Monday, July 24, 2017

Bread Shaped Like Owls

Look. As you well know, it is NOT AND HAS NEVER BEEN my responsibility to inform you of EVERY instance of an owl in any particular book. Once I tell you that a book has an owl in it, I am done, even if fourteen more owls show up later. It is really none of my business. BUT! I feel I owe you something in the case of Till Eulenspiegel, whose name means "owl mirror." Was that really enough, as I so boldly claimed? If a guy's name happens to mean "owl mirror," does that count as "an owl" for our purposes? Well, I am happy to inform you that this haunting question is no longer relevant, because I just read a chapter in which Till Eulenspiegel gets a job with a baker and starts making loaves of bread shaped like "owls and long-tailed monkeys." This drives the baker crazy for some reason. But bread shaped like owls definitely counts. In conclusion, Till Eulenspiegel easily sold the bread shaped like owls and long-tailed monkeys, nobody cared what their bread was shaped like, in fact they seemed to enjoy the novelty, I don't know why that baker got so worked up.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

These Aren't the Owls You're Looking For

I was watching that recent movie about Emily Dickinson and I could have sworn somebody said, "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." Well, it didn't make much sense to me! First of all, bees and owls don't hang out at the same time of day. Also, that is a serious mischaracterization of the temperament of owls! Plus the scene had no obvious context for a line like "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." But I was intrigued. "What a cryptic snatch of poetry!" I thought. Because sometimes Emily Dickinson just says her poems in voiceover in that movie, and in the scene in question the characters were so far away (pictured) I couldn't tell whether their lips were moving, my old eyes being what they are. And my ears aren't in such great shape either, I guess, because when I scoured my COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, I could find no such line anywhere. I did find an owl, though not the one I was looking for, as you might have guessed, because I famously don't "blog" anymore unless I find a book with an owl in it. So in case you were concerned, I am pretty sure no one in the movie said, "Bees in the lavender and the lazy owl." [POSTSCRIPT. According to a single online source, a line of dialogue in the film indeed goes, "Bees in the lavender, then the lazy owl." While "then" makes more sense than "and," the "blog" stands by its belief in the superb work ethic of owls. - ed.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Important Musical Cigarette Lighter

Remember when I wrote a book about cigarette lighters? Neither do I! But last night I was watching a very good movie called FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (pictured), in which a musical cigarette lighter plays a pivotal role. And I know just where I would have put it in the book. As it stands, musical cigarette lighters got but a passing mention from your slipshod author. I should have been more thorough about musical cigarette lighters. Oh well, I'll try to remember that the next time somebody asks me to write a book about cigarette lighters.

Monday, July 03, 2017

You Eschew Froufrou Poo Poo

I was thinking about Richard Strauss's tone poem "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" and realized I don't really know much about Till Eulenspiegel himself. So I started poking around and was delighted to learn that Eulenspiegel means "owl mirror." So any collection of the Till Eulenspiegel tales might be said to have an owl in it, mightn't it? Sure it might. Why, look. Here's Till Eulenspiegel's supposed gravestone and he's holding an owl and a mirror over his head in case you don't get the point. During my idle research I stumbled on the website for that certain corporate behemoth, the name of which I never utter here. And someone had reviewed a collection of Till Eulenspiegel stories like so: "It seems like the punchline of every single story has to do with Euelenspiegel defecating on or in something or someone. That's it. That's the book's running joke. I suppose if you were an illiterate German peasant sitting around a hearth fire in the 1500s, you'd find these tales of feces and bad puns hilarious, but I didn't." I was naturally fascinated to discover this living person who is so worked up about Till Eulenspiegel. And as you can imagine, he had inadvertently composed one of those "bad reviews" that made me want to read the book more than ever. For good measure, the reviewer rubs this salt in the wounds, though I hate to repeat it so close to our nation's birthday: "Of course, since a good majority of modern Americans are probably less sophisticated than an illiterate German peasant from 400 years ago, perhaps Till Eulenspiegel is due for a comeback. Hollywood could cast Johnny Knoxville... and he could crap all over American audiences, who will double over with laughter at every fart noise." Sold! I was naturally drawn to this reviewer's other reviews, which form a kind of epistolary novel or Robert Browning poem, in which you get to know the narrator by filling in the gaps. It's like that famous intellectual essayist said in his manifesto that time, we don't need novels anymore. Did he say that? It sounds like something somebody with a manifesto would say! Before getting into his one-star judgment of Folgers Classic Medium Roast Coffee Singles Serve Bags, our reviewer indulges in this bit of throat clearing: "I am no coffee elitist. I eschew status-conscious coffee drinkers and the frou frou coffee houses they frequent in order to be seen carrying green fringed cups emblazoned with quotes from left-wing icons." I've spent some part of my life trying to make up narrators who talk just this way, but I see once again that I am unnecessary. Also recommended: the same reviewer on the moral depravity of the Frankie Avalon movie BEACH PARTY.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Point We Have Reached

