Bourbon Cowboy

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

My Photo
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!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Crosswords That Will Never Be, Part II

Okay, here's the thing. I was watching The Sea Hawk on TCM, which stars, in one of her standard roles as the ditzy old servantwoman, Una Merkel. And it suddenly struck me that UNA MERKEL is NAME inside URKEL (the nerd from "Family Matters.") But that would never work in a crossword, because the few people who could be relied upon to remember Una Merkel are probably unlikely to know "Family Matters." So that's a clue I can never write.

But then I got to thinking: wait a minute! We've gone way beyond Steve Urkel! We could do an entire crossword about famous African-American nerds in pop culture! And I don't mean hip-hop artists like Del tha Funkee Homosapien, who can out-Star-Wars, out-gamer-speak, and probably out-Monty-Python-quote the best of them. I'm talking fictional characters. To take only a few, you could have "African-American nerd from 'Family Ties'" for STEVE URKEL (10 letters), and "African-American computer geek from 'Bloom County'" for OLIVER JONES (11 letters, alas, not a balancing 10). [And I know his full name was Oliver Wendell Jones, but that takes us to a completely unworkable 18 letters] And then throw in "African-American techie from 'Star Trek' " for GEORDI LAFORGE. (13 letters. Will none of these balance? Damn!)

And I was all set to do a little research (was there a black nerd in any of the Revenge of the Nerds movies?) when I realized there was no point at all to my search. No one would ever print the puzzle, even though it is---if I may say so---a hilarious idea, and one that would work just fine in a comedy sketch. (Does Franklin from 'Peanuts' count as a nerd? How about Tony Sinclair from the Tanqueray commercials?) There ought to be a way to talk about, and make fun of, the way in which, right around the late eighties, white writers with guilty consciences helped create the early images of black nerds. And in so doing, paved the way for actual black nerds like Wayne Brady and Condoleezza Rice.

Anyway I'm saving the idea. And maybe I'll dust it off again in six years. I imagine crossword editors will be a little more open-minded once Barack Obama becomes President.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Quick Question For Scrabble Geeks Only

Is there an updated version of Bob's Bible? And if so, where do I get one and at what price?

A Few Linky Things

The people who have responded seem generally in agreement that a light verse website might not be a bad thing. My twin brother (who actually shows up in some of these baby pictures if you're curious---or if you just want to see a really cute baby) has reserved me a domain name and is helping me with templates. All hail Daniel! I won't tell you the name of the site, though, because there's nothing there and it would just be silly to send you somewhere to look at the empty walls. But I have some hope that, by the weekend, there may be a thing or two worth seeing.

On a wholly unrelated note that I'm too lazy to separate out, Kevin Drum makes a good point here: Thanks to the Iraqi government, Bush has a perfect opportunity to draw down troops right now while saving face. How I hope he does. Because, as Josh Marshall notes in an open letter to Senate Democrats, the alternative makes him further vulnerable to a very simple message from Democrats coming into November: Vote for change, because the Republican plan--stated quite brazenly--is more of the same with no end in sight.

By the way, this is why I love the Internet political community: you can actually find out who all the talking heads are. Like this amazing guy Senator Infofe used for an anti-AP, anti-scientific community press release.

Earworm Mystery Solved!

You may be familiar with this really effective commercial for Dockers that has a guy at an outdoor restaurant, a woman walking by, she bumps into a waiter, and a bottle falls that spins on the table and points to her. Doesn't sound like much, but it's charming and classic and---best of all---it's performed to a slow bluesy song I'd never even heard of called (apparently) "Sunday Kind of Love." ("I want a Sunday kind of love/ The kind that lasts past Saturday night...")

The song has been going through my head, off and on, for three weeks. And the whole time I've been thinking, "My god. This is a nice song and all, but what the hell makes it so catchy?" I am happy to report that I now know: The first two notes of the song are the exact same notes that the subway makes when the doors close! I doubt this was intentional, but if it was: genius!

And if anyone knows any other songs that open with the same two notes ( I want to say it's a simple half-step, as from F to E, but it's been a long time since I've even looked at a keyboard), let me know. It'd be nice to get it out of my mind once its made its point. Also---anyone know who's singing?

Don't Stop The Music (From Being Rad)!

You can vote several times (i.e., once per day) for Girls on Film to be in Lollapalooza, and everyone who loves grooviness should do so. Keep them in the Top 100. (This link should work better if the last one didn't)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I'll trade you an Erato for two Uranias and a Thalia

My muse is for shit. Lately, some perverse failure-seeking part of my psyche has simply refused to write at all, such that even writing for this site has been difficult. I don't know why. I love writing most of the time, love keeping in touch with all y'all, and I know the importance of discipline by now. But when I come home, all I've wanted to do lately is play Scrabble online. And when I ride to work on the bus, instead of writing poems, what I've been doing is coming up with crossword themes that will probably never see print because I'm hopeless at constructing without a program and I don't have the money for one at the moment. (Here's yesterday's big 15 theme that'll never sell: STEELY EYES, AGGIE PRIDE, and MIB II. ) I know I should probably just relax, follow my bliss, and not force anything, but I feel bad when a day goes by and you good folks have nothing new to read.

Which reminds me: ever since I had that talk with Sars Bunting, I've been thinking about successful websites---especially successful comedy sites---and it strikes me that if I ever want to actually be more popular (and maybe even make a little money), I need to be more specific. With the exception of magazines that have entire staffs, every successful site I've ever seen does basically one thing, whether it's to review TV shows, do a single language-related goof (translating things into Wookie or Klingon, to give two geeked-out examples), or push an animated chicken around.

So I've been thinking of launching a light-verse-only site that would actually update fairly frequently (daily if I can manage it), would have poems on all topics (including daily news events and pop culture) and would possibly even accept submissions. I already have a lot of material (which I would, by the way, remove from this site, I think, to maintain the integrity of the other). So here are some questions for you good people.

a. Would you visit such a site?
b. Assuming a is yes, got any ideas for names?
c. Is there any way to tell which of my ideas are good lasting ones and which ones are whims that I ultimately won't be able to follow through on?
d. And does anyone have experience with a non-Blogger site that might give me a pretty-looking site that would be easier than Blogger to write comments on?

Gotta go. Bus.

Monday, June 26, 2006

What's An Eight-Letter Word For A Hackneyed Opening?

There are three good ways, I now find, to survive a weekend if you don't have much money or just want to live like Scrooge (Ebeneezer, not McDuck).

1. Have A Friend Buy You Drinks. One of my favorite NPLers, Joe "Toonhead!" Cabrera, came to town this weekend and we spent Saturday afternoon watching Cars---which is, by the way, a wholly underrated movie, flat-out gorgeous to look at, and what can you say about Paul Newman when his voice acting gives him limitless gravitas and makes you want to cry?---after which we went to a place called The Overlook, which apparently used to be the place where all the big cartoonists hung out. Their work adorns three of the walls, with The Phantom and Little Orphan Annie and Hagar the Horrible and tons of others, including a terrific tableau from Sergio Aragones. (The New Yorker lover in me was thrilled to see S. Gross and---even better---to wind up eating next to one of C. Barsotti's felt-tip dogs.) I don;t know what made Joe so generous---was this a business expense? Is tax-deductibility that important?---but he bought me drinks all afternoon because it was two-for-one rum and cokes until nine. Speaking of nine, that's how many rum and cokes I had---about triple my normal limit---and I went home, went to sleep, and really don't remember much else about Saturday.

2. Have a Friend Burn You DVD's. Last week I got a care package from my friend Cary, who likes to discuss movies with me but apparently got tired of suggesting, for conversation, movies I hadn't seen. So now, beside my computer, I have The Mothman Prophecies, Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer, Open Range, For Love of the Game, Arthur (the remake, I believe), Delicatessen, Constantine, and one of the commentary tracks from the original Planet of the Apes. If a 24-hour flu bug comes through town, I can be safely holed up for about 18 of them.
Last night I saw The Mothman Prophecies (quite weird and interesting---ignore the title and dive in!), and I would have watched more, but then this other thing happened...

3. Play Online Scrabble. I'm back! I'd forgotten this one thing about Scrabble that makes it so addictive to me: it generally takes only twenty minutes to play. You go to some site called ics-dot-something, download the free software, and in seconds you're ready to troll for competition. When I left Scrabble after my first three tournaments, my rating was about 1360. Now, after four years, I'm back and I startlingly suck. It's not the words that are a problem (although I've forgotten my threes and fours, and actually challenged TRET yesterday). It's the dumb errors like not keeping track of tiles, and---worst of all---not noticing the bad moves of others. Yesterday someone played PRRETTY---yes! Two R's!---and I let it slide because I was so focused on my own rack. Thumping myself soundly on the pate, I then made an even worse error by not challenging (sigh) the nonword IH. I don't think "ih" is a word in any language in the world. But I let it pass, and the guy got 24 points. Oy. Anyway, that's what kept me busy all weekend, and even if you account for the cost of a good session of Rolfing to get the feeling back into your limbs, that's a pretty cheap weekend.

