Archives for November 2011


To Kathleen Wilson, for the novena

The tepid sea detained our staggered fleet
As empty nets adorned the running gunwales
The way a village woman’s temple veils
Would dry on stone in summer’s wrinkling heat.
My brother’s bark felt hollow, incomplete,
Its luckless holds reduced to hungry holes;
So casting eyes ashore I watched the gulls
Harangue a man. Sharp-eyed as an egret
He saw me look. I knew him once, and yet –
As I bobbed like bait fish on gentle swells
And Galilee embraced our rotting hulls –
If asked, is it really something I’d admit?
He turned to catch me watching once before
And hooked me good: “What are you looking for?”


From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of Irish author C.S. [Clive Staples] Lewis (books by this author), born in Belfast in 1898. When he was four, his dog Jacksie was hit by a car and killed; the boy declared he was changing his name to “Jacksie,” and for a while he wouldn’t answer to anything else. For the rest of his life, he was known as “Jack” to his family and close friends.

Raised in the Church of Ireland, he became an atheist in his teens and eventually returned to the church after a series of long theological arguments with his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien. “I gave up Christianity at about 14,” he said. “Came back to it when getting on for 30. Not an emotional conversion; almost purely philosophical. I didn’t want to. I’m not in the least a religious type. I want to be let alone, to feel I’m my own master; but since the facts seemed to be just the opposite, I had to give in.” He wrote Mere Christianity (1952), a classic of Christian apologetics; and The Screwtape Letters (1942), an epistolary novel that consists of letters from a demon to his apprentice nephew, giving him pointers on leading a man astray. He’s also the author of the seven-book allegorical fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, which he wrote for children. He thought it would be a good way to introduce Christian themes to children without beating them over the head, something that had turned him off as a young man. “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings,” he once said.

One of his books, Miracles (1947), had a profound effect on a writer from New York. Joy Davidman Gresham had been raised Jewish, but, like Lewis, had become an atheist. She was separated from her husband, who was an alcoholic, and she was raising their two sons by herself when she came upon Lewis’s book. After she read it, she began praying, and started attending services at a Presbyterian church. She also began a correspondence with Lewis that eventually led to their marriage in 1957. Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer, and she married Lewis from her hospital bed; the doctors sent her home to die, but she went into remission instead, and they had almost four wonderful years together. After her death in 1960, Lewis was devastated. He wrote a book, A Grief Observed (1961), which contained his thoughts, questions, and observations. It was so raw and personal that he published it under a pseudonym. Friends actually recommended the book to him, to help with his grief, unaware that he’d written it. His authorship wasn’t made known until after his death in 1963. In the book, he writes that he doesn’t believe people are reunited with their loved ones in the next life. “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

Today in Casanova.

Just everything about this article.  But maybe especially this, from a fellow recalling his being presented with the manuscript:

“I was completely ignorant of the existence of this manuscript,” Mr. Racine said in an interview. “It had never been put on display. But there was no doubt it was authentic. It was an unforgettable moment. It was almost as if we were in front of a religious relic.”

Stalin’s Daughter Lived and Died Just 30 Miles from the Numerous Hiking and Camping Opportunities Offered By JOB’s Compound in Darkest Wisconsin

Well, hello there, Lana Peters.

Marion Montgomery, RIP

“For the poet, the mystery of esse [being] lies in his percpetion of ens [a being] and the challenge to his art is to embody his vision of being.” – Marion Montgomery, 1925-2011.

His most famous work is the trilogy The Prophetic Poet and the Spirt of the Age, which includes “Why Flannery O’Connor Stayed Home,” “Why Poe Drank Liquor,” and “Why Hawthorne Was Melancholy.” These and others can be found for the having here.


Art and Politics (and Religion, too).

The recently deceased Ken Russell’s savage 1970 satire of Richard Strauss. Amazing to think that this was made for television. It’s an hour long – give yourself some time.

Sonnet to a Shoelace


The education of an earthling as
A young pedestrian: history spoke
Its first footprint with leather tongue, and eyes
Of glinting grommet’s brass fulfilled the look.

