Wednesday, December 30, 2020
"... it is so easy to confess to a beautiful mistake!" - POSTHUMOUS MEMOIRS OF BRAS CUBAS, by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson. Also: "It was an old streetlamp, sad, dark, and curved like a question mark."
Monday, December 21, 2020
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Well, you know, it was a pretty big year in a lot of ways. Back on March 7, I was happy as a clam, just counting up how many wienies they were roasting in BEACH BLANKET BINGO without a care in the world. By April 3, I was forced to admit we were living in what I called, in my own colorful phrase, "strange modern times." Nothing else happened until May 11, when I learned that "Idaho" doesn't mean anything, it's just a word some weirdo made up out of nothing so everyone would like him. In somewhat related news, I wondered what the actual definition of a weed was for two months before making any effort to find out. So that took up a good portion of the year. I enjoyed all the time I spent sitting in a chair, idly wondering what a weed was. My friend McNeil had a dream about Dean Martin and fishing poles and "long fluorescent light bulbs" being put into his mouth so make of that what you will. Maybe the drugstore pulled a fast one on us, but we still love them. What choice do we have? That's life for you in this wonderful, blunderful, thrill-a-minute year with a surprise around every corner.
Friday, December 11, 2020
"I would imagine an old devil seated between two sacks, the sack of life and the sack of death, taking coins from life and giving them to death, and counting them thus: 'Another one gone... Another one gone... Another one gone... Another one gone...'" - POSTHUMOUS MEMOIRS OF BRAS CUBAS, by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson
Wednesday, December 09, 2020
You know how we're having this pandemic we're having? So now we order things from the drugstore and they deliver them. Like, the other day Dr. Theresa ordered, among other items, a pair of "small scissors." So they sent over some tweezers that cost $35! Some kind of everlasting tweezers, according to the packaging material... coated in titanium! And shining with a golden sheen. Dr. Theresa was pretty surprised by that $35 price tag when she saw it! It reminded me of when I accidentally bought an expensive brush that time, remember that? Only I did it in person, and this was sneakier. Did the drugstore think, "She needs some small scissors... she probably means these $35 tweezers, which are not scissors, but will last forever"? I feel confident it was an honest mistake! But that's not why I brought you here. I wanted you to know that the brand name is Tweezerman. Tweezerman!
Tuesday, December 08, 2020
"Eugenia smiled, her eyes sparkling, as if a small butterfly with golden wings and diamond eyes were flying around inside her head..." That's my kind of writing! It's from POSTHUMOUS MEMOIRS OF BRAS CUBAS, by Machado de Assis, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson. I have no other place to note it, so I note it here. As long as I'm here, I could tell you about a little email exchange that McNeil and I had recently. I told McNeil about BLESSED EVENT, a movie from 1932, which, I noticed while watching it recently, contains a passing allusion to television. A character ponders whether Dick Powell's sex appeal will translate to television, and another character makes a joke, which I paraphrase here: "Sex over the televison? It'll never catch on!" And I was filled with astonishment, as I often am, for no good reason. I was astonished, specifically, that the audience for BLESSED EVENT in 1932 would have been expected to know what television was. Well, right away, McNeil found a wikipedia page for a 1932 televison series called THE TELEVISION GHOST, which was just a guy dressed as a ghost for 15 minutes a week, telling you a story about how he got murdered. It seems to be legit, and of course I trust McNeil, but I could find scant secondary sources supporting its existence. When I checked the New York Times archives for "Television Ghost," I found that the august institution never saw fit to report on it. The combo of words did bring up articles with interesting headlines from the appropriate time period: WIZARD SCIENCE IS ANNIHILATING SPACE (that one had the subhead "Airplane, Televisor, and Radiophone are Signs of Wonders Yet to Come") and HOW TO EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE? SCIENCE IN A QUANDARY and RADIO IMAGES AND 'GHOSTS' ARE DANCING IN SPACE. When I looked up the broadcaster of THE TELEVISION GHOST (the station W2XAB) I did find reviews for some of their contemporaneous programming, such as when Mayor Jimmy Walker (pictured, above) literally (I think) lifted a curtain from the "sensitive photoelectric cells, or radio 'eyes,'" to reveal George Gershwin playing the piano, among other entertainments. Anyway, then McNeil sent me an article about a machine they have over there in China that heats itself up to ten times hotter than the sun. What could go wrong? The next day or so, McNeil and I ended up in a lenghty, discursive disagreement (?) about Bogart and Bacall's house keys, and what hidden meaning we could draw from a photo we saw of them. When asked whether it was our most pointless discussion to date, McNeil announced his intention to "crunch the numbers" on that.
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
Welcome back to McNeilileaks, where I exclusively leak the contents of my friend McNeil's emails! It seems we haven't done one of these since the beginning of the pandemic, when McNeil was thinking about inventing powdered meat. I wonder how the intervening months have changed him! Let's take a look. "I think I ate too much condensed milk," McNeil says. It is the entirety of an email entitled "Yuck."
