Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rated P.G.

Kathi Taylor, on her blog (click here), has challenged me to a Wodehouseathon. I warn you, Taylor, I'm packing -- I have the complete works here (with the exception of the rare and elusive and expensive and un-reprinted By the Way book). I even have the appallingly-named Love Among the Chickens, and not just the Project Gutenberg version, either!

But to warm you up with some trivia: It's become a well-known, nay well-worn fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never had Sherlock Holmes say "Elementary, my dear Watson." The sleuth called his friend and chronicler "my dear Watson," and he used the phrase "it's elementary" somewhat long-sufferingly, but he never combined them into one.

I believe -- which means I can't be bothered to check -- that the complete phrase did pop up in the classic Basil Rathbone portrayals; but predating talking pictures, the earliest known published citation of "Elementary, my dear Watson" can be credited to . . .  P.G. Wodehouse, spoken by his first major series character Psmith, in Psmith, Journalist. This was published in the UK in 1915, but the stories on which it is based first appeared in a magazine called The Captain five years earlier, although I can't be sure if the phrase was used in this original version. (Which also means I can't be bothered to check, because I'm even boring myself now.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I can't contain myself. . . .dah dah dah something, dee-dee!"

(Weird thing about blogs. You read the latest post first, so it's like time travel. Here's an addendum to the previous story, published a couple of hours ago, which you probably haven't got to yet.)

I didn't tell the boys we were going to see the Karamazovs, I let the show and its contents be a complete surprise to them. (They loved it, but I think I saw a gleam in Secundus's eye that means I have to hide the eggs.) Last week, I worked the same trick to get them to come shopping at the Container Store with me, pretending that their secret treat was to choose the colors of the crates I was buying.

Apparently, Primus complained to his mother about the forthcoming theater trip. "I hope he's not taking us to a musical about the Container Store," he  moaned.

Why not? I hear they do good "box" office. Bwaaaaaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(Although the joke was on me, because the Karamazovs use hundreds of cardboard boxes as their stage decor. As Primus smugly pointed out.)

They're not brothers, they're not Russian, but they probably can fly.

To Manhattan, on a perfect summer day for strolling through city -- sand painters and modern dance and sunbathers in Washington Square Park, street fair on West 4th, stands offering dogs and cats for adoption in Union Square, not too close to each other. The boys complain their legs hurt after three blocks -- we need more exercise like this, clearly.

We're going to see The Flying Karamazov Brothers, that amazing troupe who raise juggling (and music and comedy) out of the range of mere human skill up to levels that make you suspect midnight pacts at  crossroads. Check out this video, for the love of Mike.

I may not get out much, but that endless sequence where all four performers are juggling clubs and then three of them line up into a firing squad and begin to randomly exchange clubs with the fourth is equal to my most thrilling moment of theater ever, and it didn't disappoint this time.

Two minutes, three minutes . . . clubs no longer coming straight but hurled high in the air, shot like torpedoes, performers pirouetting between catches, shooting the clubs around their backs. And the catcher flawlessly trapping every projectile, folding it into his pattern, hurling a club back with quicksilver reflexes in time to grab the next one that flashes into his peripheral vision.

Four minutes . . . You want to clap, you want to cheer, you want to leap to your feet, you know you should, but the entire audience is mesmerized. And then the hollow clunk as a club hits the stage. One performer stops, disgusted, holding just two clubs now. The others go on. "I'll get it," he says, and walks through the flying clubs and back to his place, unscathed. Even pardonable fumbles are part of the act.

After the show -- a less than full-capacity matinee -- we had the chance to talk to the performers, and we discover that Amiel Martin (not in the picture), who appeared as an understudy for troupe founder and show director Paul Magid, was giving his first ever public performance with the team. Since Paul was there -- looking perfectly healthy and taking pictures of the quartet in this unique configuration -- I have to assume this substitution was an opportunity to groom a potential new member. If so, bravo, kudos, props to Amiel, who handled it perfectly. And that included being the catcher in the sequence I just described and "The Champ" in "The Gamble," successfully juggling three items contributed by audience members -- yesterday, it was a water bottle, a hero sandwich, and a string of sausages. (The last time I saw Paul Magid as the Champ, he was given a Barbie doll, a jellied egg, and a plate of whole squid.)