A second stepping slings our walking fall
In gnarly thongs – the ties that bind us down
To earth and help us keep our heads in thrall
Until the golden aglets fray to bone…

Sequential steps, my own, would cross this path
With fumbling fingers. The child comprehends
The prehistoric soul. Each takes a breath.
Each tries to learn the laces, knot for knot.
Each shares one end in two – by pounding feet
Against the ground until the sole ascends.

Percy v. Hemingway

“Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case.  Take hurricanes for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one.  It was his impression that not just he but other people too felt better in hurricanes…”

– Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman

“Thomas Hudson had studied tropical storms for many years and he could tell form the sky when their was a tropical disturbance  long before his barometer showed its presence.  He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them.  He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.  He also knew that hurricanes could be so bad that nothing could live through them.  He always thought, though, that if there was ever one that bad he would like to be there for it and go with the house if she went.”

Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream

Electric Grace

Hacienda chapel, Thomas Aquinas College.


Word Mongering: New Missal Translation Edition

I confess I’ve balked at some of the changes, but I must say that the context Fr. Barron puts it in here actually makes me feel pretty excited about going to mass this morning and stumbling through the ch-ch-changes. And check out the epigraph to House of Words!

Simcha Fisher on whether teenage girls should read Walker Percy

Simcha Fisher, blogging at The National Catholic Register, offers up some musings on teenage girls and their reading habits:

I’ve made sure that my own daughters would rather eat Vaseline than read a Twilight book (snobbery has its benefits). But as a dopey and malleable teenage girl, I came across lots of literature which had a horrible effect on my ideas of love — but which were terrific books.

She cites a few examples including:

Pretty much everything by Walker Percy. These books weren’t above my reading comprehension, and were incredibly nourishing to my ideas about humility, repentance, and courage, and the modern novel in general. But they were just above my emotional comprehension (and I worry a bit about Percy’s own emotional comprehension of women). The romantic escapades of Dr. Thomas More are his tragic flaw, and a symptom of his deeper, similarly flawed relationship with Christ, which comes in cycles of ecstatic lust and regret. But a teenager will likely take any likable character as a role model, ignoring or normalizing the misery and distress that the character suffers.

She goes on to say what we all know — that we can’t shield our children “from every malign influence.” We can try, but we will inevitably fuck it up. (My words, not Simcha’s, with a nod to Philip Larkin.) The best we can do is try to steer our kids towards the good, and towards a variety of material … and talk with them about what they’re reading and perceiving and experiencing, and above all pray for them.

As to the Percy question, I’ve sometimes worried about my own “emotional comprehension of women” — and reading Percy’s novels over and over over the years may not have helped me out much on that score. I’m just not sure.

What teenagers should be exposed to in literature and film and art is a tricky question. I’m having enough trouble sorting out where to draw the line in the case of my 8-year-old and her desire to immerse herself in Monster High. My fallback plan is to move us to a sparsely populated island such as this one or to Cubeland Mystic’s compound in the desert.

God help us! Walker Percy pray for us!

Webb’s Thanksgiving recipe

Alphonse Redux III


Opening shot from above.  The apartment is mostly dark – maybe just a lamp in the corner is on.  Everything is pretty thrashed – it’s clear that there’s been a fight here.  Now, DAD is lying on his back, propped up a little bit against the couch.  He is a young man, probably not yet 30.  He wears jeans and an ironic t shirt.  A short sword protudes from his chest.  The carpet around him starting to pool with blood.  His eyes are wide, staring blankly ahead.  His mouth hangs open a little, and his breathing can be heard – a wet wheezing.  ALPHONSE is sitting on the ground a few feet away, looking at his old man.

You know, this didn’t go at all how I thought it would.

DAD rolls his eyes over to look at ALPHONSE.

I mean, yeah, this is how it was going to end – I knew that.  But I was thinking we’d get to talk a little first, you know?  It just all happened so fast.  Not that I’m apologizing.  Life is tough.  You do what you have to, and sometimes, people get hurt.  You taught me that.  I get that.  But there’s a lot you haven’t heard, and I kind of wanted to tell you about it.