It's no secret that every book I read ends up having an owl in it, for which cause I am then obliged to add it to my big long list of books with owls in them. Now I would like to relate how I came upon the book I am reading now, and whether or not it has an owl in it (it does). So! A few days ago a book popped into my head for reasons I cannot fully explain. I couldn't remember the title. All I knew was that it was a ghost novel by Anne Rivers Siddons, and that Stephen King had said really nice things about it in an essay or article, maybe some years ago. I was at Square Books and poked around among the shelves but I didn't see anything that rang a bell. So! A day or two ago Pen and I walked up to that used book stall I like and there it was! No one had penciled in a price, so the man at the cash register insisted upon giving it to me for free. The whole transaction struck me as magical and mysterious! I know what you're thinking: this book is obviously cursed. I haven't read much of it. In fact, I can't even tell yet whether it's a ghost story (as I recalled) or an evil house story. I guess most evil houses have ghosts in them. That's not a scientific fact! But! Our narrator is lying in bed when she hears the "dreadful sound" of an owl. She starts tying "a knot in the corner of the top sheet." Her husband asks what's up and she says, "It's just something my grandmother always did. You tie a knot in the bedsheet when you hear an owl. If you don't, it means somebody is going to die." Now! As you may or may not know, I am a veritable dumping ground for superstitions. I collect and practice them all, compulsively! But here I have found the one superstitious ritual that I am far too lazy and uncoordinated to assay. There is just no way I am going to tie a knot in a sheet at any time for any reason. Is this a triumph at last of the rational mind? No, we have just reached the point at which my sloth exceeds my crippling credulity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Old Carnival Term

It is a universally acknowledged fact that I don't "blog" anymore. But I was watching some of FULL METAL JACKET, a side effect of reading a biography of Stanley Kubrick with Megan Abbott, when what dialogue should chime in my ear but "Where's the wienie?" It's the question of an editor who has just glanced through an article submitted by reporter Matthew Modine. I was reminded at once of another celebrity biography recently read by Megan and myself in an offshoot of our aptly named Doomed Book Club: one about Walt Disney, in which Disney on more than one occasion refers to the "wienie" in much the same way. He is, according to his biographer Neal Gabler, "borrowing an old carnival term" for something that will entice your intended customer "presumably the way a wienie entices a dog." At one point, Walt Disney shouts "It doesn't have a wienie!" at some flustered GE executives, who have "no idea what Walt meant." Of course, we are all familiar with a more common phrase meaning much the same thing: "the hook." Now, why am I telling you this? I'll be honest: I DON'T KNOW! But just look. Lurking behind Matthew Modine - at the very moment when his editor is asking him "Where's the wienie?" - are two Mickey Mouse figurines and one Mickey Mouse head. Coincidence? Yes. It seems unlikely that Stanley Kubrick knew or cared that Walt Disney used to like to go around saying "wienie."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Guitar Emotions

Stopped by The End of All Music yesterday and walked away with this treasure (see above). It wasn't until I got home and took the record out of the sleeve to play it and saw Jimmy Bryant's name on the label, frank, plain, and unclouded by unsettling clowns, that I thought, "Oh! Jimmy Bryant." I know his work with the equally nimble Speedy West. But somehow the name "Jimmy Bryant" was not what leapt off the cover. It is indisputably true that I do not "blog" anymore, but as this recording has such an obvious thematic connection to "Jimmy's Happy/Jimmy's Blue," a double LP I also found at The End of All Music and put forth for your examination in these pages (though that was a different Jimmy altogether), I thought it only proper to break my rule just this once. (Photo by Bill Boyle.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Great Forgotten Baby Actors of Yesteryear

Pen came over and we watched BARRY LYNDON. I know I don't "blog" anymore but after going on and on about the great baby performance in SUSAN SLADE how could I not correct my long and shameful silence on the subject of the great baby performance in BARRY LYNDON? This baby is very interested in the conversation that Barry Lyndon is having with his mom! And furthermore this baby is clear on his or her motivation in the scene. This baby wants some porridge! What are these people talking about that is so important that it is preventing this baby from getting some porridge? Such is the query brought forth by this baby's thoughtful and layered performance. And now I find I am compelled to mention for the present record the equally fine performance by the baby actor in ROCKY II. As the thought occurred to me at the height of my noble quest to stop "blogging," I merely "tweeted" ("click" here) that the baby in ROCKY II was the Spencer Tracy of baby actors, a remark that has stood the test of time.

