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!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ah, Hell. Here's Jasconius.

I have a bunch of these, and since I mentioned Jasconius the fish/island, here's a classic take on the story.

And another

And if you're really curious, here's a link to the Wikipedia article. Please note that my version is more of a Monty Python version of the story, and I have modified things freely, including chopping out dull chapters where I couldn't think of anything funny to do. The Wikipedia article doesn't do the story justice. I may have to fix that later.

P.S. The fact that Wikipedia uses the same pictures I do wasn't intentional---but it shows how few classic images of Brendan are available on the web.


For Luck

The book's about St. Brendan, so I'm posting this as a good luck charm until I finish. This is a stamp (obviously) with images of St. Brendan from two of his adventures: The Island of Giant Sheep (they look pretty small in the picture, but that may be perspective), and the island of fire---which, in the original, is populated by giants who hurl rocks at the ship. I made it an island of giants and removed the fire entirely. One interesting thing about this representation is that it's one of the few pictures of Brendan's journey I've seen that completely ignores Jascon/Jasconius, the island that turns out to be a giant fish. Not to give anything away.

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The Final Few Days!

My birthday is coming up on the 3rd, and I'm hoping to have the final chapter of my novel finished by then, so I'm going all-out to get it donw ... meaning light blogging till then, if any. (I can't always resist.) Then I hope to fix the book and make it respectable by Halloween so I can start afresh for National Novel Writing Month.

So that silence you hear is, I hope, me tapping away furiously at what turns out to be a book that actually gets an agent and sells and the whole shebang.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Extraordinarily Preachy Cigarette Box

From an ashtray at 32nd and Park Avenue South. The other side said simply, "Smoking Kills." I guess it's a British thing---or a thing from some other country that doesn't contain a tobacco lobby.


Al Franken Anagram Quiz

Al Franken was at Borders at Columbus Circle last night, ostensibly promoting the paperback release of The Truth (With Jokes)---which apparently has an entirely new long chapter at the end about everything the Bush folks have done since (and including) Katrina. I recommend his work to everyone, because he's the only political writer I iknow who consitstently seems to actually understand all the players and all the history---and provides honest-to-god citations for his facts, generally from nonpartisan sources. If Republican commentators did this (instead of leading with high moral dudgeon or, say, redacting ), I'd respect them a lot more. There used to be Republicans like that: intellectuals who actually saved money and liked to limit government intrusion in our lives. Why aren't those guys helping to retake the country before we default on all our debt?

Anyway, here's the quick little game (a piece of cake for you National Puzzlers League members). During his talk, he used a sentence that contained two words that are anagrams of each other (like THING and NIGHT). I hereby repeat the sentence with the two words removed and replaced with ONE and TWO. What did he say?

Al: "I don't like the word 'progressive.' We shouldn't be running away from our tradition. We are ONE. And I think ONE should be TWO about calling themselves

P.S. And, oh yes, the answer to the last quiz was: if you change the sentence to BOOS TO GREET CHER, the sentence divides into BOOST, OGRE, ETCHER. My NPL friends weren't buffaloed for a second.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Craziest Crazy Guy Ever

I was heading way downtown on the 6 train (to see James Braly's amazing "Twenty Years in a Marital Institution") when the guy pictured above came on. That thing near his neck is a set of speakers that began blaring rap, in direct violation of the subway's "No blaring" policy. But the guy was clearly angry and unhinged and spoiling for a fight, so everyone wisely stayed away---especially when they got a closer look at his garb. Because you can't really see it in the picture, but that case on the right contains a live scorpion, and the one on the left contains a live tarantula. In his hand is a bag full of fish, including a tiny shark.

I'm enough of a Southwesterner not to be intimidated. A scorpion that big is unlikely to have a sting worse than a bee's (it's the TINY ones we were always told to worry about), and a tarantula is such a non-threat that I don't think there have been tarantula-related deaths in years that haven't involved being a child or an extremely old person. (Defense tip: wanna know how to break all a tarantula's legs? Drop it from three feet. They're incredibly fragile creatures.)

But still--the idea that I was standing next to a guy who evidently thought that it was intimidating to think that, in a throw-down, he might fling a baby shark at me ... well, that was just weird and creepy enough that I kept my distance. But I did take a picture. I'm an edge kind of guy.

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Another New York Liberal

I'm very exercised about the upcoming election, and for a while I was thrilled to make plans to register to vote. But then it struck me that, as a moderate-to-liberal Democrat, this is one place in the nation where my vote is guaranteed not to matter. There are a million proxies in the naked city. I'm registering anyway, but it'll be more like going to jury duty.

