Monday, February 28, 2011

Colin Firth

What an attractive man and a good actor - he deserves an Oscar. I haven't seen "The Kings Speech" yet, so the Oscar I have in mind is the one for "Actor in Regency Period Clothing."

The scene below is a favorite, I gather, among Austen movie aficionados, because Mr. Darcy takes a plunge into a lake. But he looks best in my opinion in the full Regency regalia at the end of this clip. And as always, the hair and sideburns must be just so, as here, to achieve the irresistible look of the period.

Who wouldn't want to hop a ride on the HMS Firth?

Which reminds me - time for the Shipping Forecast!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fox Force not quite five

My daughter and her girlfriend threw me a birthday party Saturday night - fun! But unfortunately we did not have all members of Fox Force Five in attendance - we were one short. I've been trying to get us all together for years now, but one person or another is always busy.

I wrote a play about a gang of friends who call themselves Fox Force Five - called FOX FORCE FIVE that I produced as part of STRESS AND THE CITY two years ago.

The play is based on a true story - the other members of FF5 and I were having drinks at a place on the Lower East Side, when this woman, Jackie E (she told us her real last name but I'll use an initial) plopped herself down in our booth to get away from her boyfriend's midwestern buddies whom she claimed were excruciatingly boring. She also volunteered the information that her boyfriend had a large penis.

In this clip of a reading of FF5 Phoebe Summersquash is playing herself - she really did freak out Jackie E. by claiming that they made out in another bar - it turned out that Phoebe knew some of the same people Jackie E. knew in Providence Rhode Island - where Phoebe is originally from.

Fox Force Five reading #1

In this next clip of a different reading of FF5, Reagan Wilson, who is a member of FF5 is playing the Phoebe role, while Valerie David, also a member, is playing the role of Jackie E. - and since she met Jackie E. her take on the character is very much influenced by the actual woman.

Fox Force Five reading #2

The origins of the name "Fox Force Five."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

sometimes you need Beatles

This is a scientific fact.

Some good/weird stuff on Youtube...

Paul explains the difference between Hitler and the Beatles

Damn that is one attractive man.

John Lennon apologizes to monks (near the end of the clip)...

Interview of the pod people - this one is very strange - the Beatles are being interviewed by people of indeterminate geographic origin who ask weird and/or excessively personal things about the Beatles.

I've been reviewing lots of Beatles clips and it really is amazing the absolute onslaught that these four guys endured from masses of people. What a strange life.

Ringo dances - and the infamous Murry the K is in attendance.

The "Rain" video - I love this song. But what is UP with Paul's top left incisor? It looks like it's seriously chipped.

Ticket to Ride performance - I have never seen this before - they are lip-synching in a studio - great interplay between John and Paul - I've never seen anything quite like it in a Beatles video. And the posting gives no information about this video's provenance. Perhaps an outtake from "Help!"?

In the middle of this clip John and Yoko break off from kissing to do a waltz to George's "I Me Mine"

and finally.... take my Beatles quiz - I created this over ten years ago and it's still online. The Internet never forgets:

Which member of the Beatles are you like?

If you know anything about the Beatles you can easily rig this to match up with your favorite Beatle.

Friday, February 25, 2011

tub of scooch

Mr. Willie T. Whaler is certainly looking annoyed and no wonder! The captain is planning to go searching for another whale (five and forty more) easting down, which could mean, according to either
1. the passage eastward from the Cape of Good Hope, as made by a sailing ship bound for Australia or the East Indies.


2. the passage eastward from Australia, as made by a sailing ship bound for Cape Horn.

Either of which is a looooong way from the Whaler Bar!

Willie is jonesing for Scotch - I assume that's what "a tub of scooch" is - and apparently the bark The Wanderer doesn't carry any Scotch - normally Willie only refers to rum or rum-based drinks aboard that worthy vessel. I guess he likes to get a little variety into his endless boozing.

But what's the captain been smoking? He's going to the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn for a whale? Unless Willie's engaging in a little hyperbole. Looks like Willie will have to get by on rum for awhile. Oh no!

Here is a more detailed definition of "five and forty more" from the intriguing web site Girl on a Whale Ship:
"Five & forty more" was a phrase shouted by the crew when the last piece of blubber from any catch was swung inboard. It refers to 45 barrels, which is the average take from a single whale. No matter what size of the whale was, the call was never varied.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scott Walker is punked

He thought he was speaking to his corporate master David Koch.

Part 1

Part 2

NYTimes article

I blogged about this New Yorker article by Jane Mayer about the Koch brothers back in August. I said it was a very important article. I think so now more than ever.

Here David Koch admits to providing funds to start the astroturf organization "Americans for Prosperity."

Americans for Prosperity members brag about how they organized Tea Party actions.

Jane Mayer speaks to Rachel Maddow about the Kochs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tiger vs. Bear poll, take 2

Well it looks like this blog doesn't like the code for the online poll, so I had to create a survey page. Take the survey: Tiger vs. Bear.

I will publish the results if more people than just me take the survey.

new poll coming

Looks like that poll is not working right. I'll have to do a new one tonight - I can't do it from The Man's computer or this Blackberry.

that tiger went tiger

Some years ago I was on a kick where I would ask people: polar bear vs. Siberian tiger - who would win?

Virtually everybody says "polar bear" which is ridiculous. A polar bear may outweigh a tiger, but tigers never shy away from larger prey. And as the video clip above demonstrates, tigers - unlike polar bears - are lighting fast and can leap 12 feet off the ground, which means they could easily take down a polar bear even if it was standing on its hind legs.

Take the poll - warning snappoll is sloooowwww....

Tiger vs. Bear
Siberian tiger vs. polar bear - who would win?
Too close to call

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

send pizza to the pro-union protesters in Wisconsin!

Great post by Rachel Maddow about the effort of people all over the world to feed the pro-union Wisconsin protesters.

According to a commenter: "the chalkboard at Ian's has actually been updated with more countries and all 50 states circled! Every continent but Antarctica and South America has had at least one country donate pizza. Truly awesome."

I just sent $40 worth of pizza - plus a $5 tip for the delivery guy.