Friday, June 09, 2017

A Satisfying Ululation

I was meeting Ace Atkins, Bill Boyle, and Tom Franklin at the City Grocery Bar at 4:02 PM, or as it is known around here, "Megan Abbott Time." But I was early so I stopped in Square Books and killed some time by taking the Flann O'Brien novel AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS off the shelf and idly leafing through it in a comfortable chair like a common thief of ideas. Now, you must remember that I read AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS back in that hazy time before I noticed that every book I read has an owl in it and must therefore be catalogued for the people of the future. So! Someone asks the legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool about what might be the sweetest music he has ever heard, and he rattles off a list of dozens of answers, many of which made me laugh, like "the whining of small otters in nettle-beds at evening... A satisfying ululation is the contending of a river with the sea." And somewhere in there was "the low warble of water-owls in Loch Barra." And I sat there for some time muttering it aloud so I wouldn't forget: "the low warble of water-owls, the low warble of water-owls." I don't know why I didn't ask for a pen and a scrap of paper. But when I got home I wanted to recall some of the other phrases too, so I got out my yellowed, falling-apart paperback of AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS and it was then that I also noticed, for the first time, Finn's tribute to "the long-eared bush-owl," which had somehow escaped me in the afternoon. At the end of his long list of pleasant sounds, Finn's friend says, "Relate further for us," and Finn replies, "It is true that I will not." Ha ha! (Pictured, the fanciful Ziphius, or water-owl, with a friend.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Flaring Eyes of Mice-Killing Owls

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore except in the extremely specific circumstance that Megan Abbott and I read a celebrity biography that has an owl in it somewhere. I can't say I'm a fan of the writing in this Stanley Kubrick bio. "At cocktail parties and sit-ins the air was filled with discussions" is a typical fragment. Maybe it doesn't rub you the wrong way! Nor can I explain what irritated me about this attempt to convey Kubrick's thrill-a-minute New York boyhood: "Comic books were ten cents, and a bakery featured chocolate eclairs and freshly baked rolls." I mean I could explain it but would you care? Okay then! But by the time I got to "the flaring eyes of mice-killing owls on the cedar trees" I just couldn't tell if that was good or bad. You win, author! You broke me.

Friday, May 19, 2017


As you know, Megan Abbott and I are on a steady diet of celebrity memoirs, which I tell you about only where there is an owl in one of them. So! Louise Brooks is widely read, and sprinkles her reminiscences with literary allusions, including a passing one to Edward Lear's nonsense masterpiece "The Owl and the Pussycat." PS I didn't even put "owl" in my search terms but here's Louise Brooks with an owl photoshopped onto her head. It popped up like magic.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How About an Apple, Chad?

As you know, I never "blog" anymore except when I do. For example, I am obligated to "blog" every time I read a book with an owl in it because it has to go on my big long list of books with owls in them ("click" here). A couple of weeks ago, I guess, I ran into Bill Boyle at Square Books, and you know how Bill is always recommending books. So I got the book he recommended and we went to the City Grocery Bar (pictured, with book), which is conveniently located. (Also pictured, a Benjamin Franklin pencil sharpener Ace Atkins gave me that evening.) So I've been reading this book and thinking, "Oh well, I can tell Lucia Berlin is not an owl type!" But suddenly last night she gave me some "ratty horned owls." And Jell-O, which is in the books I read almost as often as owls are. The Jell-O appears in the same sentence as the book of Deuteronomy, a good balance. I like those two proper nouns holding down a sentence from either end. I am also allowed to "blog" about THE BIG VALLEY. Hey! Remember when Heath really had a thing for apples in the first episode? So last night I was watching one in which this kid goes through a horrific tragedy, seeing his grandfather gunned down before his very eyes, so Heath is awkwardly holding an apple and he says, "How about an apple, Chad?" Apples are Heath's answer for everything! He also loves cleaning guns, especially when Audra is around, but not exclusively. I'm going to watch some more and make sure this is true. I'll tell you one thing, though. Jarrod is always staring into the fireplace. That's where he goes to stare!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The Tinder of Our Wishes

Hey remember when my book about cigarette lighters came out? Me neither! But for a while there I would see something and think, "Oh, I should have put that in my cigarette lighter book. If only I had known!" But after a while you stop thinking that because you'd go mad. Mad, I say! But I just read AGNES GREY. To my surprise there were no owls in it, because those Brontë sisters are usually reliable purveyors of literary owls. The closest we get are some rooks who fly away as the sun sets: "For a moment, such birds as soared above the rest might still receive the lustre on their wings, which imparted to their sable plumage the hue and brilliance of deep red gold; at last, that too departed. Twilight came stealing on..." And I was like, "Oh, boy! Here come the owls." But there were no owls. Here's what Anne Brontë DID have: something I would have stuck somewhere in my cigarette lighter book, had I read it in time... "the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks, which vanish immediately, unless they chance to fall upon the tinder of our wishes." I also enjoyed (this is unrelated) her elaborate conceit on the subject of a lonely glowworm. Anne Brontë is in great sympathy with nature. The same cannot be said for Arnold Schwarzenegger, I fear. We watched most of ERASER last night. You know, Dr. Theresa and I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I associate it with the very earliest years of our marriage. I did not recall the part in which Arnold is being pursued through a zoo by some bad guys, so he shoots out the glass on a tank full of alligators, and the alligators immediately begin eating the bad guys. "Don't they feed these alligators?" I wondered. Actually, what I wondered was "Don't they feed these crocodiles?" But I decided later that they were supposed to be alligators, for reasons that will soon become clear. So after the alligators eat the bad guys, one of them gets after Arnold, so he shoots it in the head. Hey, these alligators just helped him out! And isn't he responsible for them now? Doesn't he realize their terrible irony? But no, he just says, "You're luggage." That's what he says after he shoots the alligator. I found it unnecessary! First of all, the alligator is already dead. Second of all, even if the alligator was alive, it wouldn't be able to understand what you were saying. Third of all, why are you gloating? Even if forced into a situation in which she was required to kill an alligator (there is some arguable precedent in AGNES GREY), Anne Brontë never would have gloated about it! Fourth of all, why are you staying and making wisecracks to a dead alligator when there are more bad guys coming? In any case, his remark was in extremely bad taste. I decided they were meant to be alligators because I believe shoes and belts and boots and suitcases are traditionally made from alligator hide, not crocodile hide. I don't know the difference. I must sadly conclude by noting that Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in my cigarette lighter book more than once, poor Anne Brontë (as noted) not at all.