DAD coughs a little, blood trickles out of his mouth.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all moralistic.  I understand where you were coming from.  Mom is hot, or
at least she was hot, once upon a time.  You guys were drunk, and juiced up to boot on that special concoction that jump-started yours truly.  When you got the call about the stork, what were you supposed to do?  Marry a junkie slut, settle down and raise a family?  I mean, if it’d been me, I probably would have done the same
thing.  Hang up, move on, let the guys at the clinic clean up the mess.

Close on ALPHONSE, who looks away. His voice drops from its chipper patter.  Then, as he begins to speak…

Needle going into MOM’S arm.  Stuff being injected is black – Frankenstein, the synthetic drug that makes ALPHONSE into what he is:  a super-baby with an in-utero psychic link to Mom, so that he can see her dreams.  Maybe follow drug molecules, CSI-style, as they interact with cells of the ALPHONSE zygote, follow electrical signals in the embryonic brain as they spark to life, then cut to fetal ALPHONSE, one eye snapping open as he hangs suspended in darkness.

But it wasn’t me who got that phone call.  It was you.  And I was the mess they couldn’t quite clean up.  Oh, boy, was I a mess.  That was some special stuff you fed her.  Did you know that as soon as she found out about me, she started dreaming about me?  And did you know that I had a front-row seat for that nightmare show? My own personal world of early educational programming, starring me.  And the best part?  We went into reruns after the first damn episode.  Every single night, the same damn thing.

ALPHONSE looks over at DAD, sees that DAD’S eyes are starting to close as he loses blood.  ALPHONSE gives DAD a little kick, jolting him awake.

Hey, you listening?  Yeah, I know – other people’s dreams are always boring.  But stay with me, because I think you’ll like this one.  You’re in it, too.

Start with swirling, dreamlike mass of faces and memories:  Mom, Dad, fetus.  Except fetus is wrong somehow – it’s a threat, a parasite, a problem.  Then, as ALPHONSE speaks, we get images:  fetus pursuing MOM down a dead-end alley.  Fetus throwing chains around MOM fashioned from its own umbilical cord, binding himself to her so that she can’t even crawl away.  And then, a miserable, terrified MOM making the decision to summon THE MACHINE from the comic book:  a nightmare of robotic arms holding surgical instruments, a huge suction tube, a holding tank full of fetal body parts.  In short, MOM’S anxiety-formed image of the equipment involved in an abortion.

Like I said, you weren’t the star of the show, Pop.  That was me.  I was the one chasing her down.  I was the one putting her in chains.  I was the one who ruined her life.  And I was the one she sent to the machine.  She was terrified every time, miserable about what she was doing.  But she still did it, every time.

THE MACHINE advances.  ALPHONSE the dream fetus stops his pursuit of MOM and turns to face MACHINE.  Then DREAM ALPHONSE looks to one side and spies dream DAD standing in the shadows, watching.

And every time, you just stood there in the shadows, watching.  Like you weren’t supposed to rush in and save me.  Like you weren’t even supposed to care.  Like you weren’t my goddamned father.

ALPHONSE has, while he was speaking, gotten up and gotten in DAD’S face – that’s how we see him now.  But as he finishes his sentence, he relaxes a little, backs off a step, gets philosophical.

It would have been one thing if you’d tried to kill me.  Like that Greek dude – Saturn.  The one who ate his kids so that they wouldn’t rise up and take over.

Crudely animated vision of Goya’s “Cronus Devouring His Son.”


That I could understand, maybe even respect.  But you didn’t try to kill me.  You didn’t try to do anything.

THE MACHINE seizes ALPHONSE, begins to ready to kill him.  ALPHONSE looks again to DAD, silently screaming for him.  Dad doesn’t move, doesn’t blink.  THE MACHINE begins work on ALPHONSE, we can be as clean or as graphic as people think best.

Every time, the machine would start in on me, and it would be horrible, and just before it sucked me into that tank full of little bits of heads and hands and everything else, she’d wake up.

MOM waking up in a sweat in her filthy, awful hotel room.  MOM curling into a ball on the bed, weeping.  MOM reaching for needle, plunging it into arm, eyes rolling back, pupils dilating.  Cut to interior shot of ALPHONSE, eyes rolling back, pupils dilating.

