JANUARY Part 2
What happened? Where did that weekend go? I lift my head up from the computer, and it’s Sunday night. I accomplished nothing that I wanted to accomplish, but of course if I’d wanted to accomplish it, I would have.

By “accomplish” I mean work up the nerve to buy the big TV.

See, this is my consolation prize. An oversized television set. Please, spare me the sighs of disdain - a TV? Really. How . . . common. Yes, a TV. A big one. A TV the size of a garage door. No - I’ll get three! Then I can watch Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” the way it was meant to be seen.

People seem to assume that when you buy a big TV, this means you will sit in front of it watching Canadian Football at 3 AM until your brains run out your nose. Often the same people who look down at such a purchase are great fans of movies, devotees of the cinematic arts - well, that’s why I’m buying the damn thing. It’s not to watch South Park. I bought “Blade Runner” the other day, and I’d like to see it on a screen that does it justice. Likewise any other movie, for that matter. So until we move, it will sit in the corner, hulking, gigantic, waiting for the day when it can be installed in the family room in the next Lileks Manor. And if we don’t move? Then I have a BFTV. (It’s not that big - not one of those monster projections.)

But I did get a new receiver, and therein hangs a tale. The old receiver had blown half its inputs over the last year, and for the last month I’ve had to plug and replug and crossplug every time I wanted to watch something. This has irritated my wife greatly; she couldn’t just turn on the TV and get sound. (This was my plan, of course - infuriate her until she DEMANDS I get a new receiver.) I went to Circuit City. Was instantly intercepted in the audio aisles by a “sales consultant.” I explained that my amp had blown, and he looked a little surprised.

“How old was it?”

“Four, five years.”

“What kind?”

“Sony.” And he got that ah-hah look. He explained that Sony made crappy amps. (There’s a band name: the Crappy Amps.) I really should get something from another manufacturer, preferably one of these hideously expensive guys over . . . here. I explained that I preferred Sony, because I had a Sony DVD, TV and VCR, and was able to run everything off any remote, no matter which I picked up. He explained the miracle of programmable remotes, and I stifled my irritation - yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve been AWAKE during the last TEN YEARS, SONNY. But he was trying to help. He showed me a unit not much more expensive than the best Sony - of course, it was the least expensive unit in this brand. (HK, if you’re curious.) Then he extolled the virtues of another unit, which of course was $250 more, but contained multiple framwidgit filtering, ether-cooled crossover cabling and digital spectrum analysis suppression enhancement. Yeah, yeah, fine. Look. Ever since tubes went out, there’s been one enhancement in stereos, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s the loudness button. Does this one have a loudness button? No. Granted, it has crisp sound devoid of distortion when you crank it all the way up, but you know what? I don’t think I’ll be cranking it all the way up. Ever. Three-fourths of the way; yes. Seven-eights; perhaps. All the way up? No.

My needs were simple: give me inputs for everything, give me digital inputs for the digital equipment, and a simple interface.

That also described this unit. But it was so expensive. I didn’t say this, of course; didn’t want to lose face with the stereo salesman. But of course, he could read my mind.

“We have an open box special,” he said. “Last year’s version. Same as this one, really. Full warranty.”

“Show it to me,” I said. Open box, of course, means “no box.” It’s been sitting out as a demo, or it’s been returned.

He led me to a towering stack of gear, and turned the volume to the highest possible setting. “Devil Goes Down to Georgia” came blasting out of the speakers.

ROUNDTHEMOUNTIN RUNBOYSRUN (DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE DEEDLE) DEVIL ZINA HOWSUTHA RISINSUN

My face must have rippled like someone experiencing G-Forces; he turned it down.

“I liked that song the first thousand times,” I said.

“You don’t hear any distortion,” he enthused.

“Yes, but you do hear Charlie Daniels.”

We hemmed and hawed, and I asked many, many questions, trying not to sound like I knew what I was talking about. Because I didn’t. I can hold my own in the computer store, but in the stereo store I’m not going to make any pretenses; these guys knew far more than I did. I was licked and I knew it. I bought it.

Much to my surprise, I discovered I had no money. Well! I said I’d be back in 45 minutes, and made sure he rang it up so he got the commission. Went home, got plastic, went back to the store.

“That’s a great amp,” said the clerk who finished the sale. “Unbelievable price. You got a great deal.”

