LETTER FROM ITHACA

April 25, 2007

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! For those of you cinephiles who recall the unforgettable “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” starring Peter Falk and Jason Robards, Jr. (arguably the best B-picture ever made), you may also recall that’s how the laxon-voiced radio announcer in the movie led off his program–

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!

Ah yes, those were the days.

In the event, two new text additions to the online Sander archives this week illuminate different aspects of that truly wild and crazy time in American culture. They are:

1) My celebrated/infamous senior thesis about Self-Conscious Autosuggestion, the positive thinking craze spawned by French pharmacist Emile Coue, which, for a brief, wacky moment in the 1920s, had millions of Americans looking at themselves in the mirror repeating the phrase, “Day by by in every way I am getting better and better,” and which has recently resurfaced in new Oprah-approved guise; and

2) “The Good Times,” hotsy-totsy feature about student life at Cornell during the Jazz Age.

In fact, if you look real closely at the new, expanded Zone, you’ll note that my devoted assistant and Zone-master, Fiona Kirkpatrick, has posted a lot of cool new stuff from my back pages, including my 2001 profile of Jade Jagger, in which the Ibiza-based, pot-smoking jewelry designer vowed that she would most decidedly not design jewelry for the ladies who lunch; and arguably the funniest thing I have ever penned, doubtless the weirdest, my 1980 mock parody catalog of “‘Nowledge Nosh,” my self-invented adult education school, or “24-hour delicatessen of the mind,” with realistic-sounding entries for such deathless courses as “Dating After Death”:

Are you unmarried? Widowed? Divorced? Being a single person can be difficult enough when you’re alive, but what happens after the lights go out for good? Is there dating after death? How does one meet like-minded angels and poltergeists? In short, what’s the scene like upstairs — or whichever you’re headed?…

And the ever-handy “Feigning Interest, Or How to Suffer Fools Gladly:”

Winston Churchill once confided to a loose-lipped associate that whenever he found himself in the midst of a particularly tiresome Cabinet meeting or tea party he would simply turn off his hearing aid and wear a suitably absorbed expression for the remainder of the proceedings. Such were the British leader’s dramaturgical abilities that his lack of interest as rarely detected–Using rare wartime footage of such famous feigners as Churchill, Stalin, and Dick Cavett, followed by prolonged confinement with surrogate twits and café society types kindly referred to us by Fran Lebowitz and the Plaza Hotel, you and your fellow apprentice feigners will gradually acquire a wide range of fraudulent facial expressions and politely convincing conversational phrases–

And let’s not forget “The Puddings of El Salvador!”:

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably come to think of El Salvador as little more than a small television screen full of tasteless bloodshed and violence [mind, this was written during the days when El Salvador was synonymous with bloodshed and violence]. But did you know that this melancholy land is also the source of some of the world’s finest puddings and meringues / Come with us for a postprandial tour of this punchy principality–

Where I came up with that stuff, I don’t know. (I fear that chemical substances had something to do with it.)

Speaking of gonzo, you’ll also find the prologue to the unpublished Coast Guard novel I wrote with (as well as under the gun of) Coast Guardsman X back in 1981, an unhinged former foretopman on one of the first Coast Guard cutters to be assigned to drug interdiction duty in the Caribbean, who inveigled me into helping him writing up his mind-boggling tale of madness and mayhem on the high seas when we met on a cross-country train. Amazing story: sort of a cross between “McHale’s Navy” and “Apocalypse Now,” but it almost became a real life version of the Brian Dennehy-James Wood film, “Best Seller.” You know, the one wherein a cop-turned-novelist became seduced into writing the lightly fictionalized memoir of a real criminal — and nearly got killed himself. Let’s just say I am glad that I survived that project. Comes with the territory, I guess.

All in all, you’ll find some half dozen published and unpublished golden oldies — some 40,000 words altogether, each painstakingly typed in by the stalwart Fiona (thank you, Fiona!) — a veritable Coney Island of the Mind, you might say, to paraphrase Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Proof positive that I have had one of the most wide-ranging, deeply strange careers in the history of American letters.

***

Now for a brief update on my saner recent genre-busting activities. As usual, it has been a flowery time in the void–

-On the non-fiction front, March saw the welcome publication of the Cornell University Press edition of my book, “The Frank Family That Survived,” which I had the honor and privilege of kicking off with a reading at the Andrew Dickson White House at Cornell. (Talk about full circle! The fact that Cornell published the same book that I brought with me to write when I returned to The Hill as artist-in-residence in 2002 was especially gratifying.) The highlight of the reading was the dramatic, late appearance of my beloved mother, Dorrit, who especially flew up to Ithaca for the event, but wound up having her flight rerouted to Elmira. Withal, a moment to remember. Thank you Cornell! And thank you, Mom, for allowing me to tell your amazing story to the world!

Those of you who live in the New York area who were not able to attend the Cornell reading will be interested to know that I will also be giving a talk-cum-slide show presentation re: “Frank Family” at the Cornell Club of New York on Tuesday, June 16th.

Meantime, Brasilian partisans of The Frank Family will be interested to know that the Portuguese edition of the book will be brought out by Zahar next month. I expect to visit Brasil in the fall to promote the same, which will give me an excuse to realize my long time dream to Fly Down to Rio!

-On the journalistic-cum-exotic front, March also saw the publication of my paean to Paldiski, the history-scarred former Soviet submarine base on the northern coast of Estonia, in In Time, the estimable in-flight publication of Estonian Air Lines.

-On the photographic front, March also saw the installation of my first international gallery exhibit, “My America: 1964-2004,” at Galleri F, one of Scandinavia’s leading photo galleries.

In short, you might say, the beat goes on–

Somehow in there I also had the privilege of officially welcoming my latest Nordic discovery, the dazzling vracka svenska flicka Maria Arenlind, to these shores, and helping to secure a role for same in a film by my talented Cornell friend, the up-and-coming director, Brad Wilson. Currently enrolled in the prestigious Strasberg Insitute, Maria — who currently lives in Brooklyn with my other Cornell protégée, the late great J.J. Manford (talk about cozy!) — is already swatting away producers eager to capture her Judy Holliday-cum-Jeanne Moreau-like charms on celluloid. I expect great things of this multi-talented Nordic nova. She also cooks a mean Swedish meatball. Move over, Signe Hasso! Make way, Lena Olin!

And now, as Jimmy Durante, that long lost bard of radio-land used to say back in the day: we return you to your regularly-scheduled program!

P.S. for those of you Sander fans residing in the Ithaca area, please note that I will be giving a reading-cum-performance of selected literary and musical golden oldies at Risley College, Cornell University, on the evening of Thursday, May 4th.

P.P.S. And keep that curser where it is!

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