And then she’d reach for the needle.  Of course, by then, she wasn’t using the fancy stuff you gave her, the stuff that made me so very special.  By then, she was using regular old heroin, and so I was using regular old heroin, too.  That was a trip.  I still need to hit up every day or so.  But you don’t need to hear about that.

ALPHONSE is standing now, starting to pace.  DAD is looking near death.

Hell, you don’t need to hear about any of this.  It’s not doing you any good.  And you know what?  It’s not doing me any good either.  I thought it would help to let you know that I sympathized – but then, I’m not the one with a sword in my chest, so what does that even mean, really?

As ALPHONSE speaks, we see what happened here a few minutes ago.  At “confront my demons,” we see ALPHONSE surprising DAD in his apartment, sword drawn.  At “work it out,” we see DAD making for the door, only to have ALPHONSE leap in front of it with unnerving speed.  At “share my pain,” we see ALPHONSE slashing DAD’S arm.  At “get some closure,” we see ALPHONSE sliding sword into DAD’S chest.

I thought if I could express to you how I feel – you know, confront my demons, work it out, share my pain, get some closure –

ALPHONSE slumps a little.

Well, I thought it would help somehow.  But now I’m here with you, Dad, and we’ve been through all that, and I’ve even gotten to say what I wanted to say, and I have to tell you, I don’t feel any better.  Really, I don’t feel much of anything at all.  It’s a letdown, you know?  You spend all this time dreaming of something, and then you get to the place where your dream comes true and – you realize it just doesn’t matter.

Camera holds on DAD’S face.  He is dead now.

Still, it isn’t all bad news.  I’ve learned something here today, and that’s a good thing.  I’ve learned that I’ve been focusing my energies in the wrong direction.  I’ve been obsessing over that vision of you, standing there in her dream, just watching as I got fed to the machine.  You abandoned me when I needed you most, and that was bad, but now I see the larger truth, the real problem:  you weren’t the one handing me over.

Camera pulls back to show ALPHONSE moving over to DAD,
planting a foot on his chest, and pulling out sword while he

It’s so obvious, I’m almost embarrassed to admit it.  I can’t beleive that it’s only now, after our whole deal has been taken care of, that I am able to see what it is that I need to do.

ALPHONSE wipes the blood from his sword.

I need to go see Mom.

For Cubeland Mystic

Alphonse can’t fight yoda; Alphonse is yoda.

Alphonse Redux II


Opening shot on a white earbud in an ear.  But something is just a touch off – the earbud looks bigger than it should, because it is in ALPHONSE’s relatively tiny ear.  We hear what he’s hearing:  an internet-streamed radio show from advice guru DR. SUSAN.

…John, John, John.  Why are you telling me all this?  I’m just a stranger on the phone.  All I can do is give you advice, and my advice is this:  all this stuff you’re telling me, all these stories of failure and frustration and pain and regret?  You should be telling them to your father.

Camera follows earbud cord down to iPhone, the screen displaying a picture of a smiling DR. SUSAN.  Above her face is the text “You are listening to Dr. Susan’s Good Counsel;” and below her face is a button labeled CALL NOW!  ALPHONSE’s too-small hand comes into view, tiny index finger punches button.  We hear phone ringing.

DR. SUSAN, a middle-aged, professional-looking woman, sits in her studio during a taping of her call-in advice show.  Her laptop rests on the desk in front of her, and a microphone hangs down in front of her face. The lights are low, but as she speaks during her opening monologue, there is enough light for us to follow the camera as it pans around the room.  First, a framed doctoral diploma in counseling psychology from Northwestern.  Then, a framed newspaper article from a ways back, headline:  “Dear Abby is Dead; Long Live Dr. Susan.”  Another, more recent:  “Is there a doctor in the house?  What about on the air?”  Photos of Dr. Susan with Oprah, with President Obama, with her own husband and daughter.  Framed book jacket of her own book, A Word From the Wise:  Advice on Getting Up and Getting On With It.  Finally, a framed copy of The New York Times Magazine, an arty photo showing Dr. Susan sitting on one side of a confessional screen.  The headline below the photo:  “Bless Me, Doctor…  Susan Wise and The Rise of Confessional Culture.”  In the background, we hear DR. SUSAN, continuing to speak:

Your inability to commit?  To promote yourself at work?  To believe in the possibility of happiness?  Tell him about it.  If you’re so damaged from all your childhood miseries that you can’t just cut this man out of your life and move the hell on to something that’s good and positive and 100% your own, then you’ve got no other

In the foreground, we hear ALPHONSE on the phone with OPERATOR:

Welcome to Dr. Susan’s Good Counsel.  Name and subject?

Alphonse.  Fathers.  Closure.

Thank you, please hold.

[Read more…]

“Sish sishty-sish, huh? Good nummers for confection…”

The Argument

The trap is set for fox and hound:
The rats and weasels wait and watch
As hired gun and priest are bound
To prey and play the other’s catch.

This Kid’s Review

may be the best thing I’ve read on the Amazon site. It’s for Bruce Duffy’s second novel, Last Comes the Egg, of which I just learned. I was all set to buy Duffy’s third novel, Disaster Was My God, but since I generally like to work through an author chronologically, I bought this one instead. Thanks, Lily!

Alphonse Redux

For the blissfully uninitiated, Alphonse is an eight-month-old fetus who, thanks to a designer drug his mom takes at a party, gains both sentience and remarkable physical strength and dexterity.  (You know, for a fetus.)  As a result, he survives a (late-term) abortion attempt and escapes into the big, bad world.  An assassin is then sent after him by those who would prefer that his existence not become a matter of public record.

A while back, a movie type person approached me and asked me to write three short film scripts about the little guy.  The plan was that one of them would get made, and would then be used to raise funds for a feature film.  That didn’t happen, of course, but the scripts are still kinda fun, I think.  Here’s one of them.


Open on a shot of dual-image neon sign above doorway in alley.  First image:  the medical symbol of the staff with two snakes entwined about it, in blue, surrounded by the words “The Clinic.”  Second image:  same staff, in red, only now the snakes are cobras, unwinding from the staff and ready to strike.  And “The Clinic” has been replaced by “Tattoos.”

Parlor is dingy but brightly lit.  Lots of menacing sample images on the walls, including a vampire baby, a pregnant devil lady, and a bunch of monster sperm attacking an egg.  Hard music blares from a radio – perhaps the Dead Kennedys’ “Will the Fetus Be Aborted.”  Camera is close on TATTOO DUDE, who is tending to his equipment, and only half listening to ALPHONSE, who is speaking from off camera.

No way.  Not without parental consent.  You’re too young. Get outta here.  I could get in trouble – lose my license.

Really.  You want me to go somewhere else.

A roll of bills hits TATTOO DUDE in the chest; he catches it and looks up.  Now he’s paying attention.  He looks at ALPHONSE, considers, shrugs.

Yeah, okay, fine.  Go into the back.  I’ve got a separate room for special cases.


This space, little more than a storage closet, is even grungier than the front room.  ALPHONSE is lying face-down on a chiropractor’s bench – he’ll be getting the tattoo just inside his left shoulder blade.  Camera work sticks to close-ups on his back and partially obscured face, so that it’s hard to tell how small he really is.  Shot of TATTOO DUDE looking at tattoo stencil which ALPHONSE has provided.  We can’t see it.

You sure you’ve thought this through?

You sure you want to get paid?

Hey pal, it’s your body.  But this – it’s just not a call I’d make without thinking.  This isn’t a piercing – you can’t just take it out and forget about it.  This lasts.  There’s time for regret.

Just shut up and do it.

Fine, man.  Just remember:  no refunds, and satisfaction is definitely not guaranteed.