You can send some too - call Ian's Pizza at 608-257-9248, then press 1 for delivery. And don't forget to tip the delivery guy - it's cold in Wisconsin.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Wisconsin Power Play

Last week, in the face of protest demonstrations against Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor, Scott Walker — demonstrations that continued through the weekend, with huge crowds on Saturday — Representative Paul Ryan made an unintentionally apt comparison: “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.”

It wasn’t the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn’t mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did — after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

More of his awesomeness


I sure was wrong about there being no more Willie the Whaler ads, there are three I'd never seen among the 1940 New Yorker issues alone.

And this one is amazing - Willie is not only out there doing his job - the only other time we've seen him in that situation was when he was quaking with fear at the thought of it - he's actually succeeded in hooking a whale!

Willie himself is so amazed that little lines of surprise are erupting from his forehead and his hat is flying off his head.

However, based on the text it appears that he accidentally hooked the whale, since his true goal was, as usual, to get sloshed.

"Nantucket sleigh ride" is such a well-known expression I'm pretty sure everybody knows it means whalers being pulled briskly along by a whale they'd just harpooned.

"Camber" is tricky. It seems to be a term used, at least nowadays, for race cars, and it also has to do with ship architecture. But the closest it comes to being connected to alcohol - and what else would Willie be after? - is the "mixologist" Camber Lay.

I just friended her on Facebook, because hey, why not?

I suspect the clue once again lies with the geography of England. As with Plush, as in "a slug of plush", Camber is a village in the South of England, in this case, West Sussex and was probably involved in the rum trade, although the Wikipedia article doesn't mention it. Its main claim to fame seems to be its sand dunes, or "Camber Sands" and related holiday trade: "Camber Sands was also mentioned several times in the sitcom Hi-de-Hi! as a location of one of Joe Maplin's many holiday camps." The series was made in the 80s, it's set in the 50s-60s and like all British shows except Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, the humor is utterly inscrutable:

Hi-De-Hi made the top 100 British comedies - what did we ever do before Wikipedia? I've never heard of any on the list except for "Fawlty Towers", "Black Adder", "The Vicar of Dibley", "Yes (Prime) Minister", "Are You Being Served?", "Absolutely Fabulous", "Waiting for God", "Keeping Up Appearances" and "Red Dwarf" - all thanks to public television; and "Steptoe and Son" because Wilfred Brambell, who played Paul's grandfather in "A Hard Day's Night" appeared in it; and "Meet the Wife" because it's mentioned in "Good Morining, Good Morning" on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: "It's time for tea and Meet the Wife".

I'd never heard of the number one show "Only Fools and Horses" which ran for 21 years.

I am intrigued by some of the titles though: Whoops Apocalypse, A Sharp Intake of Breath, and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.

The fact that Fawlty Towers is NOT number one just tells you one thing - British people are strange.

Come on - this is genius:

So what does this all have to do with Willie the Whaler? Well, another British series "As Time Goes By" - which I forgot I had also heard of, has a character: "the housekeeper is Mrs. Bale (Janet Henfrey), who has an unusual interest in the Shipping Forecast."

I will let Wikipedia tell you about the Shipping Forecast:
The Shipping Forecast is a four-times-daily BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. It is produced by the UK Met Office (part of the Ministry of Defence) and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (part of the Department for Transport). The forecasts sent over the Navtex system use a similar format and the same sea areas. The unique and distinctive sound of these broadcasts has led to their attracting an audience much wider than that directly interested in maritime weather conditions.

The waters around the British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map below)[1] and many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 0048 UK time. It is regarded with affection by many listeners, and in the United Kingdom often arises in general knowledge quizzes and is the butt of many affectionate jokes.

Full circle! And what an education you are getting, blog readers - don't even try to tell me you've ever heard of The Shipping Forecast. And yes, of course you can listen to the Shipping Forecast online.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

busy theatre weekend

This has certainly been a busy theater weekend between THE SLASH performances on Friday and today and the Playwrights conference on Saturday.

I did get some insight into JULIA & BUDDY at the conference, the structure of the play etc. The first and and the second act are still not properly integrated.

But I will never do a cold reading of this play again, or allow it to be cast with actors I don't know. I lucked out with the actor playing Buddy - he did a better performance of the Shakespeare bits than anybody who has performed the role to date. And he loved doing all the accents, he really went to town with the Scottish headmaster.

But the actor who was recommended to me for Julia (and I think she was recommended purely on the basis of being the right age) was horribly miscast. She would have been miscast even if it wasn't a cold reading - she reminded me of Victoria Jackson (from her SNL days, not the current crazy right-wing Victoria Jackson) which is totally not right for Julia, who needs to be closer to a Tina Fey.

But also, there are words and names in the play that require a higher level of cultural awareness than the average American has - for instance, it helps to know that the composer Richard Wagner's last name is pronounced "Vahg-ner" not "Wag-ner."

Had this been a reading at NYCPlaywrights, I would not have asked for feedback after the reading - having an actor in your reading who is terribly miscast skews the entire play and the audience has not received a proper rendering of the play - and in fact I tried to get out of a feedback session by saying that since there was a time crunch for the readings (the schedule was running late) it wouldn't be necessary to give me feedback.

But they insisted on it anyway and since I was trying to be agreeable (it was early in the day) I agreed. Most of the feedback was useless - most people will give you advice when they have no idea how to write a play themselves - but a few of the comments were useful - when commenters said what bugged them, personally, which is the best feedback.

For instance, the guy who played Buddy didn't like the line "Now it's your turn to open up to me" in this section of the first act:

But it’s very important. The world needs people who know how to keep company - more than it needs philosophy professors, or actors, or even maintenance men.

(He considers for a moment.)


Now it’s your turn to open up to me.


That’s fair.


I wasn’t imagining it, right? My poor damaged brain wasn’t playing tricks on me. You really were checking out my butt.


I confess. Your butt was on my radar.

I thought it was clear that by asking if Julia was checking out his butt, Buddy was deliberately subverting the portentousness of the question through the unexpectedly crass follow-up. Apparently not, at least for one person.

My reading followed a reading of a really bad play about Louise Nevelson (or maybe not about Louise Nevelson, maybe it was more a generic take on mothers and sons, the playwright didn't seem to know) that just sucked all the air out of the room. It had all the standard faults of a bad play - no coherent theme, underwritten, unnecessary characters, and lots of telling and not showing. And Louise Nevelson as portrayed was just a tiresome hard-drinking diva with nothing of interest to say about anything.

