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!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I got paid today, finally---my first real paycheck in three months! I'd done a little estimating and figured that, after taxes and withholding and whatnot, my paycheck would be about $900. It turns out I was wrong---it's $899 and change. ("Fuck you, Uncle Sam!" I felt like roaring. "You owe me at least three coins!") The money comes just in time for me to pay rent, which will leave me (heavy sigh) $150 to live on for the next fifteen days. Next payday will be cooler. As it is, the money came just in time. I deposited it, and it'll be available tomorrow. Which is great because I'm out of money and almost out of food. In fact, I'm actually completely out of diet soda (which I'm been drinking until I can afford a water filter), and so tonight I'm drinking straight whiskey---a nice joining of desperation and celebration.

In additional celebration, tonight Turner Classic Movies is showing "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" as part of their monthlong Bette Davis festival. (I'm guessing this is the last movie.) About three years ago, when I first fell in love with New York, I saw it in on the big screen in a revival theater in Chelsea with my friend Ryan and a horde of highly appreciative, camp-loving gay men. What a perfect only-in-New-York experience that was! And now what a great night this is! I've come full circle, and I'm totally relaxed. Of course, that may be the Jim Beam Black talking.

By the way, I've decided to start taking the bus to work. It takes longer, but I can sit down the entire time, and I plan to start writing a book of some sort. More on this later.


Turns out there are three more Bette Davis movies to come. They're not just bringing their Star of the Moth celebration down to the wire; they're slopping over into the next month. I'm not techinically OCD, but I may have to shut off the TV at midnight just to have traditional closure.

Last Comic Standing: The Aftermath

Again, I'm sorry if any of you wasted your lives.

But I must add this. Although I told people "I'm sorry you wasted your life watching the show," I actually liked most of the performers. Not because the comedy was so great (although the skinny Willy Wonka guy really was funny, and so were a few others), but because I just like comedians and the process of comedy. I was like, "Dude, these guys suck, but they're totally my people." Everything about them---the flop sweat, the anxiety, the badly concealed neediness---reminded me of what it was like hanging out with them all.

But almost everyone had a bad act, and I kept tweaking it. Like the one blond woman who famously almost didn't make it. (She's clearly trying to do Sarah Silverman, and she has the same tendency to assume that off-putting = funny.) She had that awful joke about running across her dad's porn collection as a child and discovering...ready for the punch line?...he's a child molester! Ha ha! And I kept thinking, That would have been a little funnier if she'd said, "And ever since then I've loved pictures of shiny, beaufitul young men. It takes me back." Or even something like, "But of course back then I was so naive I didn't even know what the horse was for."

By the way, I had what may be a typical comedian moment the other day when I saw that Netscape News had an article with the clickable headline, "The Worst Thing You Can Do at Work!" Interesting! I thought, and made a sort of mental note about what that worst thing might be. In the anti-climactic tradition of every damn article Netscape has ever linked to (why do I always try to kick the football?), the answer turns out to be: "Use curse words," according to some study by a research firm composed, apparently, of teenaged Mormon virgins. And I thought, "Why did I even think that the questionnaire would have a box for Masturbate In The Coffeepot?" I need to shower now.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm On Last Comic Standing Tuesday Night, Possibly!

As mentioned in this post long ago, I think it's likely that you'll see me on Last Comic Standing this Tuesday Night, May 30th, in their two-hour premiere. The website says it's at 8, 7 central and mountain. Since I didn't actually get in to compete or perform, your chance of seeing me will be in a brief early-in-the-episode interview section, or, failing that, possibly in one of the standard sweep-around-the-line-of-hopefuls shots such shows invariably include. I'll be the guy in the cowboy hat and boots. In either case, that's good news, because then you won't have to watch the entire thing, which---if my take on the host is anything to go by---is apt to be truly painful.

I realize that we're in a TiVo world, but if anyone can "tape" it for me---or in some other way render it watchable by yours truly---I'd be deeply grateful. Thanks.


I've been watching the show for half an hour, and it looks like they're going from west to east across the entire damn country, which means any shot of me, however brief, is apt to be in the last half hour of the two-hour premiere. But since they haven't shown any interviews, I doubt I made the cut, and I feel bad for having asked everyone to watch. You're putting up with some real punishment.


Yep. They're in New York now and I clearly didn't make the cut. Not even in the initial sweep which (I just realized) must have happened when I wasnt' even there. And I have to say that, as bad as my own experience with the show was, the editors are clearly smarter than the host. The show was better without me.


The more I think about it, the more I think the shitty questions we were asked might have been some sort of last-minute sop thrown to the latecomers to prevent us from rioting. It's the only reasonable explanation I can think of. And I feel so terribly dirty.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Brief Note on the Brangelina Baby

She was born last night, and they're calling her Shiloh. I think that's nice. Although Angelina Jolie is a Buddhist, and Brad Pitt is an agnostic, evidently they've decided to compromise and raise their child a Mormon.

The Fallen Dead and their Exoskeletal Vengeance

I mentioned how hot it was in my last post. What I neglected to mention is that I was keeping my window wide open to cool things down. So at one point I looked up from my work, distracted by a buzzing sound coming from my desk lamp. My light had attracted a wasp, which was walking around less than two feet from where I was sitting. I’ve neer actually been stung by a wasp, and I doubt I’m allergic to their venom, but since I’ve been developing late allergies the way the Sci-Fi channel develops shitty movies (see below), I’m taking no chances. I had to kill it. Keeping a wary eye on it, I backed out of the room and started rummaging through the bathroom and kitchen.

But no one in the house had any insect spray. That’s ridiculous. In Tallahassee, everyone carries spray insecticide because the environment is so junglelike that engaging in random preemptive sprayings is the only way to prevent the mosquitos from flying away with your children. (Actually, the spiders are even worse, since they’re not only enormous but they emerge like grass from every nook you have, and that requires a second type of spray.) But here in New York I guess we keep forgetting there’s more wildlife here than just subway rats. So no spray.

I did find some spray Clorox Bathroom Cleaner, however, and I thought, “What the hell.” I figured Clorox = poison in any language. I came back to the room, saw that the wasp was sitll walking slowly along the back of the lamp, and I struck: squirtety squirty-squirt! The Clorox coated the wasp thickly, and I think it drowned almost instantly (tiny bodies, tiny lungs). And that was the end of that.

Or so I thought. I woke up this morning and realized that a.) I’d left the TV on, turned to the Sci-Fi Channel with the sound off, and b.) the Sci-Fi Channel was now showing Deadly Invasion: Killer Bee Nightmare, where a bunch of bees wreak terrible terrible vengeance on the family of Robert “Airplane!” Hays. How ironic! I thought. It’s like the spirit of the wasp is out to get me. Oh, well. I wonder what’s after that. I checked, and that’s when my jaw dropped. Here’s the list of today’s films:

Deadly Invasion: Killer Bee Nightmare (‘95). Killer bees invade home of California family.

Spiders (‘00). A reporter and her friends discover giant mutated spiders.

Skeeter (‘94). Toxic mosquitoes infest California town.

Deadly Swarm (‘03). In the jungle, a man must recover a shipment of deadly wasps lost in a plane crash.

Flying Virus (‘01). Passengers aboard a plane fight deadly bees. (With Gabrielle Anwar and Rutger Hauer. Nice to see them both still plugging away.)

Locusts: The Eighth Plague (‘05). Flesh-eating locusts escape from a research lab. (Starring Julie Benz, a woefully underrated actress mostly famous for her role as vampire queen Darla on Buffy and Angel. A voice so husky it could pull a sled.)

Mansquito (‘05). A scientist and her subject turn into mutant insects.

