The Been Caught Stealin’ Wi-Fi Roundup

Amateur Hour at Studio 360

Kurt Andersen has offered the uncut version of his conversation with Harlan Ellison. But what is particularly astonishing is just how much of an ignoramus Andersen comes across as. He constantly interrupts Ellison. At around the 26:30 mark, Andersen cannot get Dreams with Sharp Teeth director Erik Nelson’s name right and must utter the intro again. An embarrassing suggestion that Ellison wrote “Paladin of the Lost Hour” for the original Twilight Zone is there. In short, Studio 360 is a program that is made almost entirely in the editing room and certainly not from the conversation itself. And if this uncut interview serves as a representative rough version of what the editors have to play with, then I wonder just how much Andersen is relying on his editors to salvage the show and make it sound “professional.”

For the record, while there is some editing on The Bat Segundo Show (mostly to boost levels, remove coughs and popped plosives, make people sound a bit sexier, and the like), what you hear on these shows is 98% of the conversation. If I make a referential mistake, I leave it in. If there’s a strange tangent, I leave it in. If a guest and I get kicked out or something strange happens because of a third party, I leave it in. But I compensate for these fallacies by actually knowing the material: reading the book in full, wading through other interviews to ensure that I don’t ask the same questions, making sure I pronounce the author’s name, the book’s title, and the book’s characters correctly (although there have been a few minor slip-ups; nobody’s perfect). I’m determined to get as much of this right in my conversation because it means less editing time for me. And I only have so much time to commit. Perhaps this “one take” sensibility comes from my theatrical background. But apparently Andersen (or his writers) cannot do this.

Just think of all the man-hours that have been expended towards correct Andersen’s mistakes. Consider the labor costs that might have been avoided had Andersen actually bothered to pay attention to his goddam subject.

But what do I know? I’m just some hapless podcaster.

(Incidentally, at the 30 minute mark, it’s also quite funny to hear Harlan Ellison skewer Andersen’s stereotypical remarks about Los Angeles.)

Adieu Apartment

And so we come to the final blog post I shall write in this apartment. As others nimbly perambulate through airport security gates, their rucksacks and tote bags brimming with books to read on the six hour flight to Los Angeles for the annual cacophony to score galleys and gratis cocktails, I shall be driving a van in New York, negotiating the BQE and doing my best to remember that you can’t make a right turn on red. The desk is half-disassembled. Twenty boxes of stuff reside in the other room. You can wander through the apartment and experience a slight reverb colliding against the barren walls whenever you recite half-remembered lines from Shakespeare or sing pop song lyrics you hoped would snap and crackle out of your brain.

I read 117 books while living in this apartment, but I may be missing a few. My hairline receded quite wonderfully! I shall be a full-fledged chromedome by 35! I grew many beards. I shaved my hair off six times. I negotiated the celerity and terrain of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and offered a dear goodbye (with the promise of a return visit) to the folks at my neighborhood cafe, where I often holed up with my laptop. Last night, I purchased my last beer at the bodega run by a friendly racist. I battled cockroaches and a few mice and lived to tell the tale. I lost weight. Whether it was the walking, the frugal living, or the freelancing, I cannot say. I became more cheerful and got a little crazier. I survived the chilly winter and the humid summer. I put up 90 installments of The Bat Segundo Show. I made friends and became closer to acquaintances. I sent 10,032 emails on the main account. I banged out around 80,000 words (not counting the blog) for fictional and professional endeavors.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad run. I don’t know how much the topographical and spatial dimensions of this apartment factored into these activities. This is a strange but serviceable apartment that I hope will offer similar feats for the next tenant, whoever s/he may be.

Joseph Minion Plagiarized Joe Frank

After Hours is perhaps my favorite Scorsese film. I am also a big Joe Frank fan. So it was considerably astonishing to learn that screenwriter Joseph Minion appears to have pilfered a Frank monologue for the first 30 minutes of the film. The details are, in many cases, taken astonishingly verbatim. In a March 2000 interview, Frank was apparently “paid handsomely by producers of a Hollywood film (which he won’t name) that plagiarized his dialogue.” (via Fimoculous)

[ALSO: Minion also plagiarized “Before the Law” from Kafka’s The Castle for this scene. Kafka, however, was not in the position to settle out of court.]

