Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another New York Times Junkie

This morning I shoveled a foot of snow off my car and hit the road. After checking on my parents, I went in search of The Sunday New York Times. (Yes, I know you can read it online. It's not the same!)

I didn't see anyone out except for snowplow drivers, grumpy store clerks, and a meth addict trying to score. I think the meth-head had more business being outside than I did.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My New Fragrance

I've decided on the composition of my new fragrance:

part old books,
part dead silverfish,
and a tang of ozone from a sputtering fan trying to cool off an aging MacBook.

It's called "Bookworm."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If Amiri Baraka Can Do It...

At a party, we challenged each other to come up with the most outre name for a rock band. I won with "Kafkaesque Vaginas." But I think I just ruined any chance I had to become poet laureate.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Card to a Billionaire

Right about now, Steve Jobs is writing this Christmas card to Bill Gates:

Bill, thanks for once again marketing such a shoddy product! Thanks to you, Apple's products don't have to be good. They just have to be better than yours!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snow on the Wasteland

I spent most of yesterday working in a suburban library. (It's not the closest one or the largest one - I go there because it's under-utilized, and I can always find a table to myself.)

This library is in a new housing development. Hundreds of townhouses, the proverbial "little boxes made of ticky tacky." I worked until closing, long after sunset. As I left, I saw the Christmas lights that the townhouse builder had put up in the tiny park in a futile attempt to make the place look festive.

Across the street are a few acres of land not yet bulldozed for housing. The trees on that land - now bare of leaves - had snow plastered to their trunks and branches on the windward side.

Those snow-covered trees on wasteland are far more beautiful than anything that builder had managed to achieve. Or ever will.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pay Cuts will Cause Top Executives to Become James Bond Villains

The media reports that cutting the salaries of the highest-paid US executives will cause a "brain drain," forcing executives to leave for greener pastures. But where will they go? Not to a foreign country. They're foreign over there, and the wretched refuse doesn't speak English. These are American executives we're talking about: they only speak American, god dammit!

I've figured out where they're going to end up.

You know the saying: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns? Well, when highly-paid executives are outlawed, only outlaws will have highly-paid executives.

I'm not talking about religion-based terrorist organizations. Can you imagine Jack Welch running al Qaeda? No, our best and brightest are going to the secular terrorist organizations, like SPECTRE, THRUSH, HYDRA, HIVE, and AIM!

At this very moment, SPECTRE (The Special Executive for Extortion, Counterespionage, Terrorism, Revenge, and, uh, more Extortion) needs new CEO. (The old one, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has been killed at least three times. HMOs now consider that a pre-existing condition.) How about Enron's Jeffrey Skilling for SPECTRE CEO? A few weeks after the US Supreme Court laughs at his appeal, Jeffrey will be sitting in a secret lair, stroking a white pussy cat and giving Rosa Klebb orders to assassinate a lot of federal prosecutors.

And the mad scientists at AIM (that's Advanced Idea Mechanics, not The American Indian Movement), need someone to lead them. Right now, all they have is a Frankenstein's monster named MODOK, who looks like a floating Mr. Potato Head. AIM needs new leadership. They need Carly Floriana! (Assuming she loses her bid for governor of California, of course.) If Carly can handle Hewlett Packard, she can handle a bunch of lab-bound nerds who haven't even seen a girl in years.

Best of all, THRUSH (The Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity) can bust Bernie Madoff out of prison and put him in charge! THRUSH needs an infusion of cash; they've been broke ever since The Man from UNCLE went off the air. If there's anyone who can generate big bucks through nefarious means, it's Bernie.

(Maybe Bernie can also get the THRUSH minions to stop carrying those stupid walking sticks that shoot sleep gas and bullets. When you're busy Subjugating Humanity, you don't want to get stopped at the metal detector. Of course, if THRUSH is still using the same thugs they had when The Man from UNCLE exited, they probably need canes by now.)