Mosquito (‘94). Big insects thirst for human blood.

Threshold (‘03). Alien DNA causes people to mutate into insects.

and, finally,

Bugs (‘03). SWAT commandos and an entomologist join forces to defeat a deadly swarm of prehistoric insects. (Starring Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Angie Everhart. I’m gonna take a gamble right now and predict that Angie plays the entomologist, who is probably the best in the world. Any takers?)

This is ridiculous. I mean, there’s vengeance and then there’s flying completely off the chain. (This is what I don’t like about wasps: no sense of ethical balance.) And if there were any proof that this is all designed to punish me, the one obvious choice they’re missing from this lineup is 1993's Ticks, starring Ami Dolenz. (You can also find it called Infested.) For a few years in there, Ami Dolenz was one of my favorite guilty pleasures: the daughter of Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, and almost exactly my age, in the early nineties she was in a string of very bad films (Witchboard 2, Pumpkinhead II, White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild see the pattern) and she was always the cutest thing in any of them. She couldn’t really act, but she was obviously having so much fun I just couldn’t resist her, and if I were in a litigious mood, Blockbuster would now owe me at least twenty dollars.

She’s still acting here and there (as late as 1999 she played “Sacrificed Virgin” in something called Shogun Cop), but Ticks is still her magnum opus, and it would have given me at least one happy moment in the middle of all this insect vengeance. But no! Dave must be punished! I can’t help but suspect that, among the programmers at the Sci Fi Channel, there may be at least one mansquito. If this turns out to be my last post, you know what happened.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Thirtysomething Man's Fancy

It’s spring, and all over Manhattan, skirts are in bloom. It’s amazing. I lived in Tallahassee Florida for six years—ground zero for tight-shirted, hooker-heeled, shiny undergraduate pulchritude—but I don’t think until this week I’ve ever found myself so enchanted just by watching women move. Up stairways, along sidewalks, rushing for the subway, and always these springtime skirts swing and bounce around legs that carry a beauty the women themselves seem scarcely aware of most of the time. It’s as though the entire city is dancing. I’m not a leg man, but I’m thinking of converting.

Since I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, I’ve always hated the concept of weather. What I like about the desert is its consistency. It was hot yesterday, it’s hot today, and tomorrow has a 100% chance of hotness. I developed habits you can only have in such a climate—such as reading while walking, and being content with a twenty-year-old car since the salt will never eat at it. But maybe it’s a reflection of the determined transformation I’m making in my life, I don’t know, but I gotta say: spring in Manhattan is the best argument for weather you could muster. It’s the exact opposite of Spring Break on South Beach, where I went one semester and found, to my surprise, that I eventually became actually tired of seeing topless women sunbathe. I was surrounded by fit tanned women in the prime of their attractiveness, almost entirely exposed and lying supine, and even though this was my first year of transition from the mincing puritanism of Hallmark and Kansas City, by early afternoon on South Beach all I could think of was returning to my hotel room and reading a book. It’s enough to make a person doubt evolution.

Not so in New York. Rather than glut yourself on a pleasure till it’s taken for granted, here in this city (and, I guess, all across the world at the same latitude), you appreciate the little things. After winter, the first feminine arm on the bus seems like a happy, vulnerable smile offered to the world. Mere ankles can seem coy and inviting. A good friend of mine who’s a nudist once told me that, when you’re at a nudist convention, nudity becomes so commonplace that it’s shocking to see someone wearing socks. It’s like that here. Who needs Girls Gone Wild? Yesterday on the subway a woman wore a white crinkled-cotton skirt festooned with purple flowers, and as she swung her leg up from the platform to the train, the skirt floated like a cobweb and revealed bright blue strappy sandals the color of a gumball. I’ve been picturing it ever since, filling it in with imaginary scoring by Montovani. It’s not even particularly erotic. (I know the difference; one train stop later a gorgeous, braless young Filipina had her shirt unbuttoned to her midriff and was fanning herself while sweat ran down her skin. Yikes! That was hard train to leave.) All I know is, spring seems to bring out the best femininity of women in a way that just makes my heart happy.

(Side note: I just thought of an additional pro-weather argument. To wit: you lead a richer, happier life if you notice the little things instead of operating on automatic and waking up twenty years later thinking, “Where did my life go?” And if you want to be constantly presented with something new, something changing, a weather-ridden city would seem to be your solution to eternal mental youthfulness. Of course, there’s an ironclad counter-argument: snow sucks ass.)

The only downside to the current weather is that it’s really damned hot. It’s embarrassing to admit my weakness here. I grew up—hell, I thrived—in a place where the average yearly temperature is north of 80 degrees, and then spent the last six years in Tallahassee, a city so swelteringly humid that if you wore glasses and walked in and out of doors a lot, you practically needed to carry a little squeegee along. I barely ever complained. But something about New York—the apartment itself? The recent rainfall? My disastrous feng shui?—something has rendered this apartment so stiflingly close that it’s all I can do to keep my shirt on and resist buying a few bags of ice to roll around on. I’d purchase a fan...but I don’t get paid until Wednesday. When payday finally comes, I think I may cry for joy. It’ll certainly be a relief. My bank account’s developing an ulcer.

But for now I don’t care. It’s a long weekend, and when the weather’s like this, the most joyous thing you can do is simply walk down the street. That’s what I think I’ll do tomorrow: get a book, walk up to the park near the Cloisters, stare out over the Hudson River, and think how lucky I am, and how beautiful the world has suddenly become.

Tolkien Help Requested ...

The good news is that I found all sixty of my favorite cartoons, back when I was writing them tiny and trying to syndicate in papers! I can now redraw them in larger New Yorker style in complete confidence that I'm not leaving any out.

The bad news is that I was hoping to give a copy of my essay "J.R.R. Tolkien's Literary Offenses" to my good-natured Tolkien-worshipping roomie, but I can' t seem to find it, either in paper form among my files or anywhere on my computer. I've looked for an hour and I'm frustrated. (That's how I found the cartoons, though, so it's not a total loss.)

I know I submitted an early version of the essay to everyone on my Dave Update List. If any of you on that list still has a copy, could you send it to me? I'd be awfully grateful. Thanks!


Done. Thanks, Trip! Trip Payne, everybody. Look for him in Wordplay, the terrific crossword documentary that's making all the rounds. In the film, he's the only member of the crossword community who seems to have a happy domestic life. It gives hope to us all.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Scrabble Afternote

I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed it and plan to return. Plus, one of my favorite friends from the National Puzzlers League was there---name's Jeff, but I know him as Jeffurry---making it actually the first time in the entire time I've lived here that I've actually met a fellow Puzzlers League member in the city. Which isn't as weird as it sounds, because not only are many of us shy retiring people, but I've been holding off on whizzing around the city until I get my 30-day unlimited-rides MetroCard. Until that happens, every time I get on the subway I watch a $2 bill flutter unreclaimably to the heavens.

Ooh! Which reminds me of an easy-but-fun little analogy I came up with on the subway, which I hereby invite you to solve--

bit: $2 bill :: bit : ___ ?


Rats. I checked, just to make sure, and it turns out the analogy is bit: dollar :: bit : ___. Which isn't nearly as interesting to me. It sounded so much more fun on the subway.

Time Flies When You're Emotionally Pingponging

Bad news: Turns out I don't get paid on Friday. I get paid on the 30th, which is next week. Which means that instead of having fun, I have to have a relatively cautious long Memorial Day weekend. ((Sighing noise.)) When will it end? (Answer: The 30th. Actually, probably the day after the 30th because my direct deposit probably hasn't kicked in and I'll have to deposit the payment and wait a day.)

