Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Everybody rise.

Best thing seen on television in a long, long while (not that I watch much): PBS's Great Performances broadcast of the Stephen Sondheim 80th birthday concert from the Lincoln Center. (Yeah, I know, even then it was merely TV coverage of a live stage show.)

Best thing in it: Very hard to choose, especially when you have 84-year-old Elaine Stritch doing "I'm Still Here" as if it's her autobiography, Patti LuPone owning "The Ladies Who Lunch" (with gracious deference to Ms. Stritch), and Donna Murphy knocking it out of the park with "Could I Leave You?"

But I'm going to opt for Audra McDonald's unforgettable performance of "The Glamorous Life" from A Little Night Music. This isn't the song from the original 1973 production, but an inspired reworking written for the generally disappointing 1977 movie of the musical, which is now frequently included in stage productions of the show. One of the Man's best numbers, soaked in sadness and irony.

Here's Ms. McDonald doing the song brilliantly on a different occasion:

Mind you, if you really want to see the greatest imaginable performance of Sondheim's most famous song (from the same musical) by the world's finest and most beautiful actress -- oh, indulge the hyperbole, the guy's eighty*, it's a special occasion -- watch the next clip. The tail end of the preceding interview with that nice Alan Titchmarsh is worth it to provide context.

Stephen Sondheim. Words and music. Makes you wonder why anybody else bothers.

*Sondheim, not me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We come with the dust, and we go with the wind.

Another belated tribute to the actress Sylvia Davis, who died earlier this month. Sylvia played Arlo Guthrie's mother, Marjie, in the movie of Alice's Restaurant, directed by Arthur Penn, who also died recently. (He followed Alice's Restaurant with Bonnie and Clyde.)

Here's a link to a clip that briefly features Sylvia (years before I first met her), which I managed to track down on the Turner Classic Movies website -- sorry, I can't embed the clip into this post. Arlo visits his dying father, Woody Guthrie, in hospital, to find him being serenaded by none other than Pete Seeger, playing himself and and a banjo. That first song, "Pastures of Plenty," which was written by Woody Guthrie, is utterly haunting.

Friday, November 26, 2010

So stick around, we may have a joke this week.

Introducing a new character is a delicate balancing act. You need to give readers enough information for them to get an unambiguous mental picture from the start, but you don't want to stop the story dead for three pages of backstory with each new arrival.

Does the suspect have a livid dueling scar down the side of his face that prevents his eyelid fully closing and permanently twists his lip into a humorless grimace? Tell us immediately. (Mainly so we can stop reading such a cliche-ridden tome right there.)

Does he have small, white, star-like scar from a childhood skating accident beneath the hairline on the back of his neck? Wait until the story of that event -- which you described so vividly in your 50-page preparatory mini-essay about the character -- becomes a crucial part of the plot. Oh, here's a clue: it won't.

Generally, the reader will fill in the basics of, say, height, age, build, race, so you'd better make sure there are no misunderstandings. (Although the immortal Sarah Caudwell went through four staggeringly witty books holding back one essential fact about her first-person protagonist, Professor Hilary Tamar. And it's intriguing to see how far you get into your first Caudwell novel -- do start with Thus Was Adonis Murdered -- before you realize your mental image of Tamar is entirely based on your biased assumption, not on the text.)

But one of the  dullest ways to give this essential information is the "identikit" approach -- plainly listing height, weight, hair, eye-color, etc. How much better to nail all that with one line that plants the mental image instantly and economically.

Hoagy, not Stokely
Ian Fleming describes James Bond as looking a little like a cold and ruthless Hoagy Carmichael, and that's all you need -- as long as you have some idea what Hoagy Carmichael looks like. (Confuse him with Stokely Carmichael and you could have some problems.)

One step further is to find a shorthand account of a person's appearance that also helps establish character. From Wodehouse (of course): "He was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say 'when!'"

And to get back to this post's title, that's why I really liked this stray line from last week's "Saturday Night Live," describing Nancy Pelosi: "A woman who always looks like she's watching someone not use a coaster." I wish I'd written that.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Best. Blooper. Ever.

