Excused Absence!

Friends! I’m sorry for the long delay, and thank you for all your kind words and emails. I hope to be back soon. And yes, I’m doing perfectly well – I’ve been bitten by the Long Novel bug, which is dominating my time. I hope to have some updates soon.

In the meantime, please feel free to run through some of the History of Jacke Wilson in 100 Objects Series, or check out one of the others:

The Worst Posts of the Year

Who’s Cheating America?

Writers Laughing

Know Your Inner Beatle

The Jacke Wilson Show

Onward and upward!

The Cane (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #32)

cane

He was of average height and build, with blond hair and a disconcerting smile: his mouth expanded, his teeth flashed white, but his eyes expressed no joy or excitement. At best they looked nervous and slightly desperate, like those of an animal caught in a trap. At worst they looked dulled over, like the animal resigned to its fate, seconds from death.

With magnanimity I confessed that I hadn’t yet learned his name.

“It’s Kyle,” he said.

I probed for the last name in the time-honored way. “Kyle…?”

Kyle,” he repeated. His dead-eyed smile sprawled across his face.

“Okay. And you’re the one with the roommate who…?”

“I’m sorry about that, Mr. Wilson. I won’t be late again. My dad was angry, but I told my mom what you said about plugging in my alarm clock even though it has batteries and she said you were completely right. I just didn’t know.”

He looked so crestfallen I apologized for not having cared more, though frankly my heart wasn’t really in it.

“…and I’m sorry your father was angry at you,” I concluded.

“He wasn’t angry at me, Mr. Wilson.”

“Okay, then. Well, what can I–”

“He was angry at you.”

I tried to hide my irritation. Angry at me? Because his kid hadn’t managed to come to class on time? Would excusing the tardiness have been fair to the students who had gotten up when they should have, and who had spent twenty-five minutes in an active discussion that Kyle had missed?

Already I wanted Kyle to leave my office. “What brings you here, Kyle?”

He smiled nervously and said that he would be presenting on Friday. Since he was the first one to present, he wondered if I could tell him what the grade would be based on.

“Effectiveness,” I said grandly. “You have to be able to identify the important points and convey them to your fellow classmates. But don’t worry. I’ll be there to make sure things stay on track.”

“Are we graded on creativity? You said we should be creative.”

“Absolutely!” I said. “The best presentations are the ones with energy. Teaching’s not as easy as it looks, you know, especially on a Friday morning on a campus where the parties begin on Thursday nights. Not all students have learned the trick of plugging in their alarm clock.”

This was meant as an olive branch, but he only nodded seriously. I sensed that he was a little dull, and that he knew that this was one of his weaknesses. Something he would have to overcome.

“Have fun with this,” I said. “Surprise me.”

#

On Friday I launched into some preliminaries to warm up the class. I previewed the Michael Pollan essay we would be discussing on Monday. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle. I didn’t want to stare at him, but he didn’t look too good. He looked gray.

Oh, great. A kid with stage fright for the very first one. Well, this will be good for him. He’ll need to be able to speak in public to advance in this life.

I wrapped up my introductory remarks and turned the floor over to Kyle.

“Kyle’s not here,” a creaky voice said.

I blinked and stared. Kyle had spoken, but it did not sound like him.

“Kyle…?” I said carefully. “Kyle, it’s time for you to…”

As my words trailed off, Kyle finally rose from his desk. He was wearing a robe and holding a plastic pipe. He had some kind of powder in his hair. He shuffled to the front of the room, using a cane for support.

I thought he might have lost his mind.

“Um…okay, everyone, Kyle’s presenting today—the topic is semi-colons, I think.”

“Kyle’s not here!” Kyle said sharply. He had adopted a high-pitched, quavering, old-man’s voice. Air whistled through his teeth as he feigned anger. Continue reading

Gore Vidal’s Great Orson Welles Story

I’ve read a lot of Orson Welles stories, but somehow I missed many of the gems in this fantastic NYRB essay by Gore Vidal. Here’s one of my favorites, where Vidal and Welles are analyzing “like a pair of Talmudic scholars” a draft of Rudy Vallée’s memoirs, which Vidal has managed to get his hands on:

As professional storytellers, we were duly awed by Rudy’s handling of The Grapefruit Incident, which begins, so casually, at Yale.

Ironically, the dean was the father of the boy who, nine years later, was to hurl a grapefruit at me in a Boston theater and almost kill me.

