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, March 31, 2008

Storytelling This Week

There's a whole lot of stuff happening this week, storytellingwise! Find your horse and back it!

I'm performing in the shows on the 3rd and the 4th, if that affects your choices. I've got no performances in Manhattan on my calendar at the moment.

Tuesday, April 1st: Sherry Weaver's Speakeasy
Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia St (at the juncture of 4th St. and 6th Ave.)
$10 + one item; 8:30 PM

Wednesday, April 2nd: Andy Christie's Liar Show
Comix, 353 W. 14th St. (near 9th Ave)
$10; 8 PM

Thursday, April 3rd: Speakeasy in the Berkshires
The Berkshire Athenaeum, One Wendell Ave, Pittsfield MA, 012101

Friday, April 4th: Speakeasy in the Berkshires
The Nutrition Center, 94 West Ave., Great Barrington MA
$10; 7 PM (or $15 and 6 PM for dinner beforehand)

UPDATE: And if you're not in the area at all, PLEASE remember that you can download "The Moth Podcast" at iTunes, and I recommend you do! They're all great stories, there's a new one every week, they're completely free, and I'd love to see the podcast climb in the i-rankings. So go now!


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some Say the World Will End In Plagiarism...

I just realized something: my very silly poem here has the exact same rhyme scheme (and ending scheme) as Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." Here's the proof.

I just want to point out that this is an accident. All that happened is that I was in my friend's girly shower, looking for soap, and I saw some "shower gel." I thought, "What the hell is shower gel?" and felt the swing of it, and once the next line came easily to me--I knew it would have to be something like "The label's vague; I cannot tell"--I realized it was begging to be versified. But at the time the only model I had in mind was "I Do Not Love Thee, Dr. Fell"--which, by the way, has a more interesting backstory than I was aware of.

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Bar Napkin Cartoon 51

(click to enlarge)


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Incidental Poem: A Naive Question About Women's Toiletries


Oh, what the hell is "shower gel?"
The bottle's French and doesn't tell.
It's creamy-white with hints of taupe,
And has a citrus-floral smell.

I came here in the simple hope
That I could find a bar of soap
There's "rinse," "exfoliant,"... and yet
Is there a thing marked "cleanser?" Nope.

It pumps out in a techno-jet,
And seems to lather up when wet
I'd use it, but I fear as well
That there is something I don't get.

A word to all those folks who sell--
A diagram would serve to quell
My angst, and stop this baffled yell:
Oh, what the hell is shower gel?

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Lee Wiley sings "Manhattan"

I've been doing some very tedious writing work today (translating some old manuscripts from WordPerfect into MSWord, then going through and tweaking), and I've been taking advantage of one nice feature of my new housesitting place: digital cable! While scanning over a hundred channels without finding anything diverting, I ran across some of those all-music channels. On a whim, I decided to listen to a channel called "Singers and Standards," since I've recently fallen in love with the Great American Songbook. So I've been listening to it while doing these dull mechanical motions.

There's so much I don't know, and although I already have a few songs I really love ("'Round Midnight," "I Could Write a Book," "I Can't Get Started With You"), I'm always on the lookout for some new gem. And today I found one! It's probably an old classic to you jazz buffs, but gee, this is a dandy song: nice pace, great rhymes, a few surprise turns of phrase. It almost certainly helps that I live in New York and can picture everything she's talking about (well, except South Pacific). But I can't be the only one to succumb. So here's Lee Wiley singing "Manhattan." Get it while you can:


I almost forgot to drink! While I was cleaning for my move, I found this cute little bottle of Tomintoul 10 ("the gentle dram;" pencil added for size comparison). This was a gift from my friend Charles, who brought it back from a trip to the U.K., and I promised him I'd drink it in celebration the day I got an agent. So, okay, I was off by a few days, but yesterday I did it as soon as I had a free moment in my new temporary New Jersey digs.

I've discovered that this is one of the weird things about any kind of audition-based job-hunting. You work and you work and you work, and nothing happens, and then suddenly everything changes overnight as easily as an email or a phone call. It happened seven years ago when I found I'd gotten a piece accepted by The Atlantic Monthly, and happened again just over a year ago when I got my first "yes" from This American Life. And now I have an agent, and that's another potentially life-changing "yes." So it turns out life can be merciful! It just takes a while sometimes.

Anyway, I invite everyone to charge their glasses. Here's to life's sudden changes for the good! If you want to make an artificial "clink" noise with your mouths, I will completely understand.

LATER: Oh, I forgot! The Tomintoul was very nice. I expected something smoky or peaty, but it was more sweet and grassy, with definite notes of citrus. I'd have to call it the sunniest, most optimistic single malt I've ever had. Though of course I might be biased.


Friday, March 28, 2008

From the Wacky News Files...

Dan Savage finds a great sentence. I've been smiling about it all morning.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bar Napkin Cartoon 50

(Found this old thing while packing for my move, which stems from a brief flirtation with the brush-pen; click to enlarge.)


I'm Moving. Again.

I predict light posting because tomorrow I'll be moving. Again. My tenure here at housesitting assignment #1 has ended, and housesitting assignment #2 begins on April 1st, and my wonderful friend Tracy has a zip car all ready to help me move with tomorrow. (Fortunately, the lovely and generous Jocelyn--housesitting assignment #1 to most of you--is allowing me to keep most of the heavy stuff in her basement for a while, so Friday's move should be just simple things: clothes, laptop, toiletries, DVDs. I may not even need more than a few books.)

So I'll spend the next two to four weeks housesitting in New Jersey. Then I'll be moving. Again. If I don't have a job (and I'm mostly counting on teaching, so I don't think they'll be hiring in April), I'll be probably moving temporarily to one of those crazy $125-a-week places I lived in before, way the hell up past Harlem. From there, I'll be living on my continued unemployment (while looking for decent work and tossing out freelance articles and eating rice and beans), until either a.) I get a job, or b.) my book sells and gives me a decent initial advance, either of which could happen by, say, June. (Which is good, because my unemployment runs out on July 11 or so.)

Either way, on the assumption that this gives me enough money that I can actually afford to move out of whatever dump I occupy at that point, I'll be moving. Again.

With any luck, however, one way or another I'll be in a decent pay grade for a decent amount of time, and it'll be a good long time--dare I say years?--before I have to move. Again.

(A friend of mine who lives here once told me, "Until you have an actual career here, there's no reason to own more than you can fit into a cab." I wish someone had told me this earlier, but let me send the word to others: in Manhattan, you are reminded constantly that the Buddha's critique of materialism was dead on.)


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

R.I.P. Richard Widmark

Richard Widmark just died. He was 93, so I guess he had it coming. But it still makes me sad, because I've been on a noir binge, and so I saw him several times just last week. So long, pal! Those were some great hours we shared.

