Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lee Van Cleef, Paulie Walnuts Hair, and 15 Years of Online Writing (Part 1)

As of this writing, an essay I posted here in February 2011 about character actor Lee Van Cleef has received 255 unique page views, number one of all the 100-plus articles I’ve placed on Blogger since 2007.

Winner in the keyword search category: “Paulie Walnuts Hair.” Google this and you will find an article I posted some years back on the final episode of The Sopranos, where I praised the performance—and noted the hair styling—of Tony Sirico as Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri. This article ranks at number 9 in unique page views (100). From this, I conclude there are many middle-to-late-aged men (or their wives and girlfriends) in search of hair products and finding me on the roster.

I doubt most of these restless ones are reading it. They’re looking for hair-fashion advice and I’m too bald to offer any besides “Wear a good hat.”

After 15 years of online writing, this is what this frustrated New Yorker writer has to show for it—that and nearly 7,000 page views on Blogger; plus over 23,000 on The Red Room, since 2007 (more on that nice space later); and over 2,000 on my Scrib’d page, since March 2011.

So, call me an old grizzled veteran of online writing—close your eyes and there’s Gabby Hayes, Arthur Hunnicutt, Walter Brennan, or Edmond O’Brien in The Wild Bunch. (Envision my gimpy leg, snaggled teeth, and tobacco-stained beard.)

My career, such as it is by cracky, might be blamed on Jon Carroll, legendary columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Sometime in the late 1990s, I attended a talk he gave in San Francisco on essay and column writing.

I listened with happy attention throughout. And when he advised those of us who wanted his gig—or something like it—to start an e-mail column (pointing to another e-mail columnist who’d landed a job as a TV reviewer on a major newspaper), my ears fluttered like butterfly wings.

I rushed home and started writing immediately. I created an e-mail list of 20 people or so and sent out my first e-mail essay: a still-pretty-funny satire on an allegedly obsessive friendship between John Travolta and Quentin Tarantino. Among my first responses, one brusquely asked to be removed from the list. To this day, these rejections sting like a bee to the gut: I feel as though I’ve walked uninvited into someone’s living room and started belting out “Long Tall Sally.” My e-mail list eventually grew to 150 during this time, but now I keep the list small and discrete.

I needed a title for my new column. Impatiently, I grabbed “IMHO” (“In My Humble Opinion”). I never liked it and kept shaking my brain out for a better one. I wrote about 70 columns, at the rate of one a week, usually sent out on Sunday--the kind of smorgasbord you find here, except broader in scope. I simply wanted to write essays and articles like Jon Carroll, S.J. Perelman, and the sophisticated circus wagon of New Yorker writers—some funny, some serious; reviews of books, movies, and thoughts and things that happened to me, like how I got a driver’s license for the first time in 20 years.

Among the best were a still-hilarious take on pork barrel spending, which I rewrote a couple years back and posted here. My favorite—I think the most well received—was an insane riff on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal . . . but like a lot of satire, the humor is now dated, obscure, and local, like Gerald Ford jokes on Saturday Night Live reruns. That one will likely stay buried, laughter heard only in the memory.

Sometime in 1998, I joined Posthoc, the online magazine published by Susan MacTavish Best, and became a real editor and film critic. “IMHO” went in the back of the closet. For a year-and-half I immersed myself in my non-paying position as though it were paid. At last, I might gain entrance into the hallowed halls of great film critics, take a seat in the dark next to Pauline Kael and Ebert and Siskel.

At Posthoc, I wrote over 100 reviews and articles. I supervised a team of critics and hustled my way into dozens of studio-sponsored pre-screenings at the Variety Club and other venues. I sat next to critics like Wesley Morris, Michael Sragow, and Curious Man reader Richard Von Busack. (Only some of what my team and I wrote, however, remains available online.) I truly enjoyed my work and think I did a good job, especially for a beginner.

But toward the end, I found the job of film criticism tedious, especially when sitting through such gutter-thumpers as The Wild Wild West and Battleship Earth. I felt my long love affair with the movies dimming. The movies and I were both changing, and I concluded that maybe I wasn’t that good a critic.

Posthoc closed in 1999. I hustled for newspaper jobs for a time, but the door I hoped would open remained closed. I fought the idea of returning to e-mail columns—it felt like a step backward and down.

But eventually, I had to face a kind of reality. Silence was not an option.

(To be continued . . . .)

Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Photo by Author

Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark is available right NOW, published by Ambler House Publishing. It can be ordered in both paperback and e-book editions through your local independent bookstore, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  Powell's Books, Smashwords, and Scrib'd. His original comic screenplay Whackers  is now available in Kindle, Nook, iPad and on Scrib'd, also from Ambler House. Other material can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. Not enough for ya? He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

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