by Penn Jillette, St Martin's Griffin, 2004
December is upon us and that means surfing for gifts. And that means often finding things that we want for ourselves. A few Christmasses ago, my sister sent me Penn and Teller's How To Play With Your Food. I have to admit that initially I thought it was an uninspired grab from a remainder bin, but it turned out to be one of the funniest books I have ever read (thanks, Laura). I loved the deadly night-light made from a dill pickle, and the card-trick collusion you can practice at our old favorite restaurant, Belgo. So I recently bought How To Play in Traffic, and Sock. Sadly, HTPIT is not as good as HTPWYF, and is annoyingly obsessed with disclaimers and criticising zealots and boozers (though defacing Gideon Bibles does have its appeal).
Sock is a murder mystery narrated by a sock monkey. Most paragraphs end with the tag line of a song, which will resonate more with people who ever get more than zero on the pop music section at a pub quiz. In the beginning the writing was funny. I liked a riff on the differences between boys and girls (willingness to say "I'd like a Chippity Chocolaty, please"). And there was a nice bit on when and how to stare at women. But the actual murder mystery becomes a drag after a while. I could have sworn that early on the monkey promised that it would not be a typical mass-murderer story, but it really is. Adolescents may like all the nihilism (how old is Penn?), although I did like some lines like "Buddhism is the slowest competitor in the Special Olympics that is religion." There are many references to movies and other literature, including Geek Love, one of P's favorites. All in all, it was more original than most.
I have a lingering temptation to read Teller's book about his parents.
I saw Penn at Goldman once. Probably a Private Client!
Susan wrote: We agree with you about SOCK - but no mention of all that sex? We saw Penn & Teller perform in NYC and they were fabuulous both as magicians and as comedians and magician debunkers. I just finished Extra Virgin which many thought was hilarious but I thought a bit of a yawn - enough already with foreigners buying property, amusing locals, etc.
Bob wrote: I believe Penn calls Greenfield home...did you know that?
Tom wrote: Please elaborate [on staring at women], if it's not too much trouble.
I wrote: Here's the passage. It is not really that great a treatment of a subject that requires the full Proustian works (maybe Proust already did it?). I often say to myself "The Economy of Eyes" as I walk down a street, or sit on the train, and judge just how much staring is required simply to be polite. Or how much I can get away with. Bifocals, or actually the lack of them, have been a boon, since I take off my glasses on the train now to read, and don't have to be concerned that the woman opposite has badly misjudged her skirt length. Still, sometimes I decide whether it is going to be a Good Day or a Bad Day depending on the pulchritude on display.
Sex brings the Little Fool so much of what he wants. Sex is a backstage pass. Loud, sweaty, aggressive, nasty sex is a laminate. Once he's had his penis everywhere on and in her, he gets to run around inside her head. He gets to see things he can't see with her clothes on. Before sex, the Little Fool can't stare at his date. Oh, he can glance down at her cleavage, at her hard nipples poking through the girly fabric. He can watch when she walks away from the restaurant table. The women you want walking towards you are the ones that look best walking away. You want to get caught a little. She has to know that you want to look, but if you're caught staring, well, you don't respect her, or maybe you're a perv. If she's busty, don't look at her breasts very much. If she's flat-chested, you can get caught staring a little more, but you have to do it right. You can't let her watch you look. But after sex, you have that backstage pass. After sex, if you don't stare you're a creep. Being able to stare, being able to own her body with his eyes, is better for the Little Fool than the sex itself. The sex isn't the end; the sex is the permission slip. But the sex is really just the gate. It's the ticket. Breakfast with a new sex partner is the greatest time. Even better if it's in public. At dinner, the eyes have to lock in eye contact; at breakfast, the eyes can wander. They can do more than wander: they can land right on the money. The Little Fool often tries to make that deal with a woman he hasn't gone to bed with: "May I look at you like we've had sex?" I'm not there for that. It's too much for a monkey. My eyes adored you.