P.S. Are the ICS ratings the same as official Scrabble ratings, or do they use a different system? Because right now I'm struggling to beat people whose ratings hover around 850. That can't be right, can it? When I was playing Hasbro's Scrabble against the computer, I was eating 1650s for lunch.

Notes From The Impecunious

I march into this week with forty dollars that has to last me until Friday. I should be fine, though, because I now have a monthly Metro Card which takes me everywhere in the city for free, and I've socked away sack lunches for the next three days, and there's plenty more rice and beans where that came from. So I'm not worried.

But it does explain why I've suddenly been second-guessing every purchase I make. Most recently, I had to refill my soap stores. For the last year or so, my soap of choice has been ... well, I don't know from soaps, but some blue body wash whose smell contains no fruit or vegetables whatsoever. (In Soapland, that's how you know it's manly.) But my local grocery takes the trouble to mark, not only the price, but the unit price per pound, on every purchase. And that'll cause you some real sticker shock. I figured body washes were kind of a ripoff (and a real boon for the plastic-scrunchy industry), but I had no idea that they hovered around $12 a pound. And in the same aisle I was clutching my money in, down in the lower levels, there was a display of ill-regarded and unhip bar soaps of the type we used to use for carvings in art class. Their prices were amazing. I mean, you may think Zest or Lifebuoy saves you money, but wait till you try (ahem) Palmolive. Yes! Palmolive makes a bar soap now! And it costs $2 for three bars! That's the same price you pay for high-end ramen.

So my scientific mind kicked in, and I thought, "Soap is soap, isn't it? I don't care how you may infuse it with tingles or pore-seeking hydratants, in essence soap is designed to remove dirt from skin. And you should be able to do that at 67 cents a bar just as easily as you do at $4.89 a bottle." But I also remember that when I was using bar soap, I tended to go through it pretty quickly, and it generally turned into a soggy mess after a few days in a watery environment, so that a quarter of the bar would slough away like so much rendered fat. "You know what?" I told myself, "let's experiment and see which lasts longer! Let the experiment begin!" I'm a big fan of any experiment that costs two dollars.

So far, my basic theory seems to have been borne out---that soap is, in fact, soap. But I neglected to account for perfumery. Good soaps have light, subtle aromas, while cheap soaps resort to blunter tactics. So right now, having just left the shower, I am carrying around a Palmolive-scented cloud of a cheapness that I have heretofore only associated with border-town hookers and Camay. Let me just announce it now: I apologize in advance to anyone I may hug. Think of it as a clean smell and you'll get through it better.

The other thing I hadn't counted on is that soap, in its purest form, is not particularly pleasant, and when you're washing with Palmolive you'd best keep your eyes closed tight. One overzealous scrub, one too-thick lather, and some particle of foam will find its way to your eye and it'll sting so painfully you'll swear you can hear it sizzle. It's a particularly bad way to start your day if you're on a deadline, because you waste valuable time screaming "Agh!" and leaning against the shower wall, looking downward and trying to blink away the agony.

I just keep telling myself I'm doing this for science. And it only cost two dollars.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oh, Right.The Answers...

Remember the "Dave's Head" quiz from five posts back? Here are the answers: 1. e, 2. b, 3. c. In the case of 1. and 3., their very answers explain why I can never remember them.

More on the name thing

A few posts ago I recommended a name-tracking website that's full of interesting play possibilities. Type in "Madge" and watch the whole thing tilt to the 1880s! Try "Desmond" or "Jude" and watch these late upstarts soar! Try "Llewellyn" and watch in bafflement as it plunges completely off the lists for one year, then rebounds to its former height, resulting in a very volcano-shaped graph.

But, thanks to NPL colleagues Rick Rubinstein and Eric Albert, I pass on this truly strange one: Type in NEVAEH. (Yes, it's "Heaven" backwards.) And here's the explanation, insofar as one is possible.

Meet The Claw Hammer!

My twin brother, who's a zillion times more talented with computers than I am, has been putting a family website together, and maybe it's just me, but I find it incredibly charming---not only because it has a killer pic of my new nephew, but because it's not quite finished, and my brother's so funny about it and...well, go check it out.

Friday, June 23, 2006

David David Bo Bavid...

A colleague of mine from the National Puzzlers League hipped me to this cool site, which tracks the popularity of names, according to U.S. census information, from the 1800s to the present.

Notice that the popularity of "Adolph" falls sharply after the 1940s, and that "Ellis"---my middle name---really was popular in the 1890s, when my grandfather got it as his first name. And also notice---oh, hell; there's a bunch of stuff to notice. (And before anyone asks---on the NPL-folk listserv, it's been established that the popularity of "Mary" as a man's name is likely to be attributable to simple census error; people really do check the wrong box an awful lot of the time.) It's fun. Go play.

The Most Dangerous Game

Last night, about 9:30, I'd just finished an evening hanging out with my friend Sarah Bunting (of Television Without Pity and Tomato Nation), and was quietly solving a crossword on the train. Round about 125th street, a family came on---tall, sandy blond hair, two men, two women, one older set, one younger set. So I'm guessing two brothers, about ten years apart in age, and their spouses. What's important is this: They divided up by gender---the two men over near the pole, the two women---one of whom was pushing an empty stroller, standing near some empty seats a few steps away. And that's when I noticed that the older man---I'd put him in his early forties, so not old-old, but relative to this story---the older man had a tiny girl riding piggyback on his shoulders. She was maybe three and had that wide smile and explosive giggle we associate with children. The other, younger man was leaning toward her and playing peek-a-boo. His style was to ball his two fists together, hid his face behind them as if they were boulders, and then cry, in a surprisingly high and girly voice, "Ah-BOOLY-boolybooly-boo!" with a sudden explosion of his fingers into traditional "show-hands" position. Child giggles. Repeat.

I returned to my crossword and I heard this:


Delightful childish giggles.


More giggling from the kid.


Silence. One of the women said, "John? Are you all right?"

I looked up. The younger man was standing there, holding his hand over his left eye and not moving.

"He's okay," said the elder. "His thumb just went and---" and he made a thumb-in-eye gesture.

As it happened, we were at 175th, which seemed to be their stop, and they all filed off, muted by concern, with the young man, hand still over his face, stumbling after the others.

And my first thought was, Wow. How is he ever going to explain his injury at work tomorrow?:

"John! Your eye's bandaged! What happened?"

"Well, I was playing peek-a-boo with my niece, you know---a lot of flailing and shrieking in a high-pitched silly voice---and you know how things get out of hand..."

"You mean you weren't wearing safety goggles? Christ. You're lucky to be alive." Pause. "I'm just kidding. You're an idiot. Excuse me while I announce this to the Internet."

How funny was it? When he got off the subway train, there were eight commuters left. We'd all seen it, and we all busted up. Instant communion. It was a beautiful thing. Well, maybe not a beautiful thing, but it's better than a sharp stick in your eye.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's That Thing In Dave's Head?: A Quiz For The Apocalypse

First things first: Yesterday at lunch, I was listening to the Comedy Radio station on iTunes, and ... Nick Di Paolo came on. "Hey!" I thought. "I recognize that name!" So I listened, and damned if it wasn't the same recording ("Born This Way") that resulted in my previous review, and which brought me so much interesting mail. In the interest of fairness, I decided to take more careful notes this time and I am sad to say that, when I was actually writing things down, blow by blow, it wasn't quite as bad as I remembered, and I'm going to have to alter my assessment. Not by much, but I *do* feel I was unduly harsh in my initial reaction. More on this later.

But, to my brain. Two things. First, I've always had problems with Freud's model of dream interpretation, where the unconscious mind is sending messages to our conscious one. While I suppose you might get extremely valuable information at times ("Wow. I must be stressed. There's blood all over this Ferris wheel."), for the most part there are generally much more sublunar explanations. I have a recurring dream where my tongue pushes all my teeth out of my mouth, and I finally figured out that it's because my tongue moves that way, feels my teeth while I sleep, and then my brain misinterprets what's going on. Only last week I dreamed I was on some sort of very loud and windy train...and woke up with my new fan staring me in the face. That's what can happen when your brain is literally operating blind.