Sunday, November 29, 2020
So we were watching Alfred Hitchcock's SABOTEUR today, and I noted that Robert Cummings held a match under a sprinkler to set off an alarm so he could escape from a building. Now, there is an entire section of my cigarette lighter book about just that plot device, and whether or not it would truly work. I very much regret not including the example from SABOTEUR in my cigarette lighter book, as it is doubtlessly one of the earliest on record. Is it? I have no idea. The funny part (?) is that no explanation is offered. The filmmakers appear to believe that the audience will get what Robert Cummings is up to right away. If so, to what great, collective precedent was the mind expected to leap? To find out more would require research, an activity to which I am entirely disinclined, seeing as how the book came out so very long ago. Now! I feel we should talk about something else besides my lamentable cigarette lighter book. I owe you that much! So. Before we watched the movie, we heated up some leftovers, and I fetched a container of sour cream with which to gently daub them. I may have sung a little song about it. "Sour cream/ It's everybody's dream." The song may have gone something like that. Well, Dr. Theresa and I have been married for 25 years now, so I could tell right away that maybe she wasn't too crazy about me standing around singing the praises of sour cream in a loud, dramatic baritone. What do you want from her? We've been in lockdown since March! So! Then we watched the movie. At one point, Robert Cummings stumbles into the home of a benevolent stranger, who proclaims that he dabbles in musical composition. As if to prove his point, the guy sits down at the piano and tickles the ivories. So I started singing, pretending to be the guy, "Sour cream! Sour cream!" Anyway, it got a laugh. Wouldn't that have been something? If he had begun singing about sour cream? It certainly was a jolly time. In another part of the movie there's this baby that's like two years old, and it keeps throwing a ball to people. I was like, wow, this little baby is throwing the ball with more accuracy than I would display, were I to attempt the same. Then I thought up funny stories to myself about Alfred Hitchcock training this baby to throw a ball like that... perhaps with the aid of a string tied to its arm! That would be horrible, of course, but it was all a part of my wonderful imagination that makes every day a joy.
Monday, November 23, 2020
Last night I was watching NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART and Cary Grant and Barry Fitzgerald went to a bar. Cary Grant started playing the piano while Barry Fitzgerald sat at a two-top, placing stray bits of loose tobacco into a sort of little funnel on a machine, which seemed to be an amenity of the establishment. From the bottom of the machine protruded what appeared to be a freshly rolled cigarette. "Hmm," I thought to myself. "I recall writing a book about cigarette lighters, and in one part I discuss the personal cigarette-rolling machines of the early twentieth century, as opposed to the industrial cigarette-rolling machine, first perfected in 1880 by James Bonsack, which I also discuss. Honestly, I had no idea what I was talking about. Yet I can't help but wonder with my curious mind whether Barry Fitzgerald is using one of the former in this scene!" Well, friends, I hopped on the old computer and did some research. Yes, I did some research for about an hour, getting nowhere, and then I remembered, hey, your stupid book came out four years ago, who cares?
Saturday, November 21, 2020
I was watching TO CATCH A THIEF, and there were Cary Grant and Grace Kelly eating chicken and drinking beer. Naturally, I was like, I must email Kent right away! Kent loves eating chicken and drinking beer! I entitled the resulting email "Chicken and Beer," which reminded me that Kent had eaten in the Atlanta airport once, having stumbled upon his ideal restaurant there, a restaurant delightfully named "Chicken and Beer." I did not report on the matter at the time because I had given up "blogging" forever. Kent emailed back that he had recently fried chicken for himself for the first time, with pleasant results. Now, for the record, I must say that Grace Kelly appears to be eating a sandwich, not chicken. Maybe it is a chicken sandwich! We can only hope. I can't recall if the type of sandwich was specified. Cary Grant really appears to go to town on his chicken, but when he is done, and tosses the remains into the picnic basket, I can't say that it looks as if he has really had much chicken at all. In fact, I was appalled at the amount of chicken he appeared to be wasting! Then he starts smooching it up with Grace Kelly, and kind of leans her backwards over the open picnic basket, and I could only imagine that her hair was getting on the chicken. Perhaps I was focusing on the wrong thing. In conclusion, I happened to be emailing my friend Megan about TO CATCH A THIEF and, in response, she brought up, independently, of all scenes, not knowing of my recent correspondence on the matter, the chicken scene! Chicken is in the air. And in the hair!