And I'm thankful that I once read this, although I wish I'd kept the pocket-sized magazine it was in, which I picked up in an Oxford department store in 1977. Called "Getting Married," it was little more than an excuse for advertisements for the china, glass, and linens that get onto middle-class wedding lists. But it did have a small section addressing certain relationship issues, purporting to be the answers to real letters.

One hapless (and blatantly fictitious) male had supposedly written to confess his fear of embarrassment when, on his wedding night, his blushing bride discovered he was circumcised.* (Not until then? This was the 1970s, post-Pill, pre-HIV. Told you he was fictitious.)

Despite the intervening years, I can remember the answer virtually verbatim, and I swear this is true. The advisor replied (with statistical inaccuracy):
"I can't think why you would feel embarrassed about being circumcised. Perhaps as many as half the men in Britain have been circumcised . . . and there is certainly no drawback to this as far as lovemaking is concerned."

*At this time in the UK, less than 20% of men would have been circumcised, and the number has decreased since. Although, come to think of it, how in this scenario would his virginal wife know the difference?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to make yourself invisible. Fail.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, one thing I'm thankful for is that I was in Avery Fisher Hall (the home of the New York Philharmonic) the evening this happened, even though it's a funny memory without a punchline. So I'll add one when the time comes.

It is, of course, regarded as rude to applaud between the separate movements of musical work. That's a time for rustling your programs and coughing consumptively. Nor is it good manners to leave the concert hall between movements, or even between works. Ideally, if you can't stay for the whole concert, you should piss off during the intermission.*

I once saw Leonard Slatkin start the second half of a Philharmonic concert with Vaughan Williams's brief, melodious little lollipop, the Fantasia on Greensleeves. Then, without leaving the podium, no doubt so would-be fugitives from modernism had no cover for their escape, he launched into the grinding discords that begin the same composer's angry but ultimately lyrical Fourth Symphony. Ah, but the notoriously unadventurous New York subscription audience is made of tougher stuff. One hint of a D-flat and a C played fortissimo at the same time and silk-clad pensioners were out of their tip-up seats and fleeing up the aisle like Leila after a squirrel.

That wasn't the memory. Sorry. You get that when you read a blog by someone with ADD. Personally, I don't see it as a drawback. Did you know that "orchestra" is an anagram of "carthorse"?

Anyway, you get used to people leaving a concert between works, irritating though it is. No doubt if they wait until the very end of the performance, they won't make it back to New Jersey in time for Leno. But on this one occasion (now we're back with the memory), an elderly couple seemed to make up their minds to leave just a little late. And for some reason, they chose to depart through the emergency exit at the front of the hall, which meant walking up the empty aisle toward the orchestra and then along the first row in front of the stage. So the lady naturally adopted that peculiar style of locomotion that she clearly thought would make her invisible to a concert hall full of people -- hunching her shoulders, bending forward, and walking on tiptoe with a prowling gait, like a tall heron stepping out of a helicopter. The man just ambled after her, meekly carrying her fur.

The trouble was that, by now, Kurt Masur had taken the podium and was about to start the next work. Catching the movement out of the corner of his eye, he did the best double take I've ever seen by a conductor of a major orchestra. He lowered his baton, turned, and simply watched the pair as they slowly stalked across the front of the hall immediately beneath him, unaware of his magisterial scrutiny and convinced of their invisibility. The door opened and closed behind them. Maestro Masur looked up at the audience, gave a long-suffering, adagio shrug of helplessness and turned back to the orchestra, shaking his head in disbelief. (Zubin Mehta would have arranged for their immediate beheading in the lobby.)  A delicious moment.

That's it. Okay, it's a vignette that needs a punchline. How about: "And that's why the Republicans now have control of the House of Representatives."**
*Although I remember this once tripped up the audience at an outdoor concert at Caramoor. The program was, perhaps injudiciously, all six of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos played in sequence, with an intermission in the middle. The problem was that the first concerto has the typical three movements, but these are uniquely followed by a long, segmented fourth movement. A lot of optimistic concertgoers calculated that this was, in fact, the second concerto. So when the actual second concerto ended, and the performers left the stage during the reshuffle of instruments, there was a partial exodus in search of refreshments. Re-enter the string players for concerto number three, to watch half their audience trooping out of the tent, realizing their mistake, and ruefully squeezing back into their the seats, treading on the toes of the better-informed audience members who'd stayed put. That memory doesn't have a punchline either.