If you're within reach of New York City, drop everything and go to the show, at the Minetta Lane Theater. If you've never seen the Flying Karamazov Brothers, (different link from the last one) find out when they're next in your area and go. Go, I tell you!

Why are you still here?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Follow me closely on this one.

Driving along the Boston Post Road, we pass the buildings of the former United Hospital in Port Chester, which has been closed and empty for some time, as I mention to my fellow passengers.

"Talking of hospitals," Tertius chimes in, "that reminds me that there's a church in Virginia that looks like a jail!"

Nothing to do with the above, but I'm a little peeved with Jennifer Aniston, who has so far failed to respond to my generous invitation in an earlier footnote to run away with me. I mean, it's not as if that film career is all it should be, she's still single, ever since that Pitt bounder didn't work out, and -- Good Lord -- she's forty next year, so she's not going to get offers like this every day. And I hear she wants a child. Well, I've already got three, she's welcome to one of mine.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Daily Insult.

We're at my new location, and I point out to the boys that a narrow floor-to-ceiling bookcase provides a perfect fit for my (virtually) complete works of P.G. Wodehouse, with ancillary biographies and celebrations -- a hundred-plus books, mainly paperback, mainly orange-spined Penguins.

"Aren't you a little obsessed?" Primus comments.

"Not at all, " I lie. "He's my favorite author, and he's taught me more than any other writer about how to write funny."

"You're funny?" he asks, puzzled.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Parenting tips no. 78

A fractious day among the young gentleman leads to an emotional Primus storming into the house from the back yard demanding that I instantly take retribution on Secundus for threatening to throw a rock at him. When I refuse to carry out his orders -- suspecting, oh, what's the phrase, "another side to the story" -- he accuses me of lacking all human feelings for his firstborn and arranges his own revenge by hiding Secundus's favorite stuffed animals. He thus earns Daddy's threadbare lecture on the dangers of escalation and the joys of forgiveness. But Primus, in full spate, is the 11-year-old tough-on-crime candidate, requiring justice without mercy.

Later, after the annual pilgrimage to Staples with three back-to-school supply lists and four short attention spans, it's my turn to think fondly of the law-and-order policies of the late King Herod. But we're driving home at last, and I notice that P and S in the back seat are now merrily enjoying a conversation.

"You see what happens if you let a little time pass," I comment. "Now, you're best friends again. Two hours ago, you too wanted to kill each other."

"Good times," sighs Secundus nostalgically.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Daily Insult.

We're sitting at dinner, considering family resemblances. It's decided that Tertius is the one who looks most like me. Sensing an opportunity to do one of his famous impressions, he leaps to his feet.

"I'm going to get some stilts and gray hair," he declares excitedly, and then looks more closely at me. "White hair, I mean," he adds.

(A moment later, he's inspecting the back of my head. "There's still some brown hair here," he tells me. "Can't you see it?"

No, when I turned around, I was gone.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Aw come-on, Steve, you don't want to marry Eunice.

It's been a tradition on my birthday that I get to swat the ankle-biters away from the television and watch a favorite movie undisturbed. Usually Kind Hearts and Coronets or American Dreamer ("I'm Rebecca Ryan, and I can drink any man here under the table.") Feeling guilty about slanging off Peter Bogdanovich's early works in this blog -- and desperately needing a laugh this year -- I choose What's Up, Doc? (1972), co-written by the mighty Buck Henry.

Farce, screwball, romcom, slapstick . . . It never dates, it never fails. Flawless casting, flawless timing. Was Barbra Streisand ever more appealing? (And yet, she's fairly dismissive of this movie, even on the commentary. She needn't be.) Please don't do a remake with Jennifer Aniston.*

Streisand's character, Judi Maxwell, makes a habit of stepping into the street without looking, causing traffic accidents. Apparently, Bogdanovich decided to add a fender-bender at short notice, when there were no stunt cars lined up. So he sent a crew member to a car rental agency, with instructions to get two cars with maximum collision insurance, filmed the scene, and then returned the wrecked vehicles.

