Bourbon Cowboy

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

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Location: New York, New York, United States

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

Monday, December 11, 2006

Breaking Down The Meme

I don't usually like memes. They're like Mad Libs---a good one's entertaining, but if it's not very well designed, you'll get a lot of boring responses. And a LOT of memes are terrible that way. For example, there was one going around recently where you wrote the first line of the first post of your blog every month for the past year. It generally resulted in a lot of very dull first lines that did no justice to the actual people who write amusing blogs but who start each post with the equivalent of a throat-clearing.

But this "funny-name" one came around again, and as I read through it, I realized that I fuck up practically every one of them. It's a textbook example of a good idea that had bad execution. So I thought I'd go through them and see if I couldn't improve it a little:




ALLEGED PROCESS: middle name + current street name

MY ANSWER: Ellis 185th.

COMMENTARY: This is awful. A spy name should have a certain novelistic feel, along with a dash of exoticism, and street names (as you'll see) are playing with fire.

SUGGESTED FIX: first name of writer of novel closest to where you are sitting (or author in general if you own no novels) + the first and/or highest-up proper noun visible in the title of a book on your bookshelf. (If you have many bookshelves, choose your favorite. Let me stress again that the proper noun must be in the title; it cannot be an author's name)

MY NEW ANSWER: Tony October


ALLEGED PROCESS: grandfather/grandmother on your mom's side + your favorite candy

MY ANSWER: Ellis Snickers

COMMENTARY: The idea of using an old-fashioned first name is very good, but the candy ending is utter crap. What the hell was its inventor thinking? Does ANYONE in Hollywood have a name that's a candy? Joey Licorice? Susan Twix? Michael Nonpareils? What idiocy.

SUGGESTED FIX: grandfather/grandmother on either side + a last name you've always wished you had, or have thought of changing your name to (marriage proposals count). Also, call it your GOLDEN-AGE Movie Star Name.



ALLEGED PROCESS: first initial of first name + first four letters of your last name, separated by a hyphen.

My Answer: D-Dick

COMMENTARY/SUGGESTED FIX: Not much to change here, except that obviously, this should be the first syllable of your last name, or--if your name is already one syllable, cut it off at the first vowel. Note also that this "rap name" should probably be called YOUR NAME IN THE TABLOIDS.

My New Answer: D-Dick. Still. It's a classic.


ALLEGED PROCESS: middle name + city where you were born

MY ANSWER: Ellis Iowa City

COMMENTARY: The suckiness speaks for itself; not many people are realistically names for cities, even in the rarefied world of soap operas. Plus, how many times in a single meme do you want to read your friend's middle name?

SUGGESTED FIX: The first one-word proper noun found in a geographical gazetteer after your father or mother's middle name + the county you were born in.

MY NEW ANSWER: Rochdale Johnson (I used Merriam-Webster's 10th Collegiate Dictionary Gazetteer, starting with the name "Robert.")


ALLEGED PROCESS: first 3 letters of your last name, last 3 letters of mother's maiden name, first 3 letters of your pet's name.

MY ANSWER: DiccouIdon'thaveapet.

COMMENTARY: You can't rely on people to have pets, of course, and the "three letters" cuts off at all sorts of non-Star Wars sounding phonemes. It misses the actual truth, which is that almost all Star wars names are between 3 and 5 syllables, and Lucas has a real fondness for ending names in vowels.

SUGGESTED FIX: So how about this: second syllable of your last name (if your name is only one syllable long, go with "O-") + first syllable of mother's maiden name, [space], first syllable or two (your choice) from the city you were born in, the first consonant from your father's first name, and then an A, I, O, or U---whichever letter is closest to the first letter of your last name.)

MY NEW NAME: Kercor Ioba

(Note: my father's first name is William, but he goes by Bill, so I went with that to avoid Iowa.)


ALLEGED PROCESS: first name of a main character in the last movie you watched + last food you ate

MY NAME: Mi Gardenburger

COMMENTARY: The idiotic food meme pops up again. That's ridiculous: the only way to make yourself sound like an action hero is if you had just eaten steel, stone or hardtack. (And by the way, the last film I saw was National Velvet, where Mickey Rooney stars as a character named Mi. Pronounced with a long I, and apparently short for "Michael." How lazy do you have to be to make "Mike" even shorter?)

SUGGESTED FIX: coolest nickname you have had (or called someone by) + last name of your all-time favorite teacher. Add "Mc" if it feels right.

MY NEW NAME: Einstein Carr. (Alternate: Mr. Peabody Winegartner.) (Worst Alternate: Squishy-Pants McOberman)


Alleged process: first pet's name + the street you grew up on

MY NAME: Punky Magnolia.

COMMENTARY: Not a porn star anyone would want to see. You can practically smell the clown makeup. Again, the street meme lets us down, because I narrowly avoided having the last name "28th." The results should sound like a porn name, even if it's a bad one. Still, the idea of a pet's name for once, isn't too bad. But you need more options, just in case you had no pets at all or one with a lousy name.

For women:
pet name or name of doll/toy you had as a child (don't forget My Little Pony!) + the first verb or adjective in the title of whatever movie is currently playing on either Lifetime, Oxygen, or We. (If you don't have cable, you can look it up online.)

For men: the last hard object you purchased (books don't count), or what the object is made of (or, if you're desperate, what it does or is used for) + the present tense form of the first double-entendre word visible on one of the the spines in your DVD collection.

In either case, put the names in whichever order sounds best.

MY NEW NAME: Snatch Chocolate (if I were a woman, my new porn name would be Cloudy Christmas.) Thank you, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I'd forgotten I even owned it.


See? Was that so hard? Well, yes, I guess it was. But that's what it takes if you want professional results, dammit!

AFTERNOTE: It has occurred to me that #7's idea for women is flawed as a meme, since the point is often to find things out about the responder, and "whatever's playing on Lifetime" isn't really personal information. So how about this: starting with your first or middle name, scroll down in the dictionary until you find the first uncapitalized word that is also a name. Use that. By this process, my female porn name becomes Cloudy Dawn. Still good!

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