"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Last Place You Look

Michael Ondaatje is coming to town, and I've spent the last two weeks trying to get my mitts on my British first edition of The English Patient. 

It's been driving me crazy.

I knew exactly where The Cinnamon Peeler was.  Same with Handwriting.  In the Skin of a Lion took some digging, as did my second copy of The Conversations, Ondaatje's excellent discussion of film craft with ace editor Walter Murch. 

When I moved, I thought I was careful to put all my valuable books in the same spot, and this edition of The English Patient certainly qualifies.  On the other hand, I've had to make more room over the years, and that means boxing up books and sending them to the garage.  If I was smart, only dead authors would be exiled there, because you really never know who's coming to town and with over a hundred boxes of books in the garage, it's a pain in the ass to look for things. 

When Jim Shepard visited, I couldn't find Batting Against Castro or Kiss of the Wolf.  I had a similar problem with Brad Watson.  Of course, signed copies of their books aren't worth $450 (no offense, fellas).

You're probably asking yourself, "why not a spreadsheet, hotshot?" to which I reply, "what am I, a freakin' psycho with OCD?"

Last weekend, I exhausted all the places The English Patient could be inside the house. 

This morning, after spending almost two hours on yardwork, I went to the garage. 

I started in one corner, and found this perfectly respectable 4th printing of Ulysses (Random House, 1934).

Technically, this book belongs in the garage, since James Joyce is never going to sign it.  But it's such a striking dustjacket I couldn't leave it out there. 

And while I was at it, I figured I may as well liberate Jean Stafford, too.

But that was it.

I was in the garage with a single purpose. I had to remain faithful to my system of opening boxes, resealing them, and stacking them in an orderly fashion. 

I was miserable for much of the morning. 

I did find other things of interest.  My signed Maurice Sendak books, which definitely do not belong in the garage.  Some of my favorite art books (Weegee, Halsman, Damien Hirst).  A couple of Lillian Ross collections and an old William Maxwell novel that belong inside the house with my other New Yorker authors.  In all, I stacked at least five dozen interesting, worthwhile books on my dining room table.

I managed to clear out a large segment of the garage, but The English Patient refused to present itself and I slowly resigned myself to the fact that even though I own the book, it just wasn't going to get signed. I'd find it eventually, just not in time for Michael Ondaatje's appearance.

I gave up.  Threw my hands up in defeat. I came into the house, had a drink of water, and surveyed the mess I'd made dragging various books from the garage. 

But I couldn't quit. 

I went back out for one last, desperate attempt.  Over in the corner, in an area I had't bothered with, I pulled out an unusually lightweight box.  Definitely not the place for a valuable book. 

Inside, I found this:

That's right, a box of cereal from 1985. Empty, of course, but in archival quality.

I've had it longer than any of my personal relationships, which might explain why none of those personal relationships lasted.

There was also a cardboard promotion for Elvis Costello's Kojak Variety (1995).

And there was a lot of dust.

But there was also a single plastic bag from a popular used bookstore, and inside the bag was my copy of The English Patient.

Go figure.

Sometimes I remember a book being in better shape than it really is.  A torn dustjacket, a remainder mark, a later printing. It's rare, but it happens. 

My copy of The English Patient has no visible flaws. 

Even the used price, written in pencil on the front free endpaper, is light and easily erased.

It was only $6.

Next week, when all my Ondaatje books are finally signed, they'll be lovingly wrapped in paper and plastic and carefully sealed inside a box
marked "Ondaatje." 

And that clearly marked box will stay inside the house for a long time.   

Travel Shelf

Los Angeles: A Guide to the City and Its Environs, 2nd edition
(Hastings House, 1951)
"The golden flow of outside dollars into southern California began in the 1840's but the first visitors were chiefly hard-bitten men whose names appeared on "Wanted" placards throughout the roaring West.  They often arrived only a hop and a step ahead of the law or the vigilantes, hell-bent for the Mexican border.Their headquarters in Los Angeles was the Calle de Los Negros (Street of the Blacks), locally called N***** Alley, the early amusement belt.  Along this narrow crowded street near the Plaza the click of roulette wheels and the jingle of gold never stopped.  The tempo of life was set by gay fandangoos danced to the strains of the harp, guitar, and violin.  The notes of the flageolet mingled with the shouts of rancheros and the laughter of senoritas.  The frequent pistol blasts brought no halt to the merrymaking, and a public hanging had the aspect of a fiesta." (p. 137)



Vegas Wenches by James L. Rubel
(Merit Books, 1961)

"She looked as if she were preparing to put a bundle on a horse at Hollywood.  The gun was no longer in her hand.  She glanced once at Sam, then with an enigmatical smile she moved in the direction of the dresser. 