And as with all bad plays at conferences such as this, several people said how great it was. But it was so bad that the group actually managed to eke out a critique - someone mentioned the "show-not-tell" issue.

Many of the people in the audience, who were bored out of their minds (including the playwright's ten-year-old son, whom I seriously doubt would enjoy even a well-written play about Louise Nevelson) probably thought - well, if this is an example of a great play, I guess I'm just not a theatre person because I was bored out of my mind.

And thus the cult of no-standards continues to destroy the habit of theatre-going among the population.

So the bad Louise Nevelson play wore out the audience, who wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there once it was over, so there was hardly anybody there for my play. Which, given the miscasting, was probably just as well.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Playwright Marathon Weekend

Gotta hit the road for Bridgehampton early - I have to rent a car and haul ass up to the Playwright Marathon Weekend. I don't think I'm gonna make it by the 9:30 brunch though...

My name didn't make it into the list of playwrights at the top, but at least I'm in the schedule for 1PM - my name's misspelled but I guess I shouldn't be petty. It will be interesting to hear JULIA & BUDDY performed by people I didn't cast for once.

I'm just looking forward to driving really - I haven't driven since I rented a car to visit family last Easter, almost a year go. I hope the high winds aren't too brutal. Oy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

THE SLASH videos

A few teaser videos I did to promote THE SLASH - one of the advantages of a non-Equity show is that you can videotape.

In the world of slash fiction, they don't only queer up the leading men of TV shows, literature, etc. There is also - and this is common, apparently, to non-slash fan fiction too - a widely used, though disparaged convention of the "Mary Sue" - an avatar used to represent the author for greater vicarious fun. In my play Sharon's avatar is "Shee-ron" the beautiful but innocent native girl, while Bernadette's avatar is Una, the not-so-innocent daughter of the bad guy of the story ("Rod Neutron aka Yali" - everybody got an alternate identity in this play) and a native woman.

In this first clip, Captain Clark (Mike Durell) teaches Shee-ron (Amanda Thickpenny) about "love." I love the way Mike does a little wind-up/knuckle-cracking before going into the clinch.

In this clip Una (Carolyn Paine) forces Mr. Quirk (Abe Lebovic) to go into the Chloridian version of heat by slapping some synthetic roxydimethidrine (I made that drug up, obviously) onto his forehead. And my favorite part of the play, where Bernadette has an embarrassing typo in her story. I was gratified it got a laugh. I also love when Carolyn shushes Abe with a finger to his lips.

And this is the big fight scene - Captain Clark vs. Mr. Quirk. I love when Amanda, as Sharon, does an impersonation of Bernadette as Una, when she says Una's lines. That's me as the doggy for the sound cue.

The conflict that has developed between Sharon and Bernadette has leaked into their story - the avatars do battle! Carolyn demonstrates her years of dance training and Amanda executes a perfect fake punch.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

THE SLASH production pix2

The best fight pictures are taken from below looking up I think. I decided not to use the TAM LIN swords after all, the Payan Theatre stage is too small. Had to go with plastic toy swords.

Sharon (Amanda Thickpenny) vs. Bernadette (Carolyn Paine)

Aww - stage manager Katie Kavett joins in on the play-ending group hug with the cast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

THE SLASH opens today

Finally got the program done:



I came down here for a party, what happens? Nothing. Not even ice cream. The gods look down and laugh.

People ask me lately if I've seen the Grammys. No. Am I going to watch the Academy Awards? No. I just don't give a damn about prizes won for works of art. Of course I would love to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama - but only because it would pretty much guarantee I'd have a job in theatre - even if just as a college professor - the rest of my life and not have to toil among the Blueshirts.

But other than that, I don't give a shit about prizes. I've seen so many bad plays get prizes. This is especially true for off-off Broadway, but Broadway is not immune. Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz was extremely mediocre and won the Pulitzer in 2003. And I've already blogged about how utterly boring I found Talley's Folly by Lanford Wilson - and it's also a play that features a protagonist who basically stalks a woman into submission. Ugh.

And what about pre-1980 Pulitzer Prize winners? Well I'd never heard of the 1977 Prize winner The Shadow Box by Michael Cristofer. According to Wikipedia, it is about:
a trio of terminally ill patients, each of whom lives in a separate cottage at a hospice facility. Each is being interviewed about the process of dying.
Sounds like a thrilling evening at the theatre. It was made into a TV movie in 1980, won a Golden Globe, and apparently hasn't been heard from again, as far as I can tell.

Plays prior to 1940 are really obscure. Does anybody remember Zoe Atkins? It turns out she's the great aunt of actor Laurie Metcalf, won the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for her dramatization of Edith Wharton's "The Old Maid," which was made into a movie starring Bette Davis in 1939. I've never heard of it.

Also never heard of Men in White by Sidney Kingsley (1934); Alison's House by Susan Glaspell (1931) - although I have heard of Glasell; Street Scene by Elmer L. Rice (1929); In Abraham's Bosom by Paul Green (1927); Craig's Wife by George Kelly (1926); They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard; Hell-Bent Fer Heaven by Hatcher Hughes (1924); Icebound by Owen Davis (1923). Eugene O'Neill won for Anna Christie in 1922. He also won for Beyond the Horizon in 1920 and Strange Interlude in 1928 - mocked to great effect by Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers (see bottom of this post.)

And then there's Miss Lulu Bett of which I saw only the first half last spring before I ran for it during intermission. That won the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, and I can't imagine how bad the competition was, if that's what won.

Here's what the New Yorker said about Strange Interlude in the February 11, 1928 issue:
Time was when, in his darling bookroom, the poet drew forth some dusty, gold encrusted volume and took therefrom the fairest tale to make the heart of his dream structure. Now, praise be, he yanks down a work on psychopathology and turns right to the case histories. This procedure has been followed by Eugene O'Neill in his "Strange Interlude" which the Theatre Guild is doing at the John Golden Theatre. As a result it has an interesting story, but it is the method as well as the manner of "Strange Interlude" which makes it so infinitely discussed. Mr. O'Neill has featured in his work that step-child of modern drama, the Aside. Long sent to sit in the ashes of despite, Mr. O'Neill has discovered the Aside to be the Real Princess. As he has proclaimed this discovery in a nine-decker play naturally people are talking.