Anyway, I was thinking about this the other day when, in the wake of Hugo Chavez's diss of Bush at the UN, I noticed not only how many tabloid papers we have, but how surprisingly conservative they are. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the New York Times is actually liberal (it sure ain't Mother Jones, is my thinking), there are still a surprisingly large number of genuinely conservative papers in New York: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Sun (great crosswords!), and at least three major tabloids: The New York Post, The New York Daily, and a.m. New York.

That last one I would normally consider only marginally conservative (more like lazy and reactionary and easily distracted), but then, in the wake of the U.N. visit, not only did they get angry at Chavez, but they ran the following article about Bill Clinton's global initiative. Quick quiz: Bill Clinton just announced a global initiative in your city! Whose picture do you put in the article?

(Oh, sure, there are a number of other reasons to avoid putting Clinton's face in the article, but it sure looks weird, doesn't it?)

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Books I Done Stole: Bushwhacker Bullet

An unaccountably indolent weekend led me to my "Books I Done Stole" shelf of interesting and quaint-looking, presumably long-unread books that I've liberated from various businesses, most of whom were using them for decoration, and most of which liberation I accomplished last summer while writing Travels With Ritalin.

This weekend, I picked up Charles Ballew's Bushwhacker Bullet, a western published in Britain in 1963. Its chief virtue is that it's a slim 155 pages. That may be where its virtues end. I've read a lot of crappy literature---and I even like a lot of it, the same way you might like independent films, not because they're so well done but because they reflect the human striving to accomplish successful expression of even a lousy idea. There's something charming about even a bad, well-intentioned film or book.

But someone seems to have accidentally published Charles Ballew without letting him know a few little niceties of writing, like the fact aht you're not supposed to repeat the same words in a short space of time. The novel begins with Jim Morley getting off a train, and we read that "one of the first things he noiced was a brushy sugarloaf mountain to the north-east. It was his first view of the west side of this mountain. Many times, as a boy, he had seen the east side of this mountain, and now that he had seen many parts of the world, the mountain seemed to have shrunken." (And yes, that last word probably should be shrunk.)

Jim Morley has two purposes in returning to his town after twenty-five years: to lay a wreath on his mother and father's grave, and "to find the man who had---in the parlance of the mountains---bushwhacked his father." Morley is rich, traveling incognito, and he has both leisure and opportunity for revenge. The book starts on page 5, and we get the vengeance theme in page 6. He spends the chapter preparing to go on a stagecoach ride. ("As he puffed on a good cigar he was that four passengers were already in the coach. One was apparently a squaw, another a Chinaman.") And as he boards--he's riding up with the driver, foul-mouthed Ike white--the driver says, "Don't guess you'd mind if a lady of middlin' age set between us two, would you?" That's page nine---end Chapter One. And this is, by the way, a sample of the kind of soporific lines that end this book's chapters. (Other classics: "Mr. White, will you please stop in front of my father's livery stable and let me off? I do hope he is there, and not at the county seat." and "'I ain't going to talk about such things,' she retorted. 'Pass the biscuits to Tobias.'")

But wait! Back at the stagecoach, sitting next to this woman, Jim Morley is obliged to think back on days gone by, including a young girl he loved more than anything, but whom he was obliged to leave after his father was described by the parlance of the mountains. Alta Newbarth was her name. She was lithe and lovely. How the years have flown! Whatever happened to her? The the woman beside him asks the driver, "How is everybody in Lake Vista, Mr. White?" And the driver replies, "Why, middlin' fair, Alta."

What were the odds? Or, to put it in the parlance of Jim Morley, "'Alta!', Jim Morley said silently to himself. 'Can it be ... Is the voice the same as it was that day so long ago when I went up to her parents' big house to tell her we might never see each other again and she cried and wrapped her arms about my neck and told me she would wait forever for me and would never love another man? No, it is not the same voice, but after all a voice can change in eleven years, and he did call her Alta." I guess that's supposed to leaven your wonderment with a bit of realistic doubt, so let me just add a spoiler: It's her. Page 12, and we've got our first miracle.

But the author has forgotten to repeat himself, so let's move on to page 13, where Jim Morley---referred by his full name throughout the entire story so far---looks her full in the face: "Then he saw a twinkle in her brown eyes, and as she smiled he saw the whiteness of her even teeth. Jim exerted all his strong will to maintain his 'poker face,' for he must not betray the emotion he was feeling. Her smile, the twinkle in her eyes had been mute assurance that she had recognized him. Would she, or would she not reveal his identity? If she did, then maybe he would get a Benson bullet, as his father had got one." In a single paragraph, this woman twinkles twice. How did he ever leave her?

So far Jim Morley has demonstrated the most pathetic series of heroic behaviors I've ever seen. (When two cowpokes are looking to shoot each other over a right-of-way question, Jim Morley steps in and solves the problem by...asking nicely. And it works!) Bu there's been no bushwhacking to speak of. I'll let you know how it turns out. In case anyone was wondering.