**Oh, you want to know what that's the punchline to? Okay. "Knock, knock." ("Who's there?") "Barack." ("Barack who?")

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quiet weekend.

I've often complained about some of the banal drivel I've had to write while wearing the corporate communications hat, but I envy whoever in the local Petco had the privilege of drafting the neatly typeset notice that announces "Our frozen rodents have been relocated."
Tertius approaches me with a pack of cards and invites me to pick one. The nine of hearts. I memorize it, then slide it back into the deck. He shuffles through, produces a card, and asks me if it's mine. It is indeed. And I choose not to mention that I know he owns a trick deck in which the nine of hearts is, shall we say, overrepresented.

Later, he insists that I play "Go Fish" with him. He solemnly deals out seven cards. I look at them. They're all the nine of hearts. "Got any nines?" he shouts gleefully, getting in just ahead of me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The daily insult.

This time it's all my fault. I should have known better. But we were talking in the car about the effectiveness of substitute teachers, and I just had to ask the question that all fathers have surely asked at least once since the beginning of time.

"Whenever I ask you do anything," I mutter, "it takes about twelve tries before you register that I'm talking to you, and I generally have to threaten you with dire consequences to get a response. But you can't do enough to please your teacher. How come you don't behave for your parents the way you do for your teachers?"

Secundus needs no pondering time for this one. "Because teachers are awesome!" he instantly cries.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't step on it, it might be Ringo.

For the past three Christmases, our family holiday card has been a parody of a Beatles album cover, largely because the word "Beatles" can so easily be manipulated into "Beecheys," and because there are four children in the next generation, if you count the dog. Of course I count the dog, don't you know me by now? (Here's a tip. You can neglect your friends from January to December, but send them an original, homemade Christmas card and you're golden for another twelve months.)

For this year's card, we needed a top hat as a prop, to be worn by that junior Lon Chaney, Tertius. (I will not, at this point, give away the identity of the album to be mercilessly manipulated for the forthcoming holiday, but it's probably the last one that's sufficiently iconic for recipients to get the reference. I refuse to attempt "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.") On the same run to Party City, young T also got his long-requested bald cap, an essential part of his proposed Halloween costume for 2011, which is to be a hobo. I always believe in encouraging forward planning. Not that you can do any backward planning. Of course, it's no surprise that he enters the office where I'm working claiming to have the largest brain in the world, because he's wearing the oversize, flesh-colored bald cap with a large bubble of air trapped in the top.

Ten minutes later, he's back. He's ditched the bald cap and is now wearing the top hat and a black sweater. He says he's Abraham Lincoln. (He tries to fashion a white dishcloth into a stock, but throws it to one side, claiming it smells of throw-up. It didn't, it was freshly laundered.) I ask him where his beard is, and he says he'd have one if he could find a spare Post-It note. However, he's quite logically substituted a clip-on ear-ring. Abe, dude.

*Only after I printed all the cards did it occur to me that the row of Leilas would be funnier if it were reversed -- four pictures with her ears down and the last showing her ears raised. I've now made a version like this, but the image here is what our friends and family actually received. Or should have, if we'd finished writing them all before Purim. 

Incidentally, the Leila images aren't the same picture with the ears manipulated. They're two totally different pictures of the beast taken at different times under completely different lighting conditions. Behold the power of Photoshop. (Friends and relatives in England were miffed that I seemed to have shipped the kids to Abbey Road but didn't find time to visit. I had to explain that it was all done with a homemade bluescreen in the back yard.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Onomastics and Daleks.

Many readers have commented on the unusual names I give my characters. (One reviewer called the practice "Dickensian," and I take that as a gigantic compliment, even though it probably wasn't intended to be one.)

There's a reason for that, beyond the fact that I just love names. In a mystery, when you need to introduce several suspects plus the usual repertory company plus the walk-ons and extras, it's essential that you make each character as memorable as possible. Distinctive names help.* (I recall an Agatha Christie novel in which two of the suspects were called Richard and Robert, and I could never keep them straight. But maybe that's what the wily Dame was counting on, Gawd bless 'er.)