From the way she was working at the zipper of her dress, it looked as if she intended to do another strip act. 

In a moment he found out she was.  The dress slid off first, she stepped out of it, hung it over the back of the nearest chair.  She removed all the pins from her hair, permitting it to fall loosely down over her shoulders and her bare back. 

She wore neither panties or brassiere under the dress.  She was back where she had been when he'd first found her in his room." (p.58)
"She used her nymphomania to get  him to join her ravishing rogues. . .
You'll never in your wildest dreams imagine how this group of voluptuous hussies used him to satisfy their larcenous lusts and their uncontrollable hungers."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Object Lessons

For many years, my father had a copy of this print hanging in his study:

Souvenir of Sydney Bechet (1952) by Nicolas de Staël
It was stored in my parents' bedroom closet for a few years, until my father hung it in my room.  For culture, I think.  We never spoke about it, and he never told me why he liked it or what it meant to him. 

Personally, I didn't think much of it.  How could I?  I could make out three men, I could make out horns.  The picture was too abstract for me, it felt clumsy.  I was at an age where I thought all art was supposed to be beautiful, accomplished.  An adult made this?  That didn't make any sense.   

Eventually, I asked my father to remove the painting so I could hang a poster of Farrah Fawcett-Majors on my wall.  I'm sure it broke my father's heart, sticking his painting back in a closet.  And for what, a couple of nipples?  

I haven't thought about the painting in years, and then I found an article on Nicholas de Staël this afternoon while I was looking for something else entirely. 

It brought back a lot of memories. 

He committed suicide, Nicolas de Staël.  He did it in 1955 by jumping off the terrace of his studio.  Eleven floors.  He was 41.

I've been thinking about suicide lately.  Not for me, but it's been on my mind.  I want to know what happens when hurting yourself becomes an irresistible proposition, when the brakes in your mind go out completely.

I mean, I don't want to know. 

My Black Dog

I get depressed this time of year, always have.

Maybe it's the approaching holidays, or the way the sky gets darker earlier and completely pulls the rug out from under the day.  Maybe it's the way the World Series preempts my regularly scheduled viewing, or the realization that another year is coming to an end.  

Whatever it is, it's here.  I can feel it. 

I'm going to busy myself with projects, maybe write my way out of it.  I'll make plans with friends.  Being perky is so much easier when other people are around.   Left to my own devices, I can go the whole weekend without talking to anyone. 

On Thursday, I came home from work and played this record while I made dinner:

It's a lot harder to be depressed when The Happy Harts are singing "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?"

When the dishes were done, I spent some time with Lord Buckley.  You know Lord Buckley.  The hippest, jive-talkin'-est hepcat of American stand-up. 

Hiparama of The Classics (City Light Books, 1980)

Buckley's shtick was delivering famous monologues (the Gettysburg Address, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) and short biographical sketches.  In Buckleyspeak, "fourscore and seven years ago" becomes "four big hits and seven licks ago, our before Daddies swung forth upon this sweet groovy land, a jumpin', swingin', stompin', wailin', NEW NATION."
His routines about Gandhi ("The Hip Gan")and Jesus ("The Naz") were no less boppy and boisterous. 
You really need to hear it to appreciate it. 


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hocus Poke Us

There was magic on Saturday night.

I rarely attend events like these, but what kind of unsophisticated hick bows out of a magic show? 

Both Joshua Jay and Jamy Ian Swiss wowed the audience with card tricks and sleight-of-hand.  They were the true standouts, aside from Robert Trivers who I found both smart and hilarious, a little bit of Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown mixed with a whole lot of Reverend Jim.

Trivers might be the only Harvard-educated PhD (he currently teaches at Rutgers) who uses the word dick in his lectures.  His confession that he prefers the word dick over penis brought the house down.

Our tickets were in the second row of the pit. 

We didn't realize how good they were until we started hunting for our seats (1 & 3).  Entering a crowded row in search of a seat is always a debate.  Do I shove my ass in somebody's face?  My crotch?  In the end, I always alternate.  We got a few seats down the row (we started in the mid 30s) and figured we should just quit and start at the other end. 

As we got to the other end of the row, I noticed a couple of people sitting in what I thought were our seats.  It doesn't matter if you're at a concert or in an airplane, it's always uncomfortable accusing someone of sitting in your seat.  I showed the guy my ticket and asked him what his seat was.  "36" he said.  An usher came over and looked at our tickets.  "Your seats are dead center, folks.  Right in the middle of the row."