Dave Sim: The Stalin of Comics

In case you haven’t heard the news, the once great Dave Sim has demanded that anyone who corresponds with him must pledge that Sim isn’t a misogynist. The whole business has erupted into a sad and terrible train wreck in which Sim has nearly alienated his friend Chester Brown and spurned long-time fans. And it’s all because Sim doesn’t appear to be acquainted with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Calling Sim a misogynist is not libelous. It is the truth. A misogynist is someone who hates women. And the man who wrote, “It wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to categorize my writing as Hate Literature against women,” in Issue #186 of Cerberus, speaking in his own voice, is most certainly a misogynist. For years and years, Sim has been spewing out this bile. And rather than take his lumps and be the man he thinks he is, he instead wants to set terms and alienate everyone in the process. These are not the actions of a civilized person.

For years, I’ve tried to overlook Sim’s hateful ramblings for the great wonders contained within the early books of Cerberus. But if Sim is going to set terms for us, I’m going to set a few terms for him. Until Sim can confess that he is the working definition of a misogynist, I will never buy another comic written or illustrated by Dave Sim or acknowledge Dave Sim in any way ever again. The great talent Dave Sim has been replaced by an atavistic creature who now calls himself “Dave Sim,” who believes himself to be some small-time Stalin and perpetuates this sad despotism as long as his delusional hubris will let him. He has now fully disappeared from my cultural radar. And it’s too damn bad. Because when he was still sane, he was an innovator.

Solving the Literary Critical Crisis

Nigel Beale points to some startlingly reactionary remarks from Salon’s “Internet Killed the Critical Star” article. Now that I’ve read this “discussion” a second time, Nigel is right. Why would anyone go to the trouble of reading a literary critic if there is “no intention of ever opening books they tout?” Is Miller really so recalcitrant a reader that she’s incapable of picking up a book that James Wood has liked and deciding for herself whether it’s any good? Is she seriously suggesting that there isn’t a single work of fiction overlapping her tastes and Wood’s tastes? This strikes me as a sad, incurious, and mononuclear existence. Perhaps Miller prefers a supplemental relationship with literature, as opposed to something that involves the book itself!

Here is my solution to the literary critical “crisis”: To ensure that those practicing literary criticism still maintain some passion for books, I think that all literary critics should be asked what they read for fun. Not a list of the greatest books. Just the last thing they read for fun. If the literary critic cannot name a single book that made them laugh, filled them with joy, or otherwise caused them to get excited over the last year, then the guilty literary critic should be banned from writing for any newspaper or periodical for a six-month period until they can truly embrace a love for literature. This should weed out the dullards and the dimwits and the humorless individuals who transform the promising pastures of literary criticism into soporific fallow.


  • First, R. McCrum was against blogs. And now he’s for them. Or was he for them before he was against them? Or was he against them before being for them before being hopelessly confused? There seems to be a common trait among those who rail against litblogs without providing sufficient examples: schizophrenia. (via Jeff)
  • It seems I’m not the only person having strange moving-related conversations. Last night, I spent fifteen minutes talking with a stray dust jacket. It did not respond back. This is most certainly a sign that I am ready to occupy the new premises.
  • Does James Bond prefer Bentleys or Aston Martins? And why are so many auto executives getting their panties in a bunch over this? We all know that Bond is promiscuous with the ladies. Why not the cars too? Hell, I’d like to read a James Bond story in which he must penetrate a muffler in order to protect national security.
  • If you thought your place was a mess, you haven’t seen Josh Freed’s apartment. Freed has made a documentary about his right to clutter, defying what he calls “the tyranny of the tidy.” Fred doesn’t appear to have heard of Langley Collyer, who experienced a more naturalistic tyranny when he was crushed by his own detritus and rats were masticating upon his body when it was discovered. (via Bibliophile Bullpen)
  • Incontrovertible evidence that book covers can be compared to a ZZ Top song. (via Booklist)
  • So Borders is now jumping back into online retailing with a vengeance. I’m sure the B&N buyout offers had nothing to do with this.
  • Hanif Kureishi has described university creative writing courses as “the new mental hospitals.” Furthermore, Kureishi doesn’t seem to understand that most American campus massacres have involved a pistol or a rifle, not a machine gun. If you’re going to be a writer, shouldn’t you at least get the details right? Unless, of course, Kureishi is listening to his dog right now and planning upon sending a letter to Jimmy Breslin. In which case, we should probably be worried. (via Bookninja)
  • In space, nobody can hear you scream. In fact, you don’t really need to. Because your jaw will be left drooping down by these amazing photos.
  • Murakami interviewed: here and here. (via Orthofer)
  • Terry Eagleton on anonymity.