But I am happy to report that just last night, I defeated one of the frustrations that has always presented me in Slumberland: I can't read anything. I can think of at least three times in my life where I've actually dreamed that I found the Best Book Ever, opened it, and felt this staggering elation ... but couldn't even recall a single word upon waking. I've tried to read things in my dreams ever since the first time, and met with no success. (Generally, the first page is blank, and as soon as I turn to the next page the light causes a huge glare, or the camera shifts to a down-up view where I can only see the cover.

Anyway, this is gonna be a little anticlimactic, but I did finally read an actual book in last night's dream: not a sentence, but I did get the title of a book and I actually remembered it. I am proud to report that last night I read How To Building House Wine For The Apocalypse. I don't remember anything else about it, like why I saw the book or where I was when it happened, and there was absolutely no plot going on at the time. But now I think I know why these dream-books are so hard to read.

Second: Every so often, in the course of my day, an odd thought will strike me---usually a word question or a trivia fact---and I'll write it down to look up later. Yesterday I had three such ideas backlog on me in a single day, and I decided to turn them into a quiz. The questions are the questions that struck me. Can you choose the correct answers?

1. STRAY THOUGHT: "I know that 'go-devil' is a word---and it's nice for wordplay purposes because it's GOD + EVIL. But what the hell is a 'go-devil?'

a. a handcar used on a railroad
b. a weight dropped in a hole to set off an explosion
c. a wooden device, dragged behind an ox or horse, used for loosening the soil
d. a child's sled
e. all of the above

2. STRAY THOUGHT: "If I had the word IDOLATERS on my rack in a weird game of Scrabble where I overdrew and I knew no one would challenge me, I know I could make ESTRADIOL with the same letters, but are there any other Scrabble-legal nine-letter words in that rack?"

d. all of the above
e. none of the above

3. STRAY THOUGHT: "I know director D. W. Griffith's first name was David, but what did the W. stand for?"

a. Wilhelm
b. Wallace
c. Wark
d. Wanamaker
e. all of the above.

I looked them all up and now I know. Answers later.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Nick Di Paolo: An Initial Response

I'm late for work, but I just thought the readers of this site deserved to see the first part of my answer to his e-mail. Note that, for humor purposes, I have maintained the tenuous conceit that this actually is Nick Di Paolo writing to me. I don't actually believe it is, based mostly on the fact that he wouldn't misspell his own name. Nobody's that silly. Anyway, here it is:

Hi Dave,

What's up?

Oh, nothing. Just chillin and reading your letter.

An ex-evangelical christian who used to write Hallmark
cards..with qualifications like those i can see why you
believe you're an expert on the subject of stand up comedy.

At no point did I claim to be an expert. In fact, a sensitive reader would have noticed that this site isn't actually called The Big Site of Comedy Reviews. It's a personal website for people who know me, which is why there are so many silly poems and postings about laundromats. And I didn't even claim to be a stand-up comic. I claimed to be "trying my hand" at stand-up---because, you know, it might turn out that I might not get along with all of my co-workers. But that's exactly why I'm obsessively paying attention to comedy these days. I'm seeing what's out there, shopping for a style, and of course I'm going to be very attentive to what works.

But lest I overapologize, you know what I am an expert on? What I think is funny. You know what else? Writing. And maybe you weren't paying attention, but my Ph.D. is in the modern American humorous essay. So while I don't claim to be an expert, this isn't Bobo's Yuk Barn. I've done the reading, and people have paid me to write jokes. It's one of the reasons I moved here.

I know
your type, if you disagree with a comic's political views
(usually conservative) you brand that person not funny. Talk about a
hack approach. Let me guess, you love the Daily Show,
Al Franken, and David Cross because those guys are edgy right? Takes
alot balls to go after white, heterosexual , christain males these days.
(Ah, Distant irony the favorite weapon of comedians with no balls.) The
fact that you called sam Kinison homophobic and sexist tells me all i
need to know about your knowledge of comedy.

For the record, my two favorite comedians of all time are Eddie Izzard and seventies-era Steve Martin---two people whose act you can never predict, except to know that you're headed somewhere new and brilliant. But my fave guys are the comedian's comedians: Emo Phillips, Steven Wright, Jonathan Katz, etc. People who just tell solid jokes, and for whom attitude is not part of their delivery. As to politics, I also love early Dennis Miller and I'm convinced that conservative essayist P.J. O'Rourke is the best humor essayist we have---I've taught his stuff a dozen times in classes on "How to Write the Humorous Essay." As for political correctness, Lisa Lampanelli is a textbook example of a woman who can be "politically incorrect" and funny as hell. Why? Because beneath her offensive comments, there's a core respect she has for everyone in the audience. (Example: when she's impersonating Arabs, she doesn't actually ululate.) If you could feel her hatred---if that was part of her act---I might feel ugly just watching her.

Actually, I'll get into this in more detail in my Mencia post, but the actual problem is that too many conservative comedians push back against "political correctness" (which I call "cultural politeness"---see how that makes it less scary?) instead of going around it. As a result, there's a tendency to go straight for outdated stereotypes instead of aiming for fresh targets. (Asians can't drive? Please! Even if it were ever true, how can you claim it's original?) In other words, you start your work from untrue premises. The best basically-conservative work in this area is more likely to be done by libertarians like South Park and independents like Bill Maher.

Another thing I'll mention later is that much of stand-up comedy involves creating a persona that the audience finds appealing. It lowers the bar a little, since if they basically like you, they're more likely to laugh at okay-but-not-fabulous material. So while I do in fact like Jon Stewart, David Cross, and so on, it's not because of their political views. It's because they're like me: brainy, silly, and quietly bemused by little things. The very fact that you like Sam Kinison and have contempt for "comedians with no balls" suggests that we're very different people. Where I'm from, and among my people, the very idea of a guy constantly trying to prove he has balls is very, very funny.

Hey, and speaking of
comedy, you said in your article
your doing comedy here in NYC, so why don't you come by the comedy
cellar or any one of these shit holes and maybe i can get you on..oh
that's right
then you'd have to call me an asshole to my face. Anyways, maybe i'll
se you around the clubs here in the city ..then again probably not.

I'll get to the pushy aggressiveness of that comment later. But for the record, I never call people assholes to their face. (Nor do I correct their English, which saves us both some time.) Not only because that's not how I was brought up, but because I can't imagine the conversation would go anywhere.

Me: You're an asshole.

You: No, you're an asshole.

Me: Touche! I withdraw my earlier comment.

Or would it be something like this?

Me: You're an asshole.

You: No, you're an asshole.

Me: Fuck you.

You: No, fuck you.

Me: Double fuck you, you fucking fuck!

You: (Animalistic howling)

(Pants unzip and dicks are whipped out. A long night of pissing begins.)

As a professional comic with a public persona, you are a public citizen. That means that other people (such as myself) are allowed to have opinions about you without being nailed for libel or slander (not that it's impossible, but it sets the bar higher). Your work is subject to public review, and I reviewed it. I also reviewed Click, but so far Adam Sandler hasn't called. I guess he's busy.


Nick D iPaolo


Give Jon Stewart a call at the Daily Show and ask him if he thinks I'm
funny..just curious

I tried---I really did; it was a funny idea---but they wouldn't let me speak to him. Oh, wait! Would that be your way of pulling rank, since you can call Jon Stewart and I can't get past the guards? Where did I get the idea that you might be an insecure, thin-skinned bully?

Bourbon Cowboy???? fuckin brilliant

Your mother liked it when I was fucking her last night. [Rim shot.] Was that "edgy"? Or should I add more punctuation?

Finish This Blues Song

I woke up this morning, and now I have a potential blues song going through my head, but I can't make the damn thing scan or rhyme. Here's a rough draft, though:

I woke up this morning
And the lid was off the toilet tank
Which caused me some concern
Because that always means something is broken.

Sure enough, something's broken
But it isn't the chain--
It's the wand on the flush valve
Which apparently doesn't float

When I say wand, what I mean is
You know how when you flush a toilet,
A long lever on the other side of the handle, attached to a chain,
Pulls up the flush valve?

That's what's broken.
It's broken very close to the toilet flushing handle
So it's kind of like the toilet's arm fell off,
Right at the shoulder.

So to flush the toilet,
You have to reach into the tank,
Fish around for the handle-wand,
And pull it up yourself.

I got those early-in-the-morning, brain-hurts-from-thinking, cold-wet-right-hand blues.