Really? I wanted to say. But I chalked it up to some seminar they’d all taken, where they’re instructed to support the customer’s decision. I carried the amp to the TV department to look at the big flat-tube XBR I coveted.

“You got that HK amp!” the TV clerk said. “That’s a kickin’ amp. You got a deal, man.” He wasn’t kidding.

“I know,” I said, grinning. A huge bright sparkling cloud of unearned stereo knowledge now surrounded me, and I loved it.

Took the amp home. Hooked it up. Didn’t work. I could get TV audio, but not DVD or VCR. When I piped the DVD or VCR through the TV jacks, it worked fine. This did not augur well. I read the manual, but as usual it was no help at all. (“Problem: no sound. Possible cause: Unit is not powered. Solution: Plug unit in.”)

“I don’t want to take it back,” I said to my wife. “They’ll flip one switch and it’ll work, and I’ll feel like an idiot. They’ll say it’s the Optical processor override, and I’ll be Grampa bitching that there waren’t so such thing on his old Victrola.”

I called the store. Got a clerk. He explained that I needed to set the settings for the DVD and VCR to ANALOG, an utterly non-intuitive process that was described nowhere in the manual.

I changed the settings and turned it on: fabulous sound. Clear, bright, deep, LOUD.

Then I shut it off. Later that night I watched a movie. With the headphones. Which were plugged right into the DVD player, bypassing the amp entirely.

01/11

I’m sitting in the Jiffy Lube waiting room. It’s a friendly, bright place. The staff is helpful. They don’t oversell you - a few helpful suggestions, of course, such as some miracle treatment that blows out all the accumulated junk from your valves. I wish such a substance was available for humans. Preconceptions, botherations, old fears, phobias - bang! They’re all blown out in minutes. Of course, the last time they tried to sell me that, they took outside to see a car that had just been given The Treatment; thick blue smoke was blowing out the tailpipe. So while I would like a human version of the carb cleaner, I am not certain I would like to see it demonstrated. Who hoo! Looky that, the guy just pooted a repressed memory of being beaten at summer camp! And it’s red!

I am not at work this afternoon; I am doing field work. Don’t think I won’t write a column about this? I will. Everything is for the column.

Ah - Hagatha the Alleyblocker has just been moved along. When I pulled up at Jifffy Lube, the alley to the bays was blocked by an ancient rusty Jeep Eagle vehicle, parked outside the adjacent auto rental office. (Why someone would drive to the auto rental office is another matter.) I went into the office to find the offender, and saw a worried woman crumpled in a chair in the corner, wearing a look of weariness and doubt. Well, she has enough problems, I figure, so I go back and drive around the building by the back entrance. Just a minute ago I heard furious honking; the beaten Eagle just limped past the window, managing to drive up on the stoop of the Jiffy Lube. The woman grimaced as she drove up the stoop. This is not her day.

Ah - my car’s ready. That was fast.


Now I’m at Caribou Coffee, reading the New York Times. Well, obviously I’m not reading it now. The trivia question on the chalkboard today: what caused the adjournment of the 25th anniversary session of the UN? Hmm. Founded in, 46, 47? So that would be 71, 72. Can’t think of anything that would lead to the adjournment. I overhear the clerk telling the customer in front of me: “Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table,” he says.

“That can’t be right,” I said.

“Why not?”

“If they founded the UN the day after WW Two, then 25 years later would be 1970, and Khrushchev was out of power in 1970. He was replaced by Brezhnev long before then. I think it was the fifteenth or sixteenth or -”

“That’s why he was banging his shoe!” the clerk said with an exaggerated smile.

“Right, he was mad at Leonid.”

The clerk beamed the same merry & insincere smile, and held up his source material: a Trivial Pursuit card.

“Well, it’s wrong,’’ I said, stubbornly. “Trivial Pursuit is lying to us.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Does it matter that Kids Today don’t know the approximate reigns of Soviet leaders? After all, there isn’t even a Soviet Union anymore. Why, it’s information as useless as knowing the name of the second director on “Full House.” Fine with me. I can still continue to win bets naming all the Soviet leaders in sequence. (It’s Comrade A. and Comrade C. everyone forgets.)