*Jennifer, if you're reading this: Give up movies and run away with me! With your millions, I could easily keep you in the manner to which you've become accustomed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I say, it's my birthday.

Instead of forgetting I'm 53, I now have to remember to forget that I'm 54. But forgetting is one thing that gets easier with age.

Ah well, at least I'm not 54.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Manners maketh mother.

Otherwise, my mother's inklings of gentility surfaced only occasionally. I remember her taking me to one side once during one of our many vacations in Eastbourne (56 miles, but a trifle posher than Great Yarmouth) and inexplicably telling me not to use the slang word "tanner" for the pre-decimalization sixpence piece.

And I was once astonished when she was quite vehemently negative about a band I liked, after watching their performance on a television pop-music show. I had to probe to find out what was offending her. It wasn't the song. Eventually, it turned out to be that one of the performers was wearing a trilby hat as part of his stage outfit.

"Well, what's wrong with that?" I asked.

"I think it's rude for a man to keep his hat on indoors," she replied.

'Ow're you doin'?

Well, lower class, but perhaps not lowest common denominator. We may not have had an inside toilet in the one-bedroom basement flat we rented; but at the same time, we weren't sitting on lawn chairs in our undershirts, drinking beer and shouting four-letter words at the neighbors. No, we went to church.

We were finally moved to a newly built public housing estate when I was eight (at last, my own bedroom -- and a bathroom!) but now my parents had to occasionally remind me not to slip into the baser, cockney-ish, h-dropping Hounslow accent used exclusively by my new working-class peers at the local  elementary school. Which was called "Beavers."

Did it work? I still recall a rehearsal of our high school production of The Mikado, where playing Nanki-Poo, I declaimed the line "Deuce take the law!" only to have our producer -- and one of my English teachers -- cry from the other end of the hall: "Beechey, there's no r at the end of the word 'law'!"*

Shortly after moving to the new flat, about 1966, the year England won the World Cup. My Dad wore a coat and tie to his factory job. Note the highly patterned carpet brought from the old home, which doesn't quite fit the new space and clashes with the highly patterned new drapes.**

*Today, a woman in The Container Store asked me if I came from Johannesburg, because she loved my South African accent. I was always convinced, incidentally, that the way to do a convincing South African accent was to start with Liverpudlian and gradually mix it with the London Jewish accent that only Peter Sellers ever actually used.

**Left, a Dansette Bermuda 4-speed record player, probably bought for about 12 guineas in 1962 and fitted with legs later, supporting the omnipresent cup of tea -- a machine privileged, in its first year, to have played not merely first pressings of I Want to Hold Your Hand and the With The Beatles album, but also the floppy plastic Christmas specials that the Beatles sent to members of their official fan club. Right, a Ferguson 17" black-and-white television for Britain's two TV channels above a large Ekco wireless set, permanently tuned to the BBC Light Programme.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A touch of class.

We were very poor growing up. ("How poor were you?" Poor? We were so poor we thought knives and forks were jewelry. We were so poor, the bank repossessed my father. Thank you, ladies and germs, I'll be here all century.) But despite his visual handicap, my Dad always held down a low-paying factory job, and we always managed the classic working-class summer vacation -- two weeks at an English seaside resort.

A corner of Great Yarmouth.
When I was ten, our destination was Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, a pimple on the bum of East Anglia, the furthest we'd ever traveled for one of these annual jaunts (and it occurred to me only recently that it might well have been the furthest my parents had ever traveled from home in their lives -- 120 miles as the crow flies). It was either there or in nearby Lowestoft that we went on a pilgrimage to a seafront shack, which we'd been told made the best fish and chips on the planet. With open bags of oily chips in our hands, we wandered off along the promenade, munching.

"Oh!" Mum exclaims disparagingly. "We're eating in the street! We're common!" ("Common" meaning resolutely lower class.)