So as well as the "where do you get your ideas?" question (to which I reply, with solemn veracity, "in the shower"), I often get the "where do you find these names?" question. The boring truth is that I've kept a growing list of potential character names for years in my ancient Filofax, going all the way back to a long perusal of the classic four-volume London telephone directory in my teenage years.** (Which is where I found the name "Strongitharm.")

But life hands me gifts. When you go into Staples, a large sign tells customers of the special store representative to whom they should address their technical questions. On Sunday, that person was the melodious and improbable "Stafford Gumbs."

Sorry, Stafford, if you ever Google yourself and find this blog, but you'll soon be fictional.

*Nobody seems to have spotted the rude joke hidden in the company name "Woodcock and Oakhampton," both characters in An Embarrassment of Corpses.

**Back in the 60's and 70's, the standard four volumes were A-D, E-K, L-R, S-Z, these letters prominent on the thick spines. They were installed in every London phone box, on a peculiar swivel-out arrangement, but we also had a set at home. Now imagine, like in so many offices, you had all four books lying in a stack on a shelf or on the top of a filing cabinet. And, as so often happens, they were in the wrong order, so the third volume was on top of the second. It would be perfectly possible to trace the word D-A-L-E-K through adjacent letters.

When Terry Nation created the Daleks back in 1963, for the new BBC series "Doctor Who," he told the Daily Mirror that the name "came from a dictionary or encyclopedia volume, the spine of which read 'Dal - Lek.'" But according to the 1988 The Official Doctor Who & the Daleks Book, Nation later admitted that this book and the origin of the Dalek name was completely fictitious, and that anyone bothering to check out his story would have found him out.

I merely offer another potential source, other than Nation's imagination, based on my original research.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You MUST see this!

Found it! My old friend Sylvia Davies, the centenarian actress who passed away last week (see Curtain Call), was in her early nineties when she had a sudden flurry of work in commercials. Here's a classic, which I knew had to be out there somewhere, and which I just located on YouTube:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Your flashback needs a flashback.

A red sports car hurtles along a country lane, the radio playing a Blondie track. But this is not enough to specify the time. The two women in the car are arguing over the blond passenger's apparent inability to read a map. The brunette driver angrily drains a can of beer, hurls it away vehemently. One cut as the empty can flies over a fence. One more cut, and it rolls to a stop in the grass, revealing a sell-by date in May 1988.

There you are. Fifteen seconds into the sequence and we already have a clear sense of the women's dynamic -- it will be crucial -- and we know this happens in the past, so it's undoubtedly backstory, told with startling economy.

The use of the can to establish the date so quickly and unambiguously is brilliant. No, it's contrived and ham-fisted. No, it's written (and produced and in this case directed) by David Renwick, so it's tongue-in-cheek.

It's from the "The Judas Tree, " the April 2010 feature-length episode of the clever and hugely entertaining television series "Jonathan Creek," which since 1997 has featured endearing Alan Davies as the scruffy, beduffled but rarely befuddled expert on stage magic and illusions. And we have to wait until the end of the program to know that Renwick's rich flashback has fooled us. (And in this case, it fools Jonathan.) We're so taken by the economy of the exegesis, by the way the story hits the ground running, by the way he obeys the rule to start as late as possible in any scene, by the uncanny events that then unfold, that we forget to ask an obvious question: what happened even earlier? The swiftness of the story deceives the memory.

Left, Alan Davies. Right, Alan Beechey (in 1975). Scary, huh? And I had a duffle coat.
Yes, the reach of Renwick's writing often exceeds our grasp of the events, but what's a mystery for? The apparent contrivance and coincidences of his baffling set-ups are whittled down so satisfyingly over the course of an hour and a half, that we can easily brush off the traces that remain. These are good mysteries and great visual story-telling. And funny with it. Catch them if you can.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

To say nothing of the dog. For once.

Listening on my iPod to a download of a sadly abridged reading from the BBC of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in A Boat, one of my favorite books.

(Why is this author always given his full name? He's never referred to as just "Jerome." I suppose people like saying it. The K stands for Klapka, incidentally, which shows he got his sense of humor from his parents.)