If this scenario doesn't look good to you, call your Congressman and tell him NOT to allow executive pay cuts. After all, when the USSR fell apart, we used US tax dollars to fund Soviet nuclear scientists. We paid them to stay out of trouble, preempting bribes from Lybia and Iran and other wannabe members of the nuke club. Why shouldn't we do the same thing with our homegrown brainiacs?

And if we don't? Well, when armies of radioactive cyber-zombies march down Main Street, you'll know who to blame.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Full Disclosure: Helena Bonham Carter

Earlier this week, the FCC issued new guidelines for bloggers. Yes, the government is reading our blogs (even if no one else is)!

So, to keep me out of Guantanamo, let me give full disclosure: my negative review of the latest Terminator movie was entirely due to the fact that Helena Bonham Carter refuses to sleep with me.

That's right. Terminator: Salvation is the best movie since Citizen Kane. But Helena Bonham Carter has a small role in it, and I couldn't control my jealousy. I've wanted her ever since I heard her orgasmic noises in Fight Club!

So I've come clean. Now go rent Terminator: Salvation. I swear, when Stanley Kubrick died, he left all his talent to McG.

And if you don't hear from me, it's because you can't blog from Guantanamo.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy 80th Birthday, Da!

Even though he doesn't read this blog, I want to wish my father a Happy 80th Birthday.

Of course, "happy" may not be the right word. My mother has Alzheimer's, and my father takes care of her every day. I help out, so I know what a tough job that is. I spent just 5 hours tending to her yesterday, and I was exhausted by it.

So I hope he has as good a birthday as humanly possible, under the circumstances.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I had to get up early this morning, so I needed to get my sleep. About two hours after I finally dropped off, I was awakened by a noise in my apartment. A chirp.

A cricket? The old house I live in is on a hill. My front door is on the ground floor, but my bedroom, in the back, is on the second floor. (And this is not a two-story apartment. It’s all on one level, but the ground drops away from that level in the back.)

A cricket I could ignore, but it seemed unlikely that a cricket could’ve made it up to a second-floor bedroom.

I listened. Another chirrup. It was too regular, too automated. No cricket: a machine.

Wearily, I forced myself out of bed. I have two smoke detectors, one carbon monoxide detector, and innumerable other gizmos. I had even gotten a new cell phone that very day. It was charging a room away: could it be chirping that it was fully recharged?

I checked: no noise from the new cell. So it was probably a detector, its batteries low, emitting a warning. I make it a point to change the detector batteries every spring, but perhaps I forgot one.

I thought I heard the beep from the bedroom smoke detector. So I opened it and took out the battery, and got back into bed.


I got out of bed again, restored the battery to the smoke detector, and went to the next closest unit – the carbon monoxide detector. I took it off the wall and held it in my hands until I heard it chirp. This was it: the malefactor, the culprit, the thief of sleep!

I removed the batteries. One of the AA batteries had leaked; I had to clean the corrosion off the contacts. I checked that the replacement batteries were fully charged, installed them, and put the detector back on the wall.

Unfortunately, as much as I needed sleep, I couldn’t seem to doze off. I ended up reading for two hours until I could get back to sleep.

And the last thing I saw as I fell asleep was the carbon monoxide detector, happily sampling my air for signs of poison.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Good-bye, Mr. Movie

Last night I was driving home from managing the South Jersey Comedy Cabaret when, as usual, I turned on the radio to listen to Steve Friedman, "Mr. Movie."

It was then that I learned that Steve Friedman had died last week at the age of 62. I hadn't caught his obituary in the newspapers, and he wasn't quite famous enough to make the national news.

He had suffered from kidney disease for years. He was on dialysis and needed a kidney transplant, but was unable to find a viable match. This wasn't for lack of donors: his radio fans loved him so much that several offered one of their own kidneys.

Steve loved doing his radio show, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of movies with his fans. His nationally-syndicated show originated here in Philadelphia.

Steve Friedman was also a guest at my writers organization, the Brandywine Valley Writers Group. In fact, he was our first guest during my administration as president.