I haven't actually seen him in his Oscar-nominated performance in Kiss of Death (where he played "Tommy Udo." Why haven't I seen that in more crosswords?). But if you have and want something different (but still noirish), you can't do better, I think, than his role as the street hustler in over his head in Jules Dassin's Night and the City (the Criterion disk is one of their best)--though I'm also fond of Pickup on South Street (with the fabulous Thelma Ritter) and Panic in the Streets (with probably the first-ever public-plague plot, ages before The Stand or Outbreak, and with Widmark in a rare heroic role as a government health agent).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go push an old lady down some stairs.

LATER: I just realized that I've reviewed a number of his movies over on Netflix, and I doubt anyone has read them. So I'm importing a few over here. Throw the guy a few dollars this week.

NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950) *****

This is a four- or four-and-a-half-star movie in a five-star package. This tale of a two-bit hustler (played by Richard Widmark) who dares to dream big and gets in way over his head has all the features of good film noir: crime, grittiness, interestingly unwinding plot, emotional stakes. But this film also has a nonstop energy, a terrific score, and some of the best noir cinematography I've ever seen. The extras, too, are uniformly terrific: smart commentary, a fascinating look at the differences between the British and US versions, and two interviews with the endlessly charming Jules Dassin. A must for any noir cinephile's shelf.


Some noirs are the real classic deal: morally ambiguous descents into violence and darkness (Out of the Past, Laura, Murder My Sweet) and some are more like hooray-for-bureaucracy crime dramas where the good guys are never in doubt (T-Men, Border Incident, He Walked By Night). On paper, Pickup on South Street seemingly wants to be one of the latter, but it's saved by Sam Fuller, who takes what could have been merely patriotic urban actioner and makes every scene a series of small fuses--of character, of dialog, of actual brutal violence. Even the plot is unusually discursive, and if you're the sort of person who likes to predict where scenes will go, you'll be surprised more than once. Thelma Ritter is as wonderful as usual, but the real standout for me is Richard Widmark. In fact, this is probably my favorite Richard Widmark role, where he gets to play to his hardbitten strengths without becoming a mere lunatic. The only reason this isn't five stars is because of the too-easy ending, which I don't know whether to blame on the studio or on the 1950s. (Same thing happened with Gilda; just pretend the last five minutes were a dream.) But that aside, gee is it fun.

Hmm. Looks like I never reviewed Panic in the Streets. (I just rated it: ****). Guess I know what I'll be doing tonight...

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Book Stuff

Two things: First, you should know that I am now professionally constrained from making any detailed comments about the book I'm selling. There'll be plenty to hear about once we get a contract, but for now, expect radio silence. Second, MARY ROACH HAS A NEW BOOK OUT! You can keep your David Sedarises and Augusten Burroughses and whatnot: Mary Roach is, for my money at least, the funniest writer living today. (Someone tell Christopher Hitchens.) I suppose she's technically a science writer--and a very clear one at that--but she's also a character in her own explorations, commenting all the while on the funny names of the people she's meeting, the ironies that show up in their work, and adding copious footnotes with amusing details that aren't technically on topic, but show other weird things she came across in her research. We join her in every aspect of the journey, and she's a hilarious tour guide.

Her first book was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, where she brought morbid humor to the scientific study of death. Her second, Spook: Science Explores the Afterlife, shows the bizarre and creative lengths scientist have gone to in order to attempt to quantify the spirit world. They were both wonderful, and I recommended them to all my friends. But with her latest book--Bonk:The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex--she has found the best topic in her career so far. This is because the best arrow in her quiver is ironic understatement, and here, because she's writing (she says) a book about sex that her parents can read, the tension between what she's alluding to and what she's actually saying is all the more risible.

I realize I'm just telling you about the book. I should quote her. But I wouldn't be able to stop. (One side comment still stays with me: in discussing a certain procedure, Mary interrupts to say, "--again with the inserting of Pyrex tubes--" and it's like a perfect grace note on the whole description.) I could quote her all day, but I've got places to be and things to do. Just go and find it and open damn near any page. Or find it on Amazon and Search Inside. Here's how good it is: I read my friend Dan Kennedy's very funny memoir of his year as a befuddled rebel in the rock and roll business (Rock On, from Algonquin), and I actually laughed out loud four times. (I rarely laugh out loud, so when it happens I tend to keep track.) With Bonk, I have laughed out loud sixteen times, and I'm only halfway through. I haven't even finished the chapter where she talks about scientists in the twenties who thought it would be healthy for men to surgically implant a third testicle.

Read it. Trust me. Mary Roach is a gift to the art of the humorous essay. Plus, of course, you learn all kinds of stuff.


Comments on the Resurrection Post

[Moved up from the comments, with two new sentences added to the end, and the typo "fall" corrected to "wall."]

Daniel said...

David, I will have you know that I just wrote a brilliant and articulate rant about your mistreatment of that passage in 1 Corinthians. It was glorious and long, and it took me four hours to write, and then I mis-clicked in the browser window, and all was instantly lost.I'm too tired and disheartened to pick it up right now. I might try to re-create the magic tomorrow.Here is the only part that survived the event (on my clipboard during the tragic click):

To the particulars, Paul is not having the irrelevant conversation about the Holy Anatomy of The Risen Person you keep mentioning (though I am sure it would have been most engaging). Rather, he is arguing the importance of a historical event: that this thing happened, and the impact it has on our theology. He says if it didn't happen, in the end, we are to be pitied, because we conduct our lives on the basis of a lie. If there is no resurrection, then when we die, we rot. Furthermore, then Christ was never raised from the dead. If Christ was never raised, then he was not the Son of God, with proof that he has authority to forgive sins. If he cannot forgive us our sins, then we are still doomed, and we grossly misunderstand our relationship with God. And while we may believe something that gives us hope for the short time we have on earth, when we die, we rot. And we are to be pitied.

He has also called out this one truth as very important; not that all things ever written into the canon are weighed equally. I think this is where your entire criticism is going astray. Besides the fact that you want to read into it the goofiness you found in some poem, and use that to indite the entire canon of scripture. Regardless, it is a gross overreach to come to your conclusions from what Paul has written here.So I guess I'm just saying you should prepare yourself -- maybe I'll post again tomorrow. But since I don't have the time or energy for a more articulate or involved reply right now, suffice it to say:Die, heretic! Die!

I reply:

Ouch! I feel for your loss. Stuff like that never used to happen with typewriters.

I think I can spare you SOME of the rewriting, however, since I like to think I deliberately avoided the worst of the poem's goofiness (the loom, angels made of quanta, etc.) and I would never suggest that Christians actually think this way.

(By the way, you're right that I was misremembering the central doctrinal nature of Paul's discussion in I Corinthians. I was trying to give him a little wiggle room, but I guess that won't stand. That was just a minor side tour, so let's not let it distract anyone.)

The point I was trying to make--but I published before I was sure I was clear, which also never used to happen with typewriters--is that Christians generally DON'T think this way--literal spiritual cells and all that-- but at the very same time, and sometimes in a parallel thought, they DO act as if the bodily resurrection were the point of the resurrection...despite the fact that they DON'T try to think through the obvious implications of it. It is somehow both literally and factually true, and yet scientifically incoherent. (And I don't mean in the standard way that all miracles stymie science; I mean you can literally barely picture it at all. The Red Sea would have looked like water under a microscope even when it was allegedly forming a wall around the Israelites. But what ever happened to that fish the resurrected Jesus ate at the end of John? Holy shit!)

