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!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fun Bible Facts From Uta

I'm dangerous around It's like I'm in the world's largest library and I can suddenly grab whatever I want for the cheapest possible price. In some cases this doesn't help much (even the cheapest copy of The Jesus of the Early Christians by G. A. Wells is more than $100), but if a book is reasonably popular, you have a shot at actually getting it. And I have just re-added to my own whittled-down library two books I loved reading in library form: 1.) Raymond Tallis's skeptical take on modern literary theory, called Not Saussure; and 2.) Putting Away Childish Things, by the magnificently-named scholar Uta Ranke-Heinemann.

Uta is skeptical about almost everything in the Bible, which is an odd trait for a Catholic professor of theology and religion. (After her first book came out--a withering critique of the church's history of oppressing women and hating sex, called Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God--like fellow theologian Hans Kung, she was forbidden to teach theology again and now teaches church history instead. (P.S. Hans Kung's sin was releasing a book called Infallible?)) And as an aficionado of skeptical books in general, I have to say I don't really recommend it. A good skeptical book sort of tries to meet you halfway and makes its case carefully and sympathetically. Uta Ranke-Heinemann (love that name! Can't stop saying it!) just launches into her attacks from page 1, calling all the miracle stories "fairy tales" and adding little bits of side snark like this quote from Chapter Two, "Matthew's Fairy Tale of Jesus' Childhood":

"The framework of Luke's account has no time for the whole story of the star and the Magi. Since Herod has all the male children killed "who were two years old or under..."[at the time of the visit of the three wise men,] Jesus would have been going on two. Strangely enough, as we know from depictions of the adoration of the Magi, Jesus was still lying in the manger---no doubt he wasn't a very active child. In this phlegmatic feature of his character Jesus obviously took after his father, who after all this time was still sitting tightwith his young family in the stable." (p. 23)

Funny, but it's a straw-man argument. I've never read an evangelical commentator who didn't pooh-pooh the Adoration of the Magi representations as unbiblical precisely because of the two-year gap. So it's a nice slam on popular piety, but doesn't do anything else except offend and piss off evangelicals. What good is that?

However, I have learned a few interesting things from this book that I haven't learned from others, and I hereby share them because a.) they're fun, and b.) you shouldn't have to read deeply into this book to get to them:

Fun Fact #1: Judas could not have been paid thirty pieces of silver.

Explanation: Matthew says this was done to fulfill a prophecy in Jeremiah (Mt. 27: 9-10). But the Jeremiah passage mentions the purchasing of a field (not a potter's field), but for seventeen pieces of silver, not thirty (Jer. 32: 6-9). The thirty pieces comes from Zechariah 11: 12-13, where it's thirty shekels of silver. The money quote (as it were): "In Jesus' day there were gold and silver denarii, the double as (a Roman coin) three-as pieces, minai, lepta, selas, drachmas, and double-drachmas---but no coin or currency known as "pieces of silver" These had gone out of circulation around 300 years before." [i.e., in Zechariah's time. The Zecharaiah quote also mentions "weighing out" the coins, which is also anachronistic, since by this time they'd invented minting.] (p. 126)

Fun Fact #2: The dialogue with Jesus at Paul's conversion ("Why do you persecute me?") is clearly faked.

Explanation: In the book of Acts, it is said that the pre-conversion Paul, traveling on the road to Damascus to hunt down Christians, is suddenly struck down by a light and he hears a voice saying "Paul, why do you persecute me?" And Jesus (that's who's talking) adds, "It is hard to kick against the goads" (or "pricks", depending on your translation).

Not only does this not square with Paul's own, much less theatrical descriptions of his conversion (I Cor. 15: 8, Gal. 1: 15-16), but the whole thing is ripped off from The Bacchae by Euripides. In that work, Pentheus, king of Thebes, is persecuting the god Dionysus when Dionysus calls out to him "You disregard my words of warning...and kick against the goads, a man defying god." As Uta points out, "Jesus even uses the same plural form of the noun (kentra) that Euripides needs for the meter of his line" (p. 163). Bonus fun fact: the story later in Acts, when Paul is in prison and an earthquake breaks all the chains and opens all the doors, is ALSO, in part, ripped off from The Bacchae: In one scene, the maenads (followers of Dionysus---who, I should add, is a dying-and-rising vegetation god) are in prison when "The chains on their legs snapped apart/by themselves. Untouched by any human hand, /the doors swung wide, opening of their own accord." (Uta's account of this is on p. 169 of her book.)

I'm about fifty pages from the end and those are my two big takeaways. But they're pretty big for me, since I've read dozens of these books and a lot of the same points keep getting mentioned. These are new! Figured I'd share.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Post 500!

According to Blogspot, this is the 500th post I've made since I started this blog. Feel the historicity thrum through us all! But the main reason I want to mention this is that I FINALLY---as in, just today, and just before blogpost 500---figured out how to divide posts into searchable blocks, so that someone who wanted to see all my posts on, say, religion, could just search for "religion" and hey presto. Ditto for people who just wanted to see all my cartoons at once, or all my poems.

Anyway, I figured it out! And now ALL of my poems are indexed, as are all of my bar napkin cartoons, all of my poems (subdivided into subway, current events, office, and words), and all of my religion posts. It's a pain doing all of it retroactively, so while there's also been other index labels (like pictures and games), those are only for the last 200 posts, not the whole past sixteen months.

