Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Category: Comedy

Grammar Heroics

Apologies in advance for the bragging nature of this post. Sometimes, though, we surprise ourselves, and we have something of an obligation to let the world know about it.

Two grammar-related exploits to relate:

First, several weeks ago, I was meeting with two writers about a comedy project. It was our very first meeting and we were laying out plans for how things would work, how often we’d meet, etc. One writer proposed “bi-weekly meetings”; i.e., twice a week. The second writer frowned and said that he thought bi-weekly meant every other week. The first writer chuckled mirthlessly and said no, he was quite sure bi-weekly was twice a week. The second writer was coiled up and ready to strike when I intervened.

“Boys, boys,” I said. “Stop this quarreling. ‘Bi-weekly’ is an auto-antonym. It means one thing and its opposite.* You’re both right.”

They were thunderstruck and looked at me with perfect awe evident in their countenances. I nodded solemnly, as if to say, Yes, it’s true in answer to their unspoken question. “I’m a copyeditor,” I said to the second writer, by way of explanation for my pharisee-like authority on this matter. (I had already discussed that with the first writer, the organizer of this project. We were at a coffee shop and while waiting to order drinks I’d spotted a typo on the shop’s menu and remarked drolly, “You can’t turn off the gift.” (That he did not laugh at all was, in retrospect, probably a sign that our partnership was destined to go nowhere.))

The second feat of grammatical derring-do is more typographical in nature. I’ll make the point by simply reproducing a bit of text I wrote recently (in a fiction project):

Jessup touched his elbow. The contrast between Jessup’s fervent eyes and the rest of his face, blotted out by gauze and medical tape, was both funny and unsettling. “I told those people, ‘Whenever you make a mistake, when you pull a real doozy and you’re feeling low, that’s God tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Listen up. I’ve got work for you.”’”

Relevant/exceptional part bolded. Did you get that? Can you handle it, America? A quote within a quote within a quote. Triple-nested quotations, resulting in this grammatically sound line of five (almost) identical characters: “‘”! I’m sure someone somewhere has gone bigger, but that’s not what it’s about for me. It’s got to be organic, you know?

Anyway, a couple of feats I needed to crow about. Please forgive me for wasting your time with these.

*It occurs to me now that “bi-weekly” might not qualify as a strict auto-antonym (list of examples here) because “occurring twice a week” and “occurring every other week” are not actually opposites, just different frequencies. But those guys don’t need to know that, and hopefully they’ll never find out.

Best of 2011

To mark the passing of another year, I’m going to present lists of the books and movies I most enjoyed this year. For now, the lists are without links and without (much) comment. The only eligibility criterion is that I read the book or saw the movie this year.

Favorite Books of 2011:

Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner

The Killer Inside Me
by Jim Thompson

Abbott Awaits: A Novel
by Chris Bachelder

Venus Drive: Stories
by Sam Lipsyte

Volt: Stories
by Alan Heathcock

A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

The Ask
by Sam Lipsyte

Ironweed
by William Kennedy

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
by Patrick DeWitt

The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst

Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall

Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World
by Donald Antrim

As is true of the movie list, there are lots of good books I didn’t quite like enough at the time to annotate with a red star. I remember also really liking John Brandon’s Citrus County, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, The Sea by John Banville, Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, Richard Price’s The Wanderers, and, most recently, Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams. For me the notable thing this year is discovering one writer I’d never previously heard of—Patrick DeWitt—who’s now a favorite, and breaking through with another writer—Sam Lipsyte—who I’d previously dismissed (based, I think, on his being represented in an anthology of younger American writers by the story “I’m Slavering,” which even on re-reading in Venus Drive didn’t do much for me).

Favorite Movies of 2011:

Winter’s Bone

The Warriors

Candyman

13 Assassins

Tabloid

Hobo With a Shotgun

Drive

Bridesmaids

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Yikes! Not the most distinguished crop of films this year. I’m surprised, looking over the list, at the films I didn’t star (my notation for having liked a movie), especially compared to those that I did. I remember liking The Fighter, Cedar Rapids, Certified Copy, Hoosiers, Moonstruck, Paper Moon, Meek’s Cutoff, Submarine, The Town, and (since I saw it yesterday) War Horse
quite well. But I’m going to honor whatever I was thinking and feeling at the moment that I entered each of these titles into my list, and exclude top-10 fare like Submarine, War Horse, and Certified Copy even as Hobo with a Shotgun makes the list. What can I say? I’m large; I contain multitudes.