RIP Sydney Pollack

I have long been baffled by the suggestion put forth by hip film folk that Tootsie is an “overrated” picture. The film may not be on the level of Some Like It Hot, but it is nonetheless the kind of elaborate comedic farce, a natural descendant of Lubitsch, that nobody makes anymore. It is funny, immensely subtle, and full of wonderful performances (well, save Jessica Lange, a one-note performance that arose from a one-note character). It is a rare film in which the side characters are just as essential as the protagonist. It offers fascinating takes on gender through physical gesture. (Just watch Dustin Hoffman’s movement as he begins inhabiting Dorothy Michaels’s mannerisms over the course of the film.) The screenplay was infamously put together at the last minute, and it could not have happened without Sydney Pollack at the helm (and Elaine May on the revisions).

Pollack is now dead. And I will forgive him somewhat for the many turkeys he helmed over the past fifteen years. He didn’t always succeed. (Random Hearts is a mangy dog, Out of Africa is an overlong bore, and the less said about his atrocious remake of Sabrina, the better.) But the man gave us Tootsie, Jeremiah Johnson, and The Electric Horseman — all intelligent and well-crafted films directed at popular audiences. He always cast a major leading man in his films, whether it was Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffmann, or Robert Redford, who could be counted upon to deliver some modest human insight for mass consumption. Today, this seems like almost a quaint notion.

He was also a fascinating, if limited actor. In addition to the agent in Tootsie, I cannot forget Pollack’s fine performance as Jack in Husbands and Wives. The scene in which Pollack tries to leave a party with Lysette Anthony is one of the most harrowing depictions of a seemingly confident middle-aged man seeing his world crumble right in front of him. We realize at that moment just how much Jack relies on others to feed his being. Pollack was the only person who could have played that scene.

I’ll miss Pollack, because I can’t think of anyone who will replace him. He wasn’t the greatest filmmaker in the world. But he stood out in large part because today’s emerging filmmakers seem more interested in spectacle over substance. I suppose this is what sells tickets. But Pollack understood that the true spectacle lies in fascinating human moments. He may have focused mostly on lighter fare. He may have made mainstream movies. But when his films delivered, it was the natural spectacle that commanded your attention.

Literary Skeleton Crew

There remain four books in the old apartment: Iain M. Banks’s Excession (which I am currently reading), Steven Gillis’s Temporary People (which I hope to get around to reading quite soon!), a galley of The Letters of Allen Ginsberg (which I hope to read after all the other books I have to read, which are now sitting in the new apartment), and my trusted Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. There are a handful of oversized volumes now in boxes, but I choose to leave these contents alone. Cardboard bottles for makeshift vintners, ready for an odor tendered by topography and not by time.

The dictionary, being a dutiful and invaluable companion, will most certainly be the last volume transported. You never know when an impulse to flip through the seven crevices might kick in. I’ll feel sufficiently settled in once dictionary and desk have migrated. They remain attached not so much at the hip, but certainly with an invisible tether. I now find myself pondering this old apartment denuded of books and remain preternaturally excited about these preternatural limitations: a veritable jig and tonic! A mere four books sitting in for a cast of thousands! A skeleton crew! I’ve opened up the Ginsberg book and located this one-paragraph letter that Ginsberg wrote to Eisenhower:

Rosenbergs are pathetic, government will sordid, execution obscene. America caught in crucifixion machine, only barbarians want them burned I say stop it before we fill our souls with death-house horror.

This was 1953. It didn’t do any good. No doubt a present Ginsberg type scribing a current message to the President along similar lines might become a “No Fly” list candidate. Unless, of course, the President has received a remarkable spate of hate mail. This remains unknown. He’s certainly not sharing with us.

Did Ginsberg have only four books to work from? Probably not. Did he consult the books he had to write this letter? Probably not. But he did read newspapers.

There remains, for the present time, an Internet connection. But Bartleby is no substitute for a good book. Control-F makes everything too easy. Better to plunge into textual anarchy and unferret some strange passage, such as the one above.

And what does Mr. Gillis give us? A random flip to page 102:

The machine was an old ink wheel mimeograph, silver-grey with a smooth metal cartridge and a round plastic bottle of blue ink loaded into the underside.

I approve of the E over the A in “grey.” I was terrified of reading beyond the word “blue,” for I had hoped that the “round plastic bottle of blue” might connote bottled water, some eccentrically designed machine. But with “ink,” this ambiguity was sullied!

The unabridged points out that the word “mimeograph” was “formerly a trademark.” One of Edison’s lost patents, now liberated into the lingua franca. Even though nobody really uses a mimeograph machine anymore. Will LaserJet suffer such a fate? Will there come a point in which nobody will really remember HP and the word “laserjet” will become released from corporate avarice? A hundred years from now, some amateur etymologist will flip through the unabridged dictionary and see “formerly a trademark” for “laserjet” (with the crude caps humbled), with the meaning somewhat transmuted and no mention of the parent company. But today, we must tread carefully. LaserJet is a registered trademark.