"Strange Interlude" seems to be an interesting stunt carried about four acts too far; not much more important than that.

The fable is that of Nina Leeds, a neurotic, egocentric woman whose first lover is killed in the war before any consummation of their passion. After an hysterical period in which she gives her revolted self to several wounded soldiers in a hospital where she is training, she marries Sam Evans, a devoted Dobbin, in order to have children. After the marriage she learns from his mother that his blood is tainted with hereditary insanity. Wishing, for Sam's sake, as well as her own, to have a healthy child which she can pretend is his, she comes to an arrangement with Sam's best friend, Ned Darrell, to have one by him, in all impersonality.

To my shame be it admitted that O'Neill's humorless dealing with this situation yielded me several Rabelaisian snickers.

The impersonality slips from the relationship between Nina and Ned. Loving each other desperately, they are too fond of Sam to endanger his sanity with the truth. Nina has also an old friend named Charlie Marsden who has suffered for years from a bad mother-complex. He replaces her dead father in her affections. As the son who is born to her and Ned grows up, she is very nicely fixed with paternal, husbandly, passionate and filial love to draw upon at will - like so many labeled taps at a soda fountain. Even so Nina isn't happy and constantly plays with the idea of revealing her secret to her husband and marrying Ned.

Twenty years or so pass and Sam dies and Nine, being no longer in love with Ned (she has spoiled his life and so made him a rather difficult customer), marries old Oedipus Charlie who can transfer his complex to her.

An interesting story as I have said, but not nine acts interesting. The only excuse for a play to be nine acts long is that not one speech can be cut. "Strange Interlude" has the effrontery to be repetitious. There's very little of the splendor of falling in or out of love in it, and a great deal of the sourness of clinging to an unhappy and moribund passion. Mr. O'Neill doesn't take up different aspects of the story; he takes up the same aspect at different times in the character's lives.

There is a lot of phoney poetry to which Mr. O'Neill is giving way more and more constantly. One is assured, for instances, that "Life is" a good many times. But there I go again. I guess I've mentioned before that the only kind of secret I don't care to hear is a cosmic secret. "Strange Interlude" teems with them.

And now to get down to the beatified Aside. In purporting to give voice to the thoughts of his characters, Mr. O'Neill lays himself open to comparison with James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and the other stream of consciousness novelists. It is a comparison he can ill support. The turbulent stream of consciousness Joyce photographs so perfectly finds itself, in "Strange Interlude," confined to neat concrete containers which are far more like summaries of the momentary situation as Mr. O'Neill wishes one to understand it than like what the characters are actually thinking at the time. They create the impression that Mr. O'Neill has done the groundwork which every dramatist must do so much to his own satisfaction that he hasn't been able to rub any of it out, or that, unwilling to trust anything to his actors, he is trying to do their work for them too

Never has a cast less needed such assistance; for "Strange Interlude" is almost flawlessly performed, and has been beautifully directed by Philip Moeller. I'll just sound silly if I tell you how superb Lynn Fontanne is as Nina, how excellent are Helen Westley, and Glenn Anders, and Tom Powers in their respective roles. As for Earle Larimore, as the simplex, sensitive, inarticulate Sam Evans he is possibly best of all.

Up to the dinner interval they held me absolutely, but at the end of the evening, in spite of them, my principal emotion was a vast relief that I hadn't any longer to listen to the love life of that particular set of characters.

The captain is so amusing. Isn't he chahhming?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

if you loved GATZ...

Awesome free lo-tech video game online - The Great Gatsby! - so far I've only gotten to Gatsby's party and the train to the Valley of Ashes. It doesn't seem right somehow to shoot party-goers doing the Charleston.

I found Gatsby at the end of Level 1.

Monday, February 14, 2011

up & coming actor

Well lil Nicky Fondulis (as I will always think of him) is coming up in the world - his manager is worried that my monologue MR. BLACK, which Nick recorded for my STRESS AND THE CITY production two years ago, and which I posted to Youtube, is counterproductive to his career, with its dark undertones and cursing. But hey that's off-off Broadway baby. But Nick emailed me from El Lay and asked me to take it down, so I did - or rather, I set the video posting to "Private" so only those I designate can see it. His wholesome image is safe now.

I'm surprised that actors are still type-cast so rigorously in this day and age - I guess you are either going for comedy series or R-rated HBO dramas, and can't do both.

MR. BLACK is loosely based on my ex-boyfriend who, as a teenager, did break his father's arm, although not over his father beating the dog - the entire family adored Emily the dog. But before I met him, my ex boyfriend saw some guy beating his dog (the guy's dog, not my ex-boyfriend's) and challenged him to a fight - which I think is endearing and commendable since any form of animal cruelty is unbearable to me, I can't even watch those damn Sarah McLaughlin "in the arms of an angel" commercials showing sad dogs and cats - although not perhaps wise.

So he challenged the dog-beater and the guy agreed to meet him in a nearby playground that evening - and my ex showed up for the fight, but the guy never showed up. My ex is lucky the guy didn't show up with a gun.

My ex is physically fearless and is not in the least afraid to challenge anybody to a fight - the fact that he holds black belts in three different martial arts no doubt contributes to this. But in a world of freely-available guns even that doesn't make you invincible.

The objectionable MR. BLACK monologue in its entirety:
I had this dog, Emily, she was the best dog in the world. And one day she growled at my father so he started beating her. I was in my room watching TV, I heard her crying, I came running out, I was like "what the fuck are you doing" - but before he could answer I twisted his arm behind his back. My mom came out screaming, "let him go" - I let him go and he took a swing at me. So I pushed him down the fucking stairs. Just like that. I didn't even have to think about it. After four years of training it was automatic. Broke his fucking arm. I mean he's fine now. I guess. I haven't seen him since I got out of school. But poor Emily. She got sick and died. I mean she was fourteen when she died, which was pretty good for a dog. But it pisses me off, you know - why the fuck is he still alive and she's gone? I had her cremated. I put her in an urn. Up on my mantle. Now she's always with me. Such a good girl. Such a good girl.

