Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Monday, March 20, 2006

I've Got Your Good Ship Lollipop Right Here, I'm Afraid

Tomorrow I look for actual work. (Thanks for the referral, Stacy!) In the meantime, I've been sitting in my room, sitting very still and trying not to spend any more money. Because unless I get a sudden influx of cash, I will actually be unable to pay this month's rent on time. Alas, that's what it seems to take to get me motivated: brinksmanship!

So I've been writing and playing online games and---thanks to Turner Classic Movies---having naughty, naughty thoughts about Shirley Temple.

I speak, of course, of the Shirley Temple of The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, made in 1947 when she was a saucy, unspeakably pert vixen of nineteen. That showed yesterday, and while I was continually agog at her surprising sexiness then (she plays a high school girl with a very funny crush on Cary Grant), I was able to suppress it because the movie itself is hilarious in its own right, plus it features Rudy Vallee (the Golden Age Hollywood answer to Gilmore Girls's Bernard Herriman), and Myrna Loy, who has been so irresistible to me since The Thin Man that I was able to redirect part of my passion toward a less creepy, more age-appropriate target. (Which is what Cary Grant does, too, not to give anything away.)

But today, as if to underline their complete commitment to my moral undoing, TCM just showed 1949's Adventure in Baltimore, which lacks comedy, big-name actors, or any other distractions, and just stars Shirley Temple, age 21, as the prettiest goddamn thing in all of 1905 Maryland. Those wide eyes! That turned-up nose! That irresistible pout! Those coltish legs and that girlish, crazy-making figure! (I think she may have been merely an A cup, but proportion is everything, and in both these movies her body effortlessly vibrates at some angelic golden mean.) I'm not exaggerating when I say that, the first time she whirled to defiantly face the camera, I actually caught my breath.

But it gets worse! The story has this gorgeous, gorgeous creature playing the daughter of a pastor! The naughty daughter of a pastor! And how does she rebel in 1905? By becoming a feminist! She stands up to men! She knocks down doors! She trangresses sexual mores! At the climax of the film, she even gets in a brawl while fighting for women's suffrage, and does it without breaking her awesome cuteness for even a second! And did I mention she's also an artist? By the end of the movie I was so close to swooning you'd have sworn I was wearing a corset.

And of course, the whole time I've been thinking, Dave, this is wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong! Because not only is she the most famous child in history, but she grew up to serve in Ronald Reagan's administration! (She was ambassador to Ghana and then Czechoslovakia---and actually, she served Carter, too, but why complicate things? She's a lifelong pro-war Republican.) But the heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing, and in my fantasies, she's thirty years old---fully a woman and yet still as pert as ever. I explain to her the responsibility of government to provide for its citizens, the importance of all kinds of security (financial, medical, political) to the continued economic health of the nation, and she keeps drinking Shirley Temple Blacks (did I mention we're in a low-lit tropical bar?) and leans forward, sweet rum on her lips, and murmurs "My God, Dave, you're changing my views completely! Is it hot in here or is it just this terribly confining sweater I long to be rid of?"

We have sex in black and white, too, by the way. I can't picture her any way else. (Maybe that's for the best---for all I know, she may have been blotchy in real life. Maybe monochrome film saved her career. I don't care.) And, just like in the movies, this part of the fantasy is sort of vague---I can only picture the curtains blowing outside the open window above us.

And you know what? As soon as I wrote that last sentence, I realized what the attraction was. Could there be any object of sexual desire more associated with shame and guilt? (Well, okay---the Virgin Mary. But moving on . . .) Some damaged unconscious part of my brain saw her---beautiful, desirable Shirley Temple---and then, at the first whiff of shame, bit down like a terrier. There you go, Dave! snarls this libidinous dog. This is what sex should be like! Shame on you! Shame, shame, and ever more unending shame! That's how this game works at its most seamless: You're only allowed to have fun if you walk in knowing you deserve to be punished later! Grrrrrr!

Which makes me think: it must have been hell for Shirley when she was dating. I read an interview with Rita Hayworth who said that the difficulty in all her exes was that "they went to bed with Gilda and woke up with just plain old Rita." How much worse would it be if you knew that, on some level, everyone you were dating felt guilty for wanting you? If I were in her position, I think I'd have had my coming-out party among the Amish.


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