If America remains “caught in crucifixion machine,” then certainly there is hope within the native tongue. And would such a line of inquiry have been pursued had I been surrounded by all of my books? Perhaps there is something to be said for Spartan literary studies.

Life is an Occupation

Roger Ebert on Studs Turkel: “The lesson Studs has taught me is that your life is over when you stop living it. If you can truly ‘retire,’ you had a job, but not an occupation. Observing people like Studs and the author Paul Theroux, and the great sports writer William Nack, and directors like Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet, I have seen those whose lifelong occupations absorb them, and who are not merely maintaining, but growing. How astonishing it was to learn that Altman made great films after having a heart transplant!”


  • I’ve been reading a lot of Iain Banks of late. And I haven’t had this much fun reading in a while. Anyone who can write the sentence, “What the crushingly powerful four-limbed hug would have done to a human unprotected by a suit designed to withstand pressures comparable to those found at the bottom of an ocean probably did not bear thinking about, but then a human exposed without protection to the conditions required to support Affronter life would be dying in at least three excitingly different and painful ways anyway without having to worry about being crushed by a cage of leg-thick tentacles,” is a man after my own heart. And I’m kicking myself for not having read the Culture novels earlier, particularly after Player of Games and Excession. Lengthy ruminations on Banks will eventually follow. But in the meantime, this YouTube video of Banks showing off his study reveals him to be quite a funny man. For those who didn’t know this already.
  • The hatred towards overweight people in this post is outright sociopathic. I am appalled. What cretin could find such slurs and cheap shots funny? What atavistic mind could take pleasure in this exercise? People come together to a convention to meet others and discuss topics that they’re interested in. Images with Photoshopped frowns and hateful captions are the thanks they get? I am further appalled to discover that not a single comment has lodged a protest against these calumnies. Well, since “Zathlazip” cannot be bothered to provide her real name, I should note that investigation reveals the coward’s name to be Rachel Moss. She lives in Wisconsin, having moved out there after a stint at John Hopkins. Let that name live in infamy. (UPDATE: For those who missed out on this, I think The Angry Black Woman sums up the incident quite well. I share her explanation for why I will not remove Rachel Moss’s name and why I have little sympathy for what Rachel Moss did.)
  • Mark Sarvas scores a Seattle Times profile, which is fine and all. But where’s the talk of Harry, Revised? Where are the necessary queries into literary erections? Where are the pivotal questions about how many funerals Mr. Sarvas has been to? How frequently he has had sartorial mishaps? The spinning debacles he keeps from the public at large? This is journalism, dammit! The questions must be deployed!
  • So the insufferable Joe Queenan praises Scandinavian mystery writers. And you think to yourself that Queenan has, after a relentless torrent of grumpy and remarkably unfunny articles bemoaning everything under the sun, finally found something he likes! But then, at the end, the article drifts into an anticlimactic cynicism that cancels out the praise, leaving one to wonder what exactly Queenan’s purpose is in life. But I think I have a solution to the Queenan problem. To my knowledge, Queenan hasn’t written anything about Uwe Boll. But if someone were to whisper something into Boll’s ear about how Queenan savaged Boll in one of his pieces, Boll could then challenge Queenan to a boxing match, and Queenan could then get thoroughly trounced, and he might learn a bit of humility. Yes, it’s an unlikely scenario. Queenan learning humility, that is. But one can certainly dream.
  • Is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction washed up?
  • Shameless Words, we hardly knew ye!
  • Old news, but blogs don’t necessarily mean bestselling books.
  • Will Self has won the 2008 Wodehouse Prize for his latest novel, The Butt, which is out in the UK and hits the States on September 16. The judges showed especially good sense in having Self triumph over Garrison Keillor, a man who may be categorized as “funny” but who cannot provide sufficient evidence. In fact, social scientists have been searching for years for a sufficient exemplar — a mass audience that actually finds Keillor funny. Unfortunately, the last recorded audience who found Keillor funny (at a minimum of 60%) was in 1988.
  • Toles rips off Jaffee!