The part about cremating the dog and putting her in an urn is also based on my ex-boyfriend. In fact, I gave him the urn for Christmas one year - this heavy-ass brass urn that was meant for people ashes. Prior to that he had the cremains in a box.

Before the Superbowl commercial Nick's biggest claim to fame was his appearance on 30 Rock (along with another actor I work with, Daniel Genalo) - there's even a Wiki about that episode, "Audition Day".

I just hope Nick isn't sorry when I develop a series for HBO about a foul-mouthed young man who goes around beating up animal abusers.

new Willie sighting ahoy!

Just when it seemed like there were no more Willie the Whaler ads to be found and only one left to post I found this one that I hadn't seen before. Clearly what this means is that I can't count on doing a simple text search of the New Yorker for Willie ads - I am going to have to go through every issue between May 1940 and December 1965 (at least) to see if there are any previously undiscovered Willies.

Which means I have to review a total of 48 issues per year times 25 years (more or less) for a total of 1200 issues of the New Yorker.

This could take awhile.

So what's ole Willie up to in this May 5, 1940 issue of the New Yorker? He seems to have fallen off The Wanderer while hanging from the "dolphin striker" defined by Your Dictionary as:
A small vertical spar under the bowsprit of a sailboat that extends and helps support the martingale.

Which begs the question: what's a bowsprit and a martingale???

Bowsprit - a large, tapered spar extending forward from the bow of a sailing vessel, to which stays for the masts are secured

Picture of bowsprit:

Martingale - Nautical Any of several parts of standing rigging strengthening the bowsprit and jib boom against the force of the head stays.

Which begs the question - what is a jib boom and a head stay?

You're on your own.

The fact that Willie was on the dolphin striker in the first place is an indication that the last thing he needs right now is a free tank of the bubbly. Probably the skipper decided to let him rest up there on the Wanderer's life saver until he sobers up.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Merrill & me

Yes, Merrill Markoe commented on my Krugman post on Facebook. Because I am cool like that.

In celebration, I will post this classic Stupid Pet Tricks clip from 1986:

I first watched this back in ye olden days on "television."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

down in the foc'sle with Willie

We're almost at the end of the Willie line! After this ad, I have only one left. Although admittedly I have not yet scoured every issue of the New Yorker between 1940 and 1965 so it's possible there are others...

I can't find any definitions for "see a fox" that remotely match this ad's context - the artist seems to be indicating that the "fox" is perhaps the sunrise? That would make sense in connection to "the sun's over the foreyard" which according to A dictionary of slang and colloquial English means to drink before noon.

According to Ahoy, Mac's Web Log:
The lead line is a length of rope up to 50 fathoms long, ( a fathom is the term for 6 feet ) and this line is fitted to the lead weight, hence the expression "To heave the lead" which means to use a lead line line to find the water depth. This should not be confused with the term " Swinging the lead" which is used to describe a sailor who is lazy."

Naughty mind that I have, I can think of another definition of "swinging the lead" - or is that pipe?

We already know about "plush" from a previous Willie ad.

According to Boy's Life, December 1927:
The shack locker was a sort of pantry in the foc'sle where the men took snacks between meals.

And I don't have to tell you loyal readers what kind of "snacks" Willie likes best.

But what's a "foc'sle"? That just means forecastle, which is according to Wikipedia:

Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast.

The Free Dictionary pronounces foc'sle as "foke-sul".

You're gonna wow them at your next cocktail party.

Friday, February 11, 2011

screenplay tips

I've been running a writers group for over ten years now. That means weekly readings of scripts. Now usually these are playscripts, and the stage and screen have some different requirements, but dramatic narrative works the same either way. And if it works as a stage play, it will usually work as a screenplay, as anybody who has seen "My Dinner with Andre" knows.

The biggest difference is that playwrights tend to exert artistic control over their work (and the Dramatists Guild is there to help out) and screenwriters, unless very famous, not at all. The trade-off is that screenwriters usually get paid pretty well, which makes the indignity of having an idiot who couldn't come up with a decent screenplay if he was automatic writing it while possessed by the ghost of Robert Towne (who is not actually dead - no offense Robert Towne) mess with your words a little less enraging.

But I couldn't even stand it then, myself. I'd rather get a regular paycheck working for The Man among the Blueshirts, producing technical manuals that nobody will read and write the exact plays I want, than write screenplays that will invariably be mangled beyond recognition. I'm weird that way.

Anyway, after 10+ years of listening to readings, I can usually pretty quickly tell if either a screen or stage play is working.

Let's say you are writing a sci-fi movie. Here are some things to look out for:

1. The trope of finding out you're not alive

It's already been done, in The Sixth Sense. And that plot point was crucial to the movie. You don't need to make someone non-living - an android for example - in order for them to have opinions about hunting androids, or for them to receive information from an Artificial Intelligence character. We technical writers have a little expression: RTFM. Not that anybody does read the manual - but they COULD. They don't need to download information into their brain directly via magic data waves.

And of course the "manual" doesn't have to be printed on dead trees. There's no reason why knowledge has to be localized into one android rather than distributed in the cloud. You could use a "subnet" for example.

Dorothy discovers at the end of The Wizard of Oz that she could have gone home virtually the moment she hit Oz and was stuffed into those ruby slippers, but that bitch Glinda wanted her to do a job on the Wicked Witch of the West first.

But the thing is, Dorothy was trying to get home almost the entire movie. She desperately wanted it. She was making an effort to achieve that goal. Those efforts drove the story. Which leads me to...

2. Wanting something important

Say your main protagonist wants nothing more than to make her job a little easier. Understandable - but that's not a very compelling story, is it? No matter how young and hot she is and how tight-fitting her uniform is. No matter how many times she shoots a big gun and chases a bunch of scarybots around.

But what could she want?

Well if she's a ladybot, that's a real problem. I realize that some people figure an android suddenly developing human desires is just something that happens sometimes. And I would suggest that this is the recipe for plot disaster.

Who the hell would want to give a machine humanoid desires? The technology would be incredibly difficult and expensive, so there would have to be some actual motivation. But what would that be? There are plenty of organic creatures running around killing anything that gets between them and the fulfillment of their desires. The last thing organic creatures want is more competition, from non-organic creatures who have built-in high-speed lethal weapons. Any world that exists that would give machines humanoid desires, without a damn good, plausible reason, is crazyworld. And crazyworld might be entertaining to you, when you are dreaming - but it makes for a lousy story. Unless the act of a machine achieving consciousness like Skynet in Terminator 2 is the very heart of the story. The protagonists' goal is to stop Skynet from doing this. And if they fail, the world will end.