You have to believe it and then stop thinking just before you get to the DNA question, and my point is that this is weird, exhausting, and unnecessary, and that's why liberal Christians made the move. Because just as Jesus scraped accretions off the law of Moses to get to the actual point of it underneath, "Christ Event" theologians are doing the same thing to the stories of the resurrection--which, it should be pointed out again, can't be reconciled with each other anyway. (And again, this isn't "miraculous" unscientificness, which you could at least make a case for; it's the simple incoherence of being unable to tell who saw what at the tomb when.)

Faced with a Bible that a.) seemed to be demanding belief in a physical resurrection, b.) seemed to be very unclear about the details of the resurrection or of Easter in general, and c.) seemed to be saying, like Paul, that bodily resurrection is essential when it clearly isn't, the liberal theologians eventually, I think, made the right call: focusing on how Jesus gives life, and that more abundantly, is a better use of everyone's time than making flow charts of who saw which angel when, and asking modern-minded people to accept a story that leaves open implicit weird questions like what, at the Ascension, was Jesus's escape velocity. Yes, it's a silly question. That's why the liberals decided God couldn't have wanted it to matter. They sacrificed the Bible in the process, but they were more interested in a Jesus they could actually think about, in the service of a God whose ways made at least a little modern sense.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Surprising Irrelevance of the Bodily Resurrection

Quick Update first: It's official; as of yesterday I have signed with Adam Chromy of Artists & Artisans. We had a terrific conversation and I'm really happy. Today's work involves calling people half a continent away, and putting all my This American Life appearances on a single sampler CD. (Which sounds easy, but it's going to involve moving all my appearances, one at a time, from the computer that can get online to the computer that can burn CDs. And then finding some way to edit only my sections out. We'll see how it goes.)

But in the meantime, since I have a little time to kill, I thought I'd share some Easter-related thoughts on the Resurrection of Christ.

This was inspired, in part, by this Easter's posting of a famous poem by John Updike ("Seven Stanzas at Easter"), which talks dismissively of attempts to explain away the shocking reality implied by the Christian doctrine of Christ's rebirth. "Let us not mock God with metaphor,/analogy, sidestepping transcendence..." he says, culminating in what was my favorite stanza as a young evangelical hoping to create literary art:

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom

Of course, this overstates things by a bit--even as a Christian, the idea of angels working a loom would have been unspeakably silly. But I liked the sentiment beneath it: resurrection is real, not a metaphor. It should be rendered palpably. I not only wanted to believe it, but I was sure I needed to believe it, because, as Updike says about Christ's crucified body,

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

As Christians know, Updike here is simply parroting St. Paul, who says "If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain; we are still in our sins, and we are of all men most to be pitied." [I'm approximating; this stuff no longer leaps to mind perfectly.]

I was about 20 years old when I first encountered a liberal religious scholar (the first of several) who described Jesus's Resurrection as "The Christ Event." This was a way to avoid the embarrassing magic-show accoutrements of the traditional Resurrection doctrine--the empty garment, the vanishing corpse, the dead man who can teleport through walls--and focus on the religious and existential essence: hope, joy, and life eternally renewing. "Faugh!" I said at the time. "What a silly liberal thing to do! They just can't handle miracles and they want to worship some sort of shell of resurrection so they don't have to believe the Bible! They take a world-shattering miracle and turn it into 'Don't Worry, Be Happy!'"

It was a stupid idea, I thought, but a little more reading showed that smart people of deep faith seemed to believe it, so I let it stick around to figure out what was up. But only a few years later, after that idea had wormed its way into my awareness, I read that very same passage of St. Paul's--if Christ is not raised, we live in vain--and it suddenly struck me that there was a logical error in the passage. Sort of. In that passage, Paul is essentially saying (if the fundy resurrection apologists are to be believed), "If I'm mistaken, and Jesus isn't currently living in a superperfect spiritual body with a heartbeat and a stomach and the rest, then the concept of salvation is pointless." And when you put it that way, the disconnect becomes quite obvious.

Because honestly, all we really want is life after death. Whether it takes place in what we'd think of as a body or not is pretty small potatoes compared to the possibility of living on at all. And that, I eventually realized, is what the liberal theologians were after: trying to focus on the answer to our human longing (eternal life) rather than the distracting side issues (which include questions like, "Is there spiritual skin? Is it made up spiritual cells? What about blood vessels?") I see now that it would be entirely consistent of a Christian to believe in the resurrection as a sign or a metaphoric proof that there is life after death. Whether Jesus was eating fish and leaving DNA fingerprints all over the place is sort of trivial in comparison.

If St. Paul had said, "If hell is not made of literal flames, then we are completely without morality!" I don't think anyone would take it seriously, any more than if a political commentator said, "Because Presidential candidate x made a factual error in a debate, we can never trust anything they say ever again!" That's another symptom of the all-or-nothing, catastrophizing tendency I've talked about in conservative Christianity before: the believer is impelled to believe things, not because they logically follow, but because someone TOLD them they logically follow. It's like pretending you've read Shakespeare when all you've read is one scholar's footnotes.

Which made me realize another odd point. When St. Paul says, "Jesus had some kind of magical physical-and-spiritual resurrection body, and if I'm wrong, everything else just collapses!" he's not talking about logical proof: he's essentially saying that if scripture is wrong in one area, then the entire thing is completely worthless and might as well be shitcanned. So what he's doing, in essence, is not demanding faith in Jesus Christ (his works, his preaching, his example), but faith in the point-by-point perfection of what the Bible says about Jesus Christ (the theological interpretations of his death and resurrection). And that's a terrible thing to do! Because the Bible has a whole host of inconsistencies and problems (just try piecing together the four gospels some time; the Easter story alone is almost impossible to make sense of), and a whole range of different answers to extremely basic questions like "what must I do to be saved?" So trusting in the Bible's perfection would tend to strangle faith in its crib. Not to mention that you're essentially worshipping the Bible. Idolatry! That's one of the big no-no's!

I'm obviously not a Christian anymore, but if I were, I think I'd be happy to realize that St. Paul is actually wrong in I Corinthians 15:17 (found the reference!). Or--to put it more charitably--perhaps his statement in I Corinthians was a specific address in a specific context, and he was using a bit of his usual hyperbole rather than trying to lay out a general statement that should be taken as gospel the way it historically has. In any event, when I surf the web on Easter, I see tons of people posting things like, "If Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain," and I hope they mean what they should mean: Christ's example teaches us (well, it teaches Christians, anyway) that there is eternal life available in heaven after we die. How much meat (spiritual or otherwise) is on our bones (if we have them) is not only beside the point, but it's exactly the wrong thing to worry about. And if you can't tell the difference, you don't even know the value of what you're selling.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Bar Napkin Cartoon 49


Saturday, March 22, 2008

I "Have" an Agent!