I don't know what caused it, but my money is on excessive jiggling. I'm just glad it didn't happen on Monday, because that was the day my baby done left me, and it would've been too much to take altogether.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chillin With Trillin

I went to Calvin Trillin's reading at The Strand tonight, and it was terrific. I got there early, sat in the front row, and even chatted with him a little as I waited for the show to begin. And, as I've mentioned before, I had a small sheaf of poems to give him as thanks for helping to perpetuate the art of light verse. (And of course, I'm hoping for the miracle where he reads it, loves it, and says, "Hey, young man! Let me find you an agent!")

Anyway, Mr. Trillin's book---A Heckuva Job: Further Poems From The Bush Administration---is really wonderful, and during the question and answer section, I realized that this is a guy I've known about since forever. I made up my mind to be a humor writer in high school and I studied every existing essayist there was, right about the time that he published Uncivil Liberties. And yet, in the intervening years, I've read almost nothing else the man has written, except for occasional pieces in The New Yorker, and his collection Too Soon To Tell. (I've had Tepper Isn't Going Out---his sole novel---on my to-read list for years. A novel about parking! How can I resist such a high concept?) Mostly I've just spent the intervening years re-re-re-reading Ian Frazier, Woody Allen, and P.J. O'Rourke. I should have done more research before the interview. A quick scan of Amazon shows that he actually has no fewer than FIVE books of poetry to his name! I should have been a fan of his long ago!

In any event, he was very gracious, and when I handed him my small paper sheaf, he looked at it, smiled weakly and said, "What do you want me to do with this? I'll do anything but read it."

"Uh," I said, "It's just a gift. No one does light verse these days, and this is to thank you."

"You don't expect comments or ...?"

"Oh, no. Since no one actually publishes light verse, it would just be nice to share it with another writer who enjoys the same idiom." [Note: I just made myself sound more coherent than I actually was, since his comments were the opposite of what I'd expected. Mentally add hemmings, hawings, and a mumble or two. I really had to wing it.]

Anyway, I realized how much crap he must have to put up with on a tour---to have an "I won't read it" policy means he gets stuff shoved under his nose all the time---and it struck me again just how incredibly fucking hard it is to get noticed in this town, where everyone is shouting for attention of some sort or another. How will anyone ever know that I'm the real deal, that I'm better than Susie Housecoat and Johnny Punchclock, if I can't even arrest someone's attention long enough to get them to read a single page? Yeesh.

The trip took all of my after-work day, and now I have to crash, so on top of everything else, I don't even get the joy of being able to post a really cool entry today. Pah! Fortunately, things get easier starting tomorrow.


By the way, I was going to hand-deliver my cartoons to the New Yorker at lunch. That travesty-in-waiting will have to wait until next Tuesday. Tuesdays are the only days they see the cartoonists, and there's probably going to be fifty of those guys, too, all clamoring for attention. My head hurts just thinking about it. Maybe if I try hard enough tonight, I'll be able to generate a pleasant dream.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Apparently, Nick Di Paolo Gives a Shit About My Obscure Ass

I got the following e-mail today when I came home:

Hi Dave,

What's up? An ex-evangelical christian who used to write Hallmark
cards..with qualifications like those i can see why you
believe you're an expert on the subject of stand up comedy. I know
your type, if you disagree with a comic's political views
(usually conservative) you brand that person not funny. Talk about a
hack approach. Let me guess, you love the Daily Show,
Al Franken, and David Cross because those guys are edgy right? Takes
alot balls to go after white, heterosexual , christain males these days.
(Ah, Distant irony the favorite weapon of comedians with no balls.) The
fact that you called sam Kinison homophobic and sexist tells me all i
need to know about your knowledge of comedy. Hey, and speaking of
comedy, you said in your article
your doing comedy here in NYC, so why don't you come by the comedy
cellar or any one of these shit holes and maybe i can get you on..oh
that's right
then you'd have to call me an asshole to my face. Anyways, maybe i'll
se you around the clubs here in the city ..then again probably not.


Nick D iPaolo


Give Jon Stewart a call at the Daily Show and ask him if he thinks I'm
funny..just curious

Bourbon Cowboy???? fuckin brilliant

It was mailed to me directly, not posted as a comment, but I've taken the liberty of reprinting it here for its own bizarre humor value, and because I'm having a hard time believing it could actually be Nick Di Paolo. I mean--really? The Nick Di Paolo? The same Nick whose page on MySpace ("A Place For Friends") shows that he has two times more permanent friends, as I write this, than I have had hits on my website in the last month and a half? The same Nick Di Paolo whose been paid to do comedy for 19 years and has appeared on Letterman, Leno, and the comedy roast of Pamela Anderson? Is he e-mailing me? Is he really that obsessive? (And if it were the real Nick Di Paolo, wouldn't he have typed his own name correctly?)

But it comes at a fortunate time, because I was just about to respond to what amounts to a popular hue and cry in these e-hinterlands (a single request from Jangler) for my promised post on Carlos Mencia. I'm working on it now, but I also have a little schmoozing to do tomorrow (Calvin Trillin's giving a reading and I want to hand him my poetry). So ... more later.


In looking at my own comments in my original post that apparently sparked this reaction, I realize I did the readers (and Nick) a disservice by not actually quoting any of Nick's jokes. In the interest of fairness, I intend to examine his website more carefully before responding this time. You never know who might be checking your homework.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In Which Wordplay Gets Increasingly Obscure

Okay, I may be overposting as a way of compensating for what I perceive to be a likely slow-posting weekend. But I have to add this.

Yesterday, I was looking over a few crosswords and I noticed that the grid contained the word CROATAN. "CROATAN?" I thought. "Is that a misprint for CROATIAN or a misprint for CROATOAN?" Because CROATOAN, as you trivia lovers already know, has an odd place in American history. In a day when communication was slow and provisioning was seasonal the Roanoke colony simply vanished between shippings one day. There were no bodies, no blood, no sign of struggle: just an empty village with the word CROATOAN written on a nearby tree.

The assumption is that the Croatan Indians of the region either rounded them up or---what I've seen floated as the more likely hypothesis---the Roanokers simply went native and joined them. In any event, the misspelled CROATOAN is always and ever only used in this context. The clue, however, was "Sound from Roanoke." And again I thought, "Sound?" There was no sound---just a word written on a tree. Oops!

In correcting this, I learned two things: North Carolina does, in fact, contain a Croatan Sound. (Fine; change the clue to "Sound of Roanoke" and we're in business.) Second, and more disturbingly, CROATAN is listed in some sources as an alternate spelling of the word CROATOAN from the Roanoke story. I've been bugged by this ever since. How could there be an alternate spelling? It's written right on the fucking tree! That's like having an alternate spelling of "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin"--it's written on the wall in flaming letters! There's no excuse not to know how to spell it.

The only thing I can think of is that the original story fell victim to an early spell checker. Surely the misspelling must be the actual deal, right? So how can history have a variant spelling? I'm all sad.


By the way, having written mene mene tekel upharsin, I have to add that that sequence, from the book of Daniel, is one of my favorite bits of wordplay because it's an entire future story (meaning, if I recall, "weighed, weighed, balanced, judged" or something), each word of which is a pun on a then-existing coin (the minim, the shekel, and some other one). It would be like someone prophesying "Your future is bills, bills, dolor, then sense." The only similar double pun like that I've ever seen is from Finnegans Wake, where someone is described as running with "feet, hoof, and jarrety"---a pun on faith, hope and charity, where jarrety is an Irish term for the leg. Anyone got any others?

Help Make Music Radical Again!

Vote for my friends, Girls on Film, to help them get on the Lollapalooza tour. They're an eighties-style New Wave glam band that consistently puts on the best, most crowd-pleasing shows I've seen in ten years. (Their recordings, though great fun, simply can't do their live shows justice. They've got the robotic moves, the New Romantic backup singers, and outfits you can scarcely believe. Pure kicks!) You can actually vote every day, so if you like them, keep coming back. Here's the link.

And come to think of it, here's their website.

They are also, by the way, all magnificent women who are well worth talking to after the show. So you should definitely see them if they ever come through.


Turns out my friend Trip does indeed have a blog, and thanks to his referral I just learned the following magnificent factoid:

From 1996 to present, the most common clue in The New York Times daily crosswords has been "See 17 Across." Here's the statistical breakdown.

For you non-initiates, the reason 1996 is important is because that's when Games Magazine's (and NPR's) Will Shortz took over the New York Times crossword from the late and unlamented Eugene Maleska, who drove the Gray Lady's happiest feature straight toward the earth's core. (And he was at the job so long that he damn near succeeded.) In my current job, which involves reprinting very old clunky crosswords, I've learned to dread seeing Maleska's byline. "How many crappy ideas can he fit into a single grid?" you may ask. Obscurity? Alternate spellings? Punny clues so unfunny they actually deaden the spirit? A theme as dry as melba toast? He can do it all in a fifteen by fifteen and not even break a sweat. Then he'll insult you for failing to notice his brilliance. Ugh.