Monday, May 01, 2017

A Very Important Announcement

I can't believe it took me so long to watch the ending of THREE RING CIRCUS. I just got around to finishing it last night. So Jerry does a clown act with a tiny monkey. This is one tiny monkey, believe me. And it runs over and starts riding around in the sawdust on a tiny scooter and I was like, "Gee! They really found a tiny scooter to fit that tiny monkey. Look at him go!" This isn't the important part, but it was pretty great to see that tiny monkey really booking it on that tiny scooter. And he's wearing like a red silk diaper. Suddenly he's off the scooter and posing Burt Reynolds style in his red silk diaper. We haven't gotten to the important part. Now Jerry, for reasons I can't quite recall, picks up something like a bazooka and starts shooting something - maybe they're long foam tubes? - at the reclining monkey. It's all real harmless and Jerry misses by a mile anyway. Don't make me swear to what it is coming out of that bazooka. But one thing is for sure: that monkey needs to escape, and pronto. So he jumps up and hops on the back of a convenient dog we haven't seen before and rides away to freedom. That's the important part: THREE RING CIRCUS has A MONKEY RIDING A DOG IN IT! As I'm sure you will recall, I have mixed feelings about monkeys riding dogs. They (the feelings, and the monkeys riding dogs) even come up in one of the stories in my most recent short story collection MOVIE STARS, in which they (the monkeys riding dogs) symbolize... the futility of existence or something? I can't remember. But in this case I was okay. I even laughed! The dog seemed into it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Visceral Sense of Jibbs

As you know, I don't "blog" anymore unless it's about THE BIG VALLEY, which has been off the air since 1969, or if I read a book with an owl in it. But occasionally one has a thought that is too long for twitter - not very often! - and where is one to put it? "Here" is the only answer. So I have finally watched the entire ADVENTURE TIME miniseries entitled ELEMENTS, and I did it through legal means. I paid $9.99 for it! But I shan't say anything about the episodes that haven't aired on normal television for normal people yet. EXCEPT! To make the general observation that there are a lot of great jokes in it, among other things. PASTE magazine said ADVENTURE TIME: ELEMENTS has "a visceral sense of armageddon" and maybe they know what they're talking about but I mainly just laughed a lot. NOW! Roughly ninety-nine percent of the jokes contained in the miniseries are jokes that anyone can enjoy, from the most cantankerous old codger to the rosiest tot, but I also noticed a few things that made me laugh in a smug, knowing, secretive manner with which I feel certain you are longing to become intimately acquainted. For example, in last night's episode "Cloudy," the word "jibbs" was used as a mild expletive, as in "What the jibbs?" And... I may not get this line exactly right... "Calm the jibbs down." So! While we were working on the outline for "Cloudy," ADVENTURE TIME head writer Kent Osborne was simultaneously in rehearsals for a staged reading of some kind of script or another, in which his character's name was Jibbs. For whatever reason, this tickled the rest of us in the writers room no end. On top of that, Kent was required to affect an Irish accent for the role of Jibbs, and as he was just beginning to work on it, our delight was boundless in mocking him unfairly when he tried it out in our presence. These twin pillars of hilarity - the name "Jibbs" and our accompanying merciless jeers at Kent's nascent Irish accent - made it irresistible to include the expression "what the jibbs" in the outline upon which we were currently at work. So I was especially happy to see that the exclamation, or a variation on it, occurred more than once in the finished storyboard, brilliantly executed by Graham Falk and the aforementioned Kent Osborne, and, of course, in its ultimate animated iteration, the toil of countless souls. I hope you feel that you have benefited from this thorough examination of "humor" and its mysterious inner workings laid bare and that my vivid yet clinical dissection of the matter has not robbed you entirely of the magic and joy in your life.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Barkley Absconditus

I'm four episodes into THE BIG VALLEY and it's interesting because the whole drama centers around an empty place where a person used to be... not until Laura Palmer in TWIN PEAKS was there another absent character so important to a show. He's the dead patriarch, Thomas Barkley, and I just saw an episode where the town is unveiling a statue of him, but there's a shadow over the face and we can't really see it, can anyone? Yes, yes, THE BIG VALLEY swirls around a terrifying abyss of meaningless where "the father" is supposed to be. Where is the supposed pillar of society? I don't suppose it's a coincidence [yes, of course it is! - ed.] that two bridges have fallen down in four episodes. I'm sure there is some theological approach to THE BIG VALLEY, something from Nicolas of Cusa, something about the deus absconditus.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Familiar Barn Fight