Monday, November 02, 2020
As I humorously tweeted earlier today, "Watching a Doris Day movie last night, there was a song lyric 'see the clown falling down, it's the best show in town' and I thought what town is this? They need more options in this town!" Now, if I'm going to be honest, it's clear from context that the singers are referring to the whole circus, not just the clown falling down, when they claim "it's the best show in town." Still, the lyric, which is by no less a genius than Lorenz Hart, if the credits are to be believed, lends itself to humorous misinterpretation, and so I stand by my tweet. On the other hand, the song is performed during a parade that has, like, a dozen snow-white horses outfitted with Pegasus wings, and (unrelated to the horses) the most convincing ape makeup and pantomime I have seen outside of Kubrick's 2001. Also, they have a caged Martha Raye in a bright red lion costume. Now, leaving aside the fact that the plot centers around a rundown circus that is about to go broke - in which case, maybe cut back on the elaborate horse costumes - I have to admit this "show" looks pretty great, maybe it is the best show in town, what the hell do I know?
Sunday, November 01, 2020
Speaking of commercials, I just saw a dog food commercial where a guy says, with apparent sincerity, "I didn't piece it together that dogs eat food." Nothing in the ad suggests that it is ironic or cute. He is supposed to be a regular fella like you and me who doesn't get how dogs work.
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Phil wrote to say that in a recent viewing of the Chuck Norris vehicle INVASION USA, he noticed several Atlanta filming locations we might recognize. I wrote back that I retained but a single vague memory of INVASION USA, which was that Phyllis Diller was on TV in the background in one scene, the details of which I could not recall. I wasn't even certain the so-called memory was accurate. But Phil wrote again, to assure me that I was correct! His entire reply bears contemplation: "A couple has sex on the beach while [Phyllis Diller is] on tv. A terrorist kills the lovers, laughs at the tv, then shoots it too."
Friday, October 30, 2020
Unlike everyone else, we still have a TV and sometimes watch "TV broadcasts" that have "commercials" in between the segments of "programming." So that's how I saw a commercial the other day for this stuff you squirt in water to give it flavor. And the commercial had this guy crawling across the desert, but he doesn't want water, exactly, he wants this stuff you squirt in water to give it flavor. And I thought WAIT A MINUTE! Because Peggy on MAD MEN pitched this same idea for Sno-Ball brand shaved ice treats, and Don thought so little of it that he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. But now, in the actual present in which we live, somebody finally thought the idea was... good enough! I would also like to say that I saw a Keebler cookie commercial where a Keebler elf is using binoculars to spy on an unsuspecting family! He says something like, "Wow, what a special family!" I may be paraphrasing slightly. But anyway, he's spying on them from a distance, using his binoculars, so it comes off a little creepy. At no point does the elf try to make ordinary contact with the family.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Reading in this Wagner book about a guy who went to prison for publishing "mildly erotic poetry." Sounds like to me - and this is pure conjecture - he had some brazenly erotic poetry in mind, but then he thought, hmm, if I tone it down to mildly erotic, maybe I can stay out of prison! Anyway, it didn't work.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
You know how Megan and I have our little club where we read certain books, and the current one is about a guy rehearsing the role of Guildenstern in Toronto. I haven't told you that Richard Burton plays Hamlet. But anyway! Usually, I feel, I am about 2-5 pages behind Megan in our reading. This time, somehow, I sped ahead at an ungodly rate. So, while Megan catches up, I have been dipping into Alex Ross's new book about Wagner. Somehow, independently, I stumbled onto the fact that Richard Burton had starred as Wagner in an 8-hour feature film (?), which was cut up and distributed in various versions. At least that's my understanding of the piece, which may be flawed - my understanding, I mean, as usual. But I did find an 8-hour feature film version and watched (I checked) one minute and twenty-eight seconds of it before texting Megan, "It's good so far." Normally I wouldn't bother you with such matters, having given up "blogging" the day our TV exploded in 2016, but as you know, I have resumed a more vigorous "blogging" regimen during our trying times in the interest of soothing away your cares and woes. You're welcome!