I'm thrilled to announce that I just got an offer for representation from an agent, and I have accepted. (Provisionally, I guess, since we still have yet to meet and I haven't signed anything.)

And I just started sending things out yesterday. That was fast, wasn't it? Just shows you that a little research pays off. Looks like I had a careful proposal and I targeted the right guy.

That's the good news. The bad news--for fans of my This American Life work, anyway--is that the book I sold was NOT How to Love God Without Being a Jerk. Instead, it's the much more media-friendly memoir of my years of business incompetence at Hallmark, titled Greeting Card Whore.

How to Love God is apparently a tough sell precisely because it's a moderate book. I suspect that I'll have to recast it as a kind of memoir--a la Anne Lamott--and then it'll find its proper space on the bookshelf. But that's for another day. (And I'm starting to think I might have to simply self-publish it and let it find its way in the marketplace through osmosis.) For now, I'm just really, really happy. And since I'm unemployed, it couldn't have come at a better time.

(Yes, I realize an agent isn't the same as a book deal. And I realize that if and when the book deal DOES happen, I STILL don't get any money up front probably; and I know it's about a year between getting the deal and having the book actually hit stores. But there's a lot to be said for hope! Now I can turn forty fearlessly.)


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anatomy of Bogusness

Dan Savage--long an expert on fake advice letters, and a man who writes from Dear Abby's actual writing desk (he bought it somehow)--calls bullshit on the current Dear Abby. The triage is quite amusing.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This Could Be the Funnest Game Ever


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WHEW! (Part One)

Remember how I was going to look for a job on Monday? Well, it turns out that an agent asked to see my proposal on Friday, and a FURTHER look at the damn thing revealed a bunch of glaring errors. I've been fixing it up, and today--a banner day in my personal history--I have FINALLY sent out the complete proposal! It's 88 pages long. I like it. Whew!

I also sent queries to eight agents, and one of them has also requested it. So I guess we'll see what happens. The last time I did this dance--about a year ago--I had only one This American Life appearance to my credit. Maybe things will change this time around. Wish me luck!

(The nice thing about this, by the way, is that it completely relaxes me in terms of getting a job. Before, whenever I've had a job, I've always been thinking, "Dammit, I really need to be working on this book instead!" And although I've always thought I should probably do the New York Actor Thing and get two or three part-time jobs, I kept thinking, "Dammit, I need to have time to write!" Now, finally, Job #1 is actually done, and I can relax and look for actual employment without this particular monkey on my back. What a relief!)

Tomorrow: job research. Wednesday: the job search! For real this time.

P.S. "WHEW! Part Two" will be when I get an actual agent. That may take a while, of course.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Life and Music

I don't recall whether I've posted this before, but it's a lovely meditation--spoken by Alan Watts, animated by South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone--that seems like the sort of thing I'd like to be able to do with my own book, as a sort of viral-video way of getting the word out. (I'd even happily illustrate it myself, if someone else could do the animation. Is there Craigslist in Korea?) The only problem: this is a two-minute piece, which means it's only about 250 words. I can't think of a thing I've written that's quite that pithy. Maybe the Sunday School lesson about Adam and Eve? Maybe the Grinch discussion?

Anyway, here's "Life and Music," and it's great. Enjoy.

[thanks to my friend Charlene, who reminded me of this.]

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Overheard In New York

Just thought I'd share this. Last week I overheard a guy on his cell phone talking to his phone company. He asked the person on the other end to confirm something about his account. There was a pause, and then he said, "My PIN number? Okay, it's one, two, three, four...five, six, seven, eight."

(I'd submit this to the "Overheard In New York" website, but I'm lazy and they don't pay.)


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Introducing Scrabulish!

I recently discovered that if you're on Facebook, and you're playing Scrabulous (their online version of Scrabble which is so far still legal), one of your options is to play a "Challenge" game, which means the computer won't stop you from playing non-dictionary words. So for the past few days I've been playing with my friend Tracy a variation where the game is to NEVER play an actual real word, and to make up plausible-seeming definitions for whatever you play. I call it "Scrabulish." The picture shows the board as it currently stands.

Here's the gameplay so far. I've played the odd moves; Tracy has the even ones:

1. OILET (n. A small oil.)
2. GURNIX (n. A female hospital orderly who physically or psychologically domintates her patients.)
3. Q-ING (n. The inability to draw a clean circle.)
4. BRAIP (v. To burp inwardly.)
5. MIFE (n. Rodents with missing teeth.)
6. TRIADERN (n. one who holds down three jobs.)
7. RANDLESS (adj. Broke, in South Africa.)
8. WOOST (v. To sleep with one eye open.)
9. GRATT/WA/OT/OT (GRATT. v. To drag a rake over a sidewalk; WA. n. A unit of metaphysics, equal to the volume of an average human soul; OT. n. Bird poop, while still in midair.)
10. ROTHKAT (n. a scarf made of thistles, worn diagonally across the breastbone. German.)
11. GREEPIAN (adj. Pertaining to, or in the style of, Edmund Whitcomb Greep (1876-1934), Am. architect and couturier, noted for his mixing of navy and black.)
12. GOGAD (n. a small, perpetually moving article whose common name is unknown or forgotten. See: DOODAD.)
13. COILET/CABIER (COILET. n. A makeshift outhouse constructed from rope; CABIER. n. The guy at the front of a taxi stand who ushers folks in one at a time. French.)
14. VELVO (n. One who dresses entirely in plush fabric.)
15. UNNUI (n. An intense hatred of palindromes.)

Currently I'm leading, 289 to 231. But it's quite literally anyone's game.

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Bar Napkin Cartoon 48

(click to enlarge)


Job Day Minus One...

What Color Is Your Parachute? has been read, my resume and c.v. have been updated, and in a few hours I'll also have clean recent examples of my work to show around. (Plus--just in case--some old greeting cards I'm proud of.) On Monday I intend to hit the actual streets, knocking on the doors of schools, publishing houses, and ad agencies, in the hopes of finding one I click with. Today's job is research, so I can plan my route and learn the names of people to ask after. Wish me luck! I've never done things this way before. But I'm quite excited and I'm feeling hopeful.

Oh--and I'm doing laundry. Never know when you might wind up being suddenly interviewed, and I want to look nice.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Call Me Rice Milk Cowboy...

A startling thing happened last night: I was coming home from a party/discussion/salon thingy with some friends, where I'd had two glasses of wine, and as I neared my stop, I stepped in front of the subway train's door, near two other guys. And then, as often happens when I drink wine, I belched--quietly. It was more like a tummy spasm.

The guy in front of me screwed up his nose. "Jesus!" he said, and waved his hand in front of his face.

"Oh, was that me? I'm sorry," I said. I know I belch, but I had no idea I was that pungent.

And that single experience sealed it for me, I suspect. One of the reasons I've been so focused on figuring out what I'm allergic to is that I was told by two unimpeachable sources that I had bad breath. I immediately went nuclear on my brushing, and flossing (with the tongue scrapers, and the Breath-X formula mouthwash, the whole shebang) and got better reviews, so I thought things were okay. But even while this was happening, I thought, "I was always pretty good about brushing and flossing already. I wonder if this isn't a function of my breath so much as my stomach being upset and sending up a flare."