As you know, I never, ever "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it or for some other reason. But now I have decided I can "blog" about the TV show THE BIG VALLEY whenever I want. Spurred by Laura Lippman's description of it as "gloriously weird," I decided to revisit THE BIG VALLEY, or maybe just to visit it, because I really couldn't remember anything about it. I remembered a promo in which they put a lot of reverb on the announcer when he said the title: "THE BIG VALLEY-ALLEY-ALLEY-alley-alley-alley!" And I remembered, from the same promo, the description of Barbara Stanwyck's character as "Victoria, a woman of backbone and bite!" All I can say is that was a pretty good promo if I still remember it from when I was a kid. So I watched some of THE BIG VALLEY. When a fistfight started raging in the barn, I thought, you know, maybe I did watch this show when I was a kid, because I felt secure in the knowledge that this was a staple of the show, it was all coming back to me, regular fistfights in the barn. But I can't be sure! I think there was something on the other channel I liked better. But here are some things I observed: 1. It all starts with one of the brothers on a bridge and here comes Lee Majors from the other direction and neither fellow will back up his horse to let the other one pass. So they literally just sit there looking at each other until the bridge falls down! I can't say much for the infrastructure. 2. The introduction of Barbara Stanwyck's character. She swoops into the room where her sons are standing and says (I paraphrase, but only slightly), "You're putting on weight, must you shout, here comes a visitor, I'll see you at dinner." And then she's gone. Like she was never there! She spits it all out like a machine gun and disappears in a flash. I thought maybe she was like Fred MacMurray, who supposedly used to come in and sit in a chair for one day and say all his lines for an entire season of his sitcom MY THREE SONS then get up and put on his hat and leave and they had to shoot around him for the rest of the year. My friend Ward McCarthy told me that about Fred MacMurray and if it's not true it's my own fault, because maybe I'm remembering the details wrong and I'm just too lazy to look it up. 3. Lee Majors kneels down at a lonesome grave (the patriarch has been plopped into the ground in the middle of nowhere, right where he was killed, not unlike the sad case of Meriwether Lewis) and then a young woman rides up on a horse and just casually leans down and starts striking Lee Majors wildly and repeatedly in the face with a leather strap, and she doesn't even know him! That's his half-sister, I guess, as they discover later, but there's an extremely weird vibe they've got going on (pictured). In fact they started making me think of Heathcliff and Cathy a little bit, and Lee Majors's name on the show is Heath, so I wondered whether that was on purpose, but my research methods (as noted above) are far too lazy to confirm or deny. Still, Heath is the brash, mysterious outsider who disrupts family life... for instance when he steals some apples! He's just walking around, trespassing, going through their stuff and finally taking an apple and Victoria catches him. So he takes off his hat. And I thought, oh, this brash, mysterious outsider is going to be respectful for a change! We're about to see the tender, gentlemanly side of this brash, mysterious outsider! But no, he was just taking off his hat to cram it full of all the sweet, sweet apples he could carry. And I was like, gee, Lee Majors sure has a hatful of apples now! He's going to have quite a night eating apples. Meanwhile, Audra (Linda Evans) gets a lot of use out of her leather strap, often with good reason, because they seem to live in a nightmarish hellscape. Right now everyone is shooting each other and I haven't even made it to the end of the first episode yet.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Terrified Bob Hope

So far no owls in this biography of Angela Carter, though you might guess how pleased I was to run across "a terrified Bob Hope."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Here's Your Monocle

I recorded a TCM showing of THREE RING CIRCUS and watched some of it last night. I am pleased to tell you about the villain of the piece (pictured), Puffo the Wonder Clown. First of all I am pleased to tell you that his name is Puffo the Wonder Clown. He is addressed often. "You're drunk, Puffo." And, when he is fired from the circus, "Draw your money, Puffo." I cannot explain the pleasure such sentences gave me. "Puffo, he's stealing your thunder!" says another clown, referring to Jerry Lewis. So later Puffo goes out there and kicks Jerry Lewis in the behind and jumps up and down on him. The circus audience turns on Puffo! And I must say I was surprised because it seemed like regular clown business to me. I'm not sure what clued in the audience that Puffo really meant it. Clowns are always brutalizing one another for our amusement, and we thank them for it. But one little girl jumps up and yells, "Stop it! You're killing him!" I may be paraphrasing. After Puffo nearly murders Jerry in the ring (I guess - as I say, it was difficult to distinguish from everyday clown violence), Jerry says in his saintly mewl, "Here's your monocle. I'm not mad, Puffo." You see, Puffo had dropped his monocle in the sawdust to get Jerry to bend over. You know how it is. Oh, Puffo. I am not sure I can rightly call Puffo a sad clown, though he is certainly a bitter clown. Jerry - who tinkered a lot with the script of this famously troubled production - seems interested in rage-filled clowns. Think of the snarling clown who hates America in his film THE FAMILY JEWELS. Think of him, I said! And of course drunken clowns are a national treasure by any standard. Puffo is a mean drunk, as opposed to the garden-variety sniveling of a typical drunken clown like Twitchy, who meets his sad end at the hands of a psychopath in the Mickey Spillane circus thriller RING OF FEAR, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Will you mind very much if we stop talking about clowns for a second? In a subplot, Dean Martin falls under the spell of Zsa Zsa Gabor as the haughty queen of the circus. And I had never really thought about it, but that's a common story element, isn't it? The beauteous, dominant circus woman? I think of Steve Martin in THE JERK (its title an homage to Lewis's THE PATSY?), in the thrall of the sexy motorcycle daredevil who pushes him around. In conclusion, I cannot justify Puffo's honorific. At no point in the film are we given any indication that he is, in fact, a "wonder clown" of any kind.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Owl Club