Good news: In my first move toward having a regular social life (of sorts), I went tonight to the famous Honors Scrabble Club of New York, hosted by the famous "G.I." Joel Sherman (of Word Freak fame). It starts at 6:45 a mere twenty blocks from my work, and it was an easy lope.

Bad news: It's been two years since I've played Scrabble, and I got my ass handed to me two times out of three. (Both beat me by over 100 points, although I bet the third guy by 80.) Also, they generally play four games. By three games it was 10:00 and I knew I had to leave if I was going to get back uptown in time enough to go to sleep and get to work tomorrow. But at 10:00 the trains start running slower and---long story short---I didn't get home until midnight. Good thing I left when I did.

Good news: I'd heard about this, but tonight confirmed it. Since the last time I played, there's been a new dictionary released, and so the Official Scrabble Word List has expanded to reflect it...and we now have a two-letter Q word (QI; the chinese term for energy, and also spelled KI by the way) and a two-letter Z word (ZA; short for pizza). QI and ZA! Just think of it! It's really altered the gameplay. You can be a little bolder and not worry about, say, getting Q-stuck at game's end. (With nine Is, there's usually something you can hook it on.) Also, it's a helluva lot easier to simply drop either letter on a triple letter score and get tons of points. All we need now is a two-letter C word and a two-letter V word and the grids at the end will flow together a lot more prettily.

More good news: I've been thinking about it on the various trains, and I now have 77 ideas for office poems scrawled on my little notepad. And I've even written several of them. I'm looking forward to sharing them.

Bad news: It's really late and I have to get to bed. Maybe later. After all, I have a long weekend ahead and I'll probably spend much of it close to home.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Satire Has Caught The Golden Snitch, As It Were!

Check this out. Tom DeLay's legal defense people, angry about an unflattering documentary coming out about DeLay, approvingly link to a scathing interview with the filmmaker conducted by Stephen Colbert. Nothing could possibly please a satirist more than to be taken seriously by the very people you're satirizing. The Colbert Report staff must be calling each other and uncorking some milestone-commemorating inebriants.

By the way, the reference to the Golden Snitch is, of course, a Harry Potter shout-out. I thought of it because my initial temptation for a title was something like "Satire 1, Tom Delay 0", but I realized this is such a great win for satire that it deserved more points. And as you probably know (since Rowling repeats the rules every time in every one of her books), in Quidditch, a regular score---ball through the goal---is one point. Catching the Golden Snitch is worth 100.

But this also raises a point that should have been mentioned long ago: Quidditch is the stupidest fucking game in the world. Forget the fact that it's played on broomsticks, and ignore the obvious risks of death from falling (if it were a real sport, wouldn't there be a net?), and look at that idiotic scoring system. By rights, any decent captain would see these odds and say, "You know what, to hell with regular scoring. Let's put every member of our team to work on catching the Golden Snitch!" Because who cares how far you get ahead---with a hundred points, the Snitch seals the deal so much that you don't need to do anything else.

"But wait!" some of you Harry-lovers are no doubt thinking, "The golden snitch is extremely difficult to catch, and so going after the Snitch would be like gambling on something extremely improbable!" But how improbable is it to catch the thing, really? To make the odds work out, it should be 100 times harder to catch the Snitch than to score a regular goal. But catching the Snitch is apparently common enough that every team has a snitch-chaser. (I believe it's 20% of their entire force, but it's been a while since I went to my closet shrine and checked the scrapbook clippings.) And I need hardly mention that Harry's caught the snitch every damn time he's played the game. So the strategy should be: take out the pther player's snitch-catcher---break his hands, smash his broom, whatever you have to do---and then send all your guys after the damn snitch. It's not rocket science, people.

(By the way, the same problem usually obtains with Yahtzee, to the point where I've started to call Yahtzee "Waiting for Yahtzee" or "First-Player-To-Get-Yahtzee-Wins." If one person gets Yahtzee and the other doesn't there's rarely any need to count the score.)

Of course, maybe Rowling knows this and is saving the big revelation for her final book. ("You mean," cried Hermione, "that we've all been blooming idiots? Strategically, I mean?" "Yes, you have," said journeyman mathematician Professor Beezlebrisket, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher Who Will Be Played by Jude Law...)

Before You Rub Your Eyes and Go "Whaaa?..."

I decided to change the site a tad. Bad idea. Now on the sidebar I have some new stuff, including a list of sites I frequent---in two sections, "Pardners" and "Politics 'n' Religion"---and a site-tracker that's supposed to keep track of how many people have visited since the tracker was put in.

Just so you know: Both "Pardner" and "Politics 'n' Religion" are supposed to be in the site's official font (the same one as "Archives" above it) and "Politics 'n' Religion" is supposed to be a heading, not a link. (Don't click on it, 'cause it don't link to nothin'.) And there's really supposed to me more space between all three new elements, not squushed-up sardinity. So I may have opened a Pandora's box of worms and monkeys, because it looks like I'll have to actually learn html to tweak it. In the meantime, big thanks to Jason for getting me this far.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two Short Notes

One: Jason Rohrbacker has posted my favorite top ten list on his blog! Read and enjoy.

Two: Today's Grand Central music group was two white-haired old black men with acoustic guitars peforming Mississippi Delta Blues. As I passed, I actually heard one of them sing, "My baby done left me . . ." A very good day.

Cultural-Commentary Misfire

I love reading James Barr, whose books on fundamentalism (including Fundamentalism from 1977 and Escaping Fundamentalism from 1982) are sober-minded, well-researched, and extremely withering. But every so often he slips up, and while rereading a chapter of Fundamentalism today on the subway, I noticed this little gem. He's talking about fundamentalism and society and arguing that, in many ways, fundamentalists (his term for evangelical Christians) are very culture-bound in their way of looking at things: tending to go for a scientific explanation for the flood, tending (in health care) to go with medical attention first and prayer second, tending to see conversion as a kind of free-market economics, etc. All pretty true. But then he lets fly with this:

Moreover, the older overt conflict between fundamentalism and science has greatly decreased. The matter of evolution, which was a major centre of the earlier fundamentalist controversy, has receded from the scene ... Thirty years or so ago typical conservative pubishing houses were sill issuing thunderings against the idea of evolution. Today we hear practically nothing about it. (Barr, James. Fundamentalism. London: SCM Press, 1977. 92)

To be fair, James Barr is British, and I imagine the situation is much different in England and Europe in general. But here in America, it's still 1925 and we're still fighting the goddamn Scopes trial all over again every time some lazy electorate accidentally lets a few know-nothings slip into their school boards. The good news is that things actually are getting better and the cultural tide is turning against naive Bible reading---as the fundies' retreat from using the word "creationism" into the more science-y sounding "intelligent design" shows. But still---what the hell kind of 1977 was James Barr living in? And why is the movement so slow?

Quick Political Rundown

Democrat William Jefferson's caught taking bribes! So both parties are now officially corrupt, right? Talking Points Memo points out the difference. The upshot: Jefferson was an independent bribe-taker; the Republicans currently being indicted are part of Tom Delay's pay-for-play system that is actually the heart of the modern Republican machine, resulting in the huge lobbyist giveaways of Medicare D, the Energy Bill, and on down the line. Read here.

I don't expect the media to make much of this difference, though. They're probably wetting their pants over finally being able to call a scandal "bipartisan" and get Fox News off their back. Plus, of course, there's all that sexy footage ...

And here's a nice link (to anther link) to a sobering article about the explosion of the notion of "state secrets" under Bush and how it's interfering with the legal process.

I should have been on the train ten minutes ago. If only my roommate would get out of the damn bathroom ...

