Saturday, July 04, 2020

Potato Patch Dilemma

You very well know that 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

Important New Project

You know, in these 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

The Two Things

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

Wonderland of Weeds

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


In THE LOVE PARADE, 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

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!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hot News From Providence

I'm sure you remember my friend Judge. She used to tell me how surprisingly big softballs are in Chicago! Maybe she moved to Rhode Island! I'm basing that on the title of her email. You know, back when I used to "blog," she would send me snapshots that captured the very vibrancy of life itself. And she's back at it! Just take a look. Here is an image, intriguing even in ordinary circumstances, that can be read in a number ways in our strange modern times, about which I offer no further comment at this juncture.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Cigarettes and Monocles

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore, except in times of worldwide emergency, which seemingly will be all the time now, and also there is nothing else to do anymore. So Megan and I are reading a bio of Ernst Lubitsch, which led me to watch Lubitsch's early silent film I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE A MAN, in which our protagonist must disguise herself as a man in order to smoke cigarettes publicly. This sort of backs up a thesis I put forth in my cigarette lighter book, about how before World War I, cigarettes were generally considered "feminine," whereas after World War I they had become "masculine." Or maybe it doesn't. And maybe that's not even what I said. I know I have a copy of that book somewhere. Oh well. I believe that in the same slim volume I also went off on the subject of monocles for some reason (I know why, but it's boring)... including the brief craze for wearing monocles with plain, non-magnifying glass in them just for the hell of it. Anyway, she does that in the movie, too! So I could have had a big time with I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE A MAN in my cigarette lighter book if only life had worked out differently.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Strange and Unwitnessed Circumstances

I'm reading the novel DUNE with Kate and Hanna. Sometimes Adam chimes in about DUNE because he read it years ago. He thinks it's funny there's a character named Duncan Idaho. Anyway, today he idly remarked, "Idaho probably means something." I decided to check! And that's when I found out this amazing story I read about on two different general-interest websites so now I'm an expert. It seems as if some guy wandered into a meeting where they were trying to name Idaho. He wasn't even supposed to be there! He pretended to be a delegate from someplace or another. (I am telling this story very loosely. Please do not cite it in any of your accurate historical dissertations.) He was like, "I've got a great name: Idaho! It's a real word and it actually means something cool." And everybody was like, "Whoa! Idaho! I like the sound of it! Who is this guy? I love this guy! Get over here, you!" Then later it turned out the guy was just full of beans. He had totally made up the name Idaho! He said was inspired by a little girl named Ida. But nobody knows for sure. Anyway, you don't believe me? Take a look at the wikipedia page of the guy who claimed to have made up the name Idaho ("click" here). There, now I've looked at three different webpages. What a day! So while I was reading his wikipedia entry I thought, "Holy mackerel! I think I saw a whole movie about this guy starring Vincent Price!" (See above.) But I was wrong. Our guy, George M. Willing, was just a conman pal of the conman played by Vincent Price. I'm not even sure they bothered to make him a character in the movie. Mr. Willing died of "strange and unwitnessed circumstances," the newspapers said.

Sunday, May 10, 2020


As you may not recall, I have a compulsion to list every book I read that has an owl in it, which is pretty much every book I ever read, because all throughout history people have never figured out how to stop themselves from putting owls in books. Anyway, in this new Stephen King book there is a speakeasy called the Black Owl, which is a cool name for a speakeasy, way to go, Stephen King!

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Where Were You

No doubt you remember exactly where you were that day in 2014 when McNeil and I watched the Jerry Lewis movie THE BIG MOUTH and noticed that Jerry and his leading lady wore nearly identical outfits in every scene. Well! Mark your calendars, because last night I was watching THREE ON A COUCH, and in Jerry and Janet Leigh's first scene together, their jackets appear to be made from closely related bolts of cloth. I leapt up and took a photo of my TV screen! Pardon the greenish reflections in Janet and Jerry's hair - the fault of a reflection on this end, not the frankly sumptuous color design of THREE ON A COUCH. Postscript! My friend Juan Martinez, author of the top-notch short story collection BEST WORST AMERICAN, tells me the pattern on the jackets is a Prince of Wales check, AKA Glen Plaid. Write it down!