But even if you overlook the plausibility of androids with humanoid desire - if your protagonist turns out to be an android, that fact should be connected in some way to her desires - and her desires should be significant, not trivial and barely expressed. Maybe she always really wanted to be an android. Like an anti-Pinocchio.

3. Light sabers are not worth it.

If you want to write a story where people sword-fight, you should set it where that's the latest word in human-killing technology. For anything else, it's just not worth it. You might as well just have ladybots shoot laser beams out of their eyes as dream up excuses for why they have to use hand-held light sabers. I mean, in Star Wars the Jedi had this entire religio-cultural justification for using light sabers, and even then it was pretty silly.

4. Your story ends just when it was getting interesting

Say at the end of your screenplay, your main protagonist had something interesting happen to her - maybe her perspective on life - or whatever it is that an android has - has changed. Especially when the heretofore Big Bad of the plot turns out to be sort of altruistic and saves the protagonist. That's an interesting scenario. That's not where your screenplay should end, that's where it should begin.

But really, the concept of the "bad guy" forcing empathy on the protagonist, and the changes that would result, is just much too interesting and original for a lo-budget independent movie producer - certainly the one I am familiar with. Better put more scary robots and gunfights in, instead and maybe rip off a few more tropes from a hi-budget blockbuster.

5. Mention poetry

At least throw in a mention of poetry and give your screenplay a little desperately-needed class.

To channel the ghost of John Hodgman* - you're welcome.

*John Hodgman is also not dead.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

no surprise here

Why is it that when you read this:

According to Gawker, Mr. Lee, who is 46, replied to a personal ad that the woman had placed in the “Women for Men” section of Craigslist, seeking a financially and emotionally secure man.

“Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?” the woman asked in the ad, using the initials for Craigslist.

Mr. Lee responded to the ad using a Gmail account that Gawker said it had traced to Mr. Lee’s personal Facebook account.

“Hi,” Mr. Lee wrote in the first e-mail. “Hope I’m not a toad.”

“I’m a very fit fun classy guy,” he continued. “Live in Cap Hill area.” He described himself as a 39-year-old lobbyist. He said he was 6 feet tall, weighed 190 pounds, and had blond hair and blue eyes.

“I promise not to disappoint,” he wrote.

After the woman responded flirtatiously, Mr. Lee sent a shirtless photo of himself that he had taken using the camera on his cellphone.

When the woman asked him if he made it a habit to send shirtless photos of himself to women, Mr. Lee responded in another e-mail: “Sorry. Its all I had.”

Gawker said the woman, a government employee who asked not to be identified, eventually stopped contacting Mr. Lee after she searched for his name online and discovered that he was lying about his profession and his age. The woman then sent the e-mails to Gawker.

It is no surprise at all to read this:

In Congress, Mr. Lee had a reputation as a social conservative, opposing, for example, a recent measure signed into law that allowed gays to serve openly in the military.

crack ho play

Well my crack ho play seemed to go over pretty well at tonight's NYCPlaywrights meeting.

There ain’t no predestination! What kind of crazy god would do that? Make people live like shit and then send them to hell too? You don’t tell me your lies about how God wants me to be a streetwalker and you, a miserable piece of shit like you, God wants you to have everything. That ain’t how it works. Everything might be the will of God, but that’s no excuse for you. You’re just a rich crazy motherfucker.

Speaking of which, I got an inquiry today from a playwright who wants to sit in on NYCPlaywrights meetings. He's worked with both Edward Einhorn AND Manhattan Theatre Source's Spontaneous Combustion. So naturally I have soooo many questions to ask him.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Tarpaulin Muster

I had never heard the phrase "tarpaulin muster" before this Willie ad, myself, but it's popular enough a phrase to be the title of this 1907 book by John Masefield, which appears to be a collection of stories about the sea.

And according to Chapter Nine "A Tarpaulin Muster" from the book "My Union Right or Wrong, A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932 By Issy Wyner:

Aboard ship, when financial assistance was called for a distressed member of the crew, arising from an accident or other cause, each crew member was asked to place his contribution on the tarpaulin which covered the timber hatch covers enclosing the top of the ship’s hold. A crew member would stand by to remind the seamen of the need to make a contribution, and when completed the "tarpaulin muster" would be handed to the affected member or his family. In other industries, someone would take round the hat and, in later developments, someone would take up a list, with paper and pencil to record the names and amounts contributed.

And clearly what makes Willie a distressed member of the crew is the absence of alcohol. Oh Willie!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tina Fey's great New Yorker article

behind a paywall though - but here's the most scathing bit:

"...I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they're all "crazy." I have a suspicion - and hear me out, because this is a rough one - that the definition of "crazy" in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.

The only person I can think of who has escaped the "crazy" moniker is Betty White, which, obviously, is because people still want to have sex with her.

This is the infuriating thing that dawns on you one day: even if you would never sleep with or even flirt with anyone to get ahead, you are being sexually adjudicated.

Network executives really do say things like "I don't know. I don't want to fuck anybody on this show."

(To any exec who has ever said that about me, I would hope that you would at least have the self-awareness to know that the feeling is extremely mutual.)

It seems to me the fastest remedy for this "women are crazy" situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages.

The rest of the article is less scathing and more funny. Go and buy an issue, it's on the better newsstands now.

UPDATE: wheeeee! I posted this on Facebook and my Facebook friend Merrill Markoe "liked" it!

If you don't know who Merrill Markoe is - you damn well should. And I'm sure you know her work - she invented Stupid Pet Tricks for the David Letterman show.

And two actors who have worked for me, Nick Fondulis and Daniel Genalo were on an episode of 30 Rock. That means that Tina Fey's costars were my bitches!

Plus, I hugged David Hyde Pierce.

OK, that was three years ago. And to be fair, he didn't see it coming until it was too late. But still...

the Daily News asks her for the dope, she says "man, the dope's that there's still hope"

THE SLASH gets a shout-out in the Daily News - thanks to Ciona Taylor promotions - NOT John Chatterton.

