Lesser Presidential Encounters with the Supernatural

A friend of mine complained about people who complain that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has no historical merit.   “No shit,” he says.  “It’s about vampires.”

This reminded me that, once upon a time, film critic Roger Ebert appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show, and somehow the conversation drifted to *Kazaam,* starring Shaquille O’Neal, which Ebert described/describes as one of the worst movies of all time. One of his complaints is that Shaq-as-genie showers a kid with all kinds of modern name brand candies, in a clear example of product placement. But then Ebert added something to the effect of “Wouldn’t a 2,000 year old genie from Arabia be more apt to give a kid dried figs or something?”

And Conan gave him a look, and said slowly, in a voice dripping with irony, “Soooo… you didn’t like the historically inaccurate rappin’ genie movie?” 

My husband and I pretty much say this in response to any complaint like the one my friend brings up.  (“Soooo … you didn’t like the historically inaccurate Abraham Lincoln-as-vampire killer movie?”)

Here’s some historical accuracy:

James Madison was our shortest President, at 5 feet, 4 inches.

William Howard Taft was our tubbiest President.  (See what I did there?  See?)  He may or may not have once gotten stuck in the White House bathtub. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson horrified dog lovers by picking up his beagles, Him & Her, by their ears.  Frankly, it’s always looked to me as if LBJ was messing with people’s minds, because if you look at pictures where he’s “lifting” the dogs up by their ears, their back legs are never off the ground.  I think it’s possible that Johnson cued the dogs by starting to “pull” at their ears, then the dogs would start to stand up on their back legs while Johnson kept up the illusion of “pulling.” 

But LBJ was a complicated guy.  It’s hard to say, really.

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Holy cow (and exploding cat)

Okay.  Neil Gaiman just re-tweeted me.  NEIL FREAKING GAIMAN.

He’d originally tweeted, “Dear god I’m up against Stephen Fry in the Anglo Fan Favorites tournament.”

How could one possibly choose between the two?

If you haven’t seen or read Gaiman’s recent commencement speech to the University of the Arts, you really should.  If you need any kind of inspiration in any kind of artistic endeavor — or any endeavor at all, really — watch it or read it

Artist Gavin Aung Than has gloriously rendered the speech into comics form.  And for that matter, Than’s site Zen Pencils is a treasure trove of inspirational words, whenever you may need them.

Cats at Work: Faux Postage

Earlier this year, the United States Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring Dogs at Work, featuring dogs in familiar jobs — guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, military dogs, and search & rescue dogs.

Despite their reputation for indolence and indifference, cats have jobs, too, and I felt they should be honored for their contributions to our daily lives.  Don’t try to put these on envelopes, though.

That admonition reminds me of a story which pops up in a couple of the many fun history books we have all over the house:  in 1874, the city government of Liege, Belgium, in an act of sheerest  optimism, attempted to train the town’s cats to deliver the mail.  It didn’t work. The New York Times archive has a stickily twee contemporary article (PDF document)* describing the experiment, but here’s the quick summary:

The town fathers of Liege presented the town cats with a pile of letters.

The cats looked at the pile of letters.

The cats looked up at the town fathers, said “no,” and left to complete the other projects they had scheduled for that day.

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*Both pages of the New York Times article are in the PDF; scroll way down to see the first column.

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More About “Cats at Work”: ink, Copic marker, and colored pencil on Borden & Riley #234 Paris Paper for Pens.

Four of the cats here are modeled on cats we own or have owned.  The gray and white “Meditation Teacher” cat honors our late, great cat Argyle.  His official job title in real life was, more accurately, “Benevolent Warrior King.”

Archie, one of our current cats, has dedicated his life to defending America–or at least my husband and me — from the Red Dot Menace.

Henry was our sundial — to borrow from Christopher Smart’s poem about his cat Jeoffry, “For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him,” although Henry’s love affair with the sun, and the world, ran through afternoon, early evenings and in dreams all through the night, and likely continues on to this day, somewhere in the universe.

Gingersnap, poor little man, was a cat of very little brain, but much affection.  His kneading massages were accompanied by a window-rattling purr, and less attractively, a cascade of drool.