would truly believe was produced in a lab by a crude form of artificial intelligence if it weren't so old. (PS I didn't realize it was Bloomsday until after I first "posted" this! Dear me, how precocious I am. It's a real freaking shame I don't "blog" anymore.)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

My Greatest Failing

The skimpiest (if not the shortest) chapter of the book I wrote about cigarette lighters is the one on built-in car cigarette lighters. Serious research was elusive. I called the editor of ANTIQUE AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE for some suggested reading on the subject of the very first car cigarette lighters and his response, if I may paraphrase, was "Eh." I read an entire book about Henry Ford's commercial enterprises and found only (as it pertained to my subject) that he was a rabid anti-tobacco activist, but there was no mention of whether that had any effect on the lighters he did or didn't install in his cars. The only funny part was that his son Edsel used to sit in his office and sullenly smoke cigarettes to get on his dad's nerves. He was the only employee of Ford allowed to smoke! Well! None of this improves the skimpiness of my "car cigarette lighter" chapter. So it is the case that while I no longer care at all about what I left out of my cigarette lighter book ("click" here for a partial list), I do bristle with a sense of regret whenever I see an imaginative use of a car cigarette lighter in a movie, such as when Dr. Theresa and I were watching LEPRECHAUN the other night and a quick-thinking Jennifer Aniston burns the attacking leprechaun's nose with a car cigarette lighter.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018


Lee Durkee wrote in some time ago to observe that I truly appear to have stopped "blogging" as I constantly and accurately claim to have done. It is the indisputable case that May was my least "bloggy" month ever in all my months and years of "blogging." Why, I even took a trip to Los Angeles in May, and brought along my special jotting book and jotted down some of my special jottings, but I did not "blog" them out. Lee speculated that maybe owls have been scarce. There was, in fact, a second owl in the Roy Blount Jr. book, and not a metaphorical one, either, but as you know, I am not required to tell you about EVERY owl in every book, just one owl per book. I'm glad we have cleared that up. Occasionally I notice jelly in books as well. Like in this Orson Welles biography Megan and I are reading. It's Simon Callow's multi-volume biography, which we are reading out of order for reasons that need not concern you. Anyway, now we're on Volume Two, and James Agee, in a contemporary review, describes Orson in JANE EYRE as having eyes like "side-orders of jelly."

Friday, May 04, 2018

Failure to Launch

I'm just as sick and tired of telling you every time I read a book with an owl in it as you are of hearing about it. But this is where we are. As you know, Megan Abbott and I have a little two-person show-biz book club, which, at one time, unbeknownst to you, we expanded to include Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR, using the rationalization that the rascally knuckleballer had acted in THE LONG GOODBYE. Well! That opened us up, eventually, to ABOUT THREE BRICKS SHY OF A LOAD, Roy Blount Jr.'s book about the 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers. (They, of course, included Mean Joe Greene, who made a famous Coca-Cola commercial, and Terry Bradshaw, who went on to act in such films as FAILURE TO LAUNCH, but we didn't think of that.) Anyhow, early in the book one of Roy's ancestors is spoken of as being "poor as owl dung."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Rehabilitated Owl Ceremony

I don't "blog" anymore but hey, I got this email from Abby the other day: "Last night I ran a 5K to raise money for an organization that rehabilitates injured wild animals in the Atlanta area, and instead of just passing out water along the way like they do at most races, the volunteers were holding rehabilitated owls for inspiration to keep running. If we placed in our age category (I did!) they took pictures of us with the owls as part of the medal ceremony. Best of all, the overall winners of the entire race won paintings that had been painted by the owls. (One of the paintings was actually by a flying squirrel.) I thought that was information that you should have." Yes, Abby, I like everything about it except for my own mental image of owls and squirrels being forced to paint pictures.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Child of Ruins

Sat in the coffee shop reading THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS, freshly purchased from Square Books, and there is an owl in it, which shouldn't have surprised me and, in fact, did not surprise me. "The Owl stepped forward, a bit crazed,/ and said: Abandoned sites are my lair./ I was born in and am a child of ruins,/ so don't think I go to such places to secretly drink." Yeah, sure, you and me both, owl! (Translation by Sholeh Wolpe.)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Damn Owl

Reading Ace Atkins's latest novel in manuscript form and just reached an owl, and not just any owl: "a damn owl." By coincidence, I'm holding down the pages I've finished with this owl paperweight (seen above) given to me by Megan Abbott's mother. In case some of you have forgotten, I make a note of it every time I read a book with an owl in it. No, I don't recall why.

Monday, April 16, 2018


A tweet from Brian reminds me there is an owl in Thurber's FABLES FOR OUR TIME.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Big Dorrit

I was right: LITTLE DORRIT has an owl in it. Big Dorrit chides Little Dorrit like so: "It's no use staring. A little owl could stare." So I was also right in my groundbreaking prediction that owl eyes are shaping up to be the dominant symbol of 2018. Put it in the bank! I am sorry it took me so long to get to the owl. I just have so many celebrity tell-alls to read with Megan Abbott (next up, Joseph Cotten! Say... did you know Kent Osborne once drove Joseph Cotten's widow in a limousine? But that's another story). I would like to say that Little Dorrit's sister is not really named Big Dorrit. I just put it that way for your amusement. One book that happily interrupted LITTLE DORRIT was THE LONELY WITNESS by Bill Boyle. I'll be "in conversation" with Bill (that's WILLIAM BOYLE on his book covers!) at Square Books on May 2, when THE LONELY WITNESS comes out. Don't worry, I'll remind you!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Al's Favorite