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Watched the Elvis movie DOUBLE TROUBLE today. It starts with him singing the theme song about how he's got double trouble, "twice as much as anybody else." And my first reaction was to say, "Yep! The math checks out." Because double trouble is twice as much as regular trouble. But! Then I started thinking... "twice as much as anybody else?" If so, Elvis would have to assume that the person with the MOST TROUBLE IN THE WORLD (aside from him) had only half as much trouble as Elvis, which doesn't seem likely. DOUBLE TROUBLE struck me as the strangest Elvis movie I have ever seen, and he made some weird ones. I jotted down a few strange things about it in one of my jotting books I usually take on trips, but nobody goes on trips anymore. 1. Robert Altman fave Michael Murphy is in this movie! He seems to be playing... wait. I should mention right now that I'm about to lay down major spoilers for the Elvis movie DOUBLE TROUBLE. Okay! Here we go. Michael Murphy seems to be playing Elvis's good-natured fresh-faced romantic rival. But! He turns out to be a psychotic assassin. So that was a surprise. He and Elvis get into a kind of martial arts fight, and Elvis KILLS MICHAEL MURPHY! Okay, I mean, Elvis ducks out of the way and Michael Murphy makes a leap and falls into a well and dies. 2. Remember, this is a list of just a few of the strange things about DOUBLE TROUBLE. Oh! Elvis is forced to sing a rockin' version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." It hurts! 3. Most (?) of the plot is about whether Elvis can hold out until his love interest becomes of legal age (!!!). 4. All right. So Elvis is going around Europe, and I thought, given the title, there would be a prince or a duke or somebody who looks exactly like Elvis. You know that plot. But! There is naught of the sort, save a vague mention that Elvis's girlfriend's aunt looks just like her??? It comes up a few times in passing conversation. But unless I missed something, we never see the aunt. So the promise of some identity comedy based on lookalikes (such as Elvis's KISSIN' COUSINS) is dangled out there and snatched away. There is no good reason (unless, again, I walked out of the room for a moment and missed something) for this movie to be called DOUBLE TROUBLE. 5. Finally, this film has much truck with the uncanny, as Freud called it. There are a lot of creepy masks, weird doll-like figures, mannequin heads (see above) and the like... a definite fascination with the carnivalesque, to use one of Dr. Theresa's favorite phrases from grad school - indeed a term she still finds useful today. And so do I, because sure enough, there is no better... wait. I was going to wrap it all up with a nice bow there, but I just remembered: 6. A minor character who has a mental illness and thinks Elvis is her husband.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
As you know, Megan Abbott and I have read several dozen "show biz" books together, stretching back to the long-faded glory of the aptly named Doomed Book Club. Currently, we have landed on a volume of letters by the actor William Redfield, from when he was in Toronto, rehearsing the role of Guildenstern in HAMLET. Not even Rosencrantz! Yes, yes, we know how to have a good time. Another thing you know about me is that I keep a list of books I read that have owls in them, hoping to support my theory that every book has an owl in it. Authors cannot resist the power of the owl! And so, fairly early in the letters, we run across Redfield's description of a director watching an actor "with the eyes of an owl." [It is the director who has the eyes of an owl, not the actor. - ed.] As bonus content, I will tell you that in the VERY SAME LETTER, Redfield refers to Jerry Lewis as "stupendously talented," which it somewhat pains William Redfield to admit, because Jerry Lewis does not have what William Redfield thinks of as "taste." I'll tell you something else Jerry Lewis doesn't have... the need to rehearse Guildenstern in Toronto and write letters about it. Ha ha, I kid the late William Redfield, whose life, now that I look it up on wikipedia, was cut tragically short. :(
Friday, October 09, 2020
I'm rewatching MAD MEN... for the first time, I think? Anyway, last night there was a minor character and the actor who played him looked just like Bob Hope. I did a double take! I feebly reached for my phone, so that I could take a snapshot of the screen for you, but then the scene was over, and I was too tired to do anything about it. So anyway, if you ever rewatch MAD MEN, look out for Season 4, Episode 5 (I think it was) and maybe you will see someone who looks like Bob Hope too!
Sunday, October 04, 2020
As you well know, and have told your children, I stopped "blogging" on April 27, 2016, the day our TV blew up. Oh, sure, I dipped in a toe from time to time, just to be sure the site wasn't hijacked by crooks selling counterfeit vitamins. And then, of course, we had our big fat worldwide crisis and I ratcheted up the "blogging" a little to keep you, the people of the world, cheerful and happy. All of this is to explain why I missed celebrating McNeil's birthday on the "blog" last year. Shamefully, all I "blogged" about in the October of 2019 was the novel DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT and a slang term that Dr. Theresa and I heard on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. What I had forgotten, specifically, was my yearly update of everything that McNeil has done since 2006. Now, in the old days, each thing that McNeil had done was accompanied by a "hyperlink," by the "clicking on" of which you could further educate yourself about McNeil. As my "blogging" came to the shocking end described above, I continued to print the facts of what McNeil did every month, but without the helpful "hyperlinks," so you just had to trust my sources. The latter sort of entry I marked with an asterisk for your convenience. And now we find ourselves a year behind in research! Did this mean extra trouble for the team? Let me answer that by saying that no amount of trouble is significant when it comes to wishing McNeil a happy birthday by telling you everything he has done since late 2006. Here then we bring you our most vigorously updated installment ever of MCNEIL MONTH BY MONTH, with two years of new material! 