(This is the second year I’ve kept these lists and I’m somewhat pleased to note that this year saw fewer abandoned books. I don’t mind abandoning books I’m not enjoying (as mentioned here), but it’s nice to see that I liked most of these well enough to continue with.)

Tom Scharpling on Doing the Work

This interview appeared some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about one of its main points over the last few weeks, and thought I’d share. The AV Club interviewed Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU. The whole thing is great and worth your time—even, I’d say, if you don’t know who Scharpling is.

But Tom was asked about the recurrent Best Show theme of “doing it”; i.e., putting in the work, paying dues, etc. To which he replied:

“You get so many people who talk about what they are going to do. I think they get the same kind of emotional, almost chemical, satisfaction out of when they say, ‘I’m gonna write this thing, and it’s gonna be like this, and this is gonna happen, then that’s gonna happen.’ They talk you through it, and they’re getting the same satisfaction from your reaction as if they actually did the thing. And that drives me up the wall. Then they never do it, because they’ve satisfied themselves by talking about doing it. I’ve known a bunch of people like that in life who start a thing, and they’ll talk all day long about the thing they’re gonna do, and how great it’s gonna be. But they’re not doing the thing.”

So good. So well put. Recently I’ve been reading books on investing in the stock market, and a similar point has come up: that investing ruins many investors because they don’t have the constitution for making an investment and sitting on it for years and years; once they’ve gone through the hunt of identifying a promising stock, putting in the research, and making the purchase, the entire chemical thrill of investing is over. When the stock’s price begins to slip, there’s no more satisfaction to be had in staying the course. So they sell, because selling gives them a portion of their money back, and they can go on to hunt down the next stock, and generate the next chemical thrill.

That connection’s a bit far afield, but I know what Tom is saying directly. I do this myself, launching new writing projects, thinking about how good they’re going to be, how well received they’ll be once they’re published, etc. Then I never go back to them.

More to the point, I’ve experienced this lately when working on something with another person. Too often, those talk sessions where you imagine the various jokes you can do, where you look down the road at subsequent ideas or projects you might explore together, prove totally sufficient for the other person’s creative desires.

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Now It Can Be Told: My Book!

I’ve been holding off on saying much publicly, but as today is its release date, I’d like to announce that a book I worked on last summer—doing a lot of editing and a substantial amount of writing—is now out in the world.

It’s called U.S. Navy Pirate Combat Skills and the publisher is Lyons Press. It’s a humor book, taking public-domain military manuals and editing the text to create a manual on how to fight old-timey pirates (think Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, etc., not Somali pirates with motorboats and machine guns). It’s full of great, funny illustrations (that I thought up, so maybe some bias there) by David Cole Wheeler (who also illustrated U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual and U.S. Army Werewolf Sniper Manual, predecessors to the pirate book, both edited/written by Cole Louison).

It was a lot of fun to work on last summer, and then to see the illustrations as they were produced, and, later, to answer copy editing queries about whether I perhaps meant “cutlass” instead of “dagger” on page 93, and if I could tweak the text of a figure caption to better match the image of hand-to-hand combat between a sailor and a crusty seadog. The staff at Lyons Press, in particular Keith Wallman and Ellen Urban, were terrific to work with.

The most fun of all, though, was writing prefatory materials for the book: a guest foreword by retired admiral I. I. Scuttle, commander of the most decorated anti-pirate fighting force in U.S. Navy history that includes “The Pirate Fighter’s Creed” and the lyrics of the sea-chantey “Pirate Slayers We.”

Below the fold, to give you a sense of what you’re getting yourself into by picking up this book, a few verses of that famous morale-boosting thumper, “Pirate Slayers We”:

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Friday Fun

Looking through some old files, I came upon a quite forgotten, quite weird document that I wrote some time near the end of my first year of graduate school. It’s an appendix to the novel I was working on then. More specifically, it is a four-page script for a scene in an adult film. (All the caveats you would associate with such a document apply here—mature subject matter, adult language, sexual situations, clumsy dialogue, unnatural transitions from everyday life to sexual situations, bad double entendres, etc.)