Contents of Box

  • A yellow legal-sized writing pad containing mysterious ideas and plans.
  • An issue of Mike Hampton’s Hot Zombie Chicks.
  • Minidisc case reading “Babbling — Raw #7. Also, The Babbling Project #1.” (No minidisc.)
  • Minidisc case reading “1. Babble 2 6/6/00.” (No minidisc.)
  • Mindisc (with case) reading “Babbling #8.”
  • Y adapter for telephone line.
  • Minidisc case — scratched and unmarked. (No minidisc.)
  • Floppy disk with label scratching out Intellipoint driver, reading “ME — Startup.”
  • Floppy disk (unmarked, unlabeled).
  • Various audiocassettes from November 2004 containing interviews that I conducted to research a still unfinished polyamory play.
  • Minidisc, with case reading “The Babbling Project #2.”
  • Blue Sharpie
  • Box of Bostich No. 10 1000 mini staples
  • Unlabeled green floppy disk
  • Floppy disk reading “Creative stuff began @ work I”
  • Damaged minidisc with Chet Atkins and mysterious “Test 7/21/00” label.
  • Blue Pocket Etch A Sketch
  • CD — containing driver for Olympus digital camera I no longer own.
  • Unusued Ampex magnetic tape still in shrink wrap.
  • 3M Recording Tape containing audio for uncompleted film.
  • Many business cards.
  • Many mysterious microcassettes — what’s on them?
  • An incomplete San Francisco Secondary Schools Pass.
  • A minicomic — Melina Mena’s Sour Milk Sea.
  • A 2004 monthly calendar designed by my friend Tom Working.
  • A strange package containing an adaptation cable for a video card that was fried sometime in 2005.
  • A small bottle of Advil PM. (It’s still good! The expiration date is 10/09.)
  • Many 3×5 index cards.
  • A red Bostitch mini stapler.
  • Many VHS videotapes containing (among many movies) Soapdish, episodes of the animated Star Trek series, episodes of Blake’s 7, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, episodes of Doctor Who and Monty Python, Twelve Angry Men, Sullivan’s Travels, Miracle Mile, episodes of The Simpsons, episodes of The Prisoner, Quick Change, an HBO special starring Rowan Atkinson, Suspiria, and Poison Ivy (recorded, no doubt, because of the promise of Sara Gilbert and Drew Barrymore naked).
  • A pair of red scissors.
  • A small journal I had forgotten about that contains the sentence, written in 1999, “I am slightly fearful of being laced with Judeo-Christian nonsense.”
  • A CD containing photos of a play I wrote and directed many years ago for a small venue.
  • An additional CD containing the sound cues for Wrestling an Alligator.
  • A mysterious 5 1/4″ floppy — what’s on it? how to transfer?
  • Numerous writing instruments.
  • An unopened box containing a corner brace — 1-1/2 in. x 3/4 in.
  • A student ID from 1991 in which I actually had hair.
  • A Swingline package containing 5,000 standard staples.
  • A floppy labeled, “YES! 4/97 Job Search.”
  • A floppy labeled, “Servant of Society.”
  • A receipt from Stacey’s Bookstore, dated 05/04/07, for Bleak House. (I still haven’t finished that book.)
  • The Fat Camille Omnibus 2007 by Camille Offenbach.
  • Another minicomic: Nitsy and Bitsy.
  • A CD labeled “80s MP3s.” (Shudder.)
  • An undeveloped roll of Fujicolor film from who knows when. (What pictures are on this?)
  • Julia Wertz’s I Saw You…: Missed Connection Comics #1.
  • A handout for an improv class that I took in 2005.
  • A handout from MUNI on “Ballpark Service Tickets and Fares.
  • A spare serial drive cable.
  • 2 AA batteries — still good?
  • A UHU STIC gluestick.
  • Many DV tapes — containing what?
  • Two VGA to DFI adapters.
  • Printout of Segundo scheduling spreadsheet from 2006.
  • 16mm yellow leader tape.

Most of this will probably be thrown away. But unfortunately, I’m too curious about the data that might be on some of these tapes. I’m additionally curious as to where I obtained some of this stuff. This curiosity, I suppose, is the problem with moving. When setting up in the new digs, I will likely expend a considerable amount of time trying to find a use for nearly everything on this list.