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, 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!* November 2018: McNeil asks me whether Jack Lemmon was left handed. I don't know.* December 2018: McNeil tells me about deluxe reissues of two Paul McCartney albums I've never heard of.* January 2019: McNeil says he only ever bought one cassette tape in his life. (It was Bruce Springsteen's "The River.")* February 2019: McNeil watches IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and finds it difficult to believe a hardware store would close that long for lunch.* March 2019: McNeil tells me about a used car dealer in his town who secretly dealt drugs and would use his commercials to let people know a shipment had come in. If this guy's dog was on the hood of his car in the commercial, he was ready to deal some drugs!* April 2019: McNeil is thinking about the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.* May 2019: McNeil follows up on an email from 2015.* June 2019: Working on a secret project with McNeil. It never comes to fruition. July 2019: McNeil sees a guy in a parking lot trying unsuccessfully to fit a rolled-up rug in his car.* August 2019: McNeil cuts down his apple tree. September 2019: McNeil remarks that Brendan Gleeson should play Donald Trump... a prediction that recently came true!* October 2019: McNeil is at the dentist's office, where the muted cartoon on the television provides the caption "frightened quacking."* November 2019: McNeil is shirt shopping when he realizes that the age of some of his old shirts makes it likely that any new shirt he buys might be the last shirt he will ever need.* December 2019: McNeil watches the old Frosty the Snowman cartoon (see illustration above) and is disappointed that Frosty lets himself get trapped in the hothouse again.* January 2020: There's a new vending machine at McNeil's workplace. It dispenses "gloves, knee pads, safety vests - even socks."* February 2020: A comic book cover McNeil likes. March 2020: McNeil ponders inventing "powdered meat." April 2020: McNeil misremembers an idea we discussed in 2005. May 2020: Something McNeil and I noticed in 2014 comes up. June 2020: McNeil gets seven shots of novacaine.* July 2020: McNeil begins noticing obelisks. August 2020: McNeil goes fishing with Dean Martin in the realm of dreams. September 2020: McNeil finds an article that his grandmother clipped from a newspaper... on the back is an intriguing but incomplete item about murder among circus performers.* October 2020: McNeil tells me about a fusion reactor in France.* You know, McNeil's birthday doesn't arrive until tomorrow, but I'm going to "post" this now because I worked on it all morning, and I'm afraid it will disappear and I'll have to do it all again. Which would be an honor!
Thursday, October 01, 2020
Monday, September 21, 2020
Still reading this book about the making of THE WILD BUNCH, and the author continues to dump on comedy every few pages, for reasons that elude me. Most recently his victims have included GIDGET, PILLOW TALK, and the Flubber movies. I'm worried about him! However, a person named "Owl" is mentioned in passing, so it is with mixed feelings that I hereby put his book on my list of books with owls in them.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Julia Pott sent me a lovely book through the services of the US mail. The book is named THE MAN WHO COULD CALL DOWN OWLS, and there is nothing metaphorical about the title, this guy is really getting out there and calling down some owls. Even were that not so, the book would certainly earn its place on my famous list of books I have read with owls in them... and in my heart!
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
I was watching a version of RICHARD II and let's just say things weren't going great for Richard II. He put it poetically, of course: "night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing." Friends, when I heard that, as you can well imagine, I sprang from my chair in a dither. It was the biggest thing that has happened around here since the commencement of the unpleasantness. Now, I had to dig out my copy of RICHARD II to double check it, because the actor playing Richard (this may have been the work of my untrustworthy old ears) seemed to pronounce it "night-howls." "What are night-howls?" I wondered. "Leave it to Shakespeare!" I may have chuckled wisely. Larks and owls go together better than larks and howls, but what do I know? Anyway, I checked, and yes, they are owls, not howls, though I was reminded of how, in my lamentable second book, I invented a French scientist who pronounced owls as "howls," which was my bizarre idea, at the time, of a comical French accent.
Monday, September 14, 2020
The other morning at 4:18 AM I had - and recorded here - the big idea that someone should cast the same actor as both Claudius and the ghost of Hamlet's father. So last night I was watching the 2009 version of HAMLET starring David Tennant, and guess what? It's been done. So I felt the need to tell you I'm not the big brain I thought I was. That seems like too short, and too obvious, of a message, so I'll change the subject and tell you that though I'm just 20 pages into the book that Megan and I are reading about the making of THE WILD BUNCH, the author has already found time and space to call beach movies "stupid," the work of Lucille Ball's production company "idiot-box pablum" and Jim Hutton "annoyingly goofball" in "most of his films." Most of them! So I'm starting to get the feeling he doesn't think very highly of comedy, humor, jokes, general happiness, and the laughter of innocent children. I'm no stranger to the opinion. Someone expresses it to me nearly every day. But comedy - particularly its relative importance in art - has nothing to do with this dude's book as far as I can see, so the fact that he feels the need to trash it once every seven pages is fascinatingly perverse.
