There’s a Whip in My Valise

Last Thursday, we marked the official launch of poet Lisa Summers’ Star Thistle & Other Poems with a wine and music drenched reading at the Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, CA. The evening was a capacity-crowd -smash (and I was smashed as well). Fortunately, I had already prepared the affectionate toast-n-roast below…
Maurice Girodias

The late French publisher Maurice Girodias had a bold approach when marketing his line of smutty books. He would list provocative titles in a catalog, then hire writers to write them once a title was actually ordered. And he had a crack team of hacks on-call that included expatriate writers Henry Miller, William Burroughs and other names that eventually became big.

And the titles rocked. Among them:

The Convent of Satan; A Flutter of Lashes; Chariot of Flesh; Dr. Onan; Classical Hindu Erotology and one simply titled White Thighs. But pronounced with a Z, I bet. The best title, however, was on a book by someone called Greta X about five women, or more specifically, ”four sadists and one nymphomaniac,” on a sex spree across Europe. Continue reading “There’s a Whip in My Valise”

TMI on World Information Day

tmiIf you, people of the world, don’t already know, permit me to inform you that today is World Information Day. This is the annual acknowledgement of worldly information first observed in 2006 by the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations.
So, why haven’t you heard about it until now? Like many specialized international agencies (S.P.E.C.T.R.E. comes to mind), sometimes information is hard to come by.

When trying to fix this, I enjoyed a brief correspondence with Sanjay Acharya, the ITU’s chief of “media relations and public information,” who directed my request for a quote to a four-and-a-half minute YouTube video of ITU Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré. Well-played, Sanjay, but if I were going to quote a YouTube video, it would probably be something a little more viral than Dr. Touré’s monotonic admonition not to text and drive. Though a worthy sentiment, the doctor should also warn drivers not to watch his video lest they fall asleep at the wheel. Continue reading “TMI on World Information Day”

Wacky Wednesday: Acid-Drenched Orwell via Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss

Our son’s maternal grandmother was a kindergarten teacher, consequently we’ve inherited children’s books spanning both the decades of her career and those of her own child-rearing. We’ve inherited a library dating back to the 70s with many gems and as many that seem to be cultural artefacts form a parallel universe.

Among the my son’s current favorites is this peculiar title credited to a one “Theo. LeSieg.” Thanks to my superhuman ability to decipher anagrams (the result of mild dyslexia), I immediately recognized the surname as a mirror of “Geisel,” as in Theodor Geisel who is perhaps better known as Dr. Seuss. Though this was apparently no secret to either publishers or readers, it was a revelation to me and for a moment I felt like Dan Brown’s Harvard-bred symbologist Robert Langdon. And nearly as fictional to boot.

Apparently Geisel used the backward nom de plume for books he authored but did not illustrate. Among them is Wacky Wednesday, which steps up the surreality of most Seuss works with a Buñuel-like play on the banal – a shoe on the wall. Then there are two shoes on the wall. Then the androgynous protagonist observes:

“Then I looked up and said, ‘Oh, MAN!’
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.”

The shoes become a leitmotif of the book – book that grows more psychedelic by the page. The illustrations by George Booth have all the expected flouting of the laws of physics as well as myriad missing limbs and the occasional student sans head. Booth likely honed his merry-meets-macabre style when drafted during WWII and, later, the Korean War to draw for Marine Corps rag Leatherneck.

Throughout, Wacky Wednesday, the protagonist is counselled against the perception that anything is amiss. The first admonition comes courtesy of the Sutherland Sisters, triplets in matching school uniforms (though one is missing her legs and another’s head is detached at the collar), who chide the kid that “Nothing is wacky around here but you!”

Apparently, conformity is the rule. Anything straying outside the rigid norms of this suburban enclave’s systematic denial is simply ignored. Moreover, normality, whatever it means here, is strictly enforced by the institutions and their proxies. When the kid informs his teacher that wackiness as infected her class, she completely loses her shit and expels him:

“Nothing is wacky here in my class! Get out! You’re the wacky one! OUT!”

You can all but hear the students chanting “We don’t need no education…” Also, a careful observer will also spy a caricature of Karl Marx presumably undergoing his state-mandated “re-education.”

The Marxes

Loosed on the streets (now a mosaic of bad acid moments worthy of Roger Corman’s The Trip) the kid has a run-in with a three-legged officer of the law. The cop, a red-haired Irish stereotype named McGann, tasks the kid with finding 20 additional wacky bits “and then you can go back to bed.” This amounts to a kind of Orwellian “doublethink,” wherein an agent of the state all but affirms that reality contradicts the edicts of the Party, yet he prescribes some mental busywork that will apparently alleviate the disparity (which does not exist). It recalls this exchange from 1984:

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

And, of course, it works: “Wacky Wednesday was gone when I counted them all. And I even got rid of that shoe on the wall.”

WTF, Dr. Seuss? Perhaps I’m reading too much into Wacky Wednesday but even if I were to read “too little” into it, it still comes off as a polemic about the virtues of social conformity. Maybe I need to spend more time with adults. Or maybe I just need to count all the wacky bits so I can go back to bed. Maybe I just did.

Perhaps it’s just another Wacky Wednesday when one should accept that, all in all, you’re just another shoe on the wall.

Happy Moloch’s Day: The Mother of All Holidays

When activist Anna Jarvis originally conceived of Mothers’ Day, it was intended as an intimate, perhaps even somber event, during which children can acknowledge the myriad sacrifices endured by the women who birthed and raised them. By 1914, her campaigning led to President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on a bill establishing Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.
Nearly a century later, that “intimate” event, according to estimates of the National Retail Federation, is a $20.7 billion business. Naturally, our moms deserve every bit of that $20.7 billion brunch they get from us but Jarvis would not have approved. She brought numerous lawsuits against organizations that used the “holiday” in conjunction with charity causes and even petitioned the government to remove it from the calendar after having worked so hard to get it on there in the first place.

History.com reports an incident that occured in 1925 in which “…an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations. Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace…” Find me a national holiday invented in the 20th century that hasn’t become a marketing bonanza and I’ll kindly direct you to my birthday and call you all slackers (be assured, my day will come).

That said, I do find some aspects of all this consumer spending disturbing, especially since among the Mother’s Day profiteers is Hallmark, the monolithic greeting card company that has metastasized into its own TV channel among other atrocities. This is my fear – born from a drunken conversation with Trane DeVore sometime in the mid 90s: In the deep future, alien archeologists will visit a quiet, dead earth and exhume countless greeting cards from the rubble. They will evaluate the treacly one-liners and sanctimonious couplets and, in a moment of cosmic bathos, conclude that “Hallmark” must have been the earth’s poet laureate since his name is printed on all of them. At which point, they would stop digging and go home never to learn of the poetic genius of DeVore and Howell. And maybe Shakespeare. And Pound before the war.

So, in some regards, I empathize with Anna Jarvis, who, ironically died childless and destitute in a sanitarium in 1948. Perhaps if she had offspring of her own to shower her in flowers and mimosas she would have felt differently (probably sticky). That said, the kids would probably put her in a sanitorium anyway, given all that muttering, like an anti-capitalist Cassandra, on and on about the evils of Moloch. You remember Moloch? The ancient god whose name translates from the Phoenician literally as “Mark on the Hall of the Gods.” Just say’n.