Absolutely charming live recording of Springsteen's Does This Bus Stop on 82nd Street?

So many great lyrics, but the best, after the title of this post, might be:
"Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps, interstellar mongrel nymphs
Rex said that lady left him limp. Love’s like that (sure it is)."

Hey bus driver keep the change, bless your children, give them names,
Don’t trust men who walk with canes,
drink this and you’ll grow wings on your feet
Broadway Mary, Joan Fontaine, advertiser on a downtown train
Christmas crier bustin’ cane, He’s in love again.
Where dock worker’s dreams mix with panther’s schemes to someday own the rodeo
Tainted women in Vistavision perform for out-of-state kids at the late show.

Wizard imps and sweat sock pimps, interstellar mongrel nymphs
Rex said that lady left him limp. Love’s like that (sure it is).
Queen of diamonds, ace of spades newly discovered lovers of the everglades
They take out a full page ad in the trades to announce their arrival
And Mary Lou she found out how to cope, she rides to heaven on a gyroscope
The Daily News asks her for the dope
She says “Man, the dope’s that there’s still hope”

Senorita, Spanish rose, wipes her eyes and blows her nose
Uptown in Harlem she throw a rose to some lucky, young matador.

I like Bruce now, but he has never matched his Asbury Park street gypsy songwriting period - but who the hell could?

boots of savage leather

What is it about these Rochester/Mr. Quirk boots? Both actors who wore them wanted to keep them. THE SLASH's Mr. Quirk told me during rehearsal tonight that he wants to buy them from me. I don't know if I'll sell them or not - these boots seem to possess some powerful mojo.

Although I did offer to sell them to the first actor who wore them - and he got mad at me because he felt that I should just gift them to him - after he behaved like a jerk throughout my production. Some people just have a vast sense of entitlement I guess. He claimed he couldn't afford to buy them, so I said he might want to borrow the money from his girlfriend, who had spent the entire production finding fault with everything I did. I suggested to him that if she was so smart, surely she was also rich. For whatever reason, he did not cough up the dough. His loss.

Certainly every man who has worn these boots looks good in them - but perhaps that's my own personal fetish - I happen to think that men look good in boots. One of the reasons why I love it when men wear Regency period clothing.

Speaking of which...

The image above is more about the velvet coat than the boots, which the model is wearing under his trousers. But he still looks damn fine.

And as the Oregon Regency Society points out: outfitting a regency man isn't easy.

But oh so worth it. And I sure am sorry I missed the 2010 Edinburgh Festival:
Darcy paces a lavishly-furnished regency chamber, clad in dishy regency riding boots; this is a one-man show featuring the gentleman-hero himself.

It appears that I am far from alone in my Regency/boots fetish.

Well you can't find a video of Bob Dylan doing his "Boots of Spanish Leather" so I am posting the next best thing - Joan Baez doing a cover:

Monday, February 07, 2011

speaking of Nick...

Speaking of Nick Fondulis, looks like he got himself another commercial - this time for the Superbowl...

You gotta love the little quaver in his voice when he asks for the "Facebook news feed" - although I'm not sure how useful this feature is when everybody has iPhones, etc. He can't check Facebook at a red light?

playwrights conference

My playwright pal Jonathan Wallace is putting together a playwright's conference in a couple of weeks - that should be fun. And it's nice to get out of Queens once in awhile - this conference is in Bridgehampton and it will be a nice mini-road trip. I had to get rid of my beloved Prius (sigh) but I can rent a car - maybe they'll have a Prius.

Jonathan is putting the conference together with Joshua Perl, who founded Naked Stage, in East Hampton. My HUCK FINN buddy Nick Fondulis works with them.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

THE SLASH production photos

Carolyn Paine has been a dancer since she was a little kid and it certainly shows. I took production photos for THE SLASH on Saturday and I made her hold this pose for 30 seconds and she kept her leg in that exact position the whole time. I didn't make her hold it cause I'm evil, but because my damn fancy digital camera had to wait for everything to be just so before it allowed the flash to go off. Oy. But as much as I like this, I can't use it for a production photo.

I did use this one:

To get this shot I got on the floor looking up at their faces - Carolyn was holding Amanda Thickpenny down and that's the only way I could see their faces. It worked out pretty well I think. The shadow behind Carolyn's head is on the ceiling. That camera does have a pretty damn good flash.

More THE SLASH production photos

boots & swords

One thing that makes a producer happy is to recycle stuff from other shows, so I was very pleased that I could use some of the swords from my TAM LIN production, and boots from my JANE EYRE production.

I have a whole arsenal of swords from TAM LIN and this is the first time I've used one in another production - and the last TAM LIN full-fledged production was October 2005. Captain Clark and Mr. Quirk fight with the swords - although one of the actors says she might borrow light sabers from her brother, so the swords could get axed.

The boots shown in the picture were customized for the actor who wore them in JANE EYRE, and Abe here is the first actor who could fit into them since that production, which was 2008 - three years ago now - time flies!

Who knew that riding boots could also double for sci-fi uniform boots? And Abe was amazed at how easy it is to get those boots off with the boot jack. It's lucky they are, since there are several quick changes in THE SLASH.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

the Straight Dope on the Eiffel Tower

Gotta love the Straight Dope:

Fact is, the Eiffel Tower arguably holds the record for ratio of grandiosity to usefulness of any structure in the world. (Some will say the Statue of Liberty comes close, but let's remember who dreamed that up.)

This is a matter worth pondering. People have been building tall structures since the days of Babylon — mostly for the glory, of course, but usually with some ostensible higher purpose in mind. Temples and cathedrals celebrate the divine; the pyramids are tombs; the Washington Monument commemorates the first U.S. president. The tallest building in the world at the moment, the 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, is 828 meters tall (2,717 feet). One suspects this is somewhat larger than was demanded by the local real estate market, but the fact remains that the Burj Khalifa is a building, containing habitable space.

Not so the Eiffel Tower — at least not to any great extent. It was vanity architecture in close to pure form. That's not to say it was a sinkhole financially. The tower has an observation deck, restaurants, a meeting space, a souvenir shop, and so on, all of which charge appropriately lofty rates. The tower earned back most of its construction cost during the 1889 exhibition; add in a subsidy from the city of Paris, and the project finished comfortably in the black.