Monday, September 07, 2020
Well, hello. I thought you'd like to hear about this astonishing coincidence. I was eating some cold leftovers in front of the TV. That's not the coincidence! As I ate, I watched some of a Doris Day movie I had recorded for the purpose. At the conclusion of my repast, I turned off the movie, at which point the regular TV came on automatically. It was tuned to TCM, which happened to be playing a Tom Waits concert film. At the very moment of the program's sudden commencement I caught Tom Waits himself mid-sentence, expressing, through stage patter, his wish to purchase a novelty cigarette lighter "as big as an encyclopedia." If you are my friend, you will appreciate the nature of the coincidence. If I am being honest, however, there is at best a 50-50 chance I would have included Tom Waits's hypothetical "cigarette lighter as big as an encyclopedia" in my book about cigarette lighters, so I have decided not to add it to the official appendix at this time.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
This "post" will include subject matter that some people may find morbid and upsetting! But at least what I have to say is of no interest. So, I was rewatching SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL on McNeil's recommendation. I believe he commented on its fresh approach to... hell, I don't know. He liked the car chase. I still didn't think much of it, though this time I was taken with Lauren Bacall's unusual performance... mostly unbridled rage in a series of striking outfits. But! That's not what I wanted to talk about. This is the morbid part, and it deals with the subject of suicide. I'm sorry. It occurred to me that what SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, THREE ON A COUCH, and VERTIGO have in common - aside from people taking on false identities, initially for monetary gain of one kind or another - is the insincere threat of suicide by drowning as a means of kindling romantic attachment. Now, at least when Kim Novak does it, it's purely in the service of crime. There's a motivation I can understand! When Jerry Lewis does it, it's just to get some sympathy. I guess the first time Tony Curtis does it... is he still in the evil scheming stage? It's hard to remember, because he threatens suicide twice! Hmm. And whatever his motivation, the message seems to be that it's a pretty reliable and morally inconsequential way to get a gal's attention. Yes, I'm coming closer to the trouble. Kim Novak is punished (hmm, just like Tony Curtis, she "attempts" suicide first by drowning and then by flinging herself from a great height) by being accidentally (?) forced to accomplish in reality what she only pretended to attempt. Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, by contrast, are rewarded. Hmm! Sorry for the VERTIGO spoilers, but come on. I'm sorry for everything, really.
Friday, August 21, 2020
We were watching TRUE CRIME last night, and Clint Eastwood mangles his cigarette by getting it caught in his lighter, an action I have previously associated more with Jerry Lewis, as described in excruciating detail in my book CIGARETTE LIGHTER. I go on about it for pages! Very symbolic, I suggest. Boy, doesn't that sound like a great book? Anyhow, I definitely would have included Clint's bit in the book, had I taken note of it during 2014, when I was writing the damn book.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
A memory came to me. I was sitting in an almost empty lounge at an Elvis-themed hotel mainly known, perhaps, for its onetime outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease, drinking Maker's Mark or Buffalo Trace and waiting for a catfish sandwich to arrive. When it did arrive I could tell at once - and I say this with little fear of committing libel - that it bore only the slightest familial relation to catfish, if any. Meanwhile, on the television over the bar, one of the STAR WARS prequels blared on a basic cable station, complete with commercial breaks. At the time, I had such thoughts as "Why am I here? What have I done with my life? What is the point of everything? How did I get into such a fix? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a different way to live? If I could do it all over again, would I? Where could I be instead of here? Am I a bad person? If there is a God, why did he allow this to happen?" Now, however, in our current circumstance - and the following observation will hardly be unique - I think back on it in every detail with tender fondness as a glimpse of heavenly glory to which I wish I could return. Also! As long as I have you here, I am in the process of blurbing a novel, which contains a character "wise as an owl," in the protagonist's words. I do not think the future existence of the book has yet been publicly acknowledged, so it is not my place to provide the details. I do stick this reminder here just for myself, like a Post-It note, so that I will not forget to add the book to my list of books with owls in them, when the time is right. Maybe those will be better days!
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
McNeil was crazy! Well, me. I said it. I said McNeil was crazy when he claimed that every 1960s movie features a desk with an obelisk on it. But today I watched ONE MORE TIME, which is a 1960s movie for all practical purposes, and, as you can see from this photo I took of the television screen, it had a desk with an obelisk on it. Now, there is no Jerry Lewis scholar I trust and admire more than Chris Fujiwara, but upon the conclusion of this repeat viewing, I must say that I have come to take exception to his description of ONE MORE TIME as "lacking in humor." For example, there is an old butler who is very slow, and as the old butler slowly totters across the room with a silver platter, Sammy Davis Jr.'s moustache and sideburns turn gray, and he (Sammy Davis Jr., transformed by his interminable wait) mutters to himself in a feeble, distracted manner indicating great age. Later, in an unrelated incident, he sneezes all the icing off a cake! A second sneeze issues forth with such force that an entire roomful of people is toppled to the floor.
