Saturday, October 31, 2020

How Phil Spends the Pandemic

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

Television Commercials

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

Mildly Erotic

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

My Understanding

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

The Math

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

Bonus Content

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

This Is Important

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

McNeil Month By Month: The Return

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

Today Could Be the Day

It's been some time since McNeil sent me a DVD in the mail of an obscure movie about an already remorseful rodeo clown who gets entangled in a murder investigation.