Monday, May 04, 2020

Slightly Late

There is a whole section of my book about cigarette lighters in which I yammer on and on about how easily a lighter is passed from owner to owner, whether through theft or absent-mindedness. An interesting illustration occurs in the movie SLIGHTLY SCARLET, when Arlene Dahl nearly makes off with John Payne's cigarette lighter. She says she'll give it back later, but he doesn't go for that line. He wants his lighter back pronto! So he holds out his hand and she impishly burns it with the lighter! Well, he said he wanted it! Anyway, that should be in my cigarette lighter book, but it was published four years ago; also, nothing matters anymore.

Friday, May 01, 2020

The Educated French Poodle

Yesterday on twitter I found out about this website ("click" here) where you can read old movie magazines. Idly typing the name of Doris Day, the first person I thought of for some reason, into the search bar, I came across this photo, the caption of which begins, "Smudgie, the educated French poodle, begs prettily for a peppermint stick." Every word choice in that caption was so interesting. I was like, that's one anonymous magazine intern who could really slap together a thought-provoking caption! Stories just spin out of it.

Saturday, April 25, 2020


Madcap, dizzying whirlwind of a day, by which I mean I received an email from McNeil, who inquired therein, "Did you once have an idea that put Shakespeare and Bob Hope on an island? Does that ring a bell?" It did not ring a bell! In fact, I had no idea what McNeil was talking about, and replied as much. McNeil responded: "I think they were on an island talking about each other's plays/films. I remember you sent it to me - this is when we were unemployed - and I can't remember what I suggested...putting them on separate islands? But that doesn't make any sense." Nor did it make sense to me, the recipient of the email and supposed author of this demented notion. I asked, searching my mind and finding nothing, was it a play? Were Bob Hope and Shakespeare in heaven? McNeil replied, "I'm pretty sure it was a short story and they were trying to make each other's stuff 'better'. Hahaha. That sounds funny now that I'm all jacked up on caffeine." When I again insisted I had never written such a thing, McNeil agreed that perhaps I had not. I began to think he was gaslighting me! "I could have dreamed it," he wrote. But he couldn't leave it there. He tracked down emails from a long-defunct account of mine, and produced documentary evidence that in 2005, I declared that he and I should watch every Bob Hope movie and read every Shakespeare play and have phone conversations about the process, which we would transcribe and publish. I think I was trying to invent the podcast, though I believe the podcast had, without my knowledge, already been invented at the time. Anyway, it depressed me to hear how little my ideas have changed... I have a column running right NOW for which I just talk into a digital recorder and transcribe my own words. When I noted as much with some chagrin, McNeil wrote back, "A diamond will always sparkle!!!!" with the four encouraging exclamation points you see before you. In actual fact, as it turned out, it was MCNEIL who wrote, "I've got it!" He then described, in that 2005 exchange, an elaborate framing device for an epistolary novel in which we both crash-landed in the South Pacific on adjacent islands, too treacherous to travel between, but with currents that made it possible for us to write each other messages in bottles about Shakespeare and Bob Hope. Thus was one mystery solved, while other mysteries, perhaps, presented themselves.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