By now, two-thirds of the row were in their seats.  Ass-crotch, ass-crotch, ass-crotch all the way to the center.

After the event, we drove downtown to drink beer and play darts.  It was very late when I got home. 

Handclaps and La Las

On Wednesday, we saw Hospitality in concert at Crescent Ballroom. 

In a word? Magnificent.

The last time I saw a show, we were running a little late and arrived shortly after the music began.  As it happened, Hospitality didn't start rocking the joint until 10.

I wasn't thrilled with the opening acts.  Both were fine, but the first one didn't seem too far removed from their last coffeehouse gig and the frontwoman for the other band wasn't happy with the sound.  I'm sure she was frustrated, but there was a lot of eye-rolling and what the fuck? and despite the swirling keyboards and the Velvet Underground influence I was happy when they said, "this next song is our last one."

We drank pear cider and convinced Michelle to stay for the show rather than walk down 2nd Ave. and fetch her car.  She'd told us she was leaving no later than 9:30 and she was worried about getting a ticket, since she'd parked in an unfamiliar garage.

Hospitality played most, if not all, the songs from their debut album, plus a couple of new ones.  The musicians were tight and everyone sounded great. 

About halfway through the show, I thought I saw Vincent Gallo to the right of the stage.  I leaned over and shouted in Michelle's ear. 
"Do you know who Vincent Gallo is?"  She shouted back, "Is that the guy from The Matrix?"  I leaned over and shouted in Corey's ear.  "Do you know what Vincent Gallo looks like?"  She nodded and smiled and said, "I think that's him up by the stage."

After the show, we walked Michelle back to where she parked her car.  No ticket, no towing. 

We were all tired the next day.

Middle of the Row

We saw Argo last week and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. 

It's a real accomplishment for Ben Affleck, who did a fine job with Gone Baby Gone(2007) and earned well-deserved raves for The Town(2010).

Any director who can wring moments of genuine suspense from a dramatized story the audience is already familiar with has my total respect.  I know the hostages make it out alive, but that didn't stop my heart from beating faster during the airport interrogation scenes.   

When the Oscar nominations are announced, I imagine Affleck will hear his name a couple of times.  Still, I don't think Argo is a better movie than The Master or Moonrise Kingdom or even FrankenweenieArgo is entertaining and well-crafted and totally worth your time, but I can't honestly say it's one for the ages.  It's good, it's great, I'm glad I saw it.  But it just didn't feel like high art to me.

To which Alan Arkin would surely say, "Argo fuck yourself."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Container for the Thing Contained

How is it we haven't talked about this yet?

"Dance Party" Record Case (Capitol, 1961)
I found this in a thrift store twenty years ago. It's currently crammed with 45s, including my signed Joe Strummer picture disc, "Kinky Boots" by Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman, and assorted singles from Elvis Costello, The Clash, Tom Waits, Harry Belafonte, Stan Getz, XTC, etc.
Normally, I'm a stickler for buying things in perfect condition, but the brown crayon on this case only makes me love it more. 
And the dancing figures remind me of Jay Ward cartoons:
The box also contains some stray ephemera: old postcards, a few pieces of artwork from my children, a couple of old business cards.
And this:
Birthday wishes from "Sheriff" John Rovick, who hosted a cartoon show (Sheriff John's Lunch Brigade) for kids from 1952-1970 on L.A.'s KTTV.  If you tuned in on your birthday, he'd read your name and sing "The Birthday Cake Polka." 
And then there's this, stolen right off the table from Bob's Big Boy:
Maybe I hold onto things for too long.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

45 RPM

"My Ever Changing Moods b/w Mick's Company"