Last Saturday night Steve finished his radio show, went home, and died in his sleep. I'm grateful that I got to listen to his final show.

He will be missed. I will probably end up listening to the BBC as I drive home from New Jersey. There's no one who can replace Steve Friedman.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bad Fruit

I know that all the rain this summer we’ve had has affected most crops. Still, I was getting really annoyed at the fruit I was buying.

The peaches were bland. The plums were uninspired. The grapes were dull. The cherries were sour…even the legendary sweet Rainier cherries were sour.

My favorite fruit of the season, the plum-apricot hybrid called the pluot, were bad. Not only were they not sweet, they had a chemical odor about them.

The blueberries were fine, but honestly…they’re freaking blueberries. Does anyone (aside from blueberry farmers) care? If you told me that blight had exterminated the entire blueberry species, my reaction would be, “Eh.”

I was starting to wonder if the problem was me, rather than the fruit. As we grow older, we lose taste buds. Had I gotten to the point were I’d lost the ability to taste the sweetness in fruits?

Thankfully, no. Today I had a terrific white-flesh nectarine. It was as sweet as any fruit I ever tasted.

So my decrepitude hasn’t eliminated my taste buds. Yet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hard Case Money Shot

Just finished reading Christa Faust's rollicking mystery novel Money Shot, which has been nominated for multiple awards. (Yes, its protagonist is in the porn industry.) It's published by Hard Case Crime, which puts out some terrific new and reprint mystery fiction, with painted covers reminiscent of the 1950s. If you like hard-boiled crime fiction, their line is worth a look.

Author Christa Faust has led an interesting life. The dust jacket of her book says she has "worked as a filmmaker, a model, and a Times Square peep show girl." (This is a much more prestigious resume than that of screenwriter Diablo Cody, who was a stripper and peep show girl in Minneapolis.) Faust's blog is Deadlier Than the Male: Torrid Confessions from the Underbelly of the Pulp Racket.

Question: Why is everyone who performs in adult films called a "porn STAR?" No one is ever a "porn second-banana."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jay Black, Dena Blizzard and Nick DiUlio Read Their Work at PA Bookstore

Someday I’ve got to learn how to delegate.

My writers’ organization, the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, has regular public readings at bookstores. I’m the current president of the BVWG. For our May reading, I delegated the responsibility for organizing the reading. The result: in May, we had three readers and one audience member. ONE!

For our June reading, I was determined to have good readers and a sizable audience. So I did everything myself. I sent our press releases. I posted it as an event on Yahoo and Facebook. I emailed so many reminders that people got sick of them. And I stacked the lineup with good, funny writers: comedian-screenwriter Jay Black, comedian and former Miss New Jersey Dena Blizzard, and editor-reporter Nick DiUlio.

I know that their presence drew at least three audience members, all of them fellow stand-up comics: Norm Klar, LaTice Mitchell-Klapa, and Jason Pollock. So I already had a larger audience than last time. (Jason has already put his version of this event on his blog.)

I had dinner with my readers before the show (except for Jay Black, who was coming from another gig in North Jersey.) We ate at the Magnolia Grill inside the bookstore, so we didn’t have far to travel. But the Chester County Book and Music Company is a BIG bookstore, reputed to have the largest selection of books east of the Rockies. The speaker’s area isn’t visible from the Grill.

Now I LIKE the people I was dining with, and I lost track of the time. So it was almost time for the event to begin when one of the BVWG officers showed up and said that I was needed. I left my guests—who hadn’t finished eating—and hurried over to the speaker’s area. Where I found another officer of the BVWG already at the lectern, organizing the speakers. (And putting herself on the lineup, which I had already arranged to fill our allotted time.) I realized that I should have delegated someone to be in the speaker’s area while I was dining with our guest speakers.

But it turned out all right. Even with her unanticipated addition, we kept to our time, since a few speakers went short. I took the opening spot – the least desirable, since people are still arriving. (In fact, Jay Black arrived during my reading. My dinner guests missed it entirely.)