Anyway, after seeing the statistics for Will Shortz, I was wondering what the most common crossword clue might have been under Maleska's tenure. I think it might be:

Long time

Which is about the dullest clue for ERA that I can conceive of. (Other factoid: ERA's the most common word in crosswords. Not a huge surprise, I know. But did you know that ELI is fourth, beating out such stalwarts as ALOE, EDEN, and ALE? Now you do.) I wish I could have a more entertainingly bad clue, but this is Eugene Maleska, and sometimes suckiness isn't entertaining.

On a related (and happily non-sucking) topic, the crossword documentary Wordplay, featuring Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart, Bob Dole, and every single one of my friends, opens this weekend. As of this writing, it's got over 85% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, which makes it one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and a damn sight better than Nacho Libre. Go see it when it arrives!

This is Just To Say ...

A magnificent person is coming to visit me this weekend, so posting may be light. Just thought I'd warn you.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

[Think of Title Later Using the Word "Truthiness" or "Penis Enlargement"]

I recently noticed that my modest little site just passed 2000 visitors. (Drop the balloons! The cheapest you can find!) And then, for the first time ever, I noticed as well that right near the stat there's a little clicky thing that says "See My Stats." So I actually did, and I discovered the following interesting facts:

1.) About 50% of the visitors to my site stay less than five seconds. (Standard search engine ruling out, I imagine.) But 22% stay longer than an hour. Longer than an hour! I must have a huge following in the dial-up community.

2.) 38 of the last 100 visitors came from somewhere else. Nine came from Tomato Nation---a wonderful site (by Sarah Bunting, creator of Television Without Pity) that I can't believe isn't on my "Pardners" list. I'll correct that as soon as I can, Sarah! The other big referrer---six!---was Eric Berlin's site,, which is also thoroughly entertaining and (as you'd expect from a professional editor) well written. Both talk a lot about pop culture, and Eric---who actually works with me in the Dell family---has ruminations on puzzles as well. (He was the first person to make me aware of the typos on the "Wordplay" movie's official website.) You too shall be added, Eric! Thanks much! (Side note: Trip, why don't you have a blog? You were made for it.)

3.) Of the people who came via keyword, the most popular search term that turned up my site was the word "scienciness." Of the remaining 11 search-engine results, someone was searching for "cowboy and chicken joke," someone searched for "jentacular" (I assume they have a friend named Jen), and at least one person came to me from a search for "Nick diPaolo." Most interestingly to me---perhaps because it's the least surprising---one of them came as a result of a search for "weird areola." I doubt this person stayed for more than an hour. When I'm doing searches like that, I find I'm often pressed for time.

4.) The other people who came from other sites always came from my Blogger "About Me" page. But as near as I can tell, Blogger doesn't even have a search function. How are these folks doing it?

5.) Finally, half of my traffic involves return visitors. Thanks, y'all! Give me your site names and I'll return to you too!

I ran across some notes I made about Carlos Mencia that I want to dump later---maybe at lunch. In the meantime, I gotta get my bus. Excelsior for now!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Fashion Warning: Eighties Loomings

I don't imagine that New York is the bellwether of fashion that it once was (now that anything someone comes up with in Milan on Sunday can be televised and Gap-ready in 24 hours). But just in case, I just wanted everyone to know: I was a little alarmed a few days ago when I saw a commercial declaring "Big hair is back!" And then when, a day later, I walked behind a woman in Grand Central Station who was wearing white jeans that literally had zippered pouch pockets all the way up both legs. Remember the proliferation of tiny useless zippered pockets, especially on jeans? I took a picture, and I'll post it later if you don't believe me.

But then yesterday I noticed something else: Huge bug-eye sunglasses. They're everywhere in Manhattan right now. Very 1982. You might say, "Dave, that's not a trend. It's just summer. Also, Lenny Kravitz has been wearing them for a decade." But still. The more I notice it, the more worried I become. There are a lot of things to fear from an eighties revival: pale lip gloss, leg warmers, hooker eyeshadow in pastel colors, and so on. So I'm calling on all of you: be alert! Somehow, a few years ago, our cultural sentries were napping and bell bottoms---bell bottoms!---made it past the goalie. Let's keep our guard up, people. No one want to wear neon ties and pre-ripped jeans again. Jheri curls, anyone?

By the way, if we have to suffer a revival, I'm okay with shoulder pads and ties being a little narrower. That's as far as I'm willing to go.


While I'm speaking of trends, I just want to point out that every day I take three trains each way. Yesterday, in three out of six cases, one of my neighbors was pregnant. (Including one who called across to someone, as the train was pulling out of the station, "Move my ass? I'm fucking pregnant, you dumbshit!" If her kid becomes a Scientologist, it'll have a lot of engrams to work off.) Today, just while waiting for the train, three pregnant women walked past me. Is pregnant the new houndstooth? You women be careful.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Health Care in 200 Words or So

Over at Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum gives a wonderfully succinct three paragraph argument for national health care, so easy that even our lazy press corps can get it. Read and spread the knowledge!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

My Friend Bill: A Fictional Biography

My friend Bill, a Scrabble buddy from Tallahassee, has just finished his doctoral dissertation in mathematics (which, as I understand it, involves mapping in up to nine simultaneous dimensions), and he asked everyone to write an amusing bio for him, since it doesn't really matter what it says. Here's my attempt, which I now share with you, my readers. By the way, if he uses it, I get a copy of the dissertation.


Bill “Norwegian” Wood, who is famous now for his invention of World Peace, is so familiar to readers of Time and Tiger Beat that it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago he was a simple grad student known mostly for being the first human to survive a direct hit by a comet.

Scholars are divided on when he was born and some have concluded that he may be a legendary figure. All are agreed, however, that he was clearly destined to get a degree in mathematics from the age of three, when he memorized his first Star Trek episode. He was raised in the Transvaal on a mixed terrain of veldt and kopje, and to this day he never goes anywhere without his sjambok—a heavy whip made from the jerkied flesh of a spitting cobra. He is so skilled at its use that he can flick the ash from a cheroot at a distance of six meters. (“But wait!” you may cry. “Cobras rarely exceed two and a half meters in length!” For Bill, they make an exception.) How influential is he? When word got out that his bio was being written, every single letter of the alphabet volunteered to be a part of it.

He speaks Urdu, though not fluently, and knows at least three of the aboriginal “click tongues” which have proven so opaque to lesser adventurers. He is currently translating Riemann’s Theorie der Abel'schen Functionen into Klingon, just in case. Challenge him to Scrabble and you will find yourself days later, broken and weeping, sitting on the floor in your lonely apartment with a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and wondering how your life went so horribly wrong. You fool! What were you thinking? He has won already.

Friday, June 09, 2006


I'm hoping to get a lot of writing done this weekend, and the first step to doing that is to disconnect the Internet. So if you don't hear much from me for the next few days, that's probably good news.

They Call Me Mr. Pussy-Face

This post was going to be a short note about a very silly incident. I was leaving work at noon today---summer hours, don't'cha know---and when I passed through the relatively calm Times Square Station to catch the S train across to Grand Central, there was a saxophone player there, busking away. The entrance to the S is one of the places where there's always a musician working. This guy, however, suddenly broke into the theme from "Bonanza." And it wasn't until I got onto the train that I realized, "Hey---he was probably doing that because of how I was dressed! He was reading the crowd and improvising for money! Way to hustle, Saxophone Guy!"

But this charming little anecdote was hurled into the abyss and trampled on a few seconds later when I realized that I was obliged to stand, for the full three-minute S-train journey, next to my first real-life New York Crazy Person.

Comedians talk a lot about the crazy people in New York City, but I honestly haven't seen that much craziness. Either they don't come up into Washington Heights that often, or I'm inured to most of it from having grown up in Tucson, Transient Capital of the Southwest. But this guy was the real deal. For one thing, he was in pajama bottoms. (I thought for a second, "Wait! Maybe they're just light, loose-fitting foreign pants!"---I'm bad with clothes---but a closer glance showed that they were deep blue, and covered with little white stars. Definitely a nighttime motif.) And, in standard Crazy-Guy fastion, he was talking to himself nonstop. It was hard to make out because the train was noisy and he was just muttering, but we were close enough that I got this sample: "I'm here in New York, man, New York--yeah!-- and nobody knows it, but I've got the power, definitely got the power, hey girls, yeah!--and my day, my day's gonna be right around the...yeah! definitely the day, it's like noon..."