Who Needs an iPod Much of the Time?

In my commute, I take the A train from 181st Street to 42nd Street. Then I take the S shuttle across 42nd street to Grand Central Terminal. Then at Grand Central I hop the 6 train down Park Avenue South and get off at the first stop. In all, it takes about forty minutes—thirty of it just on the A.

I mention this because, after doing it for a week, I’m finding one real advantage of going through Grand Central every morning: that’s where the buskers work. In New York, if you want to be a street performer, you have to get a license, and most of the performers have signs that seem to be provided by the MTA. And there’s so much variety that I’ve decided to read the musicians as omens: a good musician means good things. A bad one means it’ll be that kind of day.

So for example, two days ago, just outside the S train, I passed two old black men—one on fiddle, one on accordion—who were playing bluegrass. Their sign proclaimed them The Ebony Hillbillies. That was a good day. The next day I was serenaded on my way to the 6 by a four-person band calling themselves Spirit of Nepal World Music Quartet. Two of them were playing pan pipes. That was bad.

Today, after hearing a middle aged black woman sing, without accompaniment, a haunting rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, I walked down a hall and got to hear another woman—white, fortysomething—sitting in a chair with an accompanying tape player and playing classical music on the saw. (I didn’t recognize the piece, but I think it was Bach’s Third Etude For Violin and Carpentry Tools. Its first performance brought down the house. Thank you! I’ll be here all week!) On the way home, she’d been replaced by a five-piece Dixieland jazz band complete with tuba. Tuba! Between this and the Chinese guy who always plays some Tibetan instrument I don’t know the name of, I think in the past few weeks I’ve seen every musical instrument there is.

Well, except for the bagpipes. That would be a pretty bad day.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Gore '08? Really?

Maybe Hilary isn't the presumptive Democratic nominee. Over at Talking Points Memo, Matthew Yglesias reads a New York Times article that says "Many people like Gore, but he's stigmatized because of his failure last time"---and then, as M.Y. notes, the article fails to interview anyone who actually feels that way. So he's done his own off-the-cuff research and discovers (mostly) the opposite: most of the Democrats who replied actually like Gore, with one exception: the vocal anti-PMRC wing (Remember those PMRC folks? Used to put labels on music albums?).

I'm not a safe guy to ask in this debate because I always felt that the only thing Gore did wrong in 2000 was not stand up in the middle of the Presidential debate and say, "Forget all this 'he-said, she-said' crap! I'd just like to point out that I've been serving this country in the Senate for twenty years longer than my opponent has even been sober!" Harsh, but hard to forget once you're in the voting booth. Then later he could have maybe added, "And I actually did sponsor the bill that funded ARPANET, which turned into the Internet. And I'd like to remind our journalists that confirming facts like this is what The Congressional Record is published for." This is why I'll never be a politician---that, and the fact that I'm an atheist, which makes me theoretically ineligible to hold office in seven states.

Still, that gives me a great idea for a bumper sticker this time around: VOTE FOR A PRESIDENT, NOT A DRINKING BUDDY. I welcome other suggestions. (Jason?)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Scene That Would Have Made The DaVinci Code A Whole Lot Shorter

Note: Technically this contains “spoilers,” but since reading a book as badly written and full of self-important hooey as The DaVinci Code provides little pleasure, I'm not sure what I'm spoiling. Still, I thought I’d mention it.


Breathless, Langdon ran the streets of Manhattan, looking for a business that was still open this late—a place full of people where he could be safe. He couldn’t see Silas, the homicidal albino, nearby, and there was nothing that proved Silas was still in pursuit, but this did nothing to sway Langdon’s fervent belief.

Then up ahead he saw a light: a Borders bookstore! Were they normally open at one? Langdon decided he would fact-check later. For now, he had to get inside. He raced to the door—it gave easily—and, ignoring the stares of the late-night shoppers, he raced up the escalator to the second floor, which is usually where they put the bathroom. And near the bathrooms, Langdon knew he would find a pay phone. In a few minutes he could relay his secret to his allies in France, and the world, if not his life, would be saved. If only the calling card he’d bought at that gas station in El Paso didn’t screw him over.

But no sooner had he dialed the first few numbers with nervous, fumbling hands, than a powerful grip seized him with one shoulder, and he felt a metal coil constrict around his neck. “We meet again, Langdon,” the albino hissed in his ear. “You ran, but not fast enough, n’est-ca pas? And this time, you will die. You will die, and the secret that I have dedicated my life to protecting will die with you!”

Langdon fought, but it was no use. He was weak and tired and he’d been up far too many nights already. He could feel the garrotte choke off his air, and his vision started fogging . . . fading . . .

“Excuse me,” said a young man of about twenty-two. His nametag said STAN. “We don’t allow fighting in the store. You’ll have to take it outside. At least fifty feet away from the front of the store so we’re not liable.” They looked at him, baffled, and he raised an apologetic hand. “That’s our policy—at least in Manhattan. In Detroit, you can fight on the sidewalk right in front of the store and we aren’t responsible as long as no blood gets on the windows.”

Silas relaxed his grip, and Langdon gasped in precious, life-sustaining air.

“So sorry,” said Silas, with one of his oleaginous smiles. “It was a simple misunderstanding. We’ll be leaving now. Come, Monsieur Langdon . . .”

“Wait!” said Langdon, trying to reach Stan’s lapels. “He’s trying to kill me because I know that Jesus was married! Leonardo daVinci knew all about it and hid messages in his paintings! And Christ’s bloodline extends through the Merovingian dynasty to the present! I’ve met his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-
great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter and she’s really hot!”

“You fool!” hissed Silas. “You’re off by thirty ‘greats!’”

Stan looked puzzled. “That sounds like you’ve been reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent. It was a bestseller back in 1983 and it’s been in print ever since. I think we have a dozen in stock, but I can order it for you if you like.”

Silas’s jaw dropped. “You mean . . . the secret is out? The whole world knows?”

“I don’t know if you can call it a secret,” said Stan. “I mean, once something goes into its seventh printing . . .besides, can you really call it a secret if no respectable scholar believes it? I mean, that would be like saying, ‘The secret of the UFO masterminds who created the Easter Island statues has been exposed!’ I’d be like, Calm down. They’re made out of porous limestone, they’re light and easy to topple, and fifteen guys can create one in about a day. It’s nothing to kill anyone over.”

“But . . .” Langdon managed, “this truth—it strikes at the heart of all of Christianity!”

“What doesn’t?” said Stan. “Heck, I’ve got books right over here by G.A. Wells and Robert Price that claim that Jesus never even existed. And the idea that Jesus might have been married didn’t lead any church official to assassinate Bishop Shelby Spong, who’s mentioned the possibility in at least three of his bestsellers. And he's still an Episcopal bishop. Honestly, the scholarly wing of the church just isn't that touchy. It’s all out there. All you have to do is look.”

Silas blanched, possibly. “Then . . . all the people I’ve murdered . . . the vows I’ve taken . . . they were for nothing?”

Langdon, too, seemed stricken. “I’ve been threatened, fled from the French police, ruining my reputation and my family relationships . . . for a secret that’s silly and isn’t even secret?”

“Don’t feel too bad,” said Stan. “You’re not the first. I got a lot of this when that movie Stigmata came out. In that one, the Catholic church—the magic, power-obsessed Catholic church!—was murdering people right and left in order to suppress the fact that there was a fifth gospel where Jesus denounced the church that’s been carrying on his name. And I had to tell people, Dude, they’re talking about the Gospel of Thomas, and we sell it right in this store. They even closed the movie with a quote from it. Very big with the New Agers. We sell about thirty a year. And that’s only one out of maybe a dozen other gospels that any scholar could tell you about. And here’s the secret—they’re all very badly written. The four we have really are the best anyone put out.”