So today, I still had a little bit of the wine left, and I thought, "Let's see what happens." I drank it---and damned if, ten minutes later, I didn't start belching. Dammit!

I'm still in a little shock over this, but the implications would seem to be clear: I am intolerant of, allergic to, or in some way tummy-sensitive to wine. Since I also know I have this reaction to whiskey (I just assumed my whiskey belches were similarly benign; guess not!), I suspect I need to stop drinking alcohol. This is just fucking cruel. Next thing you know I'll be allergic to fornication ("I can't get it up unless we're both wearing gold rings!"), and Baby Jesus will have beaten me completely.

Having said that, a good friend of mine bought me a tiny bottle of hard-to-find single-malt scotch that I do, in fact, intend to crack open the second I get an agent. But I think I'll be celebrating alone, and then waiting for the worst side effects to evanesce before I emerge and actually talk in the direction of peoples' faces. In the meantime, I'm trying to cheer myself up by just thinking of all the money I'll be saving. It'll come in handy when I need to start buying antidepressants.

AFTERNOTE: I'm already doing the other stuff everyone recommends: chlorophyll tablets, wheatgrass, and so forth. And since I find the entire topic embarrassing enough as it is, I'm going to be unlikely to approve any comments my readers might leave about breath problems. Eesh. But I'll accept other sorts of commiseration, which I clearly need.

FURTHER AFTERNOTE: I just realized that today is technically St. Patrick's Day--the day that, five years ago, introduced me to the joys of single malt scotch. The hits just keep on coming.


A Spam Quandary Ruled On

I got a spam email today with the heading


And since it was unpunctuated, like many an ancient manuscript, I had to interpret the translation, and I couldn't decide if it was intended to be

ImproveYourPenis -- WorkTodayWithViagraPro



Both seemed plausible. But then I noticed the odd word "Pro" on the end, and that settled it. I presume I'd normally qualify for just regular old Viagra, while Viagra Pro is almost certainly designed for people who work in the lucrative field of penis. Somehow I got on the wrong mailing list. Wouldn't they be embarrassed if they knew!

Me, I'm not telling them. Now that I'm on this professional mailing list, I'm going to be waiting for their industry start-up brochures, too: "Grow Your Own Business From Home." It is truly an expanding field.

[SFX: rim shots aplenty.]


Friday, March 14, 2008

A Conflux of Geekeries

My friend Joe ("Toonhead!" to Puzzlers League folks) just directed his blog readers to this startling discovery: a 1924 cartoon based entirely on the then-burgeoning crossword craze. Behold Crossword Charlie!

(Edited to add an exclamation mark to Toonhead!'s name. Apologies to Toonhead!.)

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bush's Religion: Another Book Recommendation

Since this is apparently turning into Books-On-Religion-And-Politics Day, don't miss this series of excerpts from The Bush Tragedy, a rather partisanly-titled book whose author, Jacob Weisberg, does to George W. Bush what the author of Founding Fathers does to the original George W.: goes back into the publicly-available record to see what his religious beliefs actually are. The answers are fascinating, as Weisberg makes a pretty strong case that George Bush, Jr.'s Christianity is deeply and personally held, and at the same time almost completely devoid of content. (Interestingly, he explains how evangelicalism has made Bush more humble, not more arrogant.) I found the third excerpt particularly fascinating, as Weisberg uncovers tapes of Bush practicing how to speak to religious groups, and making decisions about how to pitch himself. Weisberg has, I think, a tendency to overpsychoanalyze Bush--every decision seems to come back to resolving some deep father-son conflict, in Weisberg's eyes--but it's really interesting to see Bush's religious statements sort of pureed together and to see, in consequence, what form of Jesus titrates out. It's not so much a Jesus of the Bible study (Bush never actually goes to church) as it is the vaguer Jesus of AA. Intriguing to know!

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Amy Sullivan and the Alleged Evangelical Left

Amy Sullivan--no relation to Andy--is an evangelical Democrat who has long pleaded for the Democratic party to stop being asses and actually address themselves to evangelical voters and evangelical concerns. Apparently she has just written a book called The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap, and Washington Monthly (for whom she often writes) has a review here.

I remain skeptical about evangelicals' ability to change as quickly as everyone is saying--after all, they're still fighting evolution, in a century-out-of-date battle that literally no one but evangelical ideologues even takes seriously--but after reading this article, I started thinking about how well Barack Obama has done among even conservative evangelicals, and he has done so by making a specifically religious, but non-conservative, appeal. On abortion, for example, he has said that he disapproves of abortion personally, but that he thinks women are the ones best able to make the choice, and in the meantime he's hoping to reduce the number of abortions in America through education, condoms, etc. And it seems to be enough for certain evangelicals to overcome their resistance.

Similarly, on homosexuality, Obama has been uniquely brilliant in his use of religion: From one rally at a black church, there's this story:

"Now I’m a Christian, and I praise Jesus every Sunday,' he said, to a sudden wave of noisy applause and cheers. 'I hear people saying things that I don’t think are very Christian with respect to people who are gay and lesbian,' he said, and the crowd seemed to come along with him this time." (via Towleroad)

So it suddenly strikes me that Amy Sullivan has a point at almost exactly the same place where David Kirkpatrick's much-ballyhooed New York Times story "The Evangelical Crackup" fails to interpret what's happening: it's not that evangelicals are changing their personal religious views (though, as David Sessions, quoting David Kinnaman--lotta Davids here!--points out in this article, younger evangelicals are 15% more likely to not care about homosexuality as a moral issue), but that they are more likely to be able to square their personal religious views with voting for a Democratic candidate. So it's not a hugely significant moral or theological change--I imagine that even pro-gay evangelicals tend to focus, not on homosexuality, but on the call to chastity in general for all Christians, which doesn't help the gays all that much--but it has a lot of potential to change things politically.

And I suspect we have the record-setting unpopularity of George W. to thank for this. In the same way that he has inspired this incredibly early election season (as states crowded to the front of the line, impatient to be able to weigh in on Bush's replacement), Bush's effectively conservative-evangelical Presidency has finally inoculated a certain percentage of the evangelical voters against the idea of a theocracy after all. "Maybe religion can be separate from public life!" you can almost hear them saying.

It's a thoroughly pragmatic position. Just as "let's ban evolution!" lost in court and turned into "let's teach creation and evolution side by side," and then lost again and became "let's call it Intelligent Design and talk about God only obliquely" is a strategy of necessity--a way of fighting a losing battle by shrinking the arena without ever actually giving up--so maybe allowing America to treat anti-abortion and anti-homosexual ideas the way evangelicals have tended to treat help for the poor (it's a call to personal responsibility, not a necessary public policy everyone should be forced to follow) is a way of redefining the battlefield smaller so that evangelicals can maybe win it this time around. In this respect, you could say that nothing helps pragmatic democracy like the failure of an ideal.