But even that was pretty familiar. The thing that freaked me out---and I wish I could've gotten a picture---was that he was covered with tattoos that had weird math symbols all over his body. (Like omega + C + pi = ankh, which ran along his left arm.) And to top it off, he had the word "PUSSY" tattooed on his face. It was smallish writing---I'd guess 18-point type, all caps---and curved from the side of his right cheek to his nose. PUSSY. On his face. I've been trying to make sense of it for hours now and I can't imagine any scenario under which this could have happened. I'm sort of hoping it was a prank his friends played on him after he passed out one time.


And by the way, I just have to add that I think it's a shame that "pussy" is considered an insult. Particularly when you consider how many men spend all their time, money and energy in pursuit of pussy, you'd think that having "pussy" written on your face might be the equivalent of having "riches" written on your wrists. But I guess sexism isn't logical. I am, however, afraid that I may have just figured out why Mr. Crazy Guy got the tattoo. It is, in its way, perhaps a rude form of hope.


Do you think if I use the word "pussy" one more time it'll affect my Google ranking? Fingers crossed!

New York Serendipity At Last!

I've had weird luck meeting people at random in New York City. The first time I ever came here, some umpteen years ago, I had just flown in from Tucson and was walking towards my hotel (I think it ws around 59th street)....and damned if I didn't run into a friend of mine from the National Puzzlers' League, who lives in Berkeley, California! (Hello, Banterweight!) Right there on the street. She was in town to talk to her agent. What a wacky coincidence!

Then, three years ago, I was staying with my friend Ryan in Chelsea and just sort of wandering around town. My very first afternoon in town, we were heading toward the West Village when---again, right there on the street---I met a friend of mine, Jen, who had just moved from Tallahassee to attend grad school at NYU. "Dave?" she said. "Is that you?" (Good thing, or I might have missed her; it was a busy street.) We hugged, talked crazily, and agreed to meet up later. And then, one day later, I met another friend of mine named Joy who had just moved a year ago and was working at The Big Cup---a coffee shop smack in the middle of the Chelsea district which Dan Savage has called "The Fifth Circle of Gay Hell." The Big Cup's closed now and I don't know where she is, but that was another shock. (In other odd anecdotal news, she'd apparently just broken up with an editor at Maxim.)

I thought that was weird, but then, two weeks later, I was walking across Manhattan looking for an agent, and I made the error of assuming I could just follow Broadway from downtown up to 42nd street. But Broadway cants, it shunts, it angles, it apparently changes its name (sometimes I read 6th, sometimes Avenue of the Americas, wherever Broadway was supposed to be), and an hour into my walk I realized I was very, very lost. I decided I was going to have to ask for help. So I decided to ask the very next person I met who seemed idle. And sure enough, a mere minute later, I saw a guy sitting on the stoop in front of a large office building, staring intently at a tiny paper newsletter, pencil in hand. As I looked closer, I noticed with a shock that he was solving The Enigma, which is the monthly newsletter of the National Puzzlers League. (The newsletter is basically a small puzzle magazine.) I don't want to speculate about the odds on this, but at the time the National Puzzlers League had about 600 members worldwide, of whom only about 300 were regularly sending in solution lists. I don't remember his name---he was tall, balding, fortyish, with piercing blue-gray eyes and hair I remember as wispy and light brown. A handsome guy. And he knew who I was! We chatted, caught up with a little bit of NPL business, and he sent me on my way. (Apparently I was going the right direction and was only eleven blocks from my goal.) I'm still blanking on his name, to my great shame, but what a lucky break!

Anyway, I mention this because nothing like that has happened since. Oh, sure, I met Jeff "Jeffurry" Schwartz at the Scrabble Club, but the odds of that happening were about 100 per cent. The only shock is I didn't meet anyone else, since about four of us are regulars. The real magic, the real fun, is the random street meeting. And that's what's been missing in the four months I've been here.

Until yesterday. While running from the S train to my A train home in Grand Central Station, I practically plowed into another National Puzzlers League member, Cazique, coming the other direction. (You've got to grab the S while you can.) "Hey, Quiz!" he said. (My name in the NPL is Quiz.) "Where are you headed?" I asked. He was very well dressed---suit, valise, the whole shebang. "Back to work," he said. It was five. Back to work? I suddenly felt very lucky to be headed home. "Well---I guess we'll talk!" I said. "Good to see you," he replied. And with that we parted ways. My first accidental meeting with a National Puzzlers League member who I actually socialize with regularly at the conventions. Thanks, Cazique! You just kept my accidental-meeting mojo at 100%.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bold "Click" Predictions

"Click", the new Adam Sandler movie, is fixing to open this weekend. For those of you with no TV, this is a comedy where Mr. Sandler finds himself in possession of a remote control device that works on life! You know---you can fast forward stuff, pause it, etc. I seem to see the same damn ad over and over again, and there's nothing in it about the plot of the movie.

However, I think they're not showing you the plot precisely because it goes without saying. So I'd like to make two predictions right now, knowing almost nothing about the film:

1. ) Adam Sandler will play an uptight man---possibly even an angry man-child!---who is something of a control freak. But once the device comes into his life and he's able to live out all his fantasies of control, his behavior backfires and he almost loses his family! Ultimately he realizes that it's better not to try to control everything in life, because isn't unpredictability part of the fun?

2.) At some point, the soundtrack will contain the J.Geils Band's "Freeze Frame."

Anyone else got predictions?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rescuing Missing Letters

I was just looking over my vocabulary poems, and so far I've written 53 of them. But I seem to have centered most of my work on only a few letters. I have never written any poems for words beginning with the letters K, L, M, N, R, S or T. And I also only have one each of D,G,H,I,Q and X. So look for those letters in particular in the near future. (And if those of you who've been on my list for a while can disprove this, let me know; it means I haven't saved all my poems.)

In the meantime, let me share something vexing. TBS is running ads on the subways that are part of their "Humor Analysis" series where they invite viewers to log on and vote on various questions about what is funny. The most recent one reads as follows:

Which of these sitcoms, based on anagrams of SEX AND THE CITY, would be the funniest?


There are two major problems with this ad. The first is that, in a REAL anagram, you don't repeat any of the words in the original phrase. So on the basis of elegance alone, a real puzzler would disqualify every one of those fake sitcoms except for EX CADET SHINY.

The second problem is worse. None of the purported sitcoms are actually anagrams of SEX AND THE CITY. a. has an extra S, b. has one S too few, c. is missing a T, and d. has an extra T.

Since TBS clearly needs to work harder on its anagram skills, I hereby offer the following prospective sitcoms. Which do you think sounds the funniest?


Mornin' Roundup

First things first: I forgot to ever post the answer to this cheese-and-European-rap-performer trivia quiz from several weeks back. The non-cheese rap groups are Lucien Revolucien, Assalto Frontali, de Spookrijders, and Hobbitz. They all make sense when you look back on them. Except for Hobbitz. Aren't rappers supposed to be Star Wars geeks instead?

In this follow-up on John Solomon's weirdly misleading article about Harry Reid, Josh Marshall demonstrates exctly why I love Talking Points Memo: rather than snarl and say, "The media is under the thumb of the evil Bush colossus!" or other panicked conspiratorial cries, he explains what probably happened in a way that doesn't dress anyone in fangs and---more to the point---feels true to life.

If the Bush White House feels under pressure from their torture allegations, they won't be helping anything by removing Geneva Convention language about mistreating prisoners from their new Army guidebooks. Yeesh. Can we vote these fuckers out already so I can be proud of my country again? Anyone who runs on a bold non-torture platform will be fine.

And finally, this is what partisan attack journalism should be all about. It's nice to see it turned against Bill O'Reilly for once---since, if you haven't been watching, he has twice gotten history flat dead wrong while defending the troops at Haditha. All hail Keith Olbermann and his Ahab-like (Ahavian?) obsession with the Great White Daddy! And while we're at it, all hail YouTube! Thanks to them, I've been able to see every cool thing I was ever too poor to TiVo.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Taoism Looks Cooler All The Time

Yesterday I went to a brunch at a restaurant called Sette. (All "sette" means is it's Italian for seven; I don't want you to imagine the place contains a lot of couches.) And after a few mimosas, I went into the bathroom and found a flier next to the soap announcing a series of seminars by Chi Kung Master Mantak Chia (I couldn't help it: my first thought was, "Will he bring his pet?") at some place called the META center, from June 6-8. I have to quote a few bits to you.

Mantak Chia is one of the most important figures in contemporary Taoism. Author of many classic books including Awaken Healing Light Through the Tao, Taoist Secrets of Love, and The Multi-Orgasmic Man...

