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JANUARY Part 3
The dog is sitting in the shadows of the next room, staring at me, his head resting on a stuffed toy, waiting for his opportunity. Unfortunately, I am a poor playmate tonight; had dinner at a steakhouse, and the meal - while not inordinately large - has sedated me to the point of immobility. I took a walk in the creek after we got home, thinking it would revive me, help me to feel as though I had not ingested a dozen boat anchors, but no good.


It was a fine weekend, if cold. Friday night I finished watching “West Side Story” - the DVD makes it like seeing the movie for the first time, since I’ve never seen it widescreen, or in good condition. It all seems very quaint now. I’m not a great lover of musicals; I can put up with about five or six of them. I recall the first time I saw WSS I laughed at the dancing gang members, but this time I paid attention to how the director gets you used to the idea of balletic thugs. First they play a little basketball, which lets the Jets break their sullen cool; then as they walk down the street one of the Jets falls back, spreads his arms, goes up on one leg, and the movement says: I own all that I see and it’s pretty fuggin’ cool, Daddy-O. Another does it. And another. And then they all jump to the music. Who wouldn’t? It’s the best score of any musical, period.

Hokey love scenes, though.

Saturday I went to investigate the gargantuan TV situation, with the Giant Swede as my advisor. He advised me against it. His argument was a 34 inch Sony digital monitor. I’d seen it before; they have one in the lobby of KTCA, playing HDTV. This one was playing a DVD. Unbelievable quality. Unbelievable crispness and color and detail and OH MY GOD IT’S SIX GRAND. So I have to wait for it to come down, which drives me nuts. Why do they price them high? Sure, the early adapters snatch ‘em up, pay off the R&D, but I have to believe they’d make more money, and make it faster, by selling it NOW for the price it’ll be in seven months.

Anyway. A clerk came by, and I asked for a digital audio cable; he ran off to fetch one. He was, I noticed, wearing a headset, linked to a keypad at his belt. When he didn’t return after ten minutes I went off to get the cable myself, and found the clerk - holding a cable - nattering into his headset while fiddling with a VCR. He had a customer on the line. He was taking phone calls. When he finished I attempted to ask a few questions about the cable - it didn’t seem to be right for my system - and we went over to the DVD area. He got two calls while we walked, and was answering one while he looked for my brand of DVD.

This is the definition of employment hell, right here. This is the worst job in the world. Or so it seemed.

Who were all these people in the store? The parking lot? Calling on the phone? The line to get into Best Buy began at the fargin’ highway, with cars backed up at the light at the top of the ramp. And they were buying EVERYTHING - as we walked in the store, people were wheeling out refrigerators, carrying boomboxes, stereos, bags of CDs and tapes, VCRS. And that’s one store in one aging inner-ring suburb.

Well, the Dorcus Line of Menswear for Men is up, but don’t expect much; just because I talk about these things for months doesn’t mean I work on them for months. It takes an hour or two to scan, another an hour or two to layout, anotheran hour or two to write, and then an hour or two to tweak. The projects that take the longest time are the ones I despair of ever completing, just because they grow, and grow, and I have no idea what to do with the material. The Permanent Collection of Impermanent Art - I despair for that one. The Loring Park site - finished for months, yet strangely incomplete; needs . . . something. The Nicollet Av. site - don’t ask. Can’t get past the interface problems. The Gateway site - needs about 40 photos, and that’ll have to wait for spring. To do anything of them quickly and cheaply would be pointless; why bother?

The Dorcus site, on the other hand, has no such limitations.

01/18

Monday afternoon at the office. I’m sitting in the library, facing a window that gives me a sporting view of the new jail. It’s an interesting building; any member of the Future Criminals of America would profit from a thorough study of its design. Like other office buildings, it was designed with the expectation that its tenants will want to escape. The service core and the cellblock wings aren’t congruent - there’s a peculiar arrangement of shifting elevations I can’t quite describe, but you can easily identify the purpose of the design just by looking at the bare concrete frame. They can isolate any wing quickly and safely. It’s not a lovely building - clad in the same weary puce and weathered purple of the other government buildings. Not a lot of windows, either. Of course, you don’t want your jail to look like a nice place, but neither do you want a big looming carbuncle fastened the end of your downtown, either.

Criminals. They just ruin it for everyone.