I shopped at Byerly’s - high prices and bags without handles. I’d forgotten that last part. As I drove out, I realized I’d violated my goal on this expedition - hit the liquor store, the Jiffy Lube, Byerly’s, Caribou and the computer store without making any unregulated left turns. I know this part of suburbia so well that I can plan such a trip with total confidence. Left turns across traffic are the bane of car trips; you wait, you wait, you wait, and then there’s SUDDEN PANIC as you bolt left across incoming traffic from both directions. Right turns are preferable. But it would take three rights to get to the computer store - whereas if I inserted the Caribou stop NOW with a swift left, it would be much more efficient. Decide! Act fast! I made a left, and cleared an oncoming Suburban by at least a yard.

It’s combat out here.

The sun is out; a lovely sunset is en route. Sun is streaming in the window from the adjacent bagel store; as with most bagel stores, there are few customers whose heads and bodies might block the sun. Building large chains with large stores that sell naught but bagels strikes me as a woeful idea - witness the bankruptcy of nearly all the chains, for that matter. Noah / Einstein was just sold for the tenth time, and promises to grow out of its difficulties by building another 500 stores. Well. Give them a decade, and they’ll all be Krispy Kremes. If there’s a God in heaven, that is.

Coffee’s done; right turns await.

01/13

A dog’s life is simple; a dog’s life is good. I came home this afternoon with a ten-pound bag of food, two big chewbones and a box of Frosty Paws. I took them out of the grocery bag, and Jasper got the Phantoms Humps - that’s where he starts to copulate with a ghost, an unseen spirit, and does this pathetic spasmodic dance. It usually lasts a dozen thrusts, no more. This time, however, he could not stop. It was like watching a frog do a Cossack dance. He knocked over the bag of food, made it to the middle of the kitchen, took a left, headed for the corner, and ended up muzzle-first in the door of the Lazy Susan. The door opened and I believe he would have humped his way into the deep nether recesses of Lazy Susanland if I hadn’t grabbed him and given him a brisk shake.

We went for a walk later - a difficult proposition for me, less so for Jasper. It snowed today. But that’s like saying the Sunday New York Times has a few pages. The snow began in the morning and hasn’t let up yet; the entire neighborhood is silent, white, buried, pristine. The first real snowfall of the season, and it’s reminded everyone what winter should be, and usually is. Dogs love this stuff. I don’t know why. I can guess - it’s soft and springy, and it feels neat to sluice through the drifts. And it probably smells like nothing. When everything smells like something, it must be a strange delight for something so ubiquitous to smell like nothing. Imagine if every sound was deafening and distracting, every color alarmingly bright. You’d welcome blindness. You’d delight in deafness. Perhaps that’s it. We walked down to the creek, as usual, and found a pack of three dogs tussling the snow. I let Jasp off the leash and off he went . . . but they wouldn’t have anything to do with him. They were all bigger; they ran faster, fought harder, and this little coyote was just a flea by their standards. He barked louder than anyone, of course. He ran hard and tried to play, but they had other ideas. I always feel sorry for him when that happens. It’s like watching a kid who gets picked last in gym class.

We struggled back to the house through the drifts. I shoveled the back sidewalk while he stood in the snow, peering at me through half-lowered lids. I told him to do what we had gone outside to do. He did not. On the contrary. This was all too exciting. We’d had the same argument this morning, which had produced nothing then, as well. I had grim flashback to the winter of 97, when we’d been in Fargo, and the temps had been 20 below without the windchill. Two days passed. Nothing. I’d had to take him outside and knead his belly, pleading. Please Jasper. Please, please defecate.

Looked at a gorgeous house this morning - a three-story beaut that’s twice as far from the creek, twice as far from the lake, and twice the cost of Lileks Manor. It had charm up the wazoo, as they say, although I am unsure of the charm-bearing capacity of the wazoo, as well as how far up the wazoo charm must go before it justifies spending $420,000. We passed - too small, and the airplane noise would be horrendous.

And that’s it for the day: looked at a house, tried to induce the dog to void his bowels. Well, no, that’s not it; I finished setting up the new computer. The printer doesn’t work. No good reason why; just doesn’t. I am still switching between old iMac and new spiffy Super iMac, and I can feel my allegiance shifting. At first the new computer never feels right - it feels different, but it’s never quite the way you want it. Eventually you learn its quirks and tricks. But for a while I was scowling at the new mouse, which seemed a bit too slick for my tastes; after a day of using it, the old mouse feels like I’m dragging Ethel Merman through fresh tar. And so forth and so on. I have yet to make my first movie, but I did make some raw clips. My goal is to turn all the miles and miles of 8mm videotape into highlights I can digitize and put on disc, where they can actually be seen when I so desire. This will be a long and annoying project, and I realize that if I threw them all out NOW my life would be no poorer.