Parade in Harlem

Marchers at African-American Day parade, 113th and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Quick Update

I performed last night and got home past midnight, and tonight I see James Braly's one-man storytelling show, so it has been, and will be, a storytelling-filled week. Toss in an hour's commute and the fact that I'm trying to finish a chapter a week of my novel, and this leaves little time, at the moment, for blogging. Just in case the next few days are relatively quiet.

I will say, however, that after the show, all the performers (and my friend Rose, who was nice enough to come with me---Thanks!) stood around and chatted for at least an hour, and then Andy Christie piled three of us into his car and drove us home---which meant, in my case, from Brooklyn all the way to Washington Heights. Great company, wonderful converstaion---the nice thing about hanging with storytellers is you know you'll get good stories---and the whole evening ended feeling like the best parts of college: late night coffee shop and spring Break road trip rolled into one and broken into a short piece that allows you to get up and (sigh) work the next morning.

The crowd was small and polite, but I'm told I did well. So did everyone else. If you haven't seen a New York storytelling show, we've got great talent here, and no one gets paid, so you're guaranteed a great show for cheap. Try it on your next visit!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Another Dave Quiz

Because of his visit to the U.N. yesterday, and the protests planned for the visit, the newspaper amNewYork carried a headline: BOOS TO GREET BUSH. Here's my question: If you change the last name from BUSH to CHER, what entertaining characteristic does the headline now have?


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More Eighties Sightings

Duran Duran, meet Sid Vicious. 34th Street A Station.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Isn't This Redundant?

It doesn't look like a joke...


A New Potential Crossword Entry Is Born!

Overheard on the subway, mere moments ago, from a professionally dressed black woman, to her friend:

"Did you hear they named the baby? They called her Zuri. No, I don't know what it means, she hasn't told me yet. But I can live with that. Zuri's way better. You know what they were gonna call her? Nznga. En-ZING-A. she told me it means 'African princess,' and I said, 'You do know she's American, right?' She just wanted something with Swahili. So it's Zuri now. I'm happy for her. That's a name I can actually spell.'


Wagging the Dog Times a Zillion?

If this story is true, I'm going to fucking lose it.

Another Tardy Idea, Another Potential $1000 Or So Down The Tubes

You know what would have been a great idea? If, say, four months or so before the 5th anniversary of 9/11, I'd called the writer for, and publishers of, My Pet Goat to write a short article about how sales have been doing since the attack. Nothing snarky---just a mild nonpartisan "Where Are They Now?" type of piece, widely publishable. But I missed my chance. It won't be nearly as interesting at the 10th anniversary, and of course won't be nearly as interesting in a non-milestone year like number six. Damn. I always think of this stuff too late.

(P.S. Yes, I know the book is technically titled THE Pet Goat, not My. I also know that the word "gyp" has nothing to do with a slur on gypsies---but when conventional wisdom reaches a certain point, it's faster just to hold your nose and accede.)


Friday, September 15, 2006

Don't Watch This Movie, I Guess ...

...But go to Rotten and read the blurbs for The Covenant! It's currently rated at an amazingly meager 03% positive reviews (beaten, this year, only by Zoom, which holds the record at zero). Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"Essentially, Covenant is about young, wet, 'CW' ready underwear models running around hurling 'magical' gelatin blobs at each other while they compete for screen time with their own abs."

"This sort of thing might work as a desperation rental -- like if you've been injected with poison and must keep watching incredibly lame movies or die ..."

and, my favorite:

"Movies like this are why we have eyelids."

I'm planning to write another chapter of the long dormant By Dick! this weekend, which will put me only two or three chapters away from a basically finished (albeit very rough) draft. Wish me luck! I'm hoping to have the whole thing done before National Novel Writing Month.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Great Moments In Blurbing

We get a lot of books where I work, because a part of the company is involved in mystery and sci-fi magazines, and they're always getting free books to critique. More than they need or want, so there's an overflow shelf filled with unloved and unreviewed books that (as I understand it) are open to anyone who wants to take one. A perfect setup for an inveterate book-stealer such as myself.

Most of them are pretty standard sci-fi and fantasy. (A few sample titles: A Fistful of Data; Rogue Clone; The Day of the Klesh; Swordbird; The Becoming; Infoquake; and, in what must take some kind of over-the-topness award, Dragonfrigate Wizard Halcyon Blithe.) I borrow them to get me the twenty minutes to the subway after work (I like to just take the A up instead of futzing around shifting stations on the S train, so there's a bit of a hike involved). I used to return them, but no one cared. So my area is starting to collect amusing-looking pulp.

