City Arts & Lectures

If you’re based here or near this fantastic City of ours, City Arts & Lectures has unveiled a dynamite lineup for the rest of this year. On September 2, Fresh Air host Terry Gross will be in town, though sadly without Gene Simmons.

On October 1, there will be Larry David.

On October 1, one of my favorite California writers, T.C. Boyle, will be here to plug The Inner Circle, his bio-fiction involving Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

On October 11, Joyce Carol Oates will be here to talk about the sixteen books she’s published this year. She may even write on stage.

Stephen Elliott, fresh off of his Elegant Variation fame, will be talking with Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan on October 12.

Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner will be in town on October 18. Then there’s Cynthia Ozick on October 26 and Shelley Berman on October 28.

Daniel Handler will be talking with Jonathan Lethem on November 8.

I’m particularly excited about historian Joseph Ellis, whose American Sphinx is a must-read for anyone coping with presidential legacy in our decidedly unpresidential age, on November 10. He’ll be plugging His Excellency, his new bio on George Washington.

Robert Hass will be here to talk with Paul Muldoon and Kay Ryan on November 15.

The eminent scientist Richard Dawkins will be here on November 16.

Dave Eggers will talk with Roddy Doyle, presumably about how overrated Joyce is, on November 17.

The big white-suited man himself, Tom Wolfe, will be here with his latest bigass novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, on November 18.

Local playwright/monologuist Josh Kornbluth is locked in for November 30.

And on December 6, Vendela Vida, Andrew Sean Greer and ZZ Packer are lined up for a three-way discussion.

This is one of the best line-ups I’ve seen from City Arts & Lectures in years. Rest assured, it’s likely that these good folks will be taking most of my money.

May-December + Viagra = Creepy Vicarious Novels

I’m not sure how I missed this when it appeared in the Times, but Rick Marin attempted to examine (in part) the effects of Viagra upon literature. Now that so many septuagenarians are potent, books like Kingsley Amis’s Jake’s Thing, with impotent protagonists, appear dated. But to my immense astonishment, no serious paper or article seems to exist on this timely subject. If older men are to be permitted their older protagonists sleeping around with younger women, then the time has come to call upon novelists relying upon Viagra as a gimmick (and, yes, that includes you, Philip Roth!). Or better yet, ladies, why not counter with more Jane Juska-style tomes?

Will Gormenghast Be Next?

After being sculpted for The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand is being turned into Narnia for the upcoming film adaptations. Reports are now circulating that New Zealanders are undergoing permanent cosmetic surgery to turn themselves into orcs, elves, fairies, and dwarfs to get work on the steady influx of fantasy film adaptations.

Low SAT Scores — Rallying Point for Underachievers

Sample SAT scores from the elite:

The Rev. Bob Edgar: 730 (out of 1600)
Drea de Matteo: 800 (for the whole test)
Paul Wellstone: Well below 900
Career Center Specialist Robin Roth: 950
Amy Tan: Somewhere below 1,200
George W. Bush: 1,206
Al Gore: 1,355
Bill Bradley: 485 on verbal, and who knows on math?

As for me, well, the one time I took the SAT (the one time I could afford it, because as a teenager, I had to pay for it out of my own pocket), I figured back then I didn’t do very well. But at least I scored higher than George Bush and Amy Tan. What’s interesting, however, is that I did so-so on the verbal, but aced the math.

The Next Ford Story Will Feature Spitting, A Baseball Bat, and a Catherine Wheel

Birnbaum talks with James Wood and Wood offers possibly one of the most astute explanations for why Richard Ford’s short stories pale in comparison with his novels: “I found too often that Ford relies on a moment of male violence to create the form to his stories, to close them off. Somebody hitting somebody. The last one that was in the New Yorker, somebody driving their car over aI suppose the Chekhovian ideal, its not quite that nothing should happen in a story because actually Chekhovs stories are full of deaths and births and all sorts of tragedies. Ill put it this way: When Virginia Woolf read Chekhov she said something like, ‘The emphasis falls on such unexpected places so that you hardly realize that it is an emphasis at all.’ And thats what I very much love about Chekhov is this extraordinary subtlety and unpredictability. That the sentimental moment [pauses] is always avoided, just at the last second. So I find in Fords stories the emphasis falls too sharply and obviously, often on violence. But he is a fine writer, there is no doubt about that.”