“I saw that movie,” said Langdon, thoughtfully. “Isn’t that the one where Tom Berenger is a priest who falls in love with a hooker?”

“I think that was Last Rites,” said Silas. “Stigmata had Patricial Arquette and Gabriel Byrne.”

“Oh, right, that one,” said Langdon. “It wasn’t very good.”

“I wouldn’t know,” said Silas. “I live in a basement. All I do is read our Weekly Abominations newsletter.”

“Hey, you know what?” said Stan. “I’ve got to do this.” And, reaching to his left, he smashed open a fire emergency case holding an axe, and, while the alarms rang behind them all, Stan swung the axe and chopped at Silas’s head. The albino, too evil to move, was felled with a single blow, but this didn’t prevent Stan from continuing his carnage, chop after grisly chop. Soon there was blood everywhere.

“Whew!” said Stan, mopping his brow and smearing the blood that by now was on his face and arm. “I hope a skilled writer gets this down, because I’m not very good at describing things so you can actually picture them.”

“What the hell was that?” said Langdon. “Why did you kill him?”

Stan shrugged a bloody shrug. “I’d just spent a long time lecturing you two. It felt like it was about time for something violent and inexplicable to happen.”

Langdon nodded sagely. “You should write bestsellers,” he said.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Cheeses of Washington Heights---And A Fun New Quiz!

With money in the bank (thanks again, y’all!) and a paycheck coming, I feel like I’m spending my first weekend ever as an actual New Yorker—I’m suddenly not worried about money (I need to budget, but I have enough to live on), and I can suddenly slow down and take the long view: start building a comedy set, shop around calmly for agents, etc. I’ve been smiling all day.

And in my first act as a relatively stable New Yorker, I went to my local market and for some reason noticed, for the very first time, just how much very groovy cheese we have available here. So much that I had to take notes. I mean, we have all the usuals—Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, Monterey Jack—and the usual outliers—Muenster, Gorgonzola, Edam. We even have cheeses that I’ve heard about all the time but have never actually seen: Fontina, Roquefort, and Stilton.

But that’s just the iceberg’s tip. Here’s a list of all the cheeses I can walk two blocks to get. Thank god I’m lactose-intolerant, or I’d immediately develop a new expensive habit.

To make it interesting, I’ve also added into this list the names of four European rappers and hip-hop groups. (One each of Dutch, French, Italian and Swiss, if you care.) Can you tell which is which?

Bucherondin de chevre
Ronkari sheep cheese
campoerial iberico
Lucien Revolucien
Valdeon blue
onetik blue de basque
Assalti Frontali
bleu d’Avergne
Etorki le fromage basque
de Spookrijders
blacksticks blue
tomme des pyrenees
tomme de savoie
Irish Swiss/Kerry gold
italian pecorino romano

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: This is a great neighborhood.


Before I get e-mail I should mention: No, for some reason I saw no Parmesan and no Bel Paese. (And my capitalization skills are spotty, when it comes to cheese. The labels in the store were all lowercase; that seems to be their house style.) On the other hand, there was not only tons of variations on goat cheese, but the deli counter also had Fat-Free and Low-Fat versions of biggies like Swiss and Cheddar. So maybe the explanation is that Parmesan and Bel Paese aren't health-food-store-friendly. Or maybe it's just the neighborhood: for some reason there's so much demand for Romano that they actually had two huge wheels the size of tree stumps on tables in the aisle.

I'll post the answers in a few days.

Friday, May 19, 2006

What Would You-Know-Who Click On?

A very nice fellow contacted me today, introducing himself as, among other things, a former evangelical Christian. He recently read my posts on Christian utopian literature (In His Steps (1895), What Would Jesus Do (1950), etc.) and suggested that I'm leaving out at least one major work.

And you know what? While you're clicking on stuff, why don't you---especially you cat people---check out this site, created by Steve King: Hallmark writer, former co-worker, and author of the comment, reported earlier this month, "Speaking of animals, would you like to see the rat's ass that I give?" Even with his work at Hallmark, this site makes it clear that Steve has vast entertaining reaches of untapped whimsy. Thank God he's uncorking it now.


Almost forgot: My friend (and fellow comedian from back in college) Jason Rohrbacker also has a blog. It's not light verse, but it is Top Ten Lists, so it's just as easy to read. Alas, my favorite list of all time---Top Ten Signs You Are An Insurance Claims Adjuster---is either not on the site or it's hiding. But today's makes a great introduction, too.

Now I'd better go before this posting metamorphoses again.

Lawmakers Against Illegality!

Here's an example of why I like Matthew Yglesias. For a young guy, he has a keen grasp of rhetoric that allows me to forgive his constant infelicitous spellings:

The Senate yesterday "voted to make English the 'national language' of the United States, declaring that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law." So the only services people will have a legal right to obtain in non-English languages will be the ones they . . . have a legal right to obtain in non-English languages? Good times.

He's standing in for Josh Marshall all week at Talking Points Memo. Go check it out.

Speaking of that last post . . .

For your convenience, here are the URLs for all the poem posts I've made on this blog. (And if you were on my old mailing list, don't forget to consider my Z and W and other vocab poems as well.) I suck at linking, so these are just the URLs---you'll have to cut and paste them yourselves. When I get my first paycheck, however, I suspect I'll be able to conquer everything, including learning curves!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Post-Update Update, or Another Quixotic High Concept Is Born

Money came! You can basically relax now and wait for me to repay you. FYI.

In other news, I thought I'd mention that I'm overloaded with light verse poems at the moment, and there's no reason that I couldn't make a book out of what I've got, and (if I may risk an immodest assertion) no particular reason I can see that people wouldn't want to buy it. (No one who ever grew up loving Shel Silverstein, anyway.) The problem is, I can't seem to convince a single agent to even look at what I've got. The only way, I've been repeatedly told, to get anyone to pick up a book of funny poems (or a book of humor, for that matter) is to be famous for something else first. So that sucks.

However, there is one guy in the country who really does make a living writing (among other things) light verse poetry: Calvin Trillin. And he's really good at it---so good, in fact, that he has just published a book of poems about the Bush administration, compiled (and, I believe, slightly expanded) from a series he does for Time Magazine. And here's the thing: he's coming to The Strand Bookstore in mid-June to read from and promote said book! So my plan is, in the absence of any other influential fans, I'm gonna go there (and buy his book: support light verse!) and give him a sheaf of some of my poems. If he's the guy I think he is, he'll hopefully be impressed and maybe kick open a small door somewhere. (And then I'll kick one open for my former co-worker Scott Emmons.) I'm thinking five pages would be enough to show that I'm consistently good and can produce plenty more.

I may, of course, be delusional. But if it doesn't work, I'm no worse off than I am now, and at least the poems will be read by a fellow practitioner.

So here's your chance to be an enabler! If any of the poems I've written on this blog seem like especially strong candidates for a five-page sampler, please let me know! I've got a month to assemble a sort of light-verse C.V. , and I'd welcome any help y'all are willing to give. (And if you want to vote for some poem I've e-mailed you, feel free to post it in the comments.)

By the way, I've also noticed something wrong with my website: it has no links to other websites. So if you have a website, send me the address and I'll see if I can figure out how to link to it.

Evening Update

Thing #1: I finished editing the crossword puzzle book! It took 72 hours and I wrote literally 53 single-spaced pages of corrections---and I was finding errors right up to the end. But it's over and now my evenings are free! (And I've got $1440 coming in two months or so.)