Ancient Job Evaluation Report

Employee: Ed Champion

Strong Points

  • Flexible with hours and volunteers for evening and daytime overtime when available
  • Recently demonstrated a willingness to help others in the office
  • Willing to take criticism and improve
  • Knows WP and Excel well
  • Tasks are completed timely
  • Good at staying in contact with attorneys

Points for Improvement

  • Interactions with some people are defensive and prickly; needs to work on improving working relationships
  • Pay better attention to detail, proofread work, do filing promptly
  • Prioritize and delegate when appropriate
  • Needs to focus on ______ work between 9 and 5:30
  • Interrupts without showing courtesy to those in conversation
  • Slow down and listen to instructions
  • Show initiation in taking on new assignments or projects


  • Keep work to a consistent level throughout the year
  • Improve communications skills and relationships

Overall Performance Results: Meets Expectations

These are all good points for improvement, some of them still applicable. But at the risk of coming across as “defensive and prickly,” I should observe that my “defensive and prickly” interactions largely involved one attorney who took a good deal of his time to speak to me in a condescending tone about tasks that any well-trained monkey could perform. He did this over and over because his life was miserable, and he wanted to make other lives miserable. (And he did. But he has not yet made partner.) This may likewise explain the point suggesting that I needed to “slow down and listen to instructions.”

The Summer Digitalization Project

While moving, I located an astonishing number of videotapes and audiotapes entailing both film and journalistic work that I did in the 1990s — some of which I had completely forgotten about, some of which I never got around to turning into profile pieces. Since many of these tapes are just on the cusp of deterioration, my current plan is to convert everything I can to digital. Interviews that I conducted in the ’90’s will be converted into future Segundo podcasts. And films that I made as a younger and more naive man will be converted to digital, with the edits improved, the audio remastered, and the video dropouts cleaned up. This is not a George Lucas-style revisionism. I plan to keep the same music cues (many of them are quite dated), retain the essential visual structure of these films, and avoid any AfterEffects manipulation of the visuals. But I may rerecord a few of the vocal tracks, particularly those in which the audio is somewhat muddled. And for some of the projects that I never finished, I may incorporate some newer footage to see if I can come up with some final product that is worthwhile, while attempting to adhere to the spirit in which these projects were launched.

This project will take many months. But I will offer intermittent reports on how things are progressing. I’m doing this largely because I’m dissatisfied at leaving all this work in such piss-poor shape, with much of it unfinished. I wrote a good deal of journalism during those days and much of it has now vanished. I made a number of films during those days — many of them projected on screens in San Francisco cellars for the enjoyment of many audiences — and I want to put all this in some final location. So in a sense, this preservation project will allow me to offer a better approximation of that period in my life, while likewise fueling my present energies into the future.

More as things develop.

Message Back to R. McCrum: We’ll Keep on Bloggin’

Syntax of Things: “Did I miss the seminar or not read the pamphlet that listed the qualifications of responsible book reviewing? Damn, I’ll have to Google around for it. Then again, it could be that it’s written in invisible ink on the back of the hand that feeds everyone this crap and calls it a gourmet meal. Highly responsible for what? Here at Syntax of Things, we are highly responsible and possibly, in the eyes of outgoing literary editors for major newspapers, highly contemptible for reading books published by a former quality-control manager for a car-parts manufacturer. AND ENJOYING THEM, TELLING YOU ABOUT THEM, AND BRINGING RUIN TO THE SACRED EMPIRES.”


Everybody has strange feelings in their early twenties. It’s a time in which you really don’t know a damn thing and, in trying to figure out who you are, you end up wandering down many solipsistic avenues, thinking that you’re sure one thing is going to work out and not knowing that something entirely unexpected will find you. Confused by these feelings, you think that other people (a loved one, for example) will somehow help you find your way. But the answer lies in being true to yourself so that you can embrace others. While moving this weekend, I uncovered a number of notebooks in which I had penned all sorts of naive feelings. I was 23.

February 8, 1998 — 2:36 PM

Again my practice of purchasing a new notebook with the optimistic plan of filling it up in its entirety has been carried out. I have little doubt that this won’t be accomplished. But who are we without dreams?

There’s not a lot on my mind these days but there are a whole bunch of minor tedious things there to get my goat.

1998 so far has proven to be a creative dearth for me. There seems no motivation to write and what I do churn out are bad imitations of Jim Thompson novels as well as a certain obsession with sex.

This is due to several things that my obstinacy can’t seem to get around.

1. Sexual frustration — The lack of a woman, loved one or casual tryst for almost two years.

2. My trapped existence — The stability of a job seems to have taken most of the spark out of me.

3. Servant of Society — Although I haven’t stared at it for some time, the burden of reshooting all remaining material needs to happen. Unfortunately, El Nino seems to have concluded otherwise, forcing me to postpone the reshoots to March, weather permitting.

4. My inability to live/my obsession with books and knowledge — I need to take O. Henry’s advice and meet more people, experience other existences beyond the Sunset. While I like my current circle of friends, I really need to meet more people. Yet something is stopping me. Some irrational fear of getting hurt or screwed over prevents the extrovert from appearing as often as it should

I’ve thought about moving to L.A. simply because the creative competition will get me working again. In addition, the fact that I will move to a populated area knowing nobody will force the extrovert to come out, simply as a means of survival.