My goodness!, you may be thinking. So is this a healing seminar or a sex seminar?

June 6 Seminar: Elixir Chi Kung. Elixir Chi Kung trains you to mix saliva, hormonal fluids and Cosmic essences into a powerful healing nectar.

That's right. I'm afraid it's both. I just hope it's not a lab. ("Bring a sack lunch and some Handi-Wipes...") But I don't know, because I also saw this:

June 3 and 4: Tao of Loving Sex and Spiritual Power. The use of sexual energy for spiritual transformation. Sexual Healing and Reflexology. No Partner Necessary.

That's right! No partner necessary! That's gotta be some damn fine reflexology...


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nick diPaolo: Jerk or Idiot?

Tonight Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Jean Arthur, one of my all-time favorites. (And like Cary Grant, she never won an Oscar—damn the Academy!) The line-up includes Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Only Angels Have Wings, The Devil and Miss Jones, and A Foreign Affair—that last one a Billy Wilder movie that many Billy Wilder fans haven’t even heard of, because it’s incredibly hard to track down. (The latter two films aren’t even available on DVD yet.) Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be going out tonight.

But I did think I should mention that, while I was rather harsh about Sam Kinison in my last post on comedy, I walked in to work the next morning to listen to more comedy, and I am now willing to forgive Sam Kinison roughly half of his act, because even though it was loud, irritating, sexist, and homophobic, it was, in its way, structurally original. To hit the true dregs of modern comedy, you need only do what I did, which is to listen to Sam Kinison back to back with Nick diPaolo. Nick diPaolo! Boo! Hiss! I’ve loathed the man for years—ever since he routinely did lazily racist hack material as a regular on Colin Quinn’s execrable “Tough Crowd.” But now that I’ve heard him do an entire hour-long set, I am content to report that there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about his act no matter how much time you give him. His pattern is to say “I hate stupid people”—a sure sign that someone’s about to set up a series of insultingly idiotic straw men—and then to give an example of someone doing something either unrealistically stupid, or reasonable and not worth getting angry about. And his next rant is always some outdated pop-culture reference (“I was sweating like Richard Simmons at an ‘N Sync concert”). I’m sorry—I’m so full of contempt for this asshole that I’m not even doing a decent job of describing his shitty work.

Wait—yes I can. One time on “Tough Crowd,” he was on, along with John Stewart. The topic Colin broached was “Mayor Bloomberg has announced that he’s thinking of selling space on New York landmarks to advertisers as a way of raising money for the city. What do you all think of this?” John Stewart’s response was pure satire: “Boy, I just hate to think of them commercializing something as historic as the Seagram’s Building.” What did Nick diPaolo say? “I was thinking that, instead of putting advertiser’s names on things, they could put celebrity’s names on them. So, you know, like the Holland Tunnel could be renamed The Madonna Tunnel.” And, in the best moment “Tough Crowd” ever vouchsafed me, John Stewart smacked him down: “Wait a minute,” he interrupted. “Are—are you still doing Madonna-is-a-whore jokes? She’s like forty now. She’s got a kid...” What he didn’t bother to point out is that Mr. DiPaolo had to actually violate the original premise—businesses advertising, remember?—in order to shoehorn in...a Madonna joke! Jesus Christ. That’s Nick DiPaolo. I won’t even go into his lazy stereotyping (his Arabs ululate unendingly) or his fag jokes. Just avoid the hell out of him. Maybe starvation will teach him not to turn comedy into a form of weak-minded bullying.

On a happier note, as part of Comedy Central’s Blue Collar Weekend, they showed a half-hour of Southern comic Kathleen Madigan. I caught the last fifteen minutes of the performance, and on that basis alone, I’m prepared to say that she is now my new favorite comic. Unfortunately, I can’t quote any of her jokes—I just remember that she was routinely interesting and humane, ticking off her idiosyncrasies, making them understandable, and never once veering into “men are different from women” material. If I find her stuff available anywhere, I’m totally buying it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My Areola Problem

A few days ago I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: write an article about the word “areola,” and then sell it to Slate Magazine. I’d title it something like “The Word Nobody Pronounces Right.” It’s exactly the kind of article—and title—they tend to like.

First, some background. Just in case you don’t know (about a third of the people I mention this to don’t), “areola” is the word for the colored ring around the nipple—it can, of course, be applied to both male and female nipples, but female nipples have wider range of variation and, in any event, get talked about more. That’s why it’s a little weird to look up the word in Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate and see it defined as “a colored ring (as about the nipple, a vesicle, or a pustule.)” I would venture to say that areola as “a colored ring around a nipple” is used at least ten times more often than it is as “a colored ring around a pustule.” But I don’t keep up with all the medical journals, so I can’t say for sure. But it sure seems like there ought to be an additional sentence at the end of the defnition: “But honestly, it’s mostly used to talk about women’s breasts.”

Anyway, I discovered several years ago that the allegedly correct pronunciation of the word, according to the first dictionary I checked, is not “airy-OH-luh,” as you might expect, but “uh-REE-uh-luh.” And yet I have literally met nobody—not one single person—who pronounced the word the way the dictionary says you’re supposed to. (In fact, just two nights ago I heard “airy-OH-luh” on an episode of “CSI.” Apparently a stripper had been murdered. It’s a long story.)

What makes this doubly strange is that all modern dictionaries list variant pronunciations when there are common variants in heavy use. For example, any listing of the word “our” usually has at least two pronunciations with the word: OW-er and AR. A moment’s reflection will show this is perfectly appropriate. Or take the word “ophthalmologist,” which should technically be pronounced OFF-thull-MAHL-uh-jist, even though most people tend to say OP-thuh-. (According to Webster’s Guide to Modern English Usage, this is even the most common pronunciation among ophthalmologists themselves!) And every major dictionary lists both pronunciations as a result.

And yet no such alternate pronunciation is ever listed for the word “areola.” That was going to be the point of my article. “Check anywhere!” I was going to say. “New International Third! The New World! The Random House Second! Encarta! Merriam-Webster’s Tenth! Not a one of them even seems aware that this most common pronunciation even exists! What’s up with that?” And then I was going to end the article somehow.

Unfortunately, I work in a crossword puzzle office, and the other day I discovered two disturbing things: One, there’s a Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate out (I thought I had it already), and Two, damned if it doesn’t list “airy-OH-la” as a legitimate alternate pronunciation! Damn! There goes my article! Somehow the article isn’t nearly as interesting when it ends by saying, “Only one dictionary gets it right...” instead of none.

Or have I given up too easily? I ask you, my readers—can any among you think of a way to reframe the article so it’s still sellable? I could use perhaps a small goosing of encouragement.

Our Liberal Media

If this isn't the most weirdly biased story the AP has done since the heyday of Nedra Pickler, I'd be damned if I know what it might be. Read and be ready to scratch your head. It looks like a straight news story, but reads like an editorial straight out of Snow's mouth. I mean, I knew Republican leadership was terrified of a Democratic House and a potential subsequent Bush impeachment. But this isn't even close to being subtle.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Morning Roundup

The most interesting thing on the web these days is this: John Solomon of the AP has been writing a series of articles about Harry Reid---Democratic Congressional Leader!---accepting boxing tickets from the Nevada Boxing Commission, which was trying to sway his vote on boxing regulations. Quelle scandale! Well, it would be a scandal, except that, a. the tickets were legal for him to accept, and b. he voted against the Commission right afterward. So between its legality and its ineffectiveness, I'm not sure you can call it a "bribe." An "unwise long-shot cheap campaign contribution," maybe, but not a bribe.

But John Solomon, desperate perhaps to be able to nail some Democrat higher up than Jefferson in a scandal so the whole media world can finally call this crap "bipartisan," has routinely and deliberately misrepresented the situation to make the story sound more salacious than it is. And CNN and MSNBC have followed the AP's lead in covering the story: lots of innuendo, no actual accuracy. It's maddening. Fortunately, Talking Points Memo has been doing protective police work---and the AP actually felt the need to respond---and the details of the story are here.

And speaking of scandal, a reporter went back over the blogs to see who predicted what about the Bush presidency, and Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum nailed it. He said, "In a word: scandal." Back when everyone else was saying, "Bush may be in over his head, but he's got good people and he has noble intentions," Drum looked at his tendencies in Texas---most especially his tendency to ignore inconvenient rules and his obsessive need for secrecy---and predicted the scenario we're seeing unfold now. The link is here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dave's Review of Current Online Comedy

I have iTunes on my computer at work, and while doing the work I’m not allowed to describe at the office I shouldn’t mention, I’ve been trying out its radio function. Today I spent the entire day listening to an all-comedy station—potentially painful, yes, but I figure it’s also a good way to keep in practice—and I have learned the following things from their selection, which ranged from early nineties (Sam Kinison) to last year, with a heavy emphasis on post-9/11, pre-Katrina concerts:

* Sam Kinison is not just misogynistic—he’s also homophobic, annoying, and now that I’ve finally heard his bilge I’m only sorry he didn’t die sooner. Why did anyone like him?