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Oh No! Pleasure!

The expert(s) have apparently spoken, and the answer to my question about prostitution and pornography is here. The short version: Porn is legal but prostitution isn't because prostitution is for personal sexual enjoyment while porn is an acting job. So trading sex for money is fine, as long as you don't actually enjoy it. Pleasure: that's the real sin. I should have known.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Founding Fathers Were Not Deists! They Were Heretics.

Steven Waldman, editor of, has just written a book called Founding Faith, where he has gone through every conceivable writing of the founding fathers to try to decipher what they actually believed. What a fascinating, long-overdue idea! His conclusion: The founding fathers mostly thought of themselves as Christians, not Deists. But they also almost uniformly denied the divinity of Jesus. Kevin Drum's Washington Monthly has the scoop here--along with links to the original materials Waldman used to come to his conclusion. I have got to get this book!

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Savage On Spitz

One last post today. I was waiting for sex expert Dan Savage to weigh in on the Elliot Spitzer prostitution story. And today he does.

TANGENTIAL AFTERNOTE: I have a lot of friends in the linguistic field. Do any of you people out there know how I would go about looking for an early appearance of a word? Because I'm suddenly curious to find out how long the word "sexpert" has been plaguing us.

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Bar Napkin Cartoon 47


Elna at the Rejection Show

I'm going to the Rejection Show at the UCB Theater tonight, and while looking for the time of the performance (8:00), I came across this clip, which I hope shows up, of Elna Baker, devout Mormon comedienne, performing at the Rejection Show, and doing so with the first story I ever saw her do, which won the Moth Slam that night. It's not a perfect recording (at least, I got some hiccups), but it's a good example of her humor, which everyone should know about. It's ten minutes long, and (as you might expect) basically safe for work. Enjoy.


It's Obama

Kos does the math and comes up with the same thing I've been telling all my friends: Obama gets the nomination. Not in a landslide, but in a consistently leading sort of way. I predict he'll be the nominee, and I predict he'll destroy McCain in the general election.

I've made this case in personal conversations, but never on this blog, so here's my thinking: The hardcore conservative base--that 30% living-in-another-reality of the electorate that still basically approves of what Bush is doing--hates McCain even more than Democrats hate Lieberman. They haven't had to compromise for eight years and they're not going to start listening to other people now. And McCain--to judge not only by his own past, but in his noticeably tepid acceptance of Bush's endorsement--hates Bush. So that Bushite 30% will either stay home or--in many cases--vote for Obama, since he's clearly the most authentically religious candidate running.

This leaves the majority 70% of the electorate who have to choose between McCain and Obama, and again, this is a fairly easy case for Obama to win. Because McCain's two biggest strengths in the past have been 1.) that he draws consensus-minded independents, and 2.) that the press just loves him to death. And Obama is significantly more popular among independents (since even hard rightists who hate McCain are favoring Obama), and the press loves Obama even more than they love McCain. Throw in the fact that McCain has gone on record saying things like "We'll be in Iraq for a hundred years" and "I'm not that good at domestic policy," and he practically sinks himself--especially if, as I dearly hope, Obama comes up with an answer to Hillary's "3 a.m. phone call" ad that says, "When the terrorists attacked, Obama didn't panic, he didn't attack the wrong people, and he didn't throw the Constitution under the bus. That's taking a long view. That's smart defense." (Or something like that. I'm no sloganeer.)

Throw in the anecdotal evidence that Obama's own groundswell of support consistently sets records in halls and stadiums across the land (Obama got another record-setting $55 million last month, while McCain--the presumptive Republican nominee in the party of rich people--drew only $12 million), and that our foreign allies (including Sweden's p.m., who has never weighed in on such things before) are all consistently excited by the prospect of an Obama presidency...well, how does McCain even start to fight that, given how the party that's supposed to be behind him can barely stop sharpening their knives long enough to toss him a few nickels?

Of course, Obama could suddenly wind up being named in a prostitution sting, so I'm trying not to get too cocky. But my strong suspicion is that all the "W" bumper stickers, come November, will be replaced by ones reading "O." I've officially stopped worrying.

UPDATE: I should add, of course, that the nusto ultraright wing is already calling Obama a Muslim, a jihadist, linking him with a Black Panther ("Obama's a violent thug!") and his Black Nationalist preacher ("Obama wants black people to rule over whites!"), and so forth; I'm not saying it won't get ugly. (And those ugly elements are the Republicans' worst cancer.) But the interesting thing is that to object to McCain, you only have to look at his actual policies. To find something seriously objectionable about Obama, you have to actually lie out your ass. The only serious knock against him (outside Rezko, which should be yesterday's news by now) is his light experience. The voters haven't cared so far--because he's obviously smart, shows good judgment, and has learned quickly how to kneecap even the Clinton machine--and I predict they'll continue not to care.


Somebody Help Me With Pornography Here...

The sudden bizarre scandal involving Eliot Spitzer (which must be playing quite risibly in France--and, for that matter, in Las Vegas--where prostitution is legal) reminds me of a question that has always bothered me, and which I wish someone would explain:

Prostitution is illegal. But making porn movies is legal, right? Which means that it's illegal to pay someone for sex...unless you film it and sell copies. How does this make sense? Or rather, since it doesn't make sense, how did this bizarre double standard emerge? Does anyone know?

UPDATE: Looks like Andrew Sullivan, via a proxy, is asking the same thing. Now I feel in touch with the zeitgeist.


The Moth--Now In Podcast Form!

If you want to get a sense of what the storytelling scene in Manhattan is like, you're in luck! The Moth--the granddaddy of New York storytelling--has now produced a podcast! There are four stories currently available, which you can find on iTunes ("The Moth Podcast," helpfully listed under New Podcasts), or through their website at I strongly recommend that you sign up! It'll be good for them, entertaining for you, and a big bonus to karma all around. All of the first four stories are good, but I admit to being particularly fond of Malcolm Gladwell's story about working certain phrases into major newspaper articles (recently used on This American Life as well), and Dan Kennedy's story about "keeping it real" as a delusional 35-year-old wannabe punk rocker in corporate America.

Also, the next Moth Slam is on March 31st, and the theme is "Fame." I will be competing, and possibly even getting called onstage. So be there! (Details on the Moth website's calendar, which I just gave you a link to in the last paragraph.)

UPDATE: I've now heard all the stories, and I take it back: Alan Rabinowitz's "Man and Beast" is my favorite. A kid with a crippling stutter, who has never spoken a single coherent sentence to another human being until his twenties, gets involved in zoology and...well, it's just a great tale. Go get it. (If there's any way to link directly to an iTunes story--since iTunes is a program, not a web browser--I don't know it. Just search Podcasts for "The Moth.")

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Can't Talk.


Monday, March 10, 2008

I'll Guess I'll Have the Chicken and Rice

Yesterday I had a sudden urge to eat an unusually healthy meal: a whole-wheat pita sandwich with spinach, cucumbers, and bean sprouts. I added a spritzing of Light Caesar Dressing (Newman's Own) and had a lovely, virtuous consumption experience. Until about halfway through. Then I noticed that the spicy burning on my lips that vinegar always gives me wasn't actually going away. My lips were puffing up again! I went to the mirror and confirmed it. Another goddamn allergic reaction.