Nick DiUlio read a fine personal essay titled “Yes (I Think) We Can: Surviving Family Brunch in a Post-Election America.” It can be found here, on his website, About Twenty Pounds of Headlines.

Dena Blizzard read a short piece from her blog, and a very funny article she wrote for

And, to my amazement, Jay Black wrote a hilarious piece just for this event. I hope he posts it on his blog (or gets it published somewhere).

Was this event a success? Well, we had about 25 listeners (some came and went over the course of 90 minutes). That’s as many as most professional authors on book tours get.

My guest speakers all said that they’d like to do it again. Perhaps I’ll schedule another such event before my term as BVWG president ends in August, provided I learn how to be in two places at once. Or learn how to delegate.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thanks for the Headache, McG

I just came back from watching the new "Terminator: Salvation" film. And I want those two hours back.

For the first time in my life, a movie actually gave me a headache. The high-decibel explosions and music, combined with the film's unremitting grimness just made my head throb. Plus, for the giant Terminator sequence, the sound editor stole that annoying foghorn noise from the recent version of "War of the Worlds."

Of course, the idiot plot didn't help. (Skynet has both John Connor AND Kyle Reese inside its base, and all it does is send one Terminator after each man? Skynet is cranking out Terminator after Terminator, yet it only sends ONE?! And hasn't Skynet thought of flooding its corridors with poison gas?)

It looks like they've stopped giving an acknowledgment to Harlan Ellison in the credits. Just as well - Ellison shouldn't have to be associated with this mess.

Now I have to go take some Tylenol.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sometimes Things Actually Get Better

It's too nice out to spend all day in my home I took my laptop to the library. (I like to live dangerously.) I was still inside, but at least I had a nice window, and thousands of books near at hand.

Unfortunately, what the library doesn't have is food. So, when I got hungry, I decamped to a nearby Panera Bread, which offers free wi-fi. And I still have a window, although this one opens out onto a parking lot.

This Panera Bread is in an old shopping center that was upgraded a few years ago. When I was a kid, this parking lot was a barren, potholed, trash-strewn wasteland. My High School Ecology Club inherited a recycling center in this parking lot, so I spent some time here, separating recyclables. Eventually, with people dumping non-recyclable trash here, the site grew beyond what High School kids could handle, and the owner just carted everything away.

But, since the renovation, there are
flowers here. There are shrubs and plantings in the medial strips. There aren't any potholes, and the trash is picked up. There's no need for a recycling center, because the local townships all have recycling programs. Sometimes things actually do get better....

Thursday, April 30, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Last night I entered a "Battle of the Bards" -- a competition for writers delivering their work orally. I won first place.

An event like this is as much about how you present your work as your work itself. Fortunately, I read a comedic piece, and I made the audience of 25-odd people laugh. Nine of the twelve contestants were poets, and no one else read anything humorous, so I stood out well.

By the way, while I am currently the president of the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, this event was staged by a different writing organization, the Chester County Writer's Workshop.

It's been awhile since I came in first in a competition. I still find it hard to believe that people voted for me instead of one of the hot girl poets!

I don't know how long this link will be up, but here are some photos of the event. The MC is Tom Lillard, the guitarist is Jake Michaels. Poet Andrea Daniels took most of the photos, and Julie Latham was the main organizer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Advice from the Old Cock

Grammar maven Richard Nordquist just posted an article on, in which he relates the Five Rules of Thumb for Editing by the late Gardner Botsford.

Botsford worked as an editor at The New Yorker for almost 40 years. His ruthless editing skills earned him the nickname "The Ripper;" he once edited a three page article by legendary reporter A.J. Liebling down to a half-page. But Botsford was also a good editor, making articles clearer and better. The argumentative Liebling himself complimented Botsford on his edits.