Sunday, August 09, 2020
Dean Martin (and it's not the first time!): "The family and I were on a trip to the mountains and staying in a cabin, and Dino was there, complaining that he had to do all the fishing. He was throwing a rod and reel in the trunk complaining to me about it. And I was like, you know, I don't want to stand in a cold stream all morning. And there was a long fluorescent light bulb in the trunk and I was afraid he was going to make me eat it." Hey! As long as I have you here, I should tell you something that happened to me yesterday, though I hesitate, as the details are too crass to relate. I resorted to my GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, for research, and, although it was not what I was seeking, I happened to find an owl in a volume where I would have never expected to find an owl: Volume 3, P-Z. The phrase in question was "shoot the owl," and I will never tell you the meaning, as it exceeds the prudish bailiwick of the "blog." In conclusion, if you keep up with all the exciting developments happening at the "blog," you are going to go crazy about this last item! Remember the obelisks that McNeil saw in the 60s beach movie DON'T MAKE WAVES? Of course you do. Well, Dr. Theresa and I have been watching the TV show AGENTS OF SHIELD, and yesterday, I had to stop everything! Stop everything! And take a photo of the TV screen (see below), because there, in the background, accompanied by the usual green reflection on our TV screen, which cannot be remedied, I detected, however fleetingly, what appeared to be THE EXACT SAME OBELISKS FROM DON'T MAKE WAVES. I'm having the evidence sent to the lab for analysis.
Wednesday, August 05, 2020
I guess it was two days ago when I happened to see a TV commercial for lactose-free milk. There was a farmer standing in a field, next to a few cows, and he said (I may be paraphrasing, but only slightly) "Some folks say lactose-free milk isn't real milk. Well, then, I guess these" (indicating the cows) "must be really big dogs." The farmer said it with evident sarcasm. Was it an example of the rhetorical use of irony? I'm never sure. In any case, obviously, the cows weren't dogs, nor was the farmer sincerely claiming that the cows were dogs... but! The lingering impression bestowed on the viewer was that the milk being adverstised just might come from dogs. I am sorry to say it. But the blame lies with the advertising agency, I truly believe, and not with me.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
McNeil's tireless quest to prove that every 1960s movie features a desk with obelisks on it. I willingly oversimplify his theory for my own cruel amusement! Just yesterday he sent an example from what he called "DMW." I was like, "What the hell is DMW?" Then I did other things for an hour. Suddenly the answer came to me! So I scampered up the stairs as fleet as any faun to email McNeil never mind! But it was too late. He had already jeeringly dispatched the answer... DON'T MAKE WAVES... to which he appended a blasphemous remark aimed at my belittlement. If you "click" on the above frame to enlarge it, you will find to your pleasure an extremely unusual specimen of obelisk, you may be sure! And once again, for reasons unknown, the obelisk is part of a matching set, a curious subcategory in our... I'm sorry, I just fell asleep.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Jerry Lewis's fascination with doubles? For yes, you are correct, this is a frame from DON'T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER. Now, I don't know if you can blow up the image, even though I have been doing this for a long, long time. In fact, as you will recall, our TV exploded in April 2016, and that same day I lay down in bed and thought, "What's it all about, anyway? I should stop 'blogging.'" And so I did. But I recently vowed to "blog" again for the duration of our national crisis, in the hopes of cheering you up. And by "you," I mean my friend McNeil, and the two other people who have claimed that they read this "blog." McNeil sent the frame above as more evidence of his theory that there are obelisks on desks in all 1960s movies. Now, I mention the history of the "blog" because since 2010, I have "blogged" less often every year... UNTIL NOW! Yes, given my new mandate of spreading worldwide joy (see above) this "post" is #28 of the year 2020, whereas I "blogged" only 27 times in all of 2019. In conclusion, I asked McNeil whether the sprinklers were going off in DON'T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER, as I could not otherwise account for the wild gestures displayed by the figure on the couch... and when I "blew up" the image, I thought I detected streaks of liquid descending from the upper part of the frame. McNeil confirmed my suspicions, adding that Jerry Lewis was hiding in a closet, lighting matches in order to make the sprinklers go off, a hilarious bit of tomfoolery I could not recall, though McNeil and I watched the film together in 2007. Dear God! Now, there is an entire part of my cigarette lighter book about the common filmic trope of lighting a cigarette lighter in order to set off the sprinklers in a building, and whether or not such an action would actually cause the desired effect, but as Jerry is using matches, I would not have been obliged to include this related example in the book. I hope that answers all of your questions. I am starting to remember why I stopped "blogging."
Saturday, July 25, 2020
McNeil has been doing during the pandemic. Mostly watching 60s movies. He writes of the set dressing, "I've seen what looks like an obelisk on almost every desk in almost every office. Why?" That's a great question, McNeil! The only evidence he provides is the single frame above ("behind Natalie Wood's head," he helpfully appends), but I trust him.
Friday, July 17, 2020
For some reason I am reading six books at a time during the pandemic. In the past, I guess I've read two books at a time, but mostly one book at a time. I am reading slowly... so slowly that maybe I have actually stopped reading at least two of the books I think I am reading, without knowing it. But none of this means that I have stopped noticing when books have owls in them, which is constantly. For example, I just learned from LAKOTA AMERICA by Pekka Hämäläinen that Red Cloud "paid twelve superb horses for the right to marry his first wife, Pretty Owl."