Here is the file, if you’d like to read it. Below the fold I’ve put in the background which will give you context—not that you exactly need it—for where and how this fit in and why I was writing it in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Scharpling Twitter Novel

Yes, those words do all go together. I’m late to the game on this, but apparently Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU, has been writing a novel called “Fuel Dump” on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. Some generous soul collected these “tweets” in one place, but apparently he or she (understandably) got sick of it at some point, because looking at the Fuel Dump Twitter feed, the story seems to have advanced way beyond that.

To the extent that I understand the plot, it so far involves Michael Richards (a.k.a. Kramer) showing up at someone’s door with a shotgun, a Cigar Aficionado freelancer pursuing an interview with Kid Rock, the freelancer’s elderly uncle divulging the whereabouts of a buried treasure to an unscrupulous nurse and her beau, and Senator Joe Lieberman appearing at an aide’s house covered in blood and enlisting her help in burying a body in the woods. Listening to Tom talking about it, it sounds like he’s met the considerable challenge of making each “tweet” advance the story without being completely boring.

A Movie Theater in Homestead, Pennsylvania

(After (and with apologies to) Allen Ginsberg)

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Al Jaffee, for

I walked past the storefronts under the trees with a headache

self-conscious looking at the neon displays.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went

into the neon movie theater, dreaming of your enumerations!

What thrillers and what rom-coms! Whole families dallying in line! Cashiers leaning on their counters! Ushers whisking popcorn into their butlers!

I eyed the box-office boy. Are you open, I asked of him. I am open if you are ready, said he.

Where are we going, Al Jaffee? The movie begins in six minutes. Which way does your beard point tonight?

One for Scott Pilgrim, I said.

Do you mean Scott Pilgrim versus the World, he asked of me.

Where are you tonight, Al Jaffee, with your snappy answers to stupid questions?

Yes, that’s the one, I murmured, and felt absurd.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets, Al Jaffee? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely and fail to produce timely zingers to inane questions.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past black SUVs in strip malls, home to our silent apartments?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Alfred E. Neuman quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

Juggalo Mayhem Redux

Yesterday I linked to an entertaining AV Club write-up of the Juggaloes-vs.-Tila Tequila kerfuffle at the 11th Gathering of the Juggaloes. The writer of that piece, Sean O’Neal, teased a forthcoming first-person account from Nathan Rabin, the AV Club‘s head writer, who was at the Gathering.

And lo, here it is. And it is pretty damned entertaining in its own right. Don’t look to it to change any of your opinions on Juggaloes or the Insane Clown Posse, though, unless you’ve heard only one or two things about them, all glowingly positive.

Weekend wrap-up

This past weekend was an excellent one for comedy, as I (in chronological order) scored a VHS copy of the great “Weird” Al Yankovic movie UHF at a Philadelphia used bookshop; watched a great, great show put on by Paul F. Tompkins as part of his “Tompkins 300” tour; and, last but not least, met Tom Scharpling. He showed up to support his friend and frequent “Best Show” guest. He’d seen the show in New York, which I deduced by the fact that he started laughing into his hand just before most of the really good bits.

Lesser lights from the weekend: my Philly food experience. For whatever reason, that Wawa Italian hoagie didn’t go down quite as smoothly as it has, so dependably, in the past.

Literary slap fight & Juggalo rampage

I wanted to direct your attention to this enjoyable AV Club rumination on the alarming news that a bunch of overzealous Insane Clown Posse fans attacked inexplicably famous person Tila Tequila at the Gathering of the Juggaloes. The rampant uncouthness of these fans was eerily predicted by this Scharpling & Wurster bit (about an hour to 90 minutes in).

And I’m also using this opportunity to sneak in a few links that I couldn’t quite turn into the considered, thoughtful post I wanted to post.

I wrote about a thousand words trying to make some kind of meaningful response to this list of 15 overrated contemporary writers, written by Anis Shivani, an all-but-unknown writer, in The Huffington Post. And I also wanted to approvingly link to Anna North, at Jezebel, who responded elegantly here.

The problem I had was in taking this guy’s idiosyncratic opinions, which he’d like to elevate above the state of mere opinion by using lots of jargon and trashing these writers (mostly women, as Anna North points out (although the baffling thing, to me, was the high number of poets singled out for punishment; how many readers are these poets reaching, and thus how much damage could they be causing? Maybe lay off a bit, playboy.)), and discussing something more than the article, the specific whining, and the specific writers.

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