Botsford...who addressed male friends as "Old Cock"...believed in first impressions, as you can see from his fourth rule:
Rule of thumb No. 4. In editing, the first reading of a manuscript is the all-important one. On the second reading, the swampy passages that you noticed in the first reading will seem firmer and less draggy, and on the fourth or fifth reading, they will seem exactly right. That's because you are now attuned to the writer, not to the reader. But the reader, who will read the thing only once, will find it just as swampy and boring as you did the first time around. In short, if something strikes you as wrong on first reading, it is wrong, and a fix is needed, not a second reading.
Of course, the superiority of first impressions has been expounded upon by many theorists. It's the main theme of Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink.

And yet, when I think of how many times I've been distracted while trying edit something, it's a wonder that I catch anything except glaring typographical errors. These days, when my critique group meets, I close my eyes to better concentrate when an author reads his or her work. It seems to help.

It's a cliche among stand-up comics, but I have to say it: when you name your kid something like "Gardner Botsford," you'd better be prepared for him to get beaten up in school. On the other hand, if your kid survives childhood, he'll probably end up in a job at The New Yorker. The drunk felon on "Cops" wearing a wifebeater and a three-day growth of beard never has a name like "Gardner Botsford."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Model World

I recently came across a photographic technique called tilt-shift photography. You can find a full definition here, but it involves keeping just part of an image in focus. A common side effect to tilt-shift photography is making the photograph of a real-life image look like a photograph of a model, especially if the photograph is taken from above and the colors are heavily saturated.

The tilt-shift image pictured is of Joe's Crab Shack in Nashville, TN, by Shawn S. Ide.

Apparently you can reproduce the effect via Photoshop, avoiding the expense of special photographic lenses.

This link will take you to 5o excellent examples of tilt-shift photography.

(By the way, I stole the title for this blog entry from author Michael Chabon, who used it for both the title of a short story and a collection.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Freakin' Brilliant Idea

....No human being has more energy than a normal, well-fed, well-rested child. Especially boys. Which makes it difficult to get them to sit still in class.

The New York Times ran an article last week about schools that are experimenting with adjustable-height desks. Kids can sit or stand, as they please. Standing burns more energy, allowing them to focus better on their schoolwork. Adjustable-height stools are made available. The desk model pictured in The Times (above left and center) also has a swinging footrest, allowing kids to burn off even more energy.

The idea has been around for a long time. Many adults use standing desks. Personally, I always had difficulty typing in any position other than seated, but not everyone does. Yeshivas also use adjustable-height desks, where it is called a shtender in Yiddish. (far right) The shtender seems to lack the swinging footrest.

I wish my classroom had had these desks when I was teaching Middle School. I might still be teaching.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Great Sex with The New York Times

Another sign of the apocalypse: the back cover of The New York Times Book Review for January 4, 2009, is a full page ad for sex videos.

To be precise, the ad is for "Great Sex for A Lifetime," a series of explicit instructional sex videos. I know this recession has got us all hurting, but is this the best The Times can do? Sex videos? (And DVDs.) I don't have any objection to sex videos, either instructional or porn, but do they have to advertise in the most elite section of our country's most august newspaper?

[Grammatical query: can you be more august, or is august one of those either/or descriptors like unique? Are their levels of augustitude, like august-auguster-augustiest?]

The New York Times has been the beneficiary of many long-term advertising contracts. For example, the jewelry store Tiffany & Co. has had a modest ad on page 3 of The Times for over 100 years! My memory of ads is hazy (unless it's a sexy lingerie ad, I tend not to notice them), but I believe that, for many years, the back page of The Times Book Review was for a book club. One of their major premiums was The Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

It's a long fall from The OED to sex videos.

Of late, the usual advertiser on the back page of The NYT Book Review has been Bauman Rare Books. Even though I'm not a collector of rare books, I have some affection for Bauman's. In years of applying for various jobs, Bauman's sent me the nicest, best-written rejection letter I've ever gotten. (Yup, that's all it takes to get on my good side. Reject me nicely. Supermodels, take note.)

Not that I expect to be buying anything from Bauman's anytime soon. Their autographed letter from Abraham Lincoln (just $78,000!) doesn't seem to be on my shopping list.

Bauman's is back on the back page of The NYT Book Review, and I hope it stays there.