I feel very ignorant in a lot of areas and I’ve been checking out a lot of non-fiction from the library. I know so little about history and science — more so than the average person but not enough to satisfy myself.

Perhaps I am my own worst enemy. The part of me that is a perfectionist, the part of me that wants to survive on my own terms — these aspects of myself both help and hinder me. Yet I don’t know whow I can work with them and around them to accomplish goals.

And speaking of goals, what exactly is my plan? I’m sort of bedazzled by the fat that I’m actually making some decent money and able to go out spending outrageous money on drinks every Friday night.

But, as to the goals that brought me to San Francisco in the first place, I don’t know where the passion is anymore. All I know is that I’m 23 and that if I don’t accomplish something by the end of this year, I’ll feel like a washed-up failure. Several blocks seemed to have been put up in place last year, and I think my priorities have changed for the worst [sic] after spending the sumer trying to survive through temp work.

But leaving Servant on hold for so long also has something to do with this, in addition to my lack of a better half to put a check on my personal security and self-esteem.

Why is failure such an obsession with me? Why do I take it so personally? I bullshit around with friends telling them that I don’t care what other people think of me, but I kinda do.

But then presumably we’re all liars, twisting the absolute in our own private ays.

A cigarette outside, and then a run-in with the orchid guy I always meet on the bus. And then for no reason at all aside from the fact that all this shit is on my mind, I lay it on him. My “struggle” to do what I want.

It’s so fucking obvious, it’s lying just around the corner — if I can survive through temp work admist the upheaval of debts and other nonsense, I can write two decent screenplays and move to L.A. I can become a writer-director. In fact, I will.

The question is the method.

There’s one other variable I wanted to mention and that’s my sister. She just caught the filmmaking bug after taking the class with Brozovich. We’ve talked about the possibility of making movies together, which is indeed quite possible. But part of me is saying that I have to do this myself. I want to work with my sister but only after I’ve proven myself on my own.

Is that selfishness? I don’t know. It isn’t ego; maybe it’s some sort of odd pride I have.

I’ve concluded that Java Beach is too crowded and too noisy. A hegira to Jamming Java, I’ve concluded, is in order.

Character Assassination

I thought Hillary Clinton’s comparison about Obama and the Bobby Kennedy assassination was very foolish and disrespectful, but this Keith Olbermann response is ridiculously histrionic. Even by Olbermann standards. If one is to impugn Hillary, and there are many good reasons to, it should be for more substantive reasons than three sentences. Or is Western culture now in the habit of taking down a public figure based on a mere snippet? An individual is more complex than a few sentences. To judge a person entirely on a sentence is just as superficial as judging a person solely by gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Perhaps a new word should be coined to reflect this bias. Speechism or something.

The New Guy at Random House

Peter Olson’s surprise resignation as CEO has caused several to wonder what effect this will have on Random House. Publishing News reports that Markus Dohle (hereinafter referred to as “The New Guy”) won’t be hindering the present autonomy and independence of the imprint. The Observer‘s Leon Neyfakh pointed out a few days ago that the key modifier used in relation to The New Guy is “entrepreneurial.” Also interesting is The New Guy’s determination to strengthen the publisher’s defenses against the “might of the retail chains.”

One detects more than the faint whiff of Sturm und Drang. But while there may be a sense of panic in the air over whether this sudden decision may involve layoffs, nobody appears to be particularly clear on what “entrepreneurial” really means. Does it mean giving the Random House imprints full autonomy provided that there are more profitable blockbusters? Does it mean shifting the emphasis away from distinguished midlist titles to a company that prizes more profitable titles?

In a New York Times article, Bertelsmann chief executive Harmut Otrowski (hereinafter referred to as “The Big Cheese”) said that The New Guy was chosen over a more traditional candidate because The Big Cheese wanted a fresh perspective. The New Guy, said The Big Cheese, “has shown he has been able to turn a mature business into a growing business.”

Did longtime editor Marty Asher, who mysteriously stepped down only days before The New Guy was given the throne, know something we don’t? Again, we have only modifiers to go by. By “growing,” does The Big Cheese mean a more unpredictable business model that will yield greater profits in uncertain economic times? In drifting away from “mature” waters, does The Big Cheese have a frenetic Neutron Jack-style backup plan in mind?