This comment astounded me. Not that my mother regarded eating in the street as déclassé. No, what surprised me was that, up to that point, I hadn't realized my mother thought we weren't common.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You can't make this stuff up. I've tried.

There is no escape from the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

Ya know, maybe there's something to this research stuff after all. I check one fact about a crappy science fiction movie, for the sake of a gag about a famous director, and next thing I'm following a trail of cyber-breadcrumbs back to the Prague Spring. For those of you with 60 seconds to spare and the will to live, here's the deal with Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

In 1962, there was a popular Russian science fiction movie called Planeta Bur -- "Storm Planet." It wasn't great, but it contained some well-made scenes of cosmonauts leaving a base on the moon and battling monsters on Venus. As you do. So in 1965, it was edited and adapted (i.e., dubbed) for the American market as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.

Just like Godzilla, which, to make the whole thing seem more American, threw in scenes of an isolated Raymond Burr (Perry Mason himself) staring solemnly upwards, VPP director Curtis Harrington cut in some additional scenes with Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes himself) and Faith Domergue of sci-fi classic This Island Earth, who had become Howard Hughes's, er, ladyfriend at age 16, until she discovered he'd been seeing Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner behind her back. That's quite a back. Even for those days, when the stars were bigger.

Harrington was so proud of his efforts that he took his "directorial" credit under the name "John Sebastian." (After J.S. Bach, not the guy from The Lovin' Spoonful, who had the unenviable job of following Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock right after he'd led the notorious "F*** Cheer." Serves him right for turning up unannounced and stoned.)

Er, right. Anyway, another three years pass, during which England win the World Cup, and in 1968, Peter Bogdanovich takes a second swipe at the material,* cutting out Rathbone and Domergue and adding special effects scenes from an even older Russian SF effort called Battle Beyond the Sun, as well as pneumatic actress and occasional Playboy-model Mamie Van Doren (a special effect in herself and, oddly, another ex-flame of Howard Hughes**) and various other platinum blondes of similar heft, who were not wearing fur bikinis. Sea shell bras, remember, this is a blog of record.

This became Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, and Bogdanovich was so proud of his efforts that he took his credit as "Derek Thomas." (Not after the former men's basketball coach of Western Illinois University, because he was only two years old at the time. Pay attention.) But I know it was you, Peter. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.

There are a whole load of clips from all these incarnations on YouTube, but honestly, why bother? There are no cute kittens and nobody gets hit in the testicles.

Totally trivial. But it does explain why, in a movie released in the year of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, "Commander William 'Billy' Lockhart" is played by one Vladimir Yemelyanov.

*Film buffs only: The inspiration of an uncredited Roger Corman is suspected.

**For a guy who didn't get around, that Howard Hughes got around. Mamie Van Doren, who'd be eighty next year if I were not too gallant to mention her age, is still going strong -- here's her website.

***There's no three-asterisk footnote. The "***" in the post represent the missing letters "uck," in case my kids read this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Peter Bogdanovich: an apology.

I chose to write fiction instead of, say, journalism because I'm too lazy to check facts. If I seem to get something wrong in a story, then I just say "Yes, your leading character can change the color of his eyes between books. That's the way it is in my world. Twenty-three dollars, please."

But reality can still bite you in the fleshy parts. Yesterday's whimsy about Secundus's majestic video included a reference to an early gem from the oeuvre of Peter Bogdanovich (who can do no wrong, because he made What's Up, Doc?, one of my favorite movies of all time, even if it was a rip-off of Bringing Up Baby). And in doing so, I committed a grave error.

As will become apparent, I haven't actually seen Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, as I mendaciously implied, and for the shameful purposes of mere humor, I rashly and recklessly assumed that the eponymous females would be clad in fur bikinis.*

Alas, the briefest trip to the Internet Movie Data Base would have avoided my faux-fur-pas. Those prehistoric ladies (from the planet Venus incidentally, among them Mamie Van Doren) did not wear fur bikinis. They wore hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell bras.

Glad we cleared that one up.