Jim, the narrator of Willa Cather's MY ANTONIA, grows up somewhat and moves to town, where soon enough is established a dance hall called the Owl Club. Now, I have already told you about some significant owls in MY ANTONIA, and need I remind you that I am under no obligation to tell you EVERY time an owl appears in a book? But if there's something named something like the Owl Club, I believe it bears mentioning. Jim does not frequent the Owl Club ("I refused to join 'the Owls'") but "I made a bold resolve to go to the Saturday night dances at the Fireman's Hall." Needless to say, it breaks his grandmother's heart! Lest you think this makes the book too namby-pamby, there are plenty of wedding parties devoured by wolves and hoboes leaping headfirst into threshing machines.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Birds of Subterranean Habit

Both Dr. Theresa and Bill Boyle love the novel MY ANTONIA, but neither has been able to persuade me to read it until Bill happened to mention the other night that there is "good owl stuff" in it. All right! But the problem is that Megan Abbott and I are on a strict diet of "movie people" biographies and autobiographies. We have read several in a row! Including some I have not told you about because there are no owls in them. We just finished Howard Hughes - very depressing - and on Monday we're set to take up Angela Carter. Wait! I know what you are thinking. Angela Carter is not a "movie person." But our reasoning, if I recall it correctly, is that they made a movie based on her works - THE COMPANY OF WOLVES - so we're going to let her slide by on that account. And I peeked at the first paragraph of the bio and it all starts with Little Red Riding Hood, which ties right in, so I think we're good. So in the meantime I have a couple of days to read MY ANTONIA and I was like, "Please, God, let me hurry up and get to the owls." And there they were! Our narrator and his pal Antonia "watch the brown earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests underground with the [prairie] dogs." I was like, my word! What manner of owls are these? And as I sat and pondered it, I realized they were none other than the selfsame burrowing owls I heard about at Off Square Books one time, when the author bragged and boasted of stalking them with a shirtless George Plimpton. Go to bookstores, you'll learn something! "We felt sorry for the owls," says Cather's narrator. That's because rattlesnakes slither around and eat their eggs! Easy pickings! And "we used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit." And "It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and disappear under the earth."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Powerfully Spiced Sausage Meat