Cloudy day. Fog. Big gusts of steam from the physical plant a few blocks away. Looks like something’s on fire. On a cold clear day the sight of the billowing steam is quite beautiful - a cloud-factory. On days like today the steam just wanders around the towers like a bum, a wisp of dissipation the solid citizens ignore. It’s a curious time of day - the sky is dim and gloomy, but light enough to outshine the interior lights of the office towers. Every building looks dark and empty. (The only lights I can make our are in the Amex tower - which actually IS empty, since it’s not open for tenants yet.) The clouds seem to be getting lower as I write; the top of the Norwest tower has lost its crown to the fog. In half an hour every building will be alight; the streetlamps will burn through the fog, and the streets full of cars with rear ends glowing red like the butts of angry macaques.

Obviously I want to summon up an urban hymn, but I’m just not in the mood.

____


Home now, finishing up the Newhouse column. The house smells like a New York cab - Sara has been making Cumin vegetarian cumin chili with cumin, and she’s added a little of her secret ingredient, which is cumin. I can smell it up here. To the dog it must be overwhelming.

Speaking of which. I was outside a while ago, and the garage door motion-cued light snapped on. I saw small feet outside the back gate. I went to investigate, expecting to see a bunny bolt into the dark; there was a neighbor with a small dog, one of those frilly little clumps of fur you could dangle from a keychain. I was chatting with the owner about this and that - and then I asked if her dog paused at the intersection of the alleyways up ahead. She said he did.

There’s something there, and all the dogs know it. Jasper stops and wants to eat the snow, burrow down and sniff and lick. I can’t see a thing. No one can. But none of the neighborhood dogs can ignore it. They are all archeologists this time of year, burrowing through the ice and snow for secrets and treasure. I suspect it might be something unpalatable - a car might have leaked windshield washer fluid, which is as sweet as it is lethal. Or it might be a dead mouse, perfectly preserved. If dogs had museums, no human would want to visit. A wingdevoted entirely to large fragrant coils of other dog’s offal; the exhibition of medieval squirrels; an interactive exhibit where dogs could rub themselves in the remains of extinct fish.

Anyway. Back to work. I want to get everything done and take a whack at the mail, which now resembles the amount of correspondence seen in the courtroom scene of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Nothing much else to say today, but it had wife, dog, work, snow, familiar voices on the radio, a few good tunes, an hour of reading, and dessert. No complaints. A lot of cumin, but no complaints.

01/19

I’ve been too busy to have anything interesting to say. Not that the Bleat is a breathless jolt-a-minute excursion into a mad daft life of whimsy and thrills, but even by Bleat standards things are, well, wintry. Frozen, supine, inert, cold, waiting for the thaw that is more than content to wait for later. I went to work. I wrote a column. I went home. Made dinner. (With cumin!) Worked on the computer review that’s due tomorrow. Spent an hour on the phone to tech support. An ordinary day.

If you’re seeing this at all, it’s because the Internet Sprites smiled and granted me access. It has not been a good night - more calls to tech support with BOTH of my ISPs. And yes, I’m going to dump both. The local ISP I switched to in late 98 when I needed more web space. I have come to suspect that the entire operation consists of three Sinclairs lashed together with duct tape, and that a fellow with a tin can makes modem noises whenever I dial up. At night, I can’t get on, or if I do get on, it’s just miserable bit-trickle, with the inevitable heave-ho after a few minutes. Tech support is located in West Virginia, believe it or not: this company runs two ISPs, one in Minnesota, one in West Fargin’ Virginia. Well, farewell.

The other ISP is the hated, dreaded, evil AOL. Don’t hate me. I use a rotating series of free trial accounts as a backup, and lately they’ve been handy. But there are some incompatibilities with Mac OS9, and in the last three nights I’ve gotten three different answers from tech support. Tonight I was told that AOL no longer permits use of non-AOL email programs. “But it’s worked for me up until 1:30 last night,” I said.

“You were lucky.” That’s just what I want to hear from tech support.

“Well, I’ll just have to quit AOL, then,” I said, not saying the rest of the sentence, which was “before the free trial expires.”

“Sir, before you do that, I want you to upgrade to the new version of AOL. That should solve a lot of your problems.”

“Will non-AOL e-mail programs work?”

“No, I’m sorry, they won’t.”

“So I should upgrade to a service I’m going to dump tomorrow?”
I didn’t take it out on the tech; not her fault. But this is why I hate AOL. Ten million e-mailers out there, but you have to use theirs. Pay premium prices for sporadic usenet access! Cheer! as our peculiar-sized browser loads when you least expect it!