*c.f. Raquel Welch in the seminal One Million Years, B.C., which includes the stunning work of special effects wizard and all-round genius of the silver screen, the great Ray Harryhausen and is probably responsible for the sticky creationist belief that cavemen and dinosaurs co-existed, although I wouldn't underestimate the impact on intelligent design of that Ringo Starr movie, either. Well, on intelligence, anyway. A pre-Cheers Shelley Long and a pre-Ringo (until she got to the movie set) Barbara Bach wore the fur bikinis in that one. So I'm told.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Debut of the next Spielberg.

Nine-year-old Secundus, having had a Flip video camera for a year or so, and inspired by a week-long summer camp on movie-making, has produced his first solo effort -- a slide show using stills from video that he's shot and some free music that came with the laptop.

The most amazing thing? Not that the credits take up more than half the length of the movie, he deserves it. Not that it features my legs. But that he did this in one morning by teaching himself to use Microsoft's Windows Movie Maker from scratch, with virtually no help from me. (Mainly because I can never figure out a Vista-based program intuitively.)

Before Jaws, Spielberg gave us Duel. (Haunting and impressive.) Before Fargo and The Big Lebowksi, the Coen brothers kicked off with Blood Simple. (Electrifying.) Before The Godfather, Coppola co-directed The Bellboy and the Playgirls. (Haven't seen it.) Before The Last Picture Show, Bogdanovich made Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. (A hint of things to come during that moment when the tall blonde in the fur bikini took off. . . er, haven't seen it either.)

And so we proudly present, completely uncut, the first work of another future master: Leila in 48 Seconds.


video

Sunday, August 15, 2010

When you're right, you're . . . what?

I'm shifting my work location, and the boys made their first visit to my new place today, although they'd already seen photographs of the interior. In the minivan on the way -- it's only a five-minute drive -- Tertius announces, with flawless seven-year-old logic: "I think it's going to be different from the way from the way I imagine it. But if it isn't, then I'm wrong."

Saturday, August 14, 2010

But you can probably scrape it off.

Interesting choice of phrase in a Reuters headline: "Director John Chu steps into Justin Bieber movie."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Didn't get the memo.

It's a good thing when your son remembers to tell you that the current gallon of milk is the last one on the premises. You just wish he'd mention it when he first collects it from the basement refrigerator and not when he pours out the last drop for his dinner drink. So while the chicken flautas are warming in the oven, I make the half-mile straight dash along Forest Avenue to the Playland Market, the nearest deli, noted for its coffee. (A smidgen of hazelnut . . . aaah!)

On the way there, in the gathering twilight, I pass two people, a man and woman, walking swiftly along the opposite sidewalk, each carrying a well-upholstered formal dining chair.

Odd. Have they been scavenging among the items left out for the weekly bulk garbage pick-up? But that took place this morning. And the chairs look too good for trash. Ah well . . .

Five minutes later, now equipped with milk, I drive back, and in exactly the same spot, I pass a man and two women hurrying in the opposite direction from before, also carrying fancy dining chairs. Not sure if any of the people were the same, but the chairs were certainly different.

Not something you see every day. Is this some fad or fashion I'm unaware of? When I trot out Leila on the leash tomorrow, will I be committing a stylistic faux pas if I'm not clutching a Hepplewhite side chair in my spare hand? Is this a new trend in flash mobs, involving impromptu banqueting? Does swinging now embrace furniture, because traditional human wife-swapping was condemned by liberal Rye as glaringly animatist? And why does it bother me so much that I can't think of any rational explanation for this behavior?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recycled humor.

The brilliant satirical comedy program "The Now Show" has just finished its 31st series on BBC Radio.

(How brilliant, you ask? Well, you should have done. Where else could you hear the words "vaginas" and "Thomas Aquinas" rhymed completely in context, as they were in a satirical song by Mitch Benn about the Catholic church's attempts to recruit disaffected Anglican clergy, pissed over the Church of England's ordination of women? And you have to love a program that makes a catchphrase out of an obscure line spoken by Donald Pleasance in The Great Escape.)