Email from McNeil. He sent me an idea he had for a movie, and ended, on another subject, "Also, you have not blogged in a long time. Let's get on it." Maybe he hasn't heard I don't "blog" anymore... though to be fair, I have gone around telling everyone I'm "blogging" again in our time of national crisis. Anyway, I'm reading a book called THE LOST ART OF SCRIPTURE by Karen Armstrong. Now I'm on the part about ancient China! And I read this: "a choir of blind musicians sang an ode." There was a footnote appended to this phrase, and I was glad, because I was wondering about those blind musicians! "Why are the musicians blind?" I wondered. So I checked out the footnote. Here is the entire content of the footnote: "In ancient China, musicians were usually blind." That's it! And, well, I thought, "That's a frustrating footnote!" I felt the content of the footnote betrayed the promise of the footnote as as a medium. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized why it was there. You might read the passage and assume, as I did, that blind musicians were required for the particular ode under discussion. No, the footnote explains, they were blind just because if you hired a musician in ancient China, you were likely to get a blind musician. Huh! As long as I am here, I should tell you that I just saw Tom Selleck selling reverse mortgages on TV. He said that my retirement plan is "kind of wobbly, like this three-legged stool." Then he wobbled the stool he was sitting on and looked upset. "I've got a better idea!" he said. I changed channels. But as I flipped from channel to channel, I started to wonder if the plot of the commercial would pay off. I knew that Tom Selleck had a great way to augment my retirement plan, but I wondered if he would slip a coaster under the short leg of the stool or something. I prayed I wasn't too late to find out! I turned back just in time. Tom Selleck sat down with a grunt of pleasure in a velvet easy chair. "Now this isn't a three-legged stool," he said. "It's a reverse mortgage chair." Ha ha! That's what he called it. A "reverse mortgage chair." I am no doubt slightly paraphrasing some of the commercial copy, but not that part.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Enjoyable Captions

I got a book of Donald Judd interviews that Square Books delivered to me in our strange modern times! What I really like are the captions. I've already tweeted about this and nobody cared, so I thought I would "blog" about it, in which case at least I know in advance that no one will care. The captions are like "Hot-rolled steel and turquoise pebble acrylic sheets." The captions are like "Brown enamel on hot-rolled steel." They are like "Clear anodized aluminum and green acrylic sheets"... "Perforated 12-gauge cold-rolled steel"... "Brass and blue lacquer on galvanized iron"... "Maroon enamel on recto and cadmium red light oil on verso of wire-enforced glass"... !

Monday, March 16, 2020


Welcome once again to McNeilileaks, where I leak the contents of my friend McNeil's emails. From the inbox this morning: "I wonder if there's a way to make 'powdered meat'? I bet you could sell a lot of it in this market. No need to freeze or refrigerate it. Also, as I was watching I WAKE UP SCREAMING, there is a scene where [Victor] Mature goes to see the caretaker of a cemetery. I wonder if they still have those somewhere...What a job!!!"

Saturday, March 07, 2020

It Only Hurts When I Cry

Well, I happened to scroll past TCM last night, where the film BEACH BLANKET BINGO was playing... there was this woman (pictured) singing "It Only Hurts When I Cry" while she was roasting some wienies in the fireplace, and I stood there and counted the wienies (lying on a napkin on the bricks, bottom right). I am pretty sure there were at least 20 wienies in the scene, including a couple you can't see because I grabbed this screenshot from a faded pan-and-scan version on youtube this morning, giving you little idea of the garish vitality of the original wienies as presented in Technicolor, or whatever process they used on BEACH BLANKET BINGO. It really did look like an awful lot of wienies, but it was a big party and, honestly, there may not have been enough wienies to go around.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Golf Buddy

So I was watching CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM the other night, and one of Larry David's golf buddies reminded me of something. I was like, "Hey! Isn't that the standup comedian who sat in the car so we never met him? We were having dinner with Rhonda Shear and her manager more than twenty years ago, and her manager wrote the authorized biography of Harry Ritz, which no one would publish, even though it was authorized, and her boyfriend at the time, who is this guy I am seeing on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM right now, sat and waited in the car while Rhonda Shear and her manager ate dinner with us?" That's what I was like. So I emailed Ward McCarthy, who was the other person in this story, and asked him if I were crazy. He wrote back, "That is pretty much how I remember the story. However, I thought Bobby Slayton was driving the car around and around the block because they couldn't find (or didn't want to pay for) parking. Or maybe I just made that up when telling the story later to make the guy seem even sadder." This is just the kind of wayward memory I used to "blog" about. Now, I don't "blog" anymore, but... I don't know. The evidence would suggest otherwise, maybe.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Mr. Frazzlebottom