Thing #2: To survive until payday, some generous friends have told me they've fronted me money. So far, only one check has arrived, and I've had to spend half of it on a MetroCard to last me the next two weeks. The good news is, this is the last possible thing that can go wrong: I've got a job, I've got wonderful people lined up to support me until payday . . . and I wind up getting fucked by the postal service.

I'm mentioning this because I've been getting e-mails asking, "Did you get my letter yet?" The answer, alas, is no. (Except for you-know-who in Boston. Thanks! For the rest among you: I don't know. Maybe it's a time zone problem.) I still haven't seen the mail today (my roomates/landlords have the only key and they're not home), but it sure seems like I ought to have something tonight or tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers.

Thing #3: On a happier note, I was reading Slate, and I really love this smart pair of sentences in Dana Stevens' review of The Da Vinci Code (a movie that sounds, by the way, like it's successfully preserved the lumbering boneheadedness of the novel):

But despite its purported iconoclasm, The Da Vinci Code is at heart deeply religious, and monotheistic at that: It wants us to believe that there is one secret truth that can change history, that that truth is knowable, and that only through Tom Hanks can we know it. Our salvation depends on Forrest Gump.

I Hope We Have Casual Thursdays

My shirt is wrinkly and I can't find my razor and it looks like I won't be able to find it in the next ten minutes. What's worse, I discovered this morning that if, say, you have a space problem in your bedroom and, in a pinch, you drape your just-discarded towel over a bike's exercise wheel, if you use the towel the next morning, the whoe towel smells like rubber. Both sides. So I hope no one sits too close to me today, because I'm wearing just a spritz of Eau de Wal-Mart.

On the bright side, I'll definitely finish my crossword editing job tonight. Then I'll have time, when I get home, to actually clean and iron and wash clothes and stuff. Today, though, I'm going with the Vaguely Homeless Look, which hasn't been hip since grunge. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Catch Seniority Fever!

My job for the next half hour or so is to read the Company Policy Manual. And when I ran across this snippet, I had to share:

P***y P**********s provides employees with three paid personal days per calendar year … After 20 years of employment, employees will receive five paid personal days per year, instead of three.

Don’t do me no favors, Mister The Man.


Guess who reads blogs looking for references to the company I work for? The company I work for! So I've scrubbed a few specifics, and from here on out I think I'll just be silent about my work life on this blog, the same way I'm silent about my love life. Just know that, after two days, I'm actually having a lot of fun, and I actually don't see things changing in the near future, because the only thing I ever hated about nine-to-fiving was that it ate up all my day and everything was closed when the workday was done. In New York, no such problem obtains---everything cool happens after 6, and if I was free during the day I wouldn't be doing much anyway. So sacrificing those hours to a job I'm good at that actually pays the rent is a no-brainer.

My First Mystery Story---Or Is It?

I work right alongside a bunch of Dell fiction magazines---Analog, Asimov's, Ellery Queen, and The Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And I discovered, while thumbing through a few sample issues of each, that Alfred Hitchcock runs a feature called "Mysterious Photograph," where you're given a photo and asked to write a short 250-word story about the photo. ("Remember to include a crime," they say.) So, since 250 words is as nothing to an inveterate typist like myself, I decided to compete.

The photo shows a bunch of buffalo (or possibly bison) on a field, with two things that look like goalposts stretching up above them. Here's my entry, which I wrote on my lunch hour.


by David Ellis Dickerson

“Gee, Wendy,” said Lars. “Do you think it was such a great idea to sneak in to the national park with your dad’s semi, load up a bunch of buffalo, and then release them on the football field right before your school, the Winston High Buffaloes, plays an away game against your school’s rivals, the Laramie Coyotes?”

“Could that question have been any longer?” said Wanda.

“And then to picnic among them for the sheer danger of it! What a fun idea. I’m excited to be picnicking with you, Wanda,” Lars continued, “which is odd, because I’m not only terrified of buffaloes, but I have that heart condition I told you about where if I’m startled for any reason I might die and leave all my money to my half-sister.”

I’m your half-sister,” said Wanda.

“I know,” said Lars. “I love exposition.”

“Well, here we are,” said Wanda, parking the now-emptied semi. “Now take the blanket and let’s find a place with a good view. Somewhere where we can see both goalposts. I want to send the picture in to the Laramie Bugle.”

They found a seat and started eating.

“You know,” said Lars, thoughtfully gnawing a bundt cake, “The American bison is one of the largest wild cattle in the world, surpassed only by the gaur of Asia and the water buffalo of India. And it’s the state mammal of Wyoming, which is where we live.”

“Uh-huh,” said Wendy, fighting to keep down her nervous bile. They’d already violated a state law prohibiting the release of wild animals on or around school property. If they were discovered, it was back to juvie for Wendy. And this time, after her third strike, it would be hard juvie.

“The buffalo nickel was minted from 1913 to 1938,” Lars added. “And there’s also a buffalo on the new Kansas quarter.”

“Jesus Christ!,” Wendy said. “Have you been reading Wikipedia again? Because I’ll be honest, Lars, I find your constant nattering quite annoying. I always have, ever since we were kids.”

“Really?” said Lars, blinking back tears of bafflement. “Why tell me now, after all this time? I have to say that I’m . . . buffaloed.”

God, you’re irritating!” said Wanda, and she shot him with a Glock nine millimeter that she’d brought with them in the picnic basket, and which probably should have been mentioned earlier. But at least Lars is dead now. And the wind made a spooky sound.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Quick Lunchtime Update

So far, I like the job. I even double-checked a Cross Sums puzzle and my eyes didn't cross. So I'm feeling good.

In other good news, there's a deli downstairs where anyone who wants to can order a bespoke salad---including one with spinach as the base and fat-free vinaigrette as the dressing---and be happily filled up for under five bucks. I feel positively virtuous. This bodes well for my diet in general.

Mostly, though, I wanted to mention a few political things. First, word all around the web says that Karl Rove is likely to be indicted this week. More interestingly, ABC News is reporting that it was warned by a government official that their reporters may be targets of the government's data-mining operation---you know, that illegal one that they couldn't be bothered to take through FISA? Not because of ABC's links to terrorism, but as part of the White House's attempt to crack down on leaks! Oops! If this gets public play---and it's already on,, and, in addition to ABC News---Bush's credibility and competence take another long-deserved blow. My prediction? By this time next week, his approval drops below 29%. And anyone who still thinks this is good government should raise their hands and swear on a stack of Bibles that they'd be okay giving the same amount of unrestrained power to Hilary.

By the way, if you go to, scroll down a little and you'll find an article that he links to which suggests that Hilary may not be the presumptive nominee, but Al Gore might. (My guess: it depends on how his movie does.)

Okay. Back to work. (I have work!)

Are You Trying To Make Me Cry?

I'm off to work (Work! Yay!), but before I leave, I thought I'd share. Last night an anonymous poster responded to my posting about the "In His Steps" school of Christian utopian literature (Including In His Steps (1905), What Would Jesus Do (1950), and In His Steps Today (1987)). And they wrote the following, which I quote in toto:

boy you are pretty judgemental for someone who claims to be anti=evangelical.
In His Steps Today is a corny old book but written with humor and attempt to relate to Christians of that era. At least these people were trying for something better or above themselves, instead of just making fun of what others are doing.
Sorry, I have never read your blogs before, but you sound like a jerk.

There was a time when I was so anxious to have everyone like me that a comment like this would have driven me to sleepless agony. But today I just want to point out what I hope is obvious to everyone who read the original post: the angle of my essay will be tracking the decline in an idealism that I basically applaud. In His Steps is about changing the world forever in the name of idealism; In His Steps Today is a book about a Bible study group of eight people that tries to live like Jesus for a week. I call that shrinkage. What a jerk I am!