A feature of the show is to ask the audience a question -- now extended to the listening audience by Twitter -- and then bask in the substantial wit of the answers. In the penultimate episode, prompted by the UK government's scandalous axing of the British Film Council (which provided sponsorship for cinematic projects), suggestions were invited for low-budget film titles. Here's what they got (with American notes), which gave me a few laughs while listening to the podcast, and God knows I could use some:
The Devil Wears Primark*
Walking Miss Daisy
Free Willy -- with Every Packet of Cornflakes
The Discount of Monte Cristo
Star Wars: The Empire Cuts Back
The Bridge on the River Wye**
Murder on the National Express***
The Burger King and I
A Couple of Things I Hate About You
The Tramp and the Tramp
(my favorite)
Schindler's Post-It Note
The Bargain Hunt for Red October
The Six Million Zimbabwean Dollar Man
Honey, I Sold the Kids
The Bournemouth Ultimatum****
The Mancunian Candidate*****
Seven Brides for Seven Pounds Fifty
Breakfast at Ratners******
Scratch-Card Royale
Slumdog.
*Brand name for a chain of low-cost clothing stores.

**Welsh River. I once visited the location in Sri Lanka where The Bridge on the River Kwai was made. By which I mean my driver assured me it was just round the bend of the river we had stopped at. The real bridge is in Thailand.

***British transportation company. Think Greyhound Bus.

****Dull but worthy resort town on the English South Coast, noted as a retirement destination, like parts of Florida. Not to be compared to the cachet of St. Tropez or Cannes on the French South Coast, dammit. (See previous entry). Does have some very good orchestras, though.

*****Adjective meaning "of Manchester."

******Former name of a notoriously cheap chain of jewelers. Change of name and ownership followed a marketing debacle when founder and then-CEO Gerald Ratner admitted in public that his prices were so low because his products were "total crap." He then compared some of the company's ear-rings (unfavorably) to "a 99p prawn sandwich." Making the error of criticizing a product made by your own company -- or the taste of your target clientele -- is now called "doing a Ratner."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Master of disguise strikes again.

This morning, Tertius appears in the doorway to my office with a white sun visor pulled down under his chin and holding the blue plastic nib of giant-sized crayon on his head. He's a gnome.

A couple of days ago, he came in swathed entirely in black from head to foot, a niqab made from various ninja outfits and Batman capes. His eyes were hidden behind opaque sunglasses and, oddly, the ensemble was topped off with a light-hued fedora. He looked like Indiana Jones performed by Mummenschanz. This time he claimed to be his brother.

He honored me yesterday with two new stickers on the outside of his bedroom door. One is of Great Britain, because that's where I come from, and the other is of France, with a big red 'x' drawn over it, because apparently I'm always being rude about the French. (It may be genetic, but I have got to watch what I say in front of these kids.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to communicate more gooder.

In my twenties, I cut my teeth on corporate communications (and therefore fiction-writing) as the editor of Citibank's bi-monthly, 24-page color magazine for its staff in the UK, Ireland, and Scandinavia. (Ah yes, dear reader, I have lived!) Every two months, I had that uplifting moment when the new edition arrived from the printer, smelling deliciously of fresh ink -- better than a new car, in my opinion -- and I would grab an armful and gleefully scatter them around the desks on my floor.

"What's in it?" someone would ask inevitably ask. "Look," I'd reply, "I edit it, I write virtually every word, I take a lot of the photographs, I lay out some of the spreads, and I even draw pictures. I'm not bloody reading it to you as well."

But it demonstrates -- as every communicator, in every field, ought to know -- that people are different. (They're idiots too, but that's another story.) Some want their words written on paper, some want them on a screen with pictures, and some won't believe anything unless it goes into their ears. You want to get a key message across? Give the audience a choice of how to get it.

I got a stark lesson in this during the first days of my very first assignment out of university. We'd spent an afternoon clearing some old junk out of a couple of cabinets -- I knew that freshly-minted degree from Oxford would come in handy -- which resulted in a large pile of trash for the evening cleaning staff. Just to make absolutely certain they'd know what it was, we made up a big cardboard sign with the word "RUBBISH" in huge red letters and lodged it conspicuously on top.