Cecil also addresses these issues:

Did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grow marijuana?

In the TV show "Kung Fu," what were the names of the monks? - it should be noted that The Straight Dope began in 1973, before you could Google everything 24/7, and such information was a pain in the ass to track down, back in those ancient times.

Did Bugs Bunny appear in a racist cartoon during World War II? - bonus info with this article - a list of racist animated shorts from Warner Brothers.

Can you be an atheist and still be Jewish?

What's the origin of nautical terms like "jibe," "tack," etc.?

What's the deal with colloidal silver?

Why does so much ancient Greek art feature males with small genitalia?

Tomorrow's blog post - pictures of swords.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Fairfax road trip

Unfortunately I probably won't be able to combine the New Bedford roadtrip with the Fairfax, Virginia road trip - they are in opposite directions.

Why Fairfax?

I got this in the mail today:
For the first time ever in the Dramatists Guild's hundred year esteemed history of representing the rights and interests of dramatists everywhere, Council members, DG staff, regional representatives from eighteen areas of the country, leaders in the field of theatre and members of all levels of achievement will meet in Fairfax, Virginia, June 9 -12, to have a national conversation.

We hope you'll join us and invite you to celebrate our community and ask the questions we need to answer about our careers and our craft in order to go forward in the years ahead. Three days of nuts and bolts workshops, keynote speeches, legal and business seminars, roundtables and conversations should engage dramatists of all levels.

With Keynote speeches by Todd London (Outrageous Fortune), Molly Smith (Artistic Director, Arena Stage), Julia Jordan (Achieving Gender Parity) and conversations with Marsha Norman, Stephen Schwartz, Doug Wright and David Ives-- among many others – and workshops in adaptation, translations, contracts, transmedia, lyric and music writing, the 10-Minute Play, music software and internet piracy, the weekend promises to be as educational as it is inspiring.

Registration will open February 14th, with many details to follow.

Two road trips in one summer? Unprecedented!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

New Bedford road trip

Well I've decided - at some point this summer I'm going on a road trip to New Bedford Massachusetts. I was already thinking about it last year because that's where Frederick Douglass ended up after he escaped from slavery. It was his first home after he got free and he loved it:
I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I earned the money, to rob me of it. I worked that day with a pleasure I had never before experienced. I was at work for myself and newly-married wife. It was to me the starting-point of a new existence. When I got through with that job, I went in pursuit of a job of calking; but such was the strength of prejudice against color, among the white calkers, that they refused to work with me, and of course I could get no employment. [I am told that colored persons can now get employment at calking in New Bedford--a result of anti-slavery effort. did for nearly three years in New Bedford, before I became known to the anti-slavery world.] Finding my trade of no immediate benefit, I threw off my calking habiliments, and prepared myself to do any kind of work I could get to do. Mr. Johnson kindly let me have his wood-horse and saw, and I very soon found myself a plenty of work. There was no work too hard--none too dirty. I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry wood, sweep the chimney, or roll oil casks,--all of which I did.

And then thanks to Wes at A Camera in Some Hands I know that the Manhattan Whaler Bar was inspired by a Whaler Bar that was in New Bedford. It isn't there now - my goal will be to find out where it was and what happened to it. But my daughter's girlfriend, who attended Harvard, used to hang out at the Hungry Whale Pub, which is a dive and a gay bar the locals called "The Hungry Male" according to her - definitely worth a (perhaps quick) look-see.

One place I don't want to go is the Whaling Museum. I just don't want to think about people hurting whales. And Willie the Whaler, as has been established is much too busy hurting his liver to do much damage to whales.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

the speeding car of death

I think there is some good stuff in this section but the transition from the talk of suicide to sexytime is too quick. I rewrote on Sunday night and I think it's better now. I'll be doing another reading at the next NYCPlaywrights meeting (if we are not snowed out again!)

Wow, I'm a writing machine lately - major JULIA & BUDDY revisions, a new 10-minute play, JASMINE, my first featuring serious on-stage violence (prostitute vs. Calvinist) and a new full-length, A CHRISTMAS CTHULU which will be done probably around... Christmas. It won't be any too holly jolly though...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Plush leads to Folly

Just like in the last Willie installment, Willie is using current meteorological conditions as a justification to go for the hooch.

Willie glossary:

Peart - lively

Fitten' for to lower - I'm not exactly sure, but I think he's saying it's too windy to lower the sails.

Slug of plush - the "slug of" part of this expression is still in common use - the "plush" part took me some googling to find, but I did track it down finally to The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian. I guessed that the term Plush might have to do with the Dorset village of that name - Dorset being an English county with a sea coast and so perhaps involved in the rum trade. Regular readers of the blog also know that Dorset is the home of creator Julian Oddy.

I wasn't able to verify my hunch about the Dorset village but at least I did get a definition of "plush":
Harding came in, bringing the sun with him. 'Forgive me for bursting upon you like this, sir, but I have had such a pleasing letter - my wife has just inherited a little estate in Dorset from a distant cousin: it lies between Plush and Folly. I am to be squire of Plush!'

'Give you joy with all my heart,' said Jack, shaking his hand. 'We shall be neighbours - my son is at school there, Mr Randall's school. How happy my wife and I will be. But I am afraid that I must warn you that Plush often leads to Folly.'

'Why, yes, sir...' began Harding, somewhat staggered: but then he caught the nature of Captain Aubrey's witticism (perhaps the best thing Jack had ever said) which depended on a knowledge of the fact that when grog was served out the ordinary members of each mess of seamen received slightly less than the regular measure: by ancient custom, the amount of grog left, which was called plush, belonged to the cook of the mess; and unless he had a good head for rum, this often led him to commit a foolish action.

There is indeed a place in Dorset called Folly, in Piddletrenthide, to be precise, although it must be tiny, it doesn't get named on the Google map, while Plush, which is indeed near Folly, does.

I suspect that the joke about Plush leading to Folly was huuuuge in Dorset. Ah Dorset, the county of piquant place-names as you can see in this Wiki list, like Wool, Melbury Bubb, and Ryme Intrinseca. Folly is so small it isn't even listed here. But then again, neither is Wainscotting.