Bill Boyle got me reading these stark novels of Osamu Dazai. I read two of them and neither one had an owl in it, as far as I could tell. But as you know, I also like books with gelatin in them, especially Jell-O. (See also.) But I'm not "blogging" anymore, so I can't just "blog" about any old thing anymore, especially seeing as how I don't "blog" anymore. But there was this interesting jelly sequence in this one Osamu Dazai novel: "Oh, I'm sorry. Have you made jelly? That's terrific. You shouldn't have bothered... it would be wicked not to eat your wonderful jelly... It tasted watery, and when I came to the piece of fruit at the bottom, it was not fruit after all, but a substance I could not identify... as I manipulated the peeling lacquer chopsticks to eat my jelly, I felt unbearably lonely." It really made wonder about the particular kind of jelly being discussed, but not enough to look anything up. And I couldn't just "blog" about that! But what if there were TWO books with gelatin in them? Suddenly we would have a theme going! Such a possibility did not even occur to me, frankly, but then there I was in Square Books all of a sudden, and hey! Do you know about this "Constant Reader" program they have? Well, it's not my job to explain it to you. But sometimes you get a free book. And I had this little slip of paper in my wallet entitling me to a free book. And that's when I saw what I didn't even know I needed, inconspicuous on a back table: the recently discovered novel by Walt Whitman. So I got it for free. And I meant to open it to the beginning but somehow it fell open to page 10, which catches Whitman mid-phrase: "preferable to some, is the powerfully spiced sausage meat, or the jelly-like head-cheese." Now we're getting somewhere! PS: Prayer works! After composing the bulk of the above, but leaving a few gaps to fill on my return, I went off to visit my mom and dad for a few days. I took with me a biography of Howard Hughes that Megan and I are reading. In my few free moments, I read some of it, which is how I came upon "Charles W. Perrelle, the able vice-president of production for the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Company," who was, somehow, in the eyes of the authors, both a "boy wonder" and an "owlish-looking man." PPS! Not to put a cherry on top, but when I came home I watched the most recent episode of Pete Holmes's show CRASHING, which I had set to record in my absence for just that purpose. The song over the closing credits was "Sometimes I'm Happy," as performed by Jerry Lewis. Life seems to be at its peak.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Last night I watched UN FLIC on Ace Atkins's back porch - just look, there I am standing in front of the projector afterward - and I had a pretty good tweet about UN FLIC that I tweeted when I got home but then I realized that nobody wants to read tweets about UN FLIC, so I deleted my great tweet about UN FLIC, and that's when I realized I'd better "blog" about UN FLIC even though I don't "blog" anymore. That's what the "blog" is, I realized: a big old city dump. You don't want to drive out there to the city dump but sometimes there's some unwieldy thing you have to get rid of. So I was supposed to bring something "French" to Ace's, so I found this mushroom recipe in an old French cookbook, and I used about half a bottle of good white wine in these damn mushrooms - pardon my "French" - ha ha! And then they turn out to be these... mushrooms. Just some mushrooms lying there. Just some cold mushrooms lying wearily on a plate. "Serve very cold," the old French cookbook advised. It didn't help. They were just like... mushrooms. You eat one and you're like, "Yep, that's a mushroom." You know, maybe I was too timid with the coriander! "They can't possibly require THIS MUCH coriander!" I yelled. "These old French people were CRAZY!" Well, who's laughing now? The old dead French people, that's who. The only good thing about them (the mushrooms, not the old dead French people) was Dr. Theresa's suggestion that I bring along Bob Hope's cocktail forks for people to spear and eat them with. I also brought Bob Hope's very own personal (former) glass toothpick holder to hold them in! The cocktail forks, I mean. One of my greatest joys of the evening was seeing Bill Boyle's little girl absolutely murdering a strawberry with one of Bob Hope's cocktail forks. (In case some of you don't know why I have Bob Hope's cocktail forks, I bought them at an auction.) Well, anyway,
I didn't understand UN FLIC. Like, Richard Crenna spent a lot of time combing his hair! Like, I think I got up to pee and came back and Richard Crenna was still combing his hair. That's what my great deleted tweet was about. I can't remember the exact wording of my great deleted tweet, but it was something like, "Critics the world over agree that UN FLIC is the film in which Richard Crenna spends the most time combing his hair." So you can see why I deleted it. It's too specific for the high-pressure world of the on-the-go twitter user of today! This "blogger" I found ("click" here) has a more positive spin on that scene (pictured), which I will now quote: "Once we're inside the train, Melville's sure touch returns... The scene goes on for several minutes, during which we see Crenna carefully adjust his coiffure not once but twice... the meticulous preparations are mesmerizing." The fact that I was just all, "Boy, he is sure is combing his hair a lot!" is my own problem. As Bill Boyle pointed out, the long shot of the adorable little helicopter flying over the tiny train made UN FLIC look briefly like a Wes Anderson movie.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


As you know I often claim not to "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, which I am then compelled by nature to add to my long list of books I read with owls in them. So last night I finished reading the wonderful new novel - partly in that it has many wonders in it! - by George Saunders, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. It takes place mostly in a graveyard, among ghosts, which I don't think is a spoiler, as the book flap mentions both the graveyard and the ghosts. So right away, you know, I feel pretty sure it's going to have an owl in it. Ghosts? Graveyards? Owls must be on that list. But I go along for quite a spell and no owl. Then some ghosts are gliding through the graveyard and some generic "birds" look at them funny. We are told that birds don't care for ghosts. Which is interesting, but I thought, "Well, that's it for birds in this book." BUT THEN! Chapter LXXIV, which takes place inside a mausoleum, starts like this: "Outside, an owl shrieked."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Didn't Let Me Down, Sam Shepard

Almost at the end of this short new book by Sam Shepard and I was like, are you kidding me? Are there not going to be any owls in this book? Why, Sam Shepard's the one who got me started in my lifelong career of counting the owls in the books I read. But now there's a section about the movie THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (though he doesn't name it), with a weirdly persistent refrain that the movie has "absolutely no sense of humor" (is that a bad thing? I can't tell what Sam Shepard thinks!) and Sam Shepard has bats and owls chasing the incredible shrinking man at the end of his movie, though I don't think that's accurate, and I should know, remember how I had a lot of big thoughts about the end of that movie on January 14, 2009 ("click" here)? Of course you do! But maybe I just forgot the bats and owls. Or maybe Sam Shepard is using "poetic license"! I guess we'll never know.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hieronymus Bob

Steve Wolfhard sent a pic of Bob Hope driving a golf cart in the shape of his own (Bob Hope's own) head. Then Tom Herpich cleverly "photoshopped" it (I guess) into a Hieronymus Bosch painting. I don't know if you would have spotted it had I not told you. It fits right in!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What Ruth Gordon Ate