The next morning, the pile was still there, including the sign, on which someone had written: "Is this rubbish?"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A follow up, dear reader.

I checked the Levi's website. There's no jeans category called "guys." It was probably a misprint for "gays."

Oh, while I'm expressing my irritation with stores, remember how Staples used to have that slogan: "Yeah, we got that"? And then they changed it. You discover why they changed it when your printer runs out of toner unexpectedly.

Which reminds me of a time a few years back when I'd gone to my local Staples for something, and I remembered while I was there that I needed some other office supply, only I couldn't recall what it was. I wandered around, staring blankly at all the signs, racking my brains, hoping that something in the store would jog my memory. But nothing.

It was a good ten minutes before it came to me. I'd run out of staples.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The daily insult. Possibly.

Tertius, the Seven-Year-Old With a Thousand Faces, does it again. He materializes with the waistband of his shorts yanked up to his sternum, a cardigan drooping off his shoulders, and a pair of round-framed, pink-lensed hippie glasses on his nose. He adopts a slumping, shuffling gait, and an odd voice.

"I'm Urkel," he claims, plausibly.

Ah, TeenNick, you scamp. Were it not for your feast of reruns, an entire generation of America's youth could grow up without ever knowing the blessing of Jaleel White.

* * *

But I digress. So all four male Beecheys are in a Rye Rec playground, and I'm explaining to Secundus, with diagrams, that the trip home on his bicycle will be easier if he traverses the long, steep hill behind his quiescent school rather than attempting a head-on attack.

"Dad, you have a new nickname," he says, unwrapping a peppermint. "'The Living Lecture.'"

The candy drops onto the sand, but he snatches it up in less than a second, and I refrain from comment. "Well," he continues, sucking the mint, "you're the Living Lecture who also cooks, drives us, writes . . ."

"Yeah, and none of those things make any money," I reply. "Ask your mother."

He looks thoughtful. Then brightens up. "I'll give you a mint," he offers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Guy liberation.

Kohl's department store had an advertising supplement in yesterday's New York Times, boasting that all Levi's jeans are on sale. Well, it actually says ALL LEVI'S JEANS ON SALE.

So you don't immediately notice the small print that follows: "for men, guys, juniors and kids."

I suppose that means the ladies don't get a look in. Or a leg in, rather, ho, ho, ho, ho, ah me. Which is . . . . Hang on! Go back a bit. No, before the "leg in" joke.* "For men, guys . . ."

When did the fashion industry start distinguishing between "men" and "guys"? And more to the point, which am I? I still wear Levi's jeans.** My size hasn't changed for 35 years, still a 31 waist (30 in Dockers, ahem), 32 leg. Well, left leg. So why could I suddenly be in a subgroup that may brand me a second-class citizen on the be-denimed hipness*** scale? I don't want to be a man. I want to be a guy!

Unless "guy" is that peculiar style of jeans that have their crotch floating at shin-level and expose enough butt-crack to inspire Spackle. I can get that effect if the phone rings when I'm on the toilet.****

I suppose this could lead me to develop some kind of Jeff Foxworthy-like material on the lines of "When you something something something, you're a man. But when you something something something else, you're a GUY!" (Pause for audience hilarity.) And the fact that I can't come up with anything makes me think that I'm probably not a guy. I've never said "wassup!" in my life.

Well, I clearly need to investigate. And if I don't qualify as a guy, at least I can take consolation that I haven't drifted into some new Levi's category called "coot." ("Sits at the nipple, ultra-wide belt-loops, extra roomy in the seat, just in case.")

But if I discover that men and guys are indeed two separate cuts of jean, one being cooler and trendier than the other, it does lead to another question: If you find yourself in a subset that is at least one step up the rickety ladder of contemporary fashion, why would you be buying jeans at Kohl's?

*That was a joke?

**Well, Lee's fit me better, less inclined to sag under the gluteal crease after a few washings, but . . .

***Yes, I know "hip" is an old-fashioned expression - I believe the term is "sick" these days - but I was going for the lower-body metaphor.


 ****Also called a "penguin," cf. Ally McBeal 1998.