So now I’m sitting in the kitchen banging out this on the iBook, wondering why the hell I am worried about posting a Bleat, anyway. I’ve done enough for Web and Country this week, and I’ve certainly written enough the last two days. I have a book waiting. It’s another French Revolution book - a breezier account than “Citizens,” but it serves to reinforce what I learned before, and it contains the events leading up to the ascent of old Nappy. I am still uncertain why I’ve been so fascinated with the French Revolution these last few months. I hate the French. I would love to be French, but cannot, and it is pointless to want to be French if you are not, and indeed you are an object of contempt! Fool! Be gone! Slither back to the merde-soaked fields of Belgique!

I jest. I don’t hate the French. I admire them in many respects - painting, monarchical architecture, 19th century urban design, of course 19th century fiction. The 20thcentury has been a mixed bag - poisonous intellectual nonsense, from Marcuse to the neo-Stalinists and back again. But they interest me more than the Germans, who are either stolid & productive or alarmingly extroverted; Italy, as interesting as it is today, will never come up with a sequel to Rome: The Empire, and hence their past is much more interesting than they’ll ever be. Spain: lovely. Next slide, please? Switzerland: lovely, but should I go there I’ll hum a paraphrase of that wretched Jefferson Starship song: We built this city-state on Jewwwwish Gold! Unfair, I know, but them’s the breaks.

I won’t get to the book if I don’t upload, and I probably can’t upload anyway. Unless you’re seeing this, in which case: I still say to hell with all my ISPs. Visi.com, here I come.

01/20

Tonight’s movie: Vertigo. Showed up from Amazon today, packed in pillowy bubblewrap. When you pop Amazon bubbles, it sounds like gunfire.
Feel free to use that line when the Internet stocks all crash.

I always choose the ground-shipping option - by the time the purchase shows up, I’ve forgotten what I ordered. It’s always a surprise. I am always disappointed in my music choice - today it was “Moviola,” a collection of John Barry cinema scores. Oy. It’s like trying to do the butterfly stroke through syrup. Lovely melodies, but the treatment is so reverential it sounds like music to crawl towards Lourdes by. So I hit EJECT and went back into the archives . . .where I am now . . .

She teased; she flirted; she shined all the buttons on her green shirt.

And where is she now? Obviously I’m writing while listening to early Elvis Costello; he’s singing about a female TV presenter who was all the rage in Britain in the late 70s. Too bad he didn’t mention her name in the song; years later when I saw her name on the credits of some documentary, I could say “that was the TV anchor Elvis sang about in 1978,” and everyone would be so impressed.

Well, no. Everyone would be unmoved, with the exception of a few friends who liked Elvis as much as I did. I wish there were more of us. Post-boomers, I mean. I wish we had the numbers and clout of the boomers and the cachet of the Xers. Perhaps the day will come when we rule the world, but not yet. Every Saturday when I turn on the radio and hear the mayor of St. Paul fondling the 60s again - why, he was at Woodstock! - I want to throw the radio out the window. I will never confuse the music of my era with Essential Truth About Life and Mankind; I will never believe that just because I was flailing around a cheap apartment to the sounds of “Goon Squad” it means that this song represented a time when we ALL had a DEEPER connection to the ESSENCE OF LIFE than ANY OTHER ERA in HUMAN HISTORY.

I don’t like the Stones, save for a few tunes, but they said it best. It’s only rock and roll. (But I like it.) Given that limitation, it’s still good pop music, but we tend to judge the music by extramusical standards. Sixties music is revered mostly because it took place in the sixties. Seventies music is mostly despised because it annoyed the boomers. Punk and New Wave infuriated the boomers, because it was the first hint they were old. When punk hit the Midwest I was 19; I remember going to Positively Fourth Street records for my import copy of “Never Mind the Bollocks.” It was very pink, sheathed in Thick Special Import Plastic, with a sticker that said “import.” That was the cachet of the day: an import! Real music lovers had many imports. And indeed I had quite a collection by then - lots of Can (a now-forgotten German band) Kraftwerk, Premiata Forneria Marconi (sort of an Italian ELP, but not half as gruesome as that sounds, Eno, Moebius, etc. Ran home - dropped the needle - turned it up - and decided, quite quickly, that this was utter KREP.

But . . . they were on to something, and they spawned a hundred great bands. I’ll put the music of 1977-1984 up against the sixties any time. For variety, diversity, energy, fury, glee, irony, it’s unparalleled.

But I’m biased. I was there. In fact I know just where I was the first time I heard the song that’s deafening me now. It’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding” by Nick Lowe. I was living in Dinkytown in a rooming house

- sorry, had to air-drum.