This makes the fourth time this has happened since my second date story several days back. The good news is that it's not an anaphylactic reaction, which would truly be terrifying. But it definitely seems that my body has stepped up its McCarthylike paranoia about food. On the date, the culprit was (presumably) pine nuts in the gnocchi. A few days later, it came as the result of a salad with vinaigrette. Vinaigrette apparently contains walnuts (why don't they have labels on stuff like that? Warning: contains ingredients!), and I missed two stories at the storytelling show I was attending while I ran across the street to buy some Benadryl. Then, while I was still recovering from that and with my lips returned to normal size, I went to a diner an hour or so later and ordered a chicken club (I was, after all, still hungry, since I hadn't even had half a salad), and damn if I didn't get the reaction again! Not from the chicken, but from the fries. This time the servers thought it might have been because the fries were made in the same frier as the shrimp. Sorry! They should have mentioned that!

Could be. All I know is, I'm jumping at everything now, like a psychic in a ghost town. I'm happy to report that I managed to eat at a restaurant with two friends of mine right before the Jonathan Richman concert. It was a Thai restaurant, and as I went over the list of things that were probably in the meals and that I didn't want to risk (peanuts, soy), I was able to negotiate simple chicken and rice--no sauce!--and it was just fine. It wasn't exciting, but apparently I'm not meant for exciting things.

The list of things that definitely want to kill me with an allergic reaction:

tree nuts
maybe vinegar?

The list of things that, while not sending me to the nearest Benadryl, seem to cause me digestive collywobbles, from worst to most benign:

peanut butter?
maybe wheat?

The good news is that most of this stuff isn't great for you in the first place, so I predict I'll be losing a bit of weight in the best way possible: by eating well. But I'm starting to see my future. I live like a bubble boy, eating everything in carefully prepared meals at home, since the discussions with waiters have been terribly time-consuming and embarrassing for my nearby friends. I foresee never venturing into a restaurant for anything more exotic than a Caesar salad. ("Hold the cheese. Put the dressing on the side. And do the croutons have garlic?") I'm currently eating spelt bread and millet-vegetable pasta (with organic tomato-and-basil sauce that hasn't hurt me yet, but just give my body time) and if they made a documentary out of my life they could call it An Imitation of Food. The only upside to all this is that this is saving me a little money in the long run, which I can safely spend on wine and whiskey ("hold the lemon wedge, please!").

But just wait: if my body decides it's allergic to that, too, I'll be screwed. The only high in my life will come from spinning around till I'm dizzy. Oh, and sex! Thank goodness! At least no one's ever been allergic to orgasms. Please tell me I'm right.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bar Napkin Cartoon 46

(Drawn in the dark on a frankly suboptimal napkin. Click to enlarge.)


Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Job Hunt, Such As It Is

Good news! Just as my money was dwindling dangerously, the unemployment gods finally started paying my insurance (my old employer was fighting against my benefits; evidently they were ruled down), so I now have an extra $1000 to keep me afloat--which gives me, I suspect, at least another month of life before I get truly desperate. This is good, because I spent the past week "job hunting" in a state of terrible frustration: looking at ads on MediaBistro, sending out desultory c.v.'s I have scant hope of hearing back on, etc. It's been about as fun, and as useful, as doing nothing at all.

Today, in frustration, I picked up the latest edition of that old standby, Richard Nelson Bolles's What Color Is Your Parachute?--and it's a good thing, too. It actually told me exactly what I already knew but needed forceful reminding of: online searches don't work, sending out resumes doesn't work, and this throw-things-until-they-stick mode of job searching is exactly what makes the conventional job search process so frustrating.

So the good news is that Bolles has provided me with a little bit of focus: You need to search from a position of strength and skill, which means you need to focus on what you actually want, not necessarily what'll pay the rent in the meantime. (That's the fallback I've been dreading.) I'm pretty clear now that I'm a good writer with a low boredom threshold, and I'd be happiest writing comedy (or, failing that, advertising or p.r). He also asks people to focus on how employers actually find people in the first place: by looking around their company already, then asking close associates, and basically doing everything they can to avoid a general advertisement for employees and the subsequent slog through piles of resumes.

What this means, among other things, is that statistics (apparently) tend to favor the guy who can politely gain a brief audience or introduction, and who then makes a brief pitch about how his skills can help the employer--ideally, of course, with an example of successful work in hand.

In other words, it looks like it's finally time to write my Office spec script--and probably a piece or two for The Daily Show. I've long known that a spec script is key to getting a job in the industry; I just forgot, until reading Bolles, that I could actually apply; that the job was an actual possibility and not an eternally-deferred dream. So that's what I'll be focusing on for the next week or so. (How long does a 22-minute script take?) Wish me luck!

Bread on the Subway

C train, 1:30, right around the Lafayette station in Brooklyn.

I was coming home after a night of weirdness--not only did I see a burlesque show, which I haven't done in ages, but the train got stopped for about fifteen whole minutes as the cops pulled some guy off in the car ahead of us, then strode through the cars keeping some sort of order--but as I left and got onto my new train (when a train get delayed, it often makes up for it by suddenly going express, and I needed the local), I walked in and saw this loaf of bread sitting on a seat. You can't tell from the photo, but the entire rest of the car was full--everyone was just giving this mysterious bread wide berth. (It was oat-topped, whole grain, unsliced, and unwrapped.) Next to it was an unused MetroCard, which might have been worth some money, but no one had touched that either and neither did I. I'm about to go to sleep now, but I'm still worrying this over in my head, so don't be surprised if I wake up tomorrow with an idea for a very stupid Hitchcock thriller.


Friday, March 07, 2008

A Link No Longer Missing

Quick note: I fixed the link on my Intro, so now it really does lead you to the How to Love God introduction. (Thanks to friend and Hallmark alum Geoff Brock for pointing this out!) Next step: fix the link to the puzzle I posted a week or so back. But first I should really start sending out resumes.

Creepy Baby Dolls at Night

Walking to the L train after a fine Jonathan Richman concert, my friends and I encountered this weird cart at 6th and Bergen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It must be some kind of art. All I know is, those gold-headed babies are just lying in wait for my next nightmare. For some reason the polka-dotted bear hung by his neck from the axle reminds me of the elephant from the Island of Misfit Toys. I guess that's what art is supposed to do: make you think. I think it's creepy.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

This American Life That I Can't Seem To Remember Anything About

Yesterday I taped my story for This American Life, which will run in three or four weeks, assuming it runs at all. (Apparently you never know about these things.) But a very strange thing happened in the process. As I may have mentioned, the story is about my dad and the time me and my brother's bikes got stolen. The way the piece is apparently going to work is that I tell the story, and then I call my Dad to hear his side of things, because we view it completely differently. That's what makes it fun.