But there is much Jasper on those tapes; still pictures will never capture the sight of a dog - this dog, my dog - bolting through the snow.
The life of a dog is good, but short. I want to know that when the worst happens, there will always be movies of Jasper. And like the other movies that I will be digitizing, I won’t watch them for years. I will transfer them from one medium to the other, upgrading, converting, never really seeing them, but keeping them ready for the day when they will be utterly necessary.
It’s still snowing. This will go on tonight and forever, and that’s absolutely fine with me.
Jasper just sighed, got up, walked down the hall - clickclickclick - and settled into his bag with a deep snortle of satisfaction: Day’s done. And of course he is correct.

01/14

The new iMac now prints, and no longer stinks: progress. I switched back to the old mouse, even though it is no longer color-coordinated with the new mouse. (I’m starting to feel nostalgic for putty again; at least you didn’t have to worry about clashing peripherals.) The new computer is starting to feel like The Computer; the old one is disconnected and sitting in the corner, ready for my patented paranoid disk-wipe procedure; it’s like Winston Smith hunched in the cafe, waiting for the bullet.

My patented paranoid procedure, incidentally, is designed to make sure not one scrap of my data is accessible to the next user. I erase everything using a program that promises to destroy the data, not just remove it from the directory. Then I install a very large program and duplicate it until the disk is full. Then I erase this. Then I reformat the disk. Then I attack the computer with a sharp axe and bury the pieces. I might omit the last two steps, since I think someone wants to buy the old iMac.

It’s Thursday night, and it feels like Friday; I could easily float off to sleep now and wake rested tomorrow morning at a decent hour. But why in heaven’s name would I want to do that? I’ve work to do on the Dorcus Line of Fine Menswear tonight. I’m concerned about this site, because it contains actual profanity. The quotes from Barney Dorcus, the company founder, are rather salty. Well, that was Barney, God love him. There’s not a word in the site you won’t find in the New Yorker. Of course, the New Yorker still puts an umlaut in “cooperate.” That’s probably just to keep the ghost of Mr. Shawn from rising up and haunting them.

Although who’d be afraid of the ghost of Mr. Shawn? All you’d have to do is try to loudly split an infinitive and he’d shrink back in horror. Or you could just walk into an elevator; he hated elevators. If you’re going to be haunted, New Yorker ghosts would be the best. The ghost of Dorothy Parker is probably still hungover, and unlikely to cause trouble; the ghost of Thurber would mistake the coatrack for a human, and try to scare your parka.

That’s it. Nothing happened today. Let me think - any insights? Any beefs, any arias of glee, any unusual enthusiasms? No. Any triumphs or grim grinding failures? No. Some days are just . . . days.

Well, there’s this. I’m on this odd John Barry music jag. I ordered from Amazon (and promptly forgot about it; I swear, every box from Amazon contains a few surprises. Oh! I bought that? Good!) two soundtracks - the “You Only Live Twice” soundtrack. That was the first Bond movie I ever saw; my dad took me to see it, perhaps to school me in the Ways of the World. I had never, ever seen anything so cool in my life, and the music made a deep impression on me - specifically the title song, which sounded so very exotic, and the space-capsule-eating-music, which contained tonalities I’d never heard before. (I’m sure that’s just how I phrased it at the time: “My, Pater, those are unusual tonalities.”) Also got the soundtrack for “Peggy Sue Got Married,” for two reasons - the title track, a Buddy Holly song you never hear anywhere, and an orchestral track that is contains two minutes of the mostbittersweet music Barry ever wrote. It’s almost cloying, almost unbearably saccharine, but - and this is a big leap on my part - it’s not Tesh simple, not Yanni simple, not a small idea inflated to grandiose proportions. It’s the work of a gifted melodist reducing the idea down to the absolute minimum.

If he was more of an orchestrater, didn’t score in big chunks, John Barry would be considered a serious composer. It’s pop music. So?

Also bought a compilation of Duane Eddy guitar, and it’s KREP save for “Rebel Rouser.” Everything else is hackwork. Well, all I wanted was “Rebel Rouser,” anyway.

But I ramble. Back to the Dorcus collection. Monday! Promise.

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