I saw a tiny bit of THE GUNFIGHTER on TCM last night. Some no-good punk is trying to rile up Gregory Peck, so he calls him "Mr. Frazzlebottom." He calls him "Mr. Frazzlebottom" about ten times in quick succession. "Say, Mr. Frazzlebottom, can I buy you a drink?" And so on. Ten times, I bet! "What's the matter, Mr. Frazzlebottom, you feeling okay?" I paraphrase. It truly is irritating, this kid is onto something. Now, I don't "blog" anymore, so I don't know why I'm typing this. Now that I don't "blog" anymore, I generally just email this type of thing straight to McNeil.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Too Late

"If Philosophy aims at some good to man it comes too late in the day for that... It is not till the twilight comes that the owl of Athena begins its flight." So Oscar Wilde jotted in his Commonplace Book as a young man, as I learn from Richard Ellmann's biography of Wilde, because every book has an owl in it.

Saturday, February 08, 2020


It has been a while, as I don't "blog" anymore, but we just got in some "McNeilileaks," which is where I leak the private contents of McNeil's email. McNeil sent along the above comic book cover, commenting, "I'm not sure why I think it's hilarious. Adam's pose?" As for me, I think it's the line, "You're holding up the war," which sounds like the title of a 60s comedy. YOU'RE HOLDING UP THE WAR, if it existed, would star Robert Morse, Ernie Kovacs, Tony Curtis, and Paula Prentiss, or so I decided last night as I lay in bed unable to sleep.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Infinite Truck Drivers

On a recent visit home, Mom started singing a song I had never heard before, which went, in Mom's version, "Bring me another cup of coffee/ It is the best in the land/ Bring me another cup of coffee/ For I am a truck driving man." So! It was quite a coincidence when I recently acquired a trove of songs by Bakersfield musicians, one of which was called "Truck Drivin' Man." It was just the song I heard my mother singing, except she had some of the chorus wrong. It actually goes, "Pour me another cup of coffee/ It is the best in the land/ I'll put a nickel in the jukebox/ And play the 'Truck Drivin' Man.'" Now! In a seeming paradox, the narrator of the song appears to be playing on a jukebox the very song to which we are listening, but that song could not exist to be played on the jukebox until the singer (as distinct from the narrator, who identifies as an actual truck driver, not a professional singer of truck driving songs) had recorded it. The singer, then, is projecting a future in which his own recording is not only possible, but essential. A leap of faith! Yet that is not the most interesting aspect. More than an advertisement for itself, this song is an endless universe willing itself into existence. I mean! Are we meant to think that the narrator of the song is listening to the same song that WE know as "Truck Drivin' Man"? If so, he must be listening to a second narrator, who, within THAT song, is listening to the song "Truck Drivin' Man" on another jukebox, in which yet another narrator in turn is listening to the song "Truck Drivin' Man" on yet another jukebox, and so on, into all of eternity. I don't "blog" anymore, but some thoughts have nowhere else to go.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Capering About Spreading Tension

Speaking of books with owls in them, Jeanine Basinger, in her book on the movie musical, summarizes one Danny Kaye number: "He barks like a dog, crows like a rooster, hoots like an owl, and mews like a kitten." She doesn't mean it in a good way. Danny Kaye seems to irritate her greatly. For perspective, she describes his presence in another movie as "capering about spreading tension."

Friday, January 10, 2020

Happy New Year

Though I have a compulsion to tell you every time I read a book with an owl in it, I hope I have made it completely clear that I don't have to tell you EVERY time a single book has an owl in it. Like, if there's an owl on page 14 and then another owl on page 63, I only have to tell you about the first owl. So get off my back! BUT! This book DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT has had at least FIVE more owls in it since the last time we spoke of it, which seems worth mentioning. Now, you may ask yourself why it is taking me so long to read DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT, to which I respond that it is none of your damn business, but for one thing, it is too large to take on an airplane, according to my strict rules, and I was on lots of airplanes in 2019, some I didn't even bother to tell you about. For another thing, Megan and I are fully committed to our unceasing diet of books about celebrities, so leave us alone.