*Bobcat Goldthwait is consistently very funny, but he makes a lot of jokes about how he used to be big in the eighties and his career has simply gone nowhere. (In fact he has a hilarious story about how he got fired from The New Hollywood Squares.) My take: the eighties thing was a fluke. He’s a comedian for off-the-wall slacker types, and was always destined to be a niche market. His eighties prominence was like that thing that occasionally happens, where a band (let’s say The Cardigans, e.g.) become wildly famous for a song (“Lovefool”) that is completely unlike anything the band normally actually does. What looks like a fall is simply a return to equilibrium.

*David Spade’s stand-up is actually the most appealing version of David Spade I’ve ever encountered. Instead of in the movies or on Saturday Night Live, where he plays the irritating smartass who’s hipper than thou in a voice that quickly becomes grating to me, the Spade in this particular comedy performance (I didn’t get the title) was surprisingly self-effacing and, you know, funny. If he comes to town I’ll actually pay to see him. (As opposed to his “The Showbiz Show,” which has such consistently weak writing that Mr. Spade often has to smirk just to fill the dead air.)

*If you’re going to listen to redneck comedy, the best guy on the block seems to be Ron White, who—instead of going on about redneck stereotypes a la Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the Cable Guy—is in the gentleman-raconteur mode of a drunk and vulgar Mark Twain. He’s the only redneck comedian I’ve heard who makes me walk away feeling smarter and happier.

*People are still doing men-are-different-from-women acts. Not just jokes; entire goddamn acts.

*Black comedians are also still doing “black and white people are different” sets. In fact, that’s D.L. Hughley’s entire act.

*It’s also still acceptable—bizarre but true—to adopt a lisping, mincing voice when impersonating a gay man.

*Most hackneyed joke: Men will do whatever women want because women offer sex. I heard this same observation five times in nine hours.

*Second most hackneyed joke: for some reason, three different comedians, in talking about George W. Bush, mentioned that he electrocuted a woman who claimed she’d found Jesus. Every single one of these comedians then did an imitation of George Bush saying, in essence, “You’ve found Jesus? Great, cause you’ll be seein’ him real soon!”

*The best, weirdest guy I heard all day was a fellow named Daniel Tosh. Look for him. I don’t actually remember his act (let’s hope they have repeats), but his premises were consistently fresh. Another not-so-new guy who I’m happy to have finally heard: Patton Oswalt. Between Patton Oswalt and Ron White, I think I’ve found my personal models to build on. They communicate genuineness swiftly and effortlessly.

Anyway, one thing I did take away from this: I want to do a joke where I say, “Here’s an impression of a gay guy buying milk,” and then I say, in a normal voice, “I’d like to buy some milk.” Now all I need is a punchline.

This Just In: Marilyn Didn't Suck!

Three cheers for dumb luck! I just turned on Turner Classic Movies and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was on...a film I've never seen all of, and darned if I didn’t tune in just as Marilyn Monroe began performing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” I’d never seen the entire performance before (I caught the end once), and I was curious, because it’s probably her most famous film performance. (Her birthday song to JFK wasn’t on film, and the blown-up-skirt scene in The Seven Year Itch isn’t really a performance so much as a pose.) There was morbid curiosity in this. When I heard that, in Some Like it Hot, it took 47 takes for Marilyn to say “It’s me, Sugar” and 40 more to get her to say “Where’s the bourbon?” (Director Billy Wilder eventually just wrote the lines on the bottom of the drawer she was searching in, and even then she couldn't find the right drawer), I expected to see a really crappy performance, with the camera obviously wandering around her. Several quick cuts, perhaps, with maybe some obvious dubbing. After all, if she couldn’t get three words right, how the hell did they ever get her to do an entire song?

The answer, I guess, is that this was six years earlier, on the more functional end of her death spiral, and she’s amazing. The song is done in long takes, with fairly complicated choreography (though you couldn’t really call it dancing; its more like a form of timed prop-brandishing.) And if IMDB is correct, she even did the bulk of her own singing! (Only the high notes were dubbed by that musical-dubbing workhorse, Marni Nixon.) Pure entertainment. It now goes next to Rita Hayworth's "Put the Blame on Mame" scene in Gilda in my list of favorite movie song solos by women.

By the way, another thing that surprised me is that, hard upon that first performance, Jane Russell (Marilyn's allegedly co-va-voomy co-star in the film) does her own reprise of “Diamonds” as well, and there’s a reason it’s not famous. It’s the musical equivalent of a blunt object—which is pretty much the way Jane Russell is in all her films. Howard Hawks is famous for directing tough women, so maybe it did something for him personally. But I’ll take Marilyn, even though it’s hard to argue the movie even offers a choice. Despite their co-billing, Jane Russell is very much Ethel Mertz to Marilyn’s Lucy. Marilyn’s even got better comic timing!

Anyway, I’m going to sleep happy now, and I’ve learned a lesson about not prejudging.

NOTE: Corrected as of 5 June; Rita Hayworth was in Gilda, not Roberta as I originally reported in my sleep-dazed state. Thanks, Esther!

A Star Trek Geek Interlude

***WARNING*** If you're not a Star Trek fan, ignore this post. Not only is it kind of obsessive, but it contains spoilers about Star Trek II almost immediately. You've been apprised. ******

My friend Ryan just posted an interesting article on his blog about rediscovering, as an adult, a suprising love for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But the part that most moved him was the part at the end where Spock dies, sacrificing his life for the life of the crew. And Ryan writes:

But there I sat, terribly moved. Because, well, it’s Spock. And Spock represents the intellectual third of the triumvirate (completed by Kirk and McCoy), the logical and unassailable force who provides both bedrock sagacity and humor. So on some sort of metaphorical level, killing Spock is about killing off logic—destroying that aspect of the idealism inherent in the Star Trek universe. But ironically, it’s the emotional attachment that we form to this utterly logical character that makes the whole thing work.

Honestly, Spock plays a central role in a modern mythology (that more prominently includes comic book heroes) in which I invested myself, in certain ways more wholly than in my Presbyterian upbringing. . .

I can't post on his site, but I thought I'd add my two cents:

I'm particularly interested in how Spock became a myth figure to the exclusion of everyone else. Because it's pretty obvious that the original Star Trek conceit was "logical first mate/emotional doctor/captain who used both" triumvirate. Pure vulgar Hegelianism. And yet McCoy was never anywhere near as popular as Spock was and is---and this reading is further complicated by the fact that Spock was only HALF Vulcan, as they kept reminding the viewers (and, insultingly, Spock himself). Moreover, I don't think Kirk did a single logical thing in the entire series. (Except, of course, for in "The City on the Edge of Forever." Yes, I know the titles. That's the kind of geek I am. You know what's worse? I learned the titles from The Star Trek Concordance by Bjo Trimble years and years before I ever actually saw a Star Trek episode---in fact, years before we even had a TV in our house.)

Hmm. The way that paragraph was going to end was, "and so the emotion-logic-synthesis trilogy really collapses into just two people---Spock, who is occasionally dragged unwillingly into being emotional, and Kirk who is VERY occasionally dragged unwillingly into being logical." But even this doesn't quite work. Because the more I think about it, the more I think Spock was popular because he was the only interesting character on the show. No one else in the series ever had a second of doubt about who they were. This, again, is why "Star Trek: The Next Generation" generally makes for better television, because there are so many more characters who are actually interesting as people: Picard and Data and Worf. (And then there were others---such as Geordi and Troi---who should have been interesting but never really fulfilled the potential they had on paper.)

But back to Spock. I think one of the things that's interesting about him is that he just might be the uber-geek: the person who tries to think things through logically precisely because he finds feelings too unsettling and disobedient to even acknowledge. And in describing Spock, I've just described every evangelical Christian intellectual I've ever met. And surely much of geekdom is rooted in a similar attempt to intellectualize away feelings of dislocation and loneliness. No wonder everyone identified.

There's more to talk about the weird way that the original show loved to reify Christian values while, at the same time (as I think Harlan Ellison pointed out), always having the characters run into god-figures who were either spoiled children or heartless computers (emotion versus logic again). But my lunch hour is almost over.