But here's the amazing thing: I didn't just draw a different conclusion than Dad did; it turns out I had just about every part of the story wrong. Not horribly wrong--the sense is still the same--but in every stray particular. Here's the rundown (SPOILER ALERT; read the original story first!):

1.) Dad wasn't buying a bike for me and my brother. Daniel already had a bike; this was just for me.
2.) I had always assumed the bike was terribly expensive. Dad said it was only about $25 to $50. (Which would still have made it the priciest gift I'd ever had, but still...)
3.) Daniel came with me, but he was on foot, so there was only one bike--mine--and Daniel was walking alongside. So it was slower going than I remembered.
4.) When we came home, there was nothing in the living room. Dad just said, "Your bike is in the back now."
5.) Most amusingly, Dad didn't put the bike in the back of the car; he simply told mom to drive, and he took the bike and rode it the mile and a half home. (Also, some guy tried to stop him, so I guess I'm lucky this story didn't end with Dad in jail.)

Dad also said, "You know, David, I think you've always exaggerated how poor we actually were." I have to say I still disagree--I remember tons of corn meal and rice, and at least one really depressing birthday where all my brother and I got was a blank cassette tape to play with--but it's given me pause. We actually had to re-record my version of the story again to eliminate the direct contradictions. Clearly I wasn't paying attention at the time, and had to reconstruct the whole thing after the fact, once the bike's theft had made an impression. It's nice to have the story cleared up, but it makes me wonder: how much of my family do I even know? How much have I been projecting all these years? I think I'm going to start fact-checking my own damn anecdotes, just to be safe.

On an unrelated note, if you want This American Life insider information, here's a fun tidbit: In the lounge area of their offices, they have their awards sort of clumped together on a corner of a crowded table-height shelf, which has the odd effect of putting their Peabody Award right next to their 2006 Corporate Basketball Champions trophy--and both are in front of a plaque that Julie Snyder won in high school: Best Humorous Interpretation in Speech and Debate. Sublime, meet Ridiculous. It was really fun to see.


My Cinephiliac Media Diet

When I have TV, I find I generally watch two hours or so a night. Since I haven't had TV for some time, I've been relying entirely on Netflix for my media addiction. I have to say, I recommend it. I just looked at my Netflix rental history and realized, "This is what I've been watching instead of Letterman and The Daily Show." I think you'll agree that it's not a bad tradeoff. In the last thirty days, my movies have included the following, most of which I'm seeing for the first time (you'll notice that I recently went from a musical kick to a film noir kick):

Trouble in Paradise (1932) (hilarious and naughty)
The Singing Detective, complete series (1986)(brilliant but a tad overlong)
Night and the City (1950)(new top 5 favorite noir)
The Naked City (1948) (new top ten favorite noir, in a great DVD package)
Crime Wave/Decoy (1946)(surprisingly good double bill, with GREAT commentary by two crime writers who are obviously big movie fans)
Gypsy (1962)(I liked Auntie Mame way better)
For Me and My Gal (1942)(an actual serious, sort of somber musical! Nicely done!)
Summer Stock (1950)(someone kill Phil Silvers...)
The Great Ziegfeld (1936) (Hooray for William Powell!)
Burden of Dreams (1982) (Documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, which everyone should see)
The Civil War (1990)(Ken Burns documentary; the entire amazing thing)
Ratatouille (2007) (so visually beautiful it actually rivals Pinocchio)
Das Boot (1981) (my favorite war movie now)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) (Not as grim as I'd feared all these years.)
Belle de Jour (1967) (So this is Bunuel. He's weird.)
Sunday in the Park With George (1986) (beautiful meditation on creativity)
The Music Man (1962) (corny, but the best song-per-minute value of any musical I've ever seen)
The Last Waltz (1978) (turns out I don't actually like The Band all that much)
The More The Merrier (1943) (Coburn and McRea and Jean Arhur! Thanks for the tip, Briallen!)
When We Were Kings (1996) (should be required viewing in American History classes)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) (Wow! An absolute sensory overload, and profoundly touching.)

I also watched a documentary called Small Town Gay Bar, but that's a trifle compared to all of this greatness. In just a month, I feel like I've become 15% more cultured. Another month like this, and I'll be writing for Film Comment and peppering my conversation with terms like "mise-en-scene" and "Felliniesque." See what you've got to look forward to?

Oh, and currently at home I've got three more film noirs: Alphaville, Rififi, and The Asphalt Jungle, with Bob le Flambeur not far behind. Now where did I put my trenchcoat?...


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bar Napkin Cartoon 46


Monday, March 03, 2008

Storytelling This Week

I'll be performing at the Coraline Cafe in Brooklyn tonight at 8 p.m. (480 62nd Street). Cover is $5, and the simply magnetic Cyndi Freeman hosts. Great drink prices, too! Come see! (The Coraline crowd is one of the funnest to perform for, because they're kind of small--twenty-five people or so in an intimate space--and they get much more involved in the stories than is usual in places with, e.g., a more formal stage setup.)

Tomorrow, by the way, is Sherry Weaver's Speakeasy at the Coraline St. Cafe (29 Cornelia St, right at the West 4th A,C,E/1,2,3 stations). That's $10, but the show is about twice as long, so I figure it's win-win, and a steal in both cases. I'm not in this one, but Greg Walloch and Faye Lane are two of the five performers, and they're never less than mesmerizing. I can't wait to see them!

This is completely unrelated, but on Wednesday I FINALLY get to see, for the first time, Jonathan Richman in concert. He seemed to come through Tucson every three or four years all through the eighties, and I missed him every time, even after I'd discovered New Wave and read how much all the pop-loving critics liked him. That long-standing blind spot in my hipness vanishes at last!

This is going to be a great week.



I was up till 3 last night, but I finally have my book proposal finished! And I have a list of ten agents! And I'm composing an introductory email as soon as I'm done typing this! But I just had to stop for a second and announce my victory lap.

Now that this monkey is mostly off my back, I can start to focus in earnest on getting a damn job, instead of just staying afloat with freelance. Is that a sliver of light I see? Hallelujah.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

What I Learned This Weekend By Editing Crossword Puzzles

*There is no country or region called NATAL anymore. Technically, the area is now called KwaZulu-Natal.

*CARESS is not technically clued as "Dove competitor." Today, Caress and Dove are both owned by the Unilever Corporation.

*The EXPOS are now the Nationals, and they're in Washington, not Montreal.

*The capital of Guam is no longer AGANA, though the name "Agana" is still used for the river, the bay, and the nearby area Agana Heights.

*ARCO is no longer a "L.A.-based gas giant," but is a subsidiary of British Petroleum.

*"Time Magazine's Person of the Year 2005" is not BONO per se, but Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates ("The Altruists").

*Most strangely, Steffi GRAF does not, as of this posting, have a page on Wikipedia. (Or rather, she has one that you can see right here, but it contains no main body text, no links, no search window, and is basically fucked up.)

...And now you know as much as I do.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Philosophical Snack I Just Noticed

I've got a slogan for them: "The best of all possible crackers!" How can they miss?