Also, of course, I haven't actually written the article yet. So let me point out that one of the interesting things about this strain of literature is that, the less idealistic it gets, the more the writing improves. In His Steps Today is clearly the best-written book of the bunch, and the only one of them that gives sentences and descriptions that provide something akin to actual pleasure. It's also skeptical about its own aims and its history. ("No one ever really does what Jesus did," says one person. "No one sells all their belongings and gives to the poor.") And it's the only one of the books that contains interesting, unidealized female characters and actual black people. (One of the painful things about What Would Jesus Do? is Glenn Clark's loving tendency to write his ethnic people in dialect. Fortunately for the modern reader, his most common target is not African-Americans but the Scottish. But he deserves some sort of fine for abuse of the apostrophe.)

So, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, I hereby suggest that if you're genuinely interested, please read the article once it's finished and (I hope) published by The Believer, and then you can weigh in on the fairness of what I've done. But be aware that it may contain standard capitalization.

I hear the buses rumbling outside. Wish me luck! I haven't held a nine-to-five job in six years. Do they still have water coolers?


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Why The Crossword Editing is Going So Slowly

I just wrote the following note on a SINGLE CLUE. I've got 36 more whole puzzles to go. Note, by the way, that the clue is a theme entry leading to the phrase SOUPY SALES, and my innovation was to add a question mark at the end of the constructor's original clue.

27D. Concern of Seinfeld’s “Nazi”? [NOTE: Technically, “Seinfeld” should be in quotes, since it refers to the TV show. But that would leave two quoted words right next to each other, so I went for readability over style consistency. Also, this would seem to be a perfect example of the lower-case use of “nazi,” but every source I can find capitalizes the character as “The Soup Nazi.” So if you’re going to cap it, I think you need to quote it. You could maybe rephrase it to keep the quotes apart: Concern of a “Nazi,” on “Seinfeld”? In any case, you need that terminal question mark to match it with other theme entries.]

As of this writing, with 119 puzzles finished, my list of fixes on the puzzles takes up 13,070 words, or 82 double-spaced pages. Maybe I'm doing this wrong.

LATER: It's been six hours now, and I've knocked off ten more puzzles. Thirty to go. And four more pages of corrections. In just ten puzzles, this guy has tried to assert that "Enos" was a character on "Sheriff Lobo," that an AMBER Alert is the same thing as an APB, that Camelot contained a character named Enid, that Bush headed the CIA under Nixon (it was Ford), he called the Mayo Clinic a "practice," and twice got a podium confused with a lectern. He also misspelled---in the grid, of course---the phrase "papier-mache" (he spelled it PAPER), and the card game Mille Bornes. (He used it to clue BOURNES.) On top of this, he gave the clue "Ender's commander" for GRAFF--a reference to Orson Scott Card's Ender series of sci-fi novels, for those of you outside the geek demographic. Oh! And let's not forget that one grid included the word SAMBO. (I changed it to SAMBA, so now we can sell the book in Atlanta and Chicago.) I take it back---I'm not the one doing anything wrong. No wonder I feel beleaguered.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Brief Observation For Posterity

I just came back from a drink date with a friend of mine (and his daughter, who's incredibly young) in Midtown. He paid. (Thanks, T-Mobile! Hpe you're enjoying all my money!) And while I was heading back to the subway station, I passed the Golda Meir Square, a small public park that features (as you might expect) a bust of Golda Meir facing all the picnic tables. And it inspired the following thought:

If I ever decide to enter public life, I hope to adopt a tall, spiky mohawk. That way, if they ever make a statue in my memory, pigeons will be disinclined to sit on my head.

If more people had adopted this simple practice, the world of statuary would be a lot less embarrassing. And they wouldn't have to pay a maintenance guy to climb up and sponge the poop out of your eye. Is that how you want to be remembered? Of course not. So start planning now.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cinco de Onze!---a brief thought

I didn't really celebrate Cinco de Mayo, because for some reason nobody in Washington Heights really raises the roof for it. I guess it's not as big among Dominicans as it is in the Southwest. (Either that, or it's a million times harder to get fireworks, which I can imagine.) However, in an effort to find something undistracting to listen to today while continuing to plug away at this oppresively sloppy book of crossword puzzles, I discovered that my cable system has several channels that play only music---including what it calls Latin Pop. Bueno! Better late than never. I listened to it all day, and I invented only one thing, which I hereby share with everyone.

The Spanish-Language Rock Music Drinking Game

1. Whenever someone says "corazon," take a drink.

That's it, but it's enough. What's great about it is that you don't even need to know the language. But take small sips, or you'll have the spins in ten minutes. You can always hear it, because it's impossible to hide. It lumbers along in every lyric like a Mylar balloon stapled to an eel. Face it: the Spanish language got screwed when it was inventing words for its love poetry. "Corazon" is as crappy a rhyme word in Spanish as "love" is in English. But the good news is I got some crosswords done. I only wish I'd had a little more time to write posts. This crossword book is the polar opposite of the bee's knees.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Who is Phil Vaughn and Why Does Shirley Temple Dig Him?

In Honeymoon (1947), Shirley Temple, age 19, is in Mexico and unable to find her fiancee, a GI who was supposed to meet her at the train station. With nowhere to go, she runs to the American embassy and runs into diplomat (and suave older man) Franchot Tone, who, in the tradition of the romantic comedy, winds up spending time with her to help her find her man. I’m still watching it, so Shirley and Franchot haven’t fallen in love yet, but the level of jokes so far hasn’t led me to suspect any surprises. (When the two of them wound up on a Mexican river barge, I said, “I just know this scene will end with one or both of them falling into the water.” Yep!)

But what’s been distracting me—even as I hammer the final nails into the coffin of this one-day-late, unspeakably sloppy crossword book—is a scene where Franchot and Shirley wind up dancing. During the dance, they have the following conversation:

Franchot: I’m a little too old for this type of dancing.

Shirley: Oh, don’t be self-conscious. You look fine. You know, all the girls really go for the Walter Pidgeon type.

Franchot: If the girls are all fond of the Walter Pidgeon type, how come they always wind up marrying the Phil Vaughn type?

Shirley: Maybe it’s because the Walter Pidgeon type always winds up marrying the Myrna Loy type.

What fun! Because as an old-movie lover, I know that in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (as I noted earlier), Shirley and Myrna Loy vie for the affections of Walter -Pidgeon-aged Cary Grant (and, per Shirley’s assertion, Myrna wins). Similarly, Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy hook up in at least four films, from 1928's Turn Back the Hours to the 1959 TV version of Meet Me in St. Louis. So both those statements track.

But there’s a flaw. The first is that Shirley Temple and Walter Pidgeon were never actually in any movies together, much less trading sparks. In fact, there’s no indication that Walter Pidgeon was ever the love interest for younger women—unlike Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, or Gary Cooper, all of whom might have been better examples in the above dialogue. Instead, Walter Pidgeon kept getting wed, in movie after movie (seven in all), to the age-appropriate Greer Garson. (And here’s a weird factoid for everyone who’s ever thrilled to his resonant voice: he sang baritone, not bass!)

But the second problem is more vexing. I don’t know who the hell Phil Vaughn is. There’s no mention anywhere of a forties-era “Phil Vaughan” in IMDB or on (And I’ve tried Vaughan, Vaughn, Vaghn, and Von). Can someone help?

LATER: Turns out that they were saying "Phil Bowen." And Phil Bowen is the name of the character played by the soldier/wannabe husband. I discovered this in the wedding sequence at the very end where Shirley, after being distracted by Franchot, winds up with the Phil Bowen type after all. But not before three more people also tumble into swimming pools, each one less hilarious than the last. Oy.