There He Is, Mrs. America

A Special Slate Diary by Chewbacca
Translated from the Wookie Language

chewie.jpgFor 28 years the judges in the Mrs. America Paegant have awarded a tiara to strange attractive humans who happen to speak English. I’ve never understood this. I understand Han Solo’s endless kvetching, even when he calls me a fuzzball, but not this obsession with hairless beauty. But what the hell, I like to laugh from time to time. Although I am not the hairiest Wookie on my block, I am married and I am a Wookie. So I decided to experience what it’s like to enter a beauty paegant that I had no shot at winning.

“Let the Wookie win,” they say. I suppose it’s because I’ve been around for about two hundred years. You might say I’ve picked up a few things. How to flatten an Imperial soldier, how to roar in a way that’s aggressive yet somewhat endearing. The advice that immediately applies here, particularly to holographic chess, and which might give me a leg up in this paegant is that, if you pull the other contestant’s arms out, then you have a better chance of winning.

But when I filled out the Mrs. America online application, which asked for my name, address, amount of hair on my body, I let out a roar and smashed the computer monitor.

I was almost certain to lose. For one thing, I’d probably be a lot taller than the other contestants. For another, well, with all this hair on my body, it was a bit difficult to go drag.

I decided to give the Mrs. America Paegant people a call.

“Rwarrrrrrr,” I asked in a gentle voice.


“Rawwwrrrrrrrooooooorrarr,” I continued.

“Who is this? What’s your operating number?”

“Rawwwwwwwwrrrorororororrrorrrawwwrrr,” I said in my sweetest voice.

Then there was a click and the line went dead.

It’s not wise to upset a Wookie.

(Thanks to Jimmy Beck for the lead.)

El Presidente

If this transparentmove doesn’t piss you off, then ask yourself how much liberty you’re willing to give up. We had elections in November 1864 during the Civil War, in November 1918 during World War I, and in November 1944 during World War II. This “war,” or whatever you want to call it, should be no different.

Serialized Novels

Maud notes that The Great Gatsby is being serialized in the New York Times. As a Fitzgerald fan, I commend this decision and recommend that it be read concurrently with Get Out, You Damned, Saddam Hussein’s fourth novel, now being serialized in Asharq al-Awsat, a London-based Arab newspaper. An Iraqi critic, Ali Abdel-Amir, notes that Saddam “was completely out of touch with actual reality, and novel writing gave him the chance to live in delusions.”

Chip McGrath Learns About Comics

Dear Times Readers:

No doubt you are ossified and almost dead. You drink your Sunday morning coffee and it gives you, mayhaps, a few extra years of invigoration. Allow me, Chip McGrath, former editor of the New York Times Book Review and thus arbiter of some lasting quality, to inform you about this fascinating new technology called the graphic novel. That Nick Hornby kid wasn’t available. So I thought I’d take a stab at this comics thing myself. Oh, sure, you might be thinking that the funnies is kid stuff. But no! These funny pages now appear in The New Yorker! They even win prestigious prizes! It’s the latest rage. In fact, it’s drawn and authored with rage!

mcgrathcomix1.jpgAnd, no, we’re not talking Garfield either, although I must confess that I chuckle from time to time over that pesky feline’s antics. And I’m sure you do too. When will he ever get his lasagna? Ha ha ha!

As I learned yesterday, there are actual books which feature comic stories. And not just Spider-Man, but genuine autobiographical stories. I’m so excited that I’m going to have two bowls of oatmeal for breakfast, not one!

Now you can trust your Uncle Chip when he says that this stuff might be literary and might actually replace fiction altogether. Save for that dirty man Alan Moore, who apparently specializes in nothing but pornography. After all, a tale about a randy Dorothy Gale can’t have any redeeming qualities now, can it?

mcgrathcomix2.jpgThese graphic novel thingies can now actually be purchased in bookstores. I was at the Barnes & Noble the other day and was shocked, shocked I tell you, to see some nifty little book called Persepolis in the Customer Favorites section. Well, I said to myself, I guess these things are selling. So why not write an article about these suckers?

The good news is that the people who write these graphic novels are, for the most part, friendly. When I asked Daniel Clowes if he had any specific titles of his that I could plug in my profile, he came very close to biting me before deciding that the silly nature of my article was just too good to pass up.