The file info says the reader is the great Stephen Fry, but it turns out to be his equally talented friend and former performing partner, Hugh Laurie. I find myself laughing aloud in the street at passages like:
" . . . [Having moored on the bank of the Thames and prepared a meal] We had just commenced the third course — the bread and jam — when a gentleman in shirt-sleeves and a short pipe came along, and wanted to know if we knew that we were trespassing. We said we hadn’t given the matter sufficient consideration as yet to enable us to arrive at a definite conclusion on that point, but that, if he assured us on his word as a gentleman that we were trespassing, we would, without further hesitation, believe it."

Plug here for Connie Willis's hilarious science fiction time-travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog, which draws heavily on this story and on the works of Wodehouse.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

And if you cross a Great Dane with a dachsund, you'd need a stepladder.

Then there's all this business of designer dogs. It probably started with the labradoodle (Labrador retriever and poodle), possibly to shove some of the poodle's intelligence and (supposedly) hypoallergenic qualities into the nation's favorite breed.

Now you have all kinds of hybrid, such as the "Dorkie" (dachshund and Yorkshire terrier) or the "Puggle" (pug and beagle). And no kidding, a chihauhau/Pekingese hybrid is called a "Cheeks."

So it occurred to me that if you cross a Shih-Tzu with a Poodle, you'd get a redundancy.

It does exist. It's disappointingly called a Shih-Poo. Close.

The private beauty of restraint.

Secundus's scout troop is having a bake sale during the kids' Saturday soccer at the Rye Recreation Park, to raise money for a local charity. I drop by during his shift this morning, Leila in tow. As we're standing there in the field, momentarily isolated, one man and his dog on a bright blue leash, an older man ambles over from a nearby table.

"Is that your dog?" he asks.

Oh, oh, oh, too many, too many sarcastic replies fills my brain. So many that I'll have to categorize the potential responses according to the possible emphases within the four-word sentence. "Is that your dog?" gets a different funny from "Is that your dog?" "No, it's my . . ."

Taken by Tertius last year with his Fisher Price camera.
But I don't. And won't. Even now. The man is pleasant and a dog-lover. He smiles and pets Leila, who licks his hands. We chat about a show on Animal Planet, deploring the cruelty to dogs that it depicts. He has a faint Irish brogue. He's a regular volunteer for the Youth Soccer Program. I dimly remember that he was the man with whom my eyeglasses had been deposited a year ago, when I'd dropped them while watching Secundus play during my one true season as a literal soccer dad, and I wish he was available to track down the really nice pair I mislaid on Thursday. There are too many other people in this world who deserve my rudeness.

Like the woman I passed on the way to the park, who doesn't realize that reining in your dog to stop it attacking mine doesn't work if you only shorten your leash by about two inches so your lab mix can still reach her. Even when I have her tightly gripped behind my legs. But I say nothing.

Like the woman pulling out of the Citibank parking lot a few minutes after I left the Rec, who assumed -- quite wrongly -- that I was just going to stop my brisk walk and cede my right of way on the sidewalk to let her drive past. She stopped in time. And I say nothing.

Or like the woman yesterday turning left onto the Playland Parkway at Milton Road (site of many an incident), only to encounter me and Leila already halfway across the intersection. Your bad-tempered, long-suffering, arrogant gesture toward the red pedestrian light fails to take into account that I had, in fact, stopped in the middle of the road to let you pass, if you wished; that under any circumstances, light or no light, you ought to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk on a right turn; and that had I not refrained from pressing the crosswalk button on a day with almost no traffic, you'd have still been back on Milton waiting for the red light.

All of which I would have said, only she was already speeding toward the interstate, smug in her self-righteousness, unaware that I'd just shaved 30 seconds off a journey that's so important to her, she feels it entitles her to give up a little humanity and grace. Which is why I'm writing it now. There, I feel better.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Major media blunder.

I was reading "Dear Abby" for story ideas, as you do, when I spotted a link on the page that said: "PHOTO's: People's Sexiest Man Alive.

So I clicked it, and it wasn't me. Again. Bugger. I'm going out to eat worms.