I don't know why I ever made Al Pacino one of my handy "blog" "labels": I haven't "blogged" about him since 2011. But! I suppose it was all leading to this. So! You remember when Jerry Lewis died. It wasn't too long ago. And I cobbled together a hasty "post" containing 101 ways to appreciate Jerry. Today I saw an interview with Al Pacino in which he describes a scene from THE BELLBOY as "one of his favorites of all time" and draws an implicit comparison between his style of acting and Jerry's. It's just the kind of thing I would have put on my list, and so, though I don't "blog" anymore, I'm adding it here as an appendix. Oh! And you know what? I feel I've been vindicated for the time in 2010 I claimed to have caught Pacino imitating Jerry in a movie. "Click" here to find out which movie! I know you won't. That's why I don't "blog" anymore.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Drunken Owl Butler

Laura Lippman recommended JUNIOR MISS by Sally Benson, a slim collection of understated, warm short stories about a girl and her family. So last night I read the one in which our protagonist, Judy Graves, appears in an all-girl junior-high production of THE TEMPEST as Stephano, a character described in the program notes as "a drunken butler." So... "She reeled onto the stage, a bottle in her hand. Her smooth, dark-brown hair was covered with a straw-colored wig, the tip of her nose was painted a bright red. Her clothes were awry and she looked as tight as an owl." We come again, then, to the notion that owls are drunk or appear to be drunk, catalogued here for your convenience.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Something of the Young

I was remarking to Megan Abbott that James Dean's performance in EAST OF EDEN really had something of the young Jerry Lewis in it, and Megan told me that James Dean actually worked with Jerry in SAILOR BEWARE (as seen above; that's James Dean nearest to Jerry in the background). James Dean's one line in the movie is "He's a professional!" And it's about Jerry Lewis. But as you know, I don't "blog" anymore, and the former facts are not enough to get me temporarily "blogging." But! I watched SAILOR BEWARE today and there is a scene in which Dean Martin is smooching with Betty Hutton and Jerry intervenes, volunteering to trade places with Betty Hutton! And here we are. I have mentioned before ("click" here) that the supposed subtext between Dean and Jerry is not subtext at all, but plain, simple text. And this confirmation is reason enough to "blog," I think. As long as I have you here, I think I will mention that I watched CONTEMPT tonight. Jack Palance's character is named Jerry, and I couldn't help wondering whether Godard had Jerry Lewis in mind. He always has Jerry Lewis in mind! And I could imagine the character "Jerry" played by Jerry with some of the imposing menace he displayed in THE KING OF COMEDY. But! When Jack Palance throws a film can like it's a discus, with such startling physicality, well! I've never said this before, but Jerry couldn't have done it better. I do believe Godard might have had Jerry in mind, though, because he certainly had Dean in mind: Michel Piccoli's character explicitly idolizes Dean Martin, and wears a hat, he says, to look like him:
If I were still "blogging" I would mention that Dr. Theresa and I could not agree tonight at which theater in Atlanta we saw CONTEMPT on the big screen. We did agree that we saw it with our friend Heather, with whom I used to be in a band. But I'm not "blogging" anymore, so that kind of thing is immaterial. I do realize that I can't stop thinking of Jerry in movies he is not in (EAST OF EDEN, CONTEMPT), and that probably means there is something seriously wrong with me. CONTEMPT ends with the word "Silencio!" which put me in mind of MULHOLLAND DR., which put me in mind of Jerry Lewis. Please send help.


Welcome once again to "McNeilileaks," where I publish the shocking private contents of my friend McNeil's emails. McNeil writes: "If you're so convinced every book will have an owl (or owl reference) in it, you should stand outside a bookstore with a $100 bill and bet exiting customers your hundred to their $20 that the book they just bought has an owl in it. And odds are you win yourself twenty bucks! A good hustle." I'm with McNeil on this one.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Neither Do I

Remember my nonfiction book about cigarette lighters? Neither do I. Unfortunately, I keep being reminded of it. I just rewatched Tati's MON ONCLE. When the wind keeps blowing out Tati's matches he tosses each useless match out the window of his brother-in-law's car. Then his brother-in-law hands him the car's electric cigarette lighter. Tati uses it to light his pipe and then nonchalantly tosses it out the window. See, I know just where this should have gone in my cigarette lighter book. But it came out in January 2016, so I guess I'm screwed. It would have been interesting to contrast Tati's innocent tossing of the cigarette lighter with the bitter way (recounted in the book) John Belushi and Hal Needham toss cigarette lighters out of car windows. No it wouldn't have been.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

They're Swiveling!

It behooves me to remind you from time to time that although I am not "blogging" anymore I do continue to update the big, long list I keep of books I read that have owls in them, because every book I read seems to end up having an owl in it. Furthermore, I should remind you of my startlingly accurate prediction that owl eyes, specifically, were shaping up to be the hot trend of 2018. And so we come to FINAL CUT, a book about the making of the movie HEAVEN'S GATE, which Megan and I are reading in our never-ending cavalcade of show biz tell-alls. You will be glad to hear that an executive is described as having "owllike eyes," and not only that, these owllike eyes are "swiveling... behind his huge spectacles, glinting in the early-morning sunlight like windshields." And while you might think that conceit is a little jumbled, please do not forget the "suicidal owl" in the Charles Portis novel NORWOOD, which crashes into the windshield of a bus. In conclusion, this gives me permission to remind everyone that the rollerskating scene (my favorite!) in HEAVEN'S GATE inspired Jake's blissful viola-playing-while-rollerskating scene in ADVENTURE TIME.