Saturday, July 04, 2020
I have an inexplicable compulsion to maintain a list of every book I read that has an owl in it. What you may not be AS aware of is that Megan Abbott just sent me an early birthday present... a collection of NANCY comic strips by Olivia Jaimes. I am delighted to tell you that in one of the strips, Nancy attempts to ward off a groundhog from her potato patch by means of one of those plastic owls we run into from time to time as we enjoy our literature.
Monday, June 22, 2020
crazy times of isolation we need something to keep our brains working. So, I was watching CACTUS FLOWER and - no offense to this gentleman (above, left) - I thought the actor playing Goldie Hawn's neighbor simply wasn't of the caliber of the rest of the cast. Even the smallest parts were filled by great character actors like Vito Scotti. So I set myself the task of figuring out who should have played Goldie Hawn's neighbor. My thoughts went immediately, as they do, to Jim Hutton, but he's about five years too old, and way too tall. Next, Rip Torn entered my mind... an unusual choice, you will say, but I recalled him as Bob Hope's romantic rival in CRITIC'S CHOICE. He's even older than Jim Hutton, though! And they're both sadly deceased, which is beside the point. Well, I've got McNeil, Jimmy, Bill, Megan, and Ace working on this. I'll let you know what happens.
Saturday, June 20, 2020
If you know anything about me, you know that 1) Megan Abbott and I have read about 60 celebrity biographies together and 2) years ago I wrote a book about cigarette lighters, and occasionally I learn something about a cigarette lighter that would have fit neatly into that book, but it's too late, and anyway, the world is ending. So! I just read that during the original run of Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, Elaine Stritch had a cigarette lighter onstage filled with booze, just in case she needed a snort. I don't know how big this cigarette lighter was, or, indeed, if its existence was anything more than a rumor, or how one might inconspicuously drink from a cigarette lighter onstage.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
I guess it was two months ago I was sitting around the house wondering what the hell a weed is, exactly. Then I remembered (two months ago) that I have a whole book about weeds. I could see it across the room from me at the very moment I asked the question out loud to Dr. Theresa: "What is a weed, anyway?" I think she had mentioned something about pulling weeds. Then I said, "Never mind! I have a whole book about weeds! I'll see if that book will tell me what a weed is." So anyway, I thought about it for two months and this morning I finally made the effort to pull that book off the shelf - WEEDS OF THE SOUTH by Charles T. Bryson and Michael S. DeFelice, with photographs by Arlyn W. Evans - and I opened to the introduction, and I'll be damned if it didn't say "Any plant can be a weed in one situation and unobtrusive or even desirable in another." WHAT! Are you trying to blow my mind, Charles T. Bryson and Michael S. DeFelice? Because mission accomplished! Are you telling me some dude could look at a full-grown pumpkin and say "Yep, that's a weed," and you'd be cool with it? Okay! I believe you. I flipped through a couple of pages, and the "toxic properties" of each weed, if any, are listed, and damned if I didn't come across two weeds in a row that can cause depression! And then I thought about Arlyn W. Evans, lovingly photographing each weed and breathing in its toxic properties.
Sunday, May 24, 2020
Maurice Chevalier marries the queen of a country and then he gets sad because he doesn't have anything to do. So anyway, the queen takes out a cigarette and Maurice Chevalier leaps up to fetch a lighter. He tries several times, but the lighter doesn't work. Then he begins to beam with joy! He declares that he has found a purpose in life, yes, he is going to fix this lighter. Anyway, there was a whole part of my cigarette lighter book about how lighters that don't work are symbolic. Symbolic! Right again, Pendarvis. You know, my cigarette lighter book came out four years ago, and I don't care about cigarette lighters anymore, and I don't care about my cigarette lighter book anymore, but these are crazy times.
Friday, May 22, 2020
My job for the DUNE book club (not to be confused with the Doomed Book Club) is to count up to the epigraph where we're going to stop each week. You see, the author of DUNE did not see fit to number his chapters! Each chapter does start with an epigraph, so, for example, this week we're going to stop at the epigraph that begins "There is no escape." Let it be said that I've never once counted the correct number of epigraphs in all my tenure as the official epigraph counter of the DUNE book club. I flip a page too hastily and miss an epigraph, or something distracts me, or something. This time I forgot how many epigraphs I had counted because as I rapidly made my way, an owl caught my eye! You are by now well aware of my conviction that every book has an owl in it, and my compulsion to record the evidence. Not only did the owl in DUNE catch my eye, but in that split second as I raced past the page, the number of epigraphs I had already counted lost to me forever, I recognized that the owl in DUNE comes from a Biblical owl quotation we have discussed on this "blog" before!