On the other hand, today's Rye Record did include my letter about dogs.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Curtain call.

I just received the word that my dear friend, centenarian actress Sylvia Davis, died yesterday at the Actors Equity nursing home in Englewood, NJ. Regular followers with long memories may remember that I wrote a week of blog entries in her honor in April, culminating in her one hundredth birthday. A small, unworthy tribute from an admirer to an actress who, like so many, didn't have a resume that in any way reflected her enormous talent.

(You can read those entries in order, if you wish, by starting with "My other girlfriend . . . " and then hitting the "Newer Post" link at the bottom of each page.)

One last reminiscence. Susan Mosakowski, the director of the recorded book studio for the Library for the Blind in Manhattan, created many opportunities for the visually handicapped to come to the building to hear live performances, using the talents of the studio's volunteer narrators, many of whom were professional actors and voice-over artists. (And one was a mystery author.) A popular series was our re-enactment of old radio plays, often detective thrillers, but including a fine adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost. As someone who spent more time working the tape machine than actually reading, my role was often to handle the sound effects, a mix of live noises and prerecorded effects. I liked this play, because I got to make the sound of a suit of armor being attacked with peashooters.

Sylvia played the housekeeper of the ancient, haunted castle, which in the play was occupied by an American family -- she was like Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher, only without the German accent or the horses. Near the beginning of the play, she came to the door to greet the newcomers with some innocuous remark like "Good morning" or just "Yes?" (Sorry, Sylvia, darling, I can't remember.) To herald this moment, I'd found a recording of the longest ever sound of a creaking door-hinge. (A word, incidentally, that does rhyme with "orange.")

So there's the set-up. Knock on door. Door opens with an interminable creak. Pause. Then Sylvia's voice.

It was always the funniest moment of the performance. Not my weird sound effect. Not Wilde's words, or whatever greeting the adapter had put in Sylvia's mouth.

It was her pause. Flawlessly, perfectly, shamelessly timed to the nanosecond.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

If you knew Suzi.

Foreigners like to depict Americans as being uninformed and uninterested about other countries, but that's a gross understatement. We don't know much about the other states within the US either.

I mean, who outside California can name its governor? It's bound to be somebody we've never heard of.*

But there is the slight chance that even non-New Yorkers have caught wind of the corruption and cronyism and deep dysfunctionality of our state government. Google the name of the capital, Albany, and every citation is preceded by the words "the mess in."

So today was election day, a chance to vote for a new governor. (To recap, Eliot Spitzer stepped down after a bare year in office following his involvement with a call-girl ring, although he's recently resurfaced as a pundit on CNN. His term was served out by his lieutenant governor David Paterson, famous beyond state borders for being regularly lampooned on "Saturday Night Live." But at least he doesn't shoot moose from a helicopter.)

It's also our chance to jiggle up the State Senate, although I ended up doing the knee-jerk thing and voting for Democratic incumbent Suzi Oppenheimer, who's already been a state senator for a quarter of a century.** This is despite my irritation with getting four recorded phone messages yesterday plugging her candidacy. Hey, I have all my lines forwarded to my cell phone, these are my minutes, guys!

But I'm already regretting it, if the phone call I got this afternoon is an indication of why things are so bad in Albany. It went something like this:

"This is Mrs. Brown. Am I speaking to Mr. Beechey?"


"Sir, I'm calling on behalf of the Suzi Oppenheimer campaign, and --"

"I already voted, you're too late."

"Oh, you did? Well, I just wanted to remind you that today is election day, and the polling stations are open from six o'clock to nine o'clock."

[Mystified] "I said I already voted. There's no point in telling me this. We're in New York, not Chicago."

"I see, sir. For verification can I have your first name?"

"I'd prefer not to. Anyway, don't you know who you called?'

"It's just for verification, Mr. Beechey. Why can't I have your first name?"

"Because I can't think of any reason why you'd need it."

"Then can I confirm that the number I called to reach you is [my home telephone number]."

"Yes, but why don't you know the number, since you just called it . . . ?"

A good job this gang isn't trying to shoot moose. At least it's not our tax dollars that are at work here. Alas, it soon will be.

*Yeah, right. And who's his lieutenant governor, Danny DeVito?