And if The New York Times wants to run ads for sex videos, put them in the Business Section where they belong.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Claiming Andrew Wyeth

Painter Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep on Friday, in a home less than a mile from the one in which he was born. He was, by far, the most famous painter in the Brandywine Valley.

Of course, several locales claim Andrew Wyeth as a native son. He was born and died in Chadds Ford, which is in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County. But Chester County (where I live) also claims him, as does the state of Delaware: Chadds Ford is just a few miles from both. The Brandywine River flows through all of these. In fact, Wyeth's home town is named after John Chads' ford, which crossed the Brandywine River itself. Finally, Wyeth had a summer home in Maine (where he painted his iconic Christina’s World, above left). So Maine gets to claim Andy Wyeth as well.

Back when I was in college, I tried my best to become an artist. I spent countless hours sketching buildings and landscapes throughout the Brandywine Valley. Sometimes I drew right outside the Brandywine River Museum, as if the talent of three generations of Wyeths* would rub off on me.

But I didn’t have the talent. Now, I’m glad I abandoned drawing in favor of writing. I can still type despite the tendonitis in my hands. But I couldn’t sketch for hours, not anymore.

Despite the millions Andrew Wyeth earned (see Otherworld, above right, an unusual painting he made of the interior of his private jet), he was just pain Andy to his neighbors. He liked to eat at two inexpensive local places: Hank’s Place and Jimmy Johns’ Pipin’ Hot Sandwiches (not to be confused with the Jimmy Johns' Gourmet Sandwiches chain). I was never particularly impressed by Hank’s, but I loved Jimmy Johns’. I used to dream of their hot dogs when I lived out of state. (Apparently, so do others; Jimmy Johns’ displays photos of soldiers in Iraq wearing Jimmy Johns’ tee-shirts.)

Tourists sometimes stopped by Hank’s Place, hoping to spot the publicity-shy painter. He would pretend he was just another diner, telling tourists that “Andy was here, but he left…you just missed him.” He was popular enough with the staff and the regulars that no one gave him up. Now that’s popularity – when white folks won’t snitch on you!

* The collection of the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford includes works by Andrew Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth, and his son James Wyeth.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Surviving Opening Weekend

I know of few things more tiring than opening a new nightclub. Years ago, in Houston, I recall working for a week to get a nightclub called Nice 'n' E-Z open on time. We'd work until we just had to sleep, then we'd take a nap atop the pool table.

To make this opening more stressful, I managed to come down with a cold.

The new South Jersey Comedy Cabaret opened this past weekend. There was some chaos on opening night...people managed to enter from three different doors, and a waitress dropped a tray of drinks at my feet. But all in all, it went well.

The sound system needs work, but our sound guys are working on it tomorrow. (Why is it that you never know for sure how the acoustics will sound until you have a room full of people? It probably even makes a difference what time of year it is: a roomful of people in sound-absorbing winter gear will be different from people in summer wear.)

But it's open, and I survived. For more information, you can go to the Comedy Cabaret website and click on the South Jersey room.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year, New Comedy Club

As I have mentioned, on weekends I manage a Comedy Club in South Jersey.

After almost six years, we had to close down my old club, the Cherry Hill Comedy Cabaret at the Clarion Hotel. The Cherry Hill Clarion is being sold, and they wouldn't guarantee that we could stay. So I found a new room.

I've just returned from a tiring day, getting our new South Jersey Comedy Cabaret ready for its Grand Opening this Friday night. Instead of being in a hotel, it will be at an Italian Restaurant in nearby Marlton, NJ. It's only about 4 miles from the old location, so I anticipate that most of our old customers will come to this new venue.

The venue is the Casa Carollo Restaurant at the corner of Route 73 and Baker Boulevard. Friday's show is already sold out, so we expect to do well there. But there are hundreds of things that can go wrong, so I'll be happier a week from now, after our opening weekend.

For more information, you can go to the Comedy Cabaret website and click on the South Jersey room. Wish us luck!