You get a lot of meals catalogued in this Ruth Gordon book. Megan was most interested in "steak Stanley," which comes with fried bananas, while my eye fell on "curry soup Waterbury, named after the great polo player who'd flung himself out the Pullman window." Megan, with her prodigious research skills, immediately procured a recipe for steak Stanley, which she sent along, but I'll be danged if I can find anyone who knows about "curry soup Waterbury" aside from the late Ruth Gordon. I found one famous polo player (and rope manufacturer!) named Waterbury, but I don't see any indication that he threw himself off a train. I never try very hard, though. For example, I have no idea what Ruth Gordon is having for dinner here with Orson Welles and Shirley Temple, or why, or what Orson Welles thinks he's doing with his hand.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Original Skeeky Kid

Megan Abbott and I have been reading lots of books about movie people together. We read some books about Orson Welles, then we read about Walt Disney, then Bunuel's autobiography (first recommended to me by Bill Taft), which, to my astonishment, did not have an owl in it, though there were rats and spiders and one or two bats and hair growing out of cracked-open tombs. And those were just his childhood memories! As you know, I don't "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, and that brings us to MY SIDE by Ruth Gordon, which Megan and I are reading now, in which a certain Miss Jerome is described as a "five-foot, brown-haired, brown-eyed, parchment-skinned ninety-pound replica of a hoot owl." And that's Ruth Gordon just getting warmed up! I'll tell you one mysterious word she likes to employ: "skeeky." Even Megan, who loves to do research (remember when she found out all about "friendship clubs"?), had trouble tracking down examples. I looked in my GREEN'S DICTIONARY OF SLANG, VOL. 3, P-Z, and found only "skeek," with examples drawn from the early twenty-first century, which seems to be directly opposed to the way Ruth Gordon uses "skeeky." Skeekiness, in Ruth Gordon's usage, is a condition to be desired. The only helpful example Megan could find comes from a magazine short story from 1915: "he spilled a line of bunk about her being the only and original skeeky kid." This fits nicely within the time period that Ruth Gordon is writing about when she uses "skeeky." So! Now that I've got you here and I read a book with an owl in it, I can tell you about an unrelated matter that has been on my mind. I watched the Welles version of THE TRIAL, and it pretty much ended with - SPOILER! - Anthony Perkins alone on a desolate shore with a lit bundle of dynamite. And that reminded me of PIERROT LE FOU, which also ended with its isolated protagonist standing in a lonely spot with a lit bundle of dynamite. And then BANG! Is this a genre? I think I need to find a third example before I can say it's a genre. Oh! While I was watching THE TRIAL, Megan happened to tweet - not knowing that I was watching THE TRIAL - that it was Jeanne Moreau's birthday. And then there she was in THE TRIAL! Jeanne Moreau, I mean. And there I was not knowing it was her birthday. And just about the first line she has in THE TRIAL is, "If you're stuck for something to say, try happy birthday." Isn't that a weird coincidence? Well, I thought it was a weird coincidence. Okay, I'll see you next time I read a book with an owl in it!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mary Miller's Consecutive Owls

As you know I don't "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, which I then add to my big list of books with owls in them. Yesterday afternoon I walked up to Square Books and was delighted to see a stack of Mary Miller's new story collection, ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR. So I bought one and came home and read the first eleven stories in a single evening. There are sixteen stories in the book. You do the math! I guess that means I read almost 3/4 of the book in a single sitting but I'm not sure because I'm going to let you do the math, as previously stated. But that's how riveting Mary's new book is. And I am pleased to inform you that two consecutive stories have owls in them. "Owls are predators. They could take off with a small dog, easy," says a character in one. "There's an owl at my house," says a character in the next. As to the former point, I was thinking about it just the other night when Dr. Theresa and I were watching SLEEPING BEAUTY and the owl was overly friendly with the squirrel.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Owl Grease

THE BIRDS came on TCM yesterday and I thought, "I wonder if Messiaen ever saw this movie?" That's considered a real knee slapper around here. But then I really started wondering. And I remembered there was a book on the case right next to me all about Messiaen. But I looked through it and it's not that kind of book. I thought maybe Messiaen would have enjoyed the soundtrack to THE BIRDS - in fact it was the soundtrack that made me start thinking about him - but disapproved of the bird behavior. Or maybe he would've found some mystical interpretation of the bird behavior. And you know, maybe he would have hated the soundtrack. I guess we'll never know. I did open the book to some diary notes of Messiaen, which is how I know that he heard the call of a pygmy owl at Bryce Canyon, Utah, at 5:20 in the morning on May 5, 1972. In related news, Chris Offutt told me he has been reading my "blog." And I was like, "WHAT!" Because as you know I don't "blog" anymore. But to save me some time, Chris sent me part of his next novel... JUST the parts with owls. I believe I counted five owls, though as Chris pointed out in his accompanying email, some of those could be the same owls. Chris gave me permission to quote from his owl passages but I'm hesitant to spoil anything. The piquant title of this "post" comes from Chris's manuscript and already I feel I've said too much.