Thursday, June 30, 2005

I got a little list...

The Set-Up: This 44 year old male was young enough back in the day to savor hours and hours of television before the days of the Infomercial on commercial television, and the antique road shows of public television. In the days of the the 70's, WGN in Chicago ran streams of 1930's, 1940's black and white movies from Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia, and Universal; while WTTW the public station ran a foreign film every night. So my cinematic references became Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, Leo McCarey, the earlier David Lean, George to see Michael Powell too, Fellini, Bergman as well.

The American Film Institute has released lists on Best Films. Best Love Stories, Best Comedies, Best Songs, Best Lines of Dialogue...all set at 100. I am trying to compose a list of 100 best pieces of shtick - hoary old sight gags that never seem to pale, when performed by a deft comedian. Strictly, from a Yiddish word meaning piece of a whole as in a crust of bread--the little gag implies something greater about the character, I suppose.

Does anyone wish to contribute? Here is my preliminary shtick list:

  1. Falling on your backside
  2. Two people trying to squeeze through the same door at the same time
  3. Pie in the Face
  4. Answering the door, seeing who it is, and slamming the door shut in the face as they begin their greeting
  6. Man trying to retrieve vital object from a woman' cleavage
  7. Inept man trying to change a baby diaper
  8. Mistaken identity greeting

I'll need to go through my favorite DVDs on this...I'm surprised how I built up a strong Howard Hawks "boring old black and white movies" as my family opines. Going over this list, I note how much funnier they are when the social setting is higher. The tonier the country club, the more elite the characters, the bigger the laugh.

Thursday, June 23, 2005



From the Latin, paganus, a country dweller. American Heritage defines this as one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. A seemingly inadequate definition, at first sight.

Jim: Huck? What's a Muslim?

Huck: (after thinking a while) A Muslims someone who ain't a Presbyterian.

True, on the surface, but inadequate. This is another word we use that is akin to some vaguely familiar object found at a yard sale, rusted and dusty, yet for all that servicable if one takes the time to dust it off and give it a pit of polish. Connecting with the old gods may have its uses if authenticity plays into the adventure. Overweight dental hygenists leaping barefoot around the maypole to the tunes of Lilith Fair may not be exactly what the genuine pagans had in mind. There's something to be said for the dedication of the pagan who cares enough about their faith to work a curse on their enemy. Anyway, the word is not to be confused with infidel, one who doesn't believe at all in anything, or apostate, one who abandons the faith of their fathers for an alien belief (like the editors of the Gospels).

Sadly, we live in a world which demonstates Lenny Bruce's observation that there are no hicks in America anymore. Most of cutting-edge Christianity is prosperity-obsessed paganry celebrating getting and spending; under grace is now a koan one iterates after some financial felony. One might as well be pagan as this type of Christain, connecting to Thor, or Mercury, or Chalchiuhtlicue.

I will amend this later....the thrid cup of coffee has not kicked in yet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Retire this phrase

If you worked at Arby's, and accidentally dropped your hairnet in the Curly Fries, then served it up, you would get fired. But once you make (as opposed to earn) over $200,000 a year, you enter the world of the "mistakes were made" club. This is a term used in places of power like Washington, in cases where the entire management team demonstrated they had not a clue to what they were doing, nor cared about the consquences, intended or unintended, of their actions or lack of actions. After a blue ribbon fact-finding committee (which is formed to delay and obfuscurate) does its work, shuffling around the evidence, the chief declares mistakes were made, and I take on the responsibility. This means that no one responsible will be held to account, and all involved will get glowing letters in their personnel files, and maybe even a pretty ribbon to wear when they retire. Then all involved go off to high-paid jobs in what is called lobbying, what we would call bribery. MWM is usually followed by the phrase and now it is time to move on..., meaning we can do whatever we want anytime we want and what are you gonna do about it? And by the time of the finding of the committee, the original crime has become an old news story, the dreaded bugbear of our Media. The wounded staggering gnu throws off the scent of being an old news story, and the jackals call off the hunt.

Lo and behold, there is a website that vents this pet peeve of mine....