I spent most of the day cleaning the house, and about an hour looking for a couple of Michael Ondaatje books I want to get signed.  I already have a whole box going, but somewhere I have a British first edition of The English Patient, an extra In the Skin of a Lion, and a perfectly nice ex-library copy of There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do. 
Have I explained before how my house is basically four bedrooms filled with books and bookcases, including a library that is crowded with boxes that go all the way to the ceiling? 
I suppose there's a chance they might be in the garage, but what are they doing there?  The garage is the last place they should be, however unlikely it seemed I would ever cross paths with Ondaatje.  You know what belongs in the garage?  Books by dead people.  Lesser, uninteresting books.  Nothing by Ondaatje. 
I have a couple of weeks to figure this out, but I'm done hunting today.  I have a book to finish reading and a book review to write and the pork tenderloin I bought this afternoon isn't going to cook itself. 
But let's pause for a moment and talk about The Style Council.
Remember how upset you were when Paul Weller disbanded The Jam at the height of their power?  Split up the very best English punk group to never catch fire in the U.S. in order to focus on funk and soul and r&b?  I'm not knocking "Town Called Malice," I'm just saying there were so many great Jam songs that never charted over here.  Positively criminal.   
Tammy was in my high school Spanish class.  She loved The Style Council. 
She invited me to a party at her house, but it was really just her friend Wendy and my friend Ben and a bag of tortilla chips.  We drank a few beers at her kitchen table and she told me Jenny said I wasn't a good kisser and I said, "well, there's only one way to find out."  And then we kissed in her bedroom for probably the next three hours and we only took a break when the radio played her request for The Syle Council's "Long Hot Summer." 
There are two versions of "My Ever Changing Moods."  The album cut from The Style Council's U.K. debut--Café Bleu--is a slow piano number that is positively dull compared to the 12" version with drums and horns.  That's the hit version, the one I fell in love with, the one that was included on the U.S. version of the album (renamed My Ever Changing Moods to capitalize on the success of the single which went all the way to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100).
I was so enthusiastic about the song that I tried to get my dad to listen to it.  We were driving home from South Coast Plaza and I stuck the cassette into his car stereo.  My dad, who taught me to love jazz and folk and Creedence Clearwater Revival, did not appreciate the infectious groove.  He did not enjoy Paul Weller's singing voice or lyrics.  Worst of all, he was not moved to play air drums during the entire song.  He was driving, yes, but there were plenty of stop signs and red lights.   
He let me play it a second time, but I could tell he wasn't enjoying himself as much as I was. 
I hung out with Tammy for most of the summer before college.  We listened to a lot of music, mostly The Style Council and The Smiths and The Clash.  I haven't talked to her in 27 years, but I think about her every time I hear this song.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Middle of the Row

I saw Frankenweenie on Sunday night. 

There was a time in my life (1985-99) when a new Tim Burton film was an event, something to be admired, a sure-fire Friday night plan.  And then came the unfortunate Planet of the Apes remake and a lukewarm Big Fish (which for all I know is perfectly good, I remember almost nothing about it) and then four more films I haven't even seen except for Sweeney Todd which I thought was pretty entertaining. 

Which brings us back to Frankenweenie.  I remember the live-action short, but this story was meant to be animated (re-animated?) and the full-length version is superior in every way.  It's funny, it's tender, it has a big, socko finish.

This is how good I thought it was:  I didn't even finish my bag of popcorn.

But that's not all. 

I saw a woman in a green sundress.

I know it's October everywhere, but it's still summer in the desert.  There's a cooling trend coming at the end of this week, but it was still ninety degrees on Sunday.  Sundress weather, maybe the last weekend of it.

This woman with the green sundress had short hair and she was standing in front of me, so there was neck, there was back, there were shoulder blades. 

I was reminded of that scene in Citizen Kane, the moment where Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) tells the story of the woman with the parasol:
A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry.  And as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.
White dress and parasol, green sundress--it makes no difference.  I saw some skin on Sunday that reminded me of necks I've kissed, backs I've rubbed, shoulders I've placed my head on.  Familiar, but different.  Close, yet distant. 
In another week or two, all the sundresses will be hung in closets or stowed in drawers, replaced by sweaters and scarves and coats. 
A month from now, when it's cold and rainy and chilly and damp, let's see which memory is stronger: Frankenweenie, or the girl in the green sundress.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

OOPs (Out-of-Print)

Today was my first scouting day in almost two weeks.  I have a regular routine, a handful of spots I typically browse once a week.  Some visits take fifteen minutes, some take two hours.  Work has been busy and I've had other distractions (friends to see, new bars to try) and so I've had no new books or movies or music to report. 

Today was a relatively quick trip, but I did add my 26th out-of-print Criterion to the collection:  Bruce Robinson's Withnail and I (1986).  It's playing as I type this, and everything that comes out of Richard E. Grant's mouth makes me laugh. 

My credit also paid for a couple of Humphrey Bogart Blu-rays: The African Queen and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  I've seen the latter many times, but this will be my maiden voyage with the former.  I suppose I can always trade it back, but I'm anxious to see Jack Cardiff's camerawork in 1080p. 

And then there's this odd little number: William Steig's Persistent Faces (1945).