Then the story is dropped. Pages pass. Years pass. Then the grapefruit motif is reintroduced. Rudy and his band have played for the dean; afterward, when they are given ice cream, Rudy asks, “Is this all we’re having….”

Apparently one of [the dean’s] sons noticed my rather uncivil question…and resolved that some day he would avenge this slight. What he actually did later at a Boston theater might have put him in the electric chair and me in my grave but fortunately his aim was bad. But of that more later.

Orson thought this masterful. Appetites whetted, we read on until the now inevitable rendezvous of hero and grapefruit in a Boston theater where, as Rudy is singing, “Oh, Give Me Something to Remember You By,” “a large yellow grapefruit came hurtling from the balcony. With a tremendous crash it struck the drummer’s cymbal…” but “if it had struck the gooseneck of my sax squarely where it curves into the mouth it might have driven it back through the vertebra in the back of my neck.” Of this passage, the ecstatic Orson whispered, “Conrad”—what might have been if Lord Jim had remained on watch.

The ecstatic Orson, whispering  the word Conrad….simply sublime.

You can ask the genie to transport you to whichever historical period you want. I’ll use one of my three wishes to go have lunch with these guys.

Onward and upward!

The Art of the Interview

I’ve praised Marc Maron’s podcast before, and it’s (almost) always worth a listen. This week’s episode is especially good: friend of the blog (and underpraised American treasure) Harry Shearer!

There’s a lot of subtext to this one and I’m not sure exactly what to think. Harry’s a complicated guy. He’s funny and brilliant, and yet he seems not to have too many friends. (How can that be!?) I blame showbiz: he’s spent his life battling the entertainment industry, and the fighting spirit has probably spilled over into his relationships with those closest to him. Like a Roman soldier on a decades-long campaign: how many friends did those guys have? Comrades, maybe, but friends? Maybe not so much.

In any case, you can find it here. And if you’re a little wiped out by the SNL 40 hoopla, this is a welcome cleanser.

Embrace Your Inner Beatle! “I’m So Tired”

Back to coins for this week’s randomizing method. Seven quick flips to allow the gods of genius and creativity to have their say, and…

Oh gods. Excellent choice. But are you feeling okay? Feeling droopy? Has the work of inspiring creativity gotten you down? Or are you just admiring one of John’s favorite songs? In any case, here we go with…

“I’m So Tired” (Lennon-McCartney, The White Album)

Where to begin? This is one of those songs that critics dislike but listeners don’t forget. That voice! Those words! Like so much else on The White Album, it goes straight to our brain.

I know, I know: why is this millionaire tired? He doesn’t haul bricks or drive a forklift, he doesn’t work two jobs, he’s not on the night shift. He plays music and does drugs and eats whatever he wants. Stop complaining! Continue reading

The Trailer (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #31)

trailer

It started with the rain. Tammy Wynette refused to perform on the uncovered stage, the foot traffic slowed to a trickle, and my boss Jerry couldn’t stop grumbling about the replacement band.

“The Cheese Boys?” he muttered, as the sounds from Turtle Tap’s house band echoed through an empty grandstand. “This is the best those college idiots can do?”

All week Jerry had been irritated by Riverfest!’s new management, who reminded him of the college graduates who used to boss him around at the factory before his escape to the freedom of owning his own business. A popcorn wagon, an industrial laundry, and now and then the odd miscellaneous hustle. We operated in what you might call the gray economy: not exactly illicit, but not exactly well documented, either. Did we pay all our taxes? That wasn’t a question Jerry asked. He knew he paid enough.

For years we had taken in cash from the fairgoers, our white money bucket filling throughout the day with hard-earned dollars from hard-working people looking to have a good time at the fair.

This year Thurl Albrecht, the chief college idiot, had installed a new system to “address issues of uncaptured revenue.” In order to make sure that the carnies and concessionaires weren’t skimping on the percentage they paid to Riverfest! Inc., fairgoers were now required to buy tickets at an official Riverfest! booth, which they then exchanged for rides and games and food.

Jerry had taken this personally.

I don’t think it bothered him that he was viewed as a cheater, because he knew he sort of was—he even took a kind of grifter’s pride in it.

But the new system—these red tickets—had messed with his relationship to cash, and that was unacceptable.

Something would need to change. Continue reading