**Even her campaign slogan, a relentless exhortation to "Keep Suzi," was a reminder of her incumbency, a dubious tactic this year. I couldn't help taking it personally, since I have a recurring character called Susie Beamish in my books -- she features prominently in This Private Plot -- and I was wondering if I should bring her and her cleavage back for the fourth Swithin title, which I'm currently planning, even though it takes place in New York, not London.

I'm Plenty.

That Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldfinger sold over the weekend for $4.6 million, a little less than expected. But despite the chance of getting a bargain, the mem-sahib was not one of the bidders. I mean, it's not as if I hadn't dropped a hint or two. (See "Now, pay attention, 007.")

It's just like the time I wanted a Kandinsky I'd seen at Sotheby's. It wasn't even one of his later, more expensive works. But what do I get? Bupkis, that's what I get. Strike two.

More on peotry.

Kathi Taylor (praise be to her) commented on my pome "Ode to my bitch" that the "possum/awesome ('ossum')" rhyme, which I said wouldn't work in British English, might also bypass some versions of American English, too.

It works the other way round. Here's a clerihew what I wrote:

Lady Chatterley
Said: "Just latterly
I've dispensed with umbrellas;
Now I'm covered by Mellors."

But that only works in British English (maybe Boston, too), where the post-vocalic 'r' in Mellors isn't pronounced. (It would come out as "Mellahs.") It also means I couldn't rhyme Chatterley with "philately," which of course gets you everywhere, except in America. So here's a bi-lingual version:

Lady Chatterley
Said: "Just latterly
I've topped the best-sellers
Because of ten pages with Mellors."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Notes from a Halloween.

I buy the usual large bags of Halloween candy from the supermarket, miniature versions of well-known candy bars.

"'Fun-size,'" Primus cynically reads off the packet, as I decant the contents into a purple bucket to leave outside the door while we're out trick-or-treating. "They're a quarter the size of the normal bars. How is that fun?"

Primus and Secundus have each joined his own pack of marauding schoolfriends, and I'm left to accompany seven-year-old Tertius on his solo attempt to corner the world's candy supply. He's a biker skeleton. I'm a friar.

"Now what do you say when you knock on the door?" I rehearse.

"Trick or treat!" he replies.

"And what do you say when you get candy?"

"Thank you!"

"And if you don't get candy, you say . . . ?"

I trail off, the joke having been made (although this doesn't prevent the knee-jerk reproof from his nearby mother, which is what I was going for). But Tertius continues merrily:

"Well, I know the b-word, and the f-word, and . . ."

I'm talking to my friend and fellow-author and fellow-mother Annabel (plug for her book -- click here) about the costumes at Party City for grown-ups. Everything for women seems to be a sexy variation on a kid's classic, such as "Sexy Pirate," "Sexy Nurse," "Sexy Vampire."* But I lament that I never actually get to see these in the, er, flesh. Annabel informs me I'm clearly not getting invited to the right sort of party. Of course not. I have three small children, and I go to bed at ten o'clock.

Clearly not in Kansas anymore
But after an hour of chaperoning an avid trick-or-treater in temperatures that have dipped into the 40s and with a chill breeze blowing around my sandaled feet and up my friar's robe, I know why the young mothers of Rye prefer to cover up on Halloween. About the only tolerable costume would be "Mildly Risque Polar Bear."

This year, eleven-year-old Primus cashes in on his shoulder-length hair and decides to go out disguised as a girl. Wearing a pink top that he made me buy at Kohl's and with his mother's help to braid the hair and sweep it into a pony-tail, he's utterly convincing.

I applaud his courage. And as a father, I'm quite okay about it. Really, I am. No, really.

*That picture is a genuine 2010 Halloween costume downloaded from Party City's website. In researching it -- I suffer for you, Dear Reader -- I also found similarly skimpy versions for adult women of Hermione from Harry Potter, Wednesday Addams, and -- the horror! the horror! -- Big Bird and Elmo from "Sesame Street." (I knew Katy Perry's cleavage was the thin end of the wedge.) But the worst is a "sexy Betty Rubble." What a sacrilege! As if you anyone could make Betty Rubble any sexier than she is already.