Long before Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto and Shrek, Steig was a prolific New Yorker illustrator-cartoonist. 

Steig's early collections (About People, The Lonely Ones, All Embarrassed) are long on pictures and short on words. According to the dustjacket, the quirky visages in Persistent Faces "appear often enough in life to persist as images in memory." 

I grew up on Steig's abstractions (my father was a huge fan), but I admit they're not for everyone. 

Needless to say, this book smells superb.

By the way . . .

Is it just me, or does "Intellectual's Woman" look an awful lot like Shirley Jackson?   Of course, the dates are all wrong: Jackson didn't publish "The Lottery" in The New Yorker until 1948, three years after Persistent Faces.

On the other hand, Jackson went to Syracuse University.  What are the chances Steig glimpsed Jackson and her future husband Stanley Edgar Hyman at the park or on the bus and decided to immortalize her with a quick sketch?

Is that so hard to believe?  Is it?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Porcine and Not Heard

I am drunk on Texas barbecue, if that's possible.

It was Tony's birthday last week, but nobody made a big deal about it because he didn't tell anybody it was his birthday.

We'd previously made plans to
try this barbecue joint on Broadway and 24th St. and he'd cancelled twice for various reasons. 

I told him we should go and he nodded and said "Tuesday."

We left work at 4:30 because the barbecue place closes at 7 p.m. and Tony was nervous they'd run out of food.  And he wasn't wrong because by the time we showed up they were already out of pork loin and by the time we left they were also out of jalapeno sausage links and ribs.

Tony's a good eater.  I stopped to get cash ahead of time because they don't take credit cards and I skipped lunch in order to get my money's worth. 

I checked out the website and read some online reviews, but as soon as we stepped inside my pre-game plan went completely out of my head.  They sell all their meat by the pound, and in my mind I was going to get some brisket and a hot link and call it a day.  The cashier asked if we'd been in before and we both shook our heads.  It was the right thing to do, because she gave us a sample of the brisket and the creamed corn and a taste of the smoked turkey.

In the end, we split the $25 sampler platter: brisket, chicken, turkey, pulled pork, jalapeno sausage, and two sides.  We had 'em throw in a couple of ribs, too.  Tony wanted to know the most popular side and the cashier said it was the creamed corn.  I had no interest in eating half a pint of creamed corn, but told Tony he should get it if he wanted it.  I asked for the cole slaw, which I need to soak up the excess barbecue sauce I invariably pour over my plate.  Tony opted for the beans. 

The sampler is supposed to feed 3-4 people, but I guess it's good the other two people never showed up, 'cause there was nothing left when we were done.

The sausage was fine, but it wasn't bursting with jalapenos and the casing didn't exactly pop.  The rib was just okay.  The brisket was good, but not as moist as the chicken which was a little bland compared to the excellent turkey.  I don't remember the pulled pork at all.

I'm not a bean guy, but I'll be damned if I didn't eat half a pint of those goddamn beans.  They were saucy and they had a kick and probably a full calendar year's worth of flatulence.  I told Tony I was only going to have a spoonful, but quickly reversed myself and ended up eating more beans than I care to remember.  Somtimes, living alone is a blessing.

Do the Germans have a word for expressing both pride and disgust when overeating?  If they don't, they should.  

Get on it, Germans! 

Middle of the Row

I saw The Master again last night, this time with Corey and Michelle. 

It is impossible to watch this movie and not be struck by the sheer physicality of Joaquin Phoenix.  It's an amazing performance, funny and brave, complicated and award-worthy.  You can't take your eyes off the guy, and you'd be wise not to.     

Philip Seymour Hoffman is outstanding as always in a less showy role, but The Master requires every bit of his enormous presence. There are plenty of opportunities for Hoffman to chew the scenery, and he doesn't waste any of them.

Phoenix and Hoffman need each other in The Master.  The characters need each other, the actors need each other.  And little Amy Adams, so prim and proper, wields so much power in this movie. 

It's breathtaking, all of it.
 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The movie was at 6:15, and I got to the theater at 5:45.  If you look closely at the stub, you'll see I paid $7 for a student ticket instead of $9.50.  The guy in front of me told the cashier he was an ASU student, but didn't have his i.d. card.  The cashier shrugged and said "you'll have to pay full price." 

I used to work at the university, and even though my i.d. says "staff" it looks identical to a student i.d.  As I dug in my wallet for my money, I must have accidentally pulled out my staff card and laid it on the counter. 

The cashier caught a glimpse of maroon and gold, grunted, gave me the student price. 

I did not bother to correct him.