By the way, the very next movie on TCM turns out to be That Hagen Girl, a famously bad film starring Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan---and although Reagan went on to greater fame in politics, here on the screen there's no question which of the two is Madam President. It's not a great role, but she does a pretty good job, considering the script contains lines like, "Hey, baby, don't be stolid---be solid!" and enough people saying "Gee, that's swell!" to support an entire drinking game.

And this seems as good a time as ever to point out that, between this movie and Honeymoon, I think I'm over Shirley Temple now, and have moved on to Myrna Loy, who, as IMDB notes, was a "feminist and lifelong Democrat." What a shame she was never ambassador to anything. I'd have totally voted for her.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What's With All These Excerpts, Since You're No Doubt Wondering

If you've been away for a few days, you may have noticed that I suddenly dumped a lot of excerpted material on this site in the last three posts. It's my way of saying thanks to everyone who's read my blog and helped me out over the last three occasionally stressful months. It seems to me that the best way to repay loyalty is to keep the site full of entertainment. Since my freelance gig has been keeping me too busy to post the last few days, this is a thank-you with interest. In the future I imagine I'll do shorter posts and more of them. (But still basically funny and/or interesting, we all hope.)

For now, though---and especially those of you who were on my Dave Update list last summer---enjoy the thrilling conclusion of my journey. I realize it's a lot of material, but what the hell; it's the weekend.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Editor Seeks Synonyms for "Hooray!"

I just got off the phone with the head editor from Dell Crosswords, and I got the job. Yay! My life has suddenly calmed down and I can stop scrambling from month to month with the risk of constant eviction hovering over me.

The bad news is the job doesn't start until the 15th, so a big thanks again to everyone who's sent me a little getting-through money.

I guess this means my plan until the 15th is a.) finish editing the crossword book (it's due by the 5th anyway), and then b.) use the remaining ten or so days to finish my novel-in-progress so I have TWO books to try and market. It might even be fun to try to sell poetry on the subway for a little cash, the bizarre experience, and the article that might eventually result.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think my body is going to collapse into a brief coma to counteract the last two months of raw unending tension.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Is Planet of the Apes Really Accurate?

I went to bed last night to the familiar lilt of the original Planet of the Apes, playing on very low volume. And as I went to bed, a scene played out that showed the caste system of the movie’s ape society: Charlton “Bright Eyes” Heston has escaped from prison and the orangutans command the gorillas to get him back, while Heston’s barrelling through a bunch of frightened chimpanzees. In apeland, in other words, orangutans are the religious and political leaders, gorillas are the soldier class, and chimpanzees are the everyday folks. And as I drifted off, I suddenly thought, “Wait a minute! Where are the gibbons?”

See, I’ve been interested in apes ever since fourth grade when I learned that apes are different from monkeys (no tails, for one thing), and I became so obsessed that I wrote what I believe is the only elementary-school report I ever wrote that I didn’t crib word-for-word from the World Book Encyclopedia. (Instead I cribbed it, in pastiche fashion, from a book called Apes, by the editors of National Geographic.) And that’s the difference a motivated pursuit of knowledge makes: the facts in this report actually stayed with me. Of course, I only rarely get to use these facts, so they sometimes rush out in my excitement. The last time this happened was about eight years ago at Hallmark. Five of us humor writers were walking to the commissary, and one of my co-workers said, speculatively,“I’ve been thinking. Why do we only use chimpanzees on our monkey cards? I mean, aren’t there a lot of other kinds of monkeys we could use?”

“Actually,” I said, “chimpanzees aren’t monkeys at all. They’re classified as apes, along with gibbons, gorillas, and orangutangs.”

There was a pause, and then my friend Steve King said, “Uh, speaking of animals, Dave, would you like to see the rat’s ass that I give?” This was only one of many indications that I didn’t really belong at Hallmark, and that eventually I was going to have to either return to academia or develop social skills.

But my brain won’t be silenced, and I’ve been musing all morning about the absence of gibbons from Planet of the Apes. Why the oversight? And if we were going to add them, where would they fit?

A quick look at the caste system of India isn’t much help. They divide into the brahmins (priests and teachers), the ksatriyas (warriors and rulers), the vaisyas (farmers, merchants, artisans), and the sudras (laborers). Since the orangs take over two of the castes—priest and rulers—and the chimps take over two of the others—artisans and laborers—it’s pretty clear that the Hindu model isn’t the one that ape culture is based on. I was tempted to suggest that maybe the gibbons were an outcaste of untouchables—but then I realized that humans are the untouchables in ape society, and that was the whole goddamn point. So that won’t wash.

The other problem is that if the characters didn’t actually say differently, I would have sworn that the alleged “orangutans” were actually gibbons. Of course, I can’t imagine they could have done “real” convincing orangutans with ‘68 makeup technology. As anyone who knew how to post pictures could demonstrate, orangs have huge flat pudgy faces, beanbag-shaped bodies, and orangutans, even more than most brachiating animals, have incredibly long arms—much longer in span than their bodies are tall. (Orangutan, by the way, is Malaysian for “old man of the woods.” Oh, and “brachiating” means “traveling by swinging from branch to branch.” I can’t stop!) And, of course, they’re noted for their red fur.

Now look at the alleged orangutans in Planet. They’re relatively slim! They move swiftly! They’ve got blond hair, for Pete’s sake! That’s a gibbon, you damned dirty screenwriters! So I think what must have happened is that, over the many years since the Statue of Liberty was destroyed (gee, did I give anything away?), gibbons must have slowly encroached on the orang’s territory, until gradually they began to fill the same biological niche, and even got called by the same name, sort of the way “tit” gets applied to any small bird who happens to occupy a titlike position in the local biome. Then, once there was sufficient confusion, the gibbons simply rose up and killed all the orangs overnight. No one ever noticed. It would sure explain a lot, including the fact that gibbons are evil and don’t want anyone to know their true identity. You learn a lot from the movies.

The other theory—and the one I currently hold, because I just thought of it—is that gibbons occupy the information technology class: the computer programmers, the e-traders, the game designers, etc.—and since ape society is only at medieval level, the gibbons all put themselves in hidden suspended animation chambers, waiting for ape culture to reach the level where they can unthaw and rule the world. Which merely reinforces the truth: Gibbons are evil.

By the way, I had a student once (hi, Mary Beth!) who was studying primatology, and after talking with her a few times I also got interested in prosimians—those weird monkeylike creatures that are basically nocturnal, wide-eyed, and insectivorous, and who actually predate monkeys. (Not “predate” as in “feed on” but as in “are older than”) They divide into four groups, too, including the loris, the lemur, the tarsier, and the galago (a.k.a. “bush baby”). I hope someone makes a movie called Planet of the Prosimians, because it would be just the cutest thing ever.

This post is dedicated to the following famous people:

Walter Gibbon, author of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire;

Leeza Gibbons, co-host of "Entertainment Tonight" whose name is often seen in the better crossword puzzles, as well as the one in Us Weekly;

Nick Gibbons, director of the 1997 movie Radioactive Crotch Man (Thank you, Internet Movie Database!);

and most especially Cedric Gibbons, art director for the classic The Wizard of Oz. Because after all, he must have helped design the flying monkeys! (Which were clearly not monkeys, but apes. Again with the no tails.) I don’t believe that monkeys can fly. But it’s heartening to know that, even in Hollywood, apes can dream.

(P.S. Thanks to Cary Pearsall, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Planet of the Apes prevented me from making an ass of myself in an earlier draft.)