- Back. Anyway, I occupied a tiny room carved out of the dead body of an old house. Drywall and ancient floors; you could see the bones of the old house when you looked at the boards, saw where the old walls used to be. The building was carved up into as many rooms as possible, and I lived there with a group of folks who worked at the Valli restaurant. Only Wesley, who lived down the hall, liked Elvis.

It goes without saying that Wesley is still a dear friend.

Where am I going with this?

Why, nowhere. Nowhere at all.

I do know that Elvis’ great early period stopped right around the time I met a young woman who also loved EC . . . and bore a strong resemblance to the women in hissongs. Why, we slowdanced to “Alison” from the first album. Many months later, after I’d learned she was leaving for the summer and was taking her anti-baby gear with, I had my very first bout of tachychardia in the middle of a crowded movie theater. Had to get up and leave and go to the bathroom and sit in a stall trying to will my heart to stop. Or at least slow down.

The movie was Vertigo, and I’ve always wondered what I missed.

01/21

I was all set tonight to do a bit on the BBC about our lunar eclipse; I planned to broadcast live from my backyard. Unfortunately, I was bumped by a spate of tennis scores from Australia. Shows how I rate, I guess. When they called and said there wouldn’t be time, I said fine, super, brilliant, cheerio, and hung up. Went back to work.

Completely forgot about the eclipse.

I’d been thinking about it all afternoon; listened to a radio show that contains a spectacular amount of incomprehension on celestial mechanics. I’m no expert myself, but I kept rolling my eyes up as the hosts struggled to apprehend the nature of the event. And I was driving at the time, too. Miracle I didn’t rear-end someone. When a newscaster came on he described how scientists had announced that the earth once wobbled, putting Washington D.C. in the tropics, but that the earth had righted itself. And? I wanted to shout. AND? Someone ought to know that this is going to happen again, eventually, as the moon moves away and its influence on the earth diminishes. . . but no one made the point.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to say AND? had I not watched a cable show on the moon, so no preening here.
Well, a little.

When exactly will Christendom retake Constantinople from its Muslim occupiers? Hmm? Never, of course; time and history and people move on, things change, and some historical events do not beg for redress. But I was reading a book on Byzantium art tonight, looking at the Hagia Sophia, with its gigantic medallions flashing the scimitars of Arab letters, and I thought: wait a minute, this was built as a Christian church. The Turks took it over the city in 1453. Why does not Christian Europe agitate for its return?

It’s not a specious question, when you consider that ancient unanswered grievances are supposedly at the heart of half a dozen conflicts in the world today. Perhaps it proves that the West has no historical memory of any significance; time is linear, moves away from the moment in an upward arc ever signifying Progress! France will not go to war with Germany in 400 years over the slights of World War Two. Perhaps co-religionists all eventually bury the hatchet; Protestants and Catholics find common ground, Sunni and Shiite (forgive the misspellings; I think there should be apostrophes) unite in time. Then the people of the Qu’ran join with the People of the Book, admiring their common prophets. And then, to quote Tom Lehrer, everyone hates the Jews.

Sigh.

Well, this book will take me a while, but it’s fascinating. I’ve never been attracted to Byzantine art - too stylized, too flat, I thought. I was wrong. I need to know more about this place and this time. It’s the sequel to the Roman Empire. Not exactly the Empire Strikes Back - more like the Empire Settles Back and Puts its Feet Up. But it’s one of the many, many gaps in my education in need of filling. Or at least spackling over. But it makes me wonder anew how the Islamic prohibition against depictions of the Prophet affected their artistic development. Christianity had its own problems with visual depiction - they had a dandy schism over icons, and their meaning - but the Renaissance insistence on emphasizing Christ’s corporeality spurred painters to depict the human form with greater realism.

There are days you think that the past is unknowable, baffling, foreign beyond comprehension - their styles of art, of music, their ways of thinking, political structures, religious beliefs. And then you read that the restorations of the minor murals of the Sistine Chapel have turned up the image of a small dog who appears in all the murals. The restorers speculate he was a mascot of the artists. And you can see it all - the dust rising in the shafts of light, the drone of summer cicadas, clop of horsehooves outside; the smell of wine on your co-worker’s breath, the joke the foreman told, the thought of the tavern at day’s end, the dog resting on the cool marble floor, watching.

From a dog’s perspective, nothing changes. You wake. You eat. You do things. You roll over and get scratched. You sleep. When the moon is up you howl; when the moon is gone you don’t.

Which reminds me: as long as the moon is still gone, I should go out and look at it. If you know what I mean.

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