RIP Robert Aspirin

Robert Aspirin is dead. He was 61. His passing greatly saddens me. I read nearly all of the Myth Adventures books as a teenager, enjoying the way that Aspirin had transposed the Hope-Crosby Road movies over to fantasy. He wasn’t the greatest writer in the world. But I was very fond of his books, which were extremely enjoyable. As the Myth Adventures books carried on, at times, Aspirin perhaps had more characters and dimensions in his universe than he could possibly manage. But he always had a cheesy joke or a goofy situation he’d pull out of his hat. And I’ll certainly be revisiting the world of Skeeve and Aahz later in the year.


  • While I must confess that there was a minor impulse to satirize the sad, icky, and delusional article that is currently making the rounds and sullying the New York Times‘s credibility, I think I’ll simply stay silent on the matter. I urge all parties to do the same. This was a calculated and desperate effort from the Gray Lady to get you to link to the piece, comment upon the piece, eviscerate the author’s reputation, and otherwise drive traffic their way. If there’s one thing New York media welcomes, it’s this sort of hapless gossip. And rather than give this individual the attention she clearly pined for, I think I’ll take the high road here (or perhaps the middle road, since I am not quite obliquely referencing it). There are larger issues to think about: war, poverty, class and race division, rising food prices, the election — just to name a few. These are all more deserving of your attention than a young woman’s failure to understand just how hopelessly unaware she is of her own self-sabotaging impulses. (I read the article twice just to be sure. And these impulses became apparent the second time around when I realized just what was unintentionally revealed within this disastrous confessional. Some writers, I suppose, are content to pillage every inch of personal territory in order to “matter.” Not me, I assure you.)
  • Wyatt Mason has been giving good blog of late. The man has been tantalizing us with a striptease summation of the Wood-Franzen event that went down at Harvard not long ago. Part One and Part Two are now available. There are indeed considerable shortcomings in Franzen’s argument, particularly with the quotes presented in Part Two. But rather than offering my own thoughts, let’s see indeed how Mason rejoins. Tomorrow, he says, with a chance of scattered showers and G-men knocking on our doors to ask us how we spent our stimulus packages.
  • I have found myself of late RSVPing to parties and not attending. This is not a common practice of mine. And yet it has occurred. Therefore, I apologize to all those who have sent me invites and who have received such treatment from me. When one moves many books, one finds one’s self (one!) in something of a time-crunched pickle. 70% of the books have been shifted. I believe there’s now somewhere in the area of 4,000 volumes. Pickles will indeed be served on the other side. They will not be time-crunched, I think, but they will be tasty.
  • I don’t know if it’s entirely fair to use a photo as a book blurb, but it occurs to me that more folks should be photographed with shades, a wind-swept blazer, and a book in one’s left hand. Will GQ follow suit? I think not. But I’m looking at this photo and I’m thinking to myself that even I might adjust certain proclivities, if it will make such developments happen on a more regular basis. Is this Obamamania on my part? Perhaps. But you’ll never see a Hollywood actor look quite this badass. It’s all in the wrist action. It’s all in the book. (This, by contrast, is appalling.)
  • Sometimes, it takes a kilt-wearing journalist to point out that Scrabble has turned sixty. And with this, we see that even addictive board games become septuagenarians with little fanfare. There is no justice.
  • Will B&N buy Borders? (via Bookninja)
  • “Golden age of storytelling,” my ass. Not when you stick to squeaky-clean stories. Not when podcasters abstain from decent radio dramas (this one included). Not when Sam Tanenhaus continues to host the most soporific literary podcast known to humankind. (via Booksquare)
  • Speaking of which, Dan Green incites some controversy about authors as marketeers. Personally, I don’t necessarily oppose an author as a marketer, provided the marketing is predicated upon some justifiable creative component. A few days ago, while revisiting John P. Marquand’s work, I discovered that Marquand had written an additional piece for a magazine featuring Horatio Willing (the narrator of the Pulitzer-winning The Late George Apley) complaining about how Marquand took all the accolades without credit. It was a fun piece, and you’ll find it collected in the out-of-print Thirty Years. I imagine it was written with promotion in mind. But it had the same spirit of subtle hilarity that you’ll find in Apley.
  • Only a man as deranged as Dave White would live blog the How I Met Your Mother season finale.
  • The Nation unveils its Spring Books issue. (via The Complete Review)
  • BBC4 interviews Terry Pratchett. (via Locus)
  • Ways of Seeing: YouTubed. I’ve loved this program for many years and for many reasons. But I was always intrigued by the way in which John Berger used his show as a pretext to talk with women about female nudes while wearing one of those groovy and unbuttoned 1972 shirts. Draw your own conclusions. But you can’t get away with this in 2008, I’m afraid. (via Mark)