But every so often we get misfires--books that aren't sci-fi or mystery and never had a chance at a review, such as A Christmas Wedding by Andrew Greeley, which is a sprawling multicharacter romance set in the 1950s. And then, most recently, Randall ("author of Braveheart") Wallace's Love and Honor, which promises a kind of Winds of War vibe from its very cover, featuring two men on horseback riding furiously in period costume while framed by stars and red-and-white bunting. ("One patriot. One fledgling nation. One dramatic quest.") Let me just quote the back copy:

"Virginia cavalryman Kieran Selkirk is summoned to a slandestine meeting in the winter of 174. There he finds none other than Benamin Franklin, who reveals the brilliant soldier's assignment: He is to travel to Russia disguised as a British mercenary and convince Catheing the Great not to join the British in their war with America. It is not a quest for the weak of heart, for to succeed, Selkirk must survive savage terrain, starving wolves, secret assassins, marauding Cossacks, a court of seductive young women, and even a dramatic romantic face-off with the legendary Tsarina herself. " Good thing he brought his own horse.

But this is what actually caught my eye, and I offer it here without further comment. At the bottom of the page is the following blurb of praise, which I swear I am not making up:

"Wallace's perfectly chosen words weave spell upon spell, rising to give images so romantic, stories so enthralling and characters so compelling that one is utterly transported."
---Mel Gibson

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is Dick Tracy Fighting Vandals Now?

Graffito on Houston near Bowery.


Monday, September 11, 2006

What Up

Sorry for the light posting lately. I helped a friend move into town, I stayed a few nights at a place without Internet access, and I've been sort of shuffling around my priorities. To wit: by this weekend, I hope to have queried 20 agents about Travels With Ritalin, and have written a new chapter of my work-in-years-long progress, By Dick! Good for me, bad for the site. My schedule should normalize a little this week.

By the way, I'm going to The Moth on Tuesday---7:30 at The Nuyorican Cafe (236 3rd St. between Avenue B and C); $6 cover---and if past shows are anything to go by, I have better-than-average chance of being one of the ten storytellers randomly selected to perform. So why not come by? The theme this time around is "Teachers," so I imagine the stories will be pretty good.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Monkey Portraits

In an otherwise respectable-looking art shop near 86th and Lexington. Technically, of course, these are "chimpanzee portraits," but "monkey" has that funny K sound.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's a Subtle Joke If You're Me

Sorry for the long delay in posting. Not only was there a long weekend, but I was helping a dear friend move. One thing I did do over the break was do a quick run-down of my vocabulary poems, during which I discovered that, although I have written 70 of them by now, I had no words beginning with K, M, R, S, V, or Y. So today's poem--"myomancy"---is my first step in attempting to rectify this. I should have "mundle" by noon.

The other thing I wanted to mention, to my great chagrin, is that I have set a new personal record for denseness in the face of humor. Although I have long recognized the Simpsons' tendency to make Baby Boomer types of jokes (like making Marge's maiden name be Bouvier, just like Jackie O), it was literally only a week ago that I realized that Bart's best friend is Milhouse because it was Nixon's middle name. Which means I finally got the joke fifteen years after it was launched. On the one hand, I feel stupid, but on the other hand, I appreciate the Simpsons all the more now.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Delicious Douche!

Noticed this in my shower this morning. Those false cognates can kill you. Also, there's an amusing international incident in here somewhere. Anyone want to fake an anecdote?


Insector Cowboy Mystery Solved!

The "Match Wits With Inspector Cowboy" posting was unusually popular, and led to a lot of personal emails filled with all kinds of guesses. I've placed the answer to the mystery in the comments here.

However, with her permission, I'd also like to share the funniest answer, which came from my dear friend Rose Jensen of Chicago (soon to be "of New York"). Enjoy!:

I have only to guess from her desperation that Blanche is guilty of
locking the bathroom door. But she did not take the key. No, the key
was taken, taken from the rusty nail it hung on near the stall. I
deduce that Inspector Cowboy is familiar with the culprit, so familiar,
in fact, that his impatience with Blanche almost gave him away.

Desperate to pry loose the cap of his whisky flask, which during office
hours holds a refreshing few swigs of diet coke—giddy up, Inspector
Cowboy (aka, Clepto Clem) grabbed for the nearest shiny object, a
single key reflecting florescent office light like a xerox machine with
the lid up and a 10lb finger on the copy key. In the ensuing struggle
between man and
certain-street-cred-ow-i-need-a-bandaid, he slipped the key into his

If Shilo, his trusty horse, hadn't been working Central Park that
afternoon, he'd have surely gone back to the ranch and restored order,
sooner. As things are, he stands to gain hero status tomorrow.

Your secret's safe with me, Clem.

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