And post 500 seems as good a time as any to announce that I've decided I really WILL start a second website just for cartoons and poems, on the theory that it's the single-minded sites that have actual fans and traffic. Sites like The Comics Curmudgeon and Cute Overload each do one thing and do it well. If xkcd can write comics that attract the attention of Wil Wheaton, surely I can get a fanbase going as well. My brother the computer whiz has put the site together, and now all I need is content---which means I have to buy a scanner. So it might be a few days or even weeks. But at least my intention has now been officially announced. Gee, but it's a thrilling day here.

Bar Napkin Cartoon 25


Bar Napkin Cartoon 24


Bar Napkin Cartoon 23


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Strap Sighting

Some time last year when I was taking the 6 bus home from Midtown, a tall businessman next to me on the crowded subway drew his arm up, and, with a small "clink," hooked himself onto the subway rail with a sort of portable hook made of flat plastic weave.

A friend of his pointed and said, "What's that?"
"You know what?" said the man. "It's just a thing that hooks on to your wrist and it's supposed to protect from germs. I saw an article about it in the New York Times years ago, and they were talking about how it was going to be the next big thing. So I bought it. And I have literally never seen anyone else using one since." He shrugged. "But I like it." It was an odd, amusing story, and for the next year I kept an eye out. Nothing.

I mention this because two days ago, I accidentally missed my bus stop and wound up way down near 28th and 3rd Avenue, and was obliged to walk north back to the work I'd missed. And while I threading between 3rd and Lex, I passed a general store...and it had the strap for sale in the window! Not only that, but next to the strap was a cutout of the very same article that must have inspired this first guy to buy his. (New York Times, 2003.) Must be a very persuasive article.

Anyway, the company's called TranStrap. Since I'm neither short nor particularly germ-phobic, I'll be saving my $17 or so. But they're not only still in business, but seem to be very funny people. Check it out:

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Meet the Erhu!

When I moved to New York City and started taking the A train, every so often in the middle of the day on weekends I'd see an old Chinese man playing a strange-looking two-stringed instrument. "How cool!" I thought. "An instrument I've never heard of before!" Here's a link to a video that'll give you a sense of the performance. Just pretend you're on a subway platform, people are conversing nearby, and everything smells vaguely of pee.

Yesterday, while leafing through the introduction to a collection of short stories called San Francisco Noir, I read a sentence that started, "The other day at a bus station I saw a man playing a Chinese fiddle, or erhu."

My eyes gloinked. So that's what they're called! And a quick search on Wikipedia confirmed it. Meet the erhu. Apparently, I'd been staring directly at a crossword puzzle word and had had no idea. And what a word! At four letters, it's actually a bit more useful than the three-letter weird words we're stuck with, and with that letter choice, it's all but begging: "Dave! Please put me running across on the second row down of some wide-open crossword grid of Friday-level difficulty!"

And then a strange thing happened: the word didn't exist. It's there on Wikipedia, it's there in San Francisco Noir. Presumably people in big cities like Chicago have occasion to see them every week or so! But it is not in any dictionary I have access to. Not in Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate. Or the New International Unabridged, second or third edition. Not in Random House, not in Chambers. I checked the Webster's New World anyway, but I knew I was licked. Nothing. Apparently, those snotty lexicographers in their high, paper-filled, and incredibly flammable towers, feel that "erhu" does not meet an English linguistic need.

So I'm hereby announcing a new mission: to popularize the word "erhu." I'm going to use it in straight definition ("This weekend the erhu player was back at 59th Street"), in made-up idioms ("Oh, sure, it's complicated, but it's not like juggling erhus,") and metaphors and descriptions ("the sound was eerie, like an erhu being played by a baby vampire"). And when I use it, those of you who have read this post can knowledgeably smile and say, "Ah. The erhu. Thank you, Dave, for your continued selfless work on behalf of the crossword puzzle community." And if anyone wants to put me on a stamp later...well, shucks. You just do what you think best.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 09, 2007

I Am A Princess!

Been sitting on this one for a while. There's a Chinese fusion restaurant a few blocks from where I work where, if you're eating alone (say, for lunch), they put you, not at a table, but at a semicircular area facing the wall---and every diner has one of these star-shaped mirrors in front of them. And if you can read it, every one of those mirrors says, "You are a princess."

Which makes me wonder how many times they get food sent back by customers saying, "There's a pea in there! I can just tell!"



...Is what I should have said, like, a few weeks ago. Sorry for the delay. "Dave! What happened?" you might ask. The short answer is, I think I freaked out a little when I realized that I had been in Manhattan for a year and was not appreciably closer to having an agent than I had been when I first arrived. "Time's a-wastin!" said my conscious mind, and my reptile brain said, "Let's just hunker down under a rock somewhere until our T. Rex sense stops tingling."

So I've been staying indoors, not blogging, not dating, not doing much at all except the occasional storytelling outing, and---this is key---fixing my book proposal, which I see now has numerous flaws. I have to say it felt really good, and I told myself, "I'm not going to post on my blog again until I feel like I want to, not just because I have to update every day." And what better day to resume than Easter? How about the day after Easter? We work with what we have.

Thanks to everyone who expressed concern, and thanks especially to my old roommate Brian, who said, "You're a natural blogger." For some reason that phrase resonated more than any other I heard in my phone calls and e-mails. I might not blog quite as much as I used to, but I do feel like the vacation has left me energized. And boy, do I have STORIES! And pictures. And bar napkin cartoons. But more on that later. For now, I have to get to work, and I just wanted to say, "Hi! You can expect more now."