Believe it or not, there are also chicks who draw comics too! Let me pull out McSweeney’s 13 and count the names. Yes, yes, I see. Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Debbie Dreschler

Granted, I’m a bit new to the form myself. But I must say that I’m impressed and I think that if you open your minds a little bit, you’ll find yourself as darn smitten by these cute little graphic novels as I was. Aren’t they adorable? Why, those little mice in Maus are almost as cute as Garfield!


Our voicemail is clogged with the exciting entreaties of actors. We’re catching up on email (sort of). And we’re trying to meet three deadlines this weekend. So rather than remain terse and uninteresting, we direct you to the usual crowd.

I’m looking into my magic mirror and I see Maud, I see Carrie, I see Rake and Mark. I see Nathalie. I see Sarah and Jessa. I see Lizzie and Jimmy. I see…

(Miss Nancy, you heartless bitch! I’ve been waiting for you to call my name for months!)

SOUND: .357 fired into plasma tube by youngster with exotic name.

Oh, just check out everyone on the left. They’re all good.

Be back on Monday.

Wrestling Auditions

This may be the last Wrestling an Alligator post on this blog, before all such play-related info shifts onto the play-related site. But if you’re interested in auditioning, here’s the ad currently making the Bay Area theatre rounds. Get back to me if you’re interested.

We’re looking for a few good actors.

Stubble Magic is proud to announce that it is casting for an exciting theatrical production for the San Francisco Fringe Festival. The play, a debut effort written and directed by Edward Champion, is farcical in nature. It concerns a business meeting between a ruthless middle-management man and a principled businesswoman. The play is sixty rollicking minutes without a single scene change. We have unexpected plot twists, legal maneuvering, wordplay, oblique references to geopolitical conditions and celebrated literary figures, bizarre psychiatric tests, and even a flickering fluorescent light. While we hope to maintain a fun and fruitful atmosphere that is creatively stimulating and sexy on some modest level, rest assured that you will be challenged.

Auditions are scheduled for July 17 and July 18, 2004 at Shotwell Studios, located at 3252 19th Street, contrary to another misspelled ad making the rounds.

While these auditions are open, it is recommended that you contact us for an appointment slot, as we will be prioritizing appointment-based auditions.

The roles are as follows:

THE BUSINESSMAN: Male, 30-40, hot-tempered and Machiavellian middle-management type, though somewhat dim.

JENKINS: Female, 25-35, assistant to THE BUSINESSMAN. Constantly mishears and misassociates, though secretly in control of her boss’s affairs. Role requires strong comic timing and physical comedy.

TARROW: Female, 35-45, solid businesswoman, professional and grounded, independent, provider. The “white knight” of the play. Subtlety in perceiving surroundings a plus.

THE TEMP: Male, 20-25. Lazy, relentlessly dreamy, though not without hidden agenda. Some physical comedy required.

To schedule an appointment, please contact Edward Champion by email at Please specify which part(s) you’re interested in and what time frames are good for you for an appointment. We will contact you with an audition time and answer any additional questions you might have.

We’re asking all actors to prepare a one-minute monologue and cold read.

Please note that this is a non-AEA production.

If you would like to read an excerpt, then please feel free to visit our site:

We are somewhat flexible to your schedule. However, we will require a pretty vigorous commitment through August. Rehearsals will occur in San Francisco during weeknights and some weekends, with the level of involvement escalating near the end of August and the beginning of September. Show dates are the weekends of September 10 and the 17th. There are four shows in all. We will also need you to be available during Labor Day Weekend.

Again, if you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact us. As you may have gathered while reading this, we can be pretty thorough with our answers.

Less Than Zero-Speak Permeates Palahniuk Interview

Like, there’s this interview with Chuck Palahniuk, published on, what was it?

“July 7, 2004.”

Thank you, man. If it wasn’t for my steady consciousness, I’d have to look it up on the Internet.

“You were looking it up on the Internet.”

Whatever, man. You’re a fucking genius.

“Yeah, I received rejections from The Stranger in Seattle. Way back.”

Here we go. Oh, OK, I remember that.




That’s probably why we couldn’t remember.

“What were we talking about?”

I’m like, the next Birnbaum, dude.

“No, Sarvas is.”


Justin Cowers from Robbie

Teenagers let out a collective cry this morning as Justin Timberlake switched the release date of his autobiography, so as not to compete with Robbie Williams. Whether Mr. Timberlake promises confessions as grand as Rosseau or Cellini, I am not to judge. My own uneducated opinion on the matter is that, if I had to choose, Williams might be the better bet here. At least he can hold his water.