By the by, those of use that earn around $40,000 or less have a different word for mistakes. In our class they are called felonies.


  1. SUV size to job tasks ratio
  2. Full professional sports regalia worn outside the context of pajamas in public by males over the age of twelve
  3. Stop sign-Yield Sign-Merge Sign Inflation/confusion
  4. RAP
  5. All You Can Eat Buffets
  6. Answering Machine messages that last longer than the director's cut of Heaven's Gate
  7. Rebates
  8. Non-apologetic apologies
  9. Tattoos implying "I'm a hard-ass not to be messed with" worn by actuaries afraid to talk back to their wives
  10. Cell phone etiquette

Monday, June 20, 2005


I haven't posted a thought in a long time, so to atone for a stream of diatribes and pet peeves, I'll offfer two examples of good wriitng:

In its normal state his face never looked especially gentle or composed; at this moment it looked like it was about to explode right out from between his shoulders with excitement, urgency, whatever it was, jumping on across the office toward the desk and already hollering at Father: "Look out, Mr. Maury, get out of the way," reaching, lunging across Father toward the lower drawer where the livery-stable pistol lived; I couldn't tell whether it was Boon lunging for the drawer who knocked back the chair (it was a swivel chair on casters) back or whether it was Father who flung the chair back to make himself room to kick at Boone's reaching hand, the neat stacks of coins scattering in all directions across the desk and Father hollering too now, still stomping either at the drawer or Boon's hand or maybe both:

Of course, this is Faulkner, what would be called minor Faulkner (saying minor Faulkner is akin to stating Tiger Woods on an off-day), but look at the word lived.
Now a merely literate writer would have used the word lay, while a semi-talented writer might have ventured the word slept. Faulkner could have tried breathed, but being Faulkner he wrote lived. Brilliant.

Remember, this high school drop-out, who sleepily attended one semester at a barely credited state university, decided in his mid-teens to become a great writer, and let no demands of family or community stand in his way towards this quest. Successfully Quixotic if you need a description. Imagine what would have happened if academia got a hold of him.

Example number two:

There were older men who did not sit on the stoop out front until they spread their handkerchiefs carefully on the gray stone.

Wow!!! That's DeLillo, folks. Shades of Hemingway, adumbrating Cormac McCarthy. Look at those words parcelled out, like a greengrocer laying out his wares in his bins facing the sidewalk in a display that makes you pause and consider. You read something like this once, move on a bit, then unwittingly turn around and go back to the sentence.

A good rule of thumb is do you find yourself reading the book aloud, unknowingly, yet with delight. Faullkner has that. Melville. Robert Stone. Walker Percy. Cormac McCarthy, yes. DeLillo. Patches of Tom Wolfe. I read somewhere that reading to yourself silently is a recent Western tradition, that libraries of the classic world were buzzing hives of susperation. If anyone can verify this it will be appreciated.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Liberal - Progressive

Hand it to the Republicans, they do possess the talent for turning positive words into pejoratives. Hence the good word liberal, which describes a reasoning mind not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Generosity of intellect is implied in the word. The defiling of the word is abetted by those who chose to call themselves progressive, which is merely someone who has benefitted from liberal victories, and then gets styled out, upgraded, with a manicure and a smoking jacket, to affect being above it all. Progressives are at heart infidels, people without faith, ready to jump deftly off ship to a safer berth when the waters move form halcyon to choppy. Additionally, the progressive is the consumate non-performer. How many years has the DLC told us to just keep our mouths shut as they led us to the Promised Land? They demand the five star rating from the Michelin Guide for doling out nothing more than their one constant dish of watery gruel.

P is for Propoganda


Again, a useful word if used in the right context. Strictly, it has its roots in the Catholic Church, in its day the only true mulit-national corporation, run in its heydey by today's equivalent of MBAs. Literally, its an organized campaign in behalf of a cherished belief, the purpose is to share this belief with others. There just might be a better toothpaste; the fact that the corporation uses propaganda to flog the useful gunk does not detract from its utility. A craft not to be disdained, only mastered.