TATTOO DUDE goes to work on ALPHONSE’S back.  As he does so, he plays Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”

I hurt myself today/To see if I still feel/I focus on the pain/The only thing that’s real…

Montage of tattoo procedure:  pulling on surgical gloves, removing sterile needles from packaging, other tools from autoclave. Cleaning the skin.  Tracing the image:  an Immaculate Heart of Mary with the word “Mom” in lovely script across the heart.  Inserting the needles into ALPHONSE – camera cuts to ALPHONSE grimacing in pain.  We see the tattoo taking shape.  And then…

We are in a truly crappy hotel room.  Open on a positive pregnancy test.  Camera travels up arm, showing needle tracks.  Then finally to MOM’S weeping face.  Camera pulls back to show MOM, visibly pregnant, sprawling on the floor, surrounded by squalor.  Mom slides her whole self down onto the carpet, sobbing.

Close shot on tattoo, which is coming along nicely.  Song continues.

If I could start again/A million miles away/I would keep myself/I would find a way

Song ends.  TATTOO DUDE leans back to behold his work, and we get our first clear shot that ALPHONSE is, in fact, a baby.


What?  Something wrong?

No, man.  I’m just looking at what I made here.  It’s…beautiful.  Hell, it’s special.  Maybe the best thing I’ve ever done.  You sure you  wanna go and just…

Of all the tattoo joints in all the towns in all the world, I have to walk into Tender Vic’s?  You see what’s in the picture?  That’s what I want.  Your job is to make it happen.

Whoa, dude.  Settle down.  You wanna piss in your own drink, that’s your call.  Hold still.

TATTOO DUDE settles back to work, and we see for the first time, the sketch that ALPHONSE gave to TATTOO DUDE of the tattoo he wanted.  It’s the Immaculate Heart image we’ve already seen sketched and inked onto his back, but there’s a fat black bar running across the center of it, like a “Censored” symbol. It almost completely blocks out the letters of the word “Mom.”

What are you gonna get her for Mother’s Day, A bunch of…HKKKK

Cut to shot of TATTOO DUDE’S shocked face.  He looks down.  The tip of a knife can be seen protruding from his chest.  He slumps forward, revealing ASSASSIN standing behind him.

Alphonse, hearing the “HKKK” looks over his shoulder and freezes for just a second.

That’s one more on your conscience, little man.  You really should be more careful about letting yourself be seen.  My job is to erase every trace of your brief, misbegotten existence – including loose ends like this one.

ASSASSIN raises arm and hurls a throwing knife.  ALPHONSE rolls off of bench just in time, and the knife buries itself in the cushion. They fight:  ALPHONSE moves like a monkey – climbing, leaping, dodging.  It’s a crowded room, so ASSASSIN has trouble moving around, getting a clean shot.  Finally, ALPHONSE pins ASSASSIN’S hand to table with a tattoo needle.  ASSASSIN howls in pain.  ALPHONSE, still shirtless, flees into the night.  ASSASSIN wrenches needle from his hand, notices that black spot of ink has stained the skin.  He makes a fist, and winces.  Then he pulls out his cell phone with his other hand and makes a call.

Not yet.  He’s faster than before, and stronger.  Our little friend is growing up.  But don’t worry.  After this, he’ll be more careful about being seen in public, so that’s good.  And I’ll find him again – soon.

ASSASSIN picks up tattoo sketch, takes note of “Mom” under the black bar, and smiles.

I have a very good idea about where he’s going.

GUY walks out from mini-mart toward rest rooms on side of station.  Tries the key to the men’s room, but can’t open the door.  He rattles the handle and shouts through the door:

Hey, anybody in there?  What gives?  You gonna come out anytime soon?  Hey!  Hello?  Did somebody die in there?

Open on door from inside – we can see somebody has drawn the old latch that used to serve to lock the door before they went to keylocks.  Camera pans around to show ALPHONSE, standing on the sink, his back to the dull, dented mirror on the wall above it.  With one hand, he holds a blood-soaked paper towel to his arm – ASSASSIN cut him during the fight.  But that’s not what’s on his mind.  He is straining his neck to look behind him, so that he can see the reflection of his back in the mirror and the new, raw tattoo that is there.  Camera moves in on his reflection, and we can see the lovely Immmaculate Heart, wiht the black “Censored” bar just
beginning to obscure the first “M” in “Mom” – all TATTOO DUDE was able to complete before he was killed.  Zoom in on the heart.