FEBRUARY Part 3
Time to relax, now. Just got back from MCing the concert at Orchestra Hall. Again, I must note: that’s a damn big room. It remains daunting to walk out and face a full house, with all the balconies filled, but this is my fifth time, and there are no more nerves. Which - is - nice. The orchestras were very good, and the Philharmonic in particular was amazing; they did the first act of Tosca, with a full stable of local opera talent. Backstage, opera people behave exactly like you’d imagine opera people behaving - the diva (who was very nice, not divaesque at all) gliding around, imperturbable; the thin men made arched-eyebrown ironic faces and emitted odd abrupt shouts to clear their throat or find a pitch; the rounder opera males had the presence of battleships steaming out to war. One of the cues called for Tosca to shout from the wings, and I was sitting about two feet away; I nearly hit the roof when she suddenly sang this bright high perfect note of alarm.

The most amusing portion of the evening concerned the cannon for the end of the 1812 Overture. I’d been told that it might not work, and that I should explain that most orchestras use taped versions, so the audience should forgive them if they err on the side of realism. Then they brought out the cannon: it was, end to end, 16 inches long. I had a Spinal-Tap flashback, with the cannon taking the place of Stonehenge. It went off, once, then caught fire. So when the piece was over I went back on stage while the orchestra changed, and just . . . looked at the cannon. It’s the lesson I know but rarely remember: how to get laughs by doing absolutely nothing. But I remembered it then.

In any case, whatever ballooning of the ego took place was rapidly and properly deflated over the course of listening to Tosca. THAT is an accomplishment. THAT is creation. THAT is the level of endeavor that makes the rest of us look as wee as we are. And even the singers, magnificent as they were, knew they’re just mouthing the work of a genius. Interpretation is a skill all its own, of course, but it’s just polishing the jewel another man has cut. A good performance is an act of worship, a seance, a liturgy of symbols combined to recreate the moment of creation. At the end, the audience rose and stamped their feet and yelled. You can see the relief and joy on the conductors’ faces; as they all file out on the big blonde plain of the stage to hear the cheers, everyone is so damn happy this seems like the absolute finest place to be in the world at this moment.

Bravo.


A quiet weekend. Friday I did the TV show, which was a lot of fun; I was in one of those expansive moods that I’m sure is highly irritating to everyone else, and usually portends a lousy performance - the more confidence I have, the less well I do when the camera’s actually on. But it all went well. There’s nothing like that moment when it’s alll done; the light goes off, and the show starts up on another set behind me. I take off the mike and mouth goodbyes and slip out the door, thinking: the week’s complete, and from here on in it’s family, home, hearth, and pizza. It was slightly different this time, since I had this Sunday thing hanging over my head. But I was elated nonetheless, stupidly happy; when I turned on the radio and it was playing that “It’s Been Such a Long Time,” or whatever that Boston song from 1976 is called. (Not “More than a Feeling.”) I decided to listen instead of changing the channel. Great song, dude! Rockin’!

Actually, it is, if you look at it in context. Granted, it spawned a billion bad bands, and granted, it drove a stake through the heart of “progressive” rock; it took the basics of prog-rock, simplified them down to the utter basics, tossed in ten tons of studio sweetening. But for one shining moment, there was that first Boston album, and on its virtues even dopers and beer-hounds could agree.

Now it’s late. Watched the X-Files, and most of it struck me cold - ghost stories don’t interest me, and a specific introduction of a specific metaphysical element justmuddies the story. Nevertheless, the last five minutes were almost unbearably perfect, painful and sweet; reminded me why I loved the show in the first place, and brought me right back into the fold.

Scully’s got to change hairstyles, though.

Long week. It’s over . . .

And now it’s Monday.

02/15

Monday night, a working night; as usual, an egg-timer bleat. I’ve 14 minutes. Go:

Earlier tonight I found a three-page comic strip in this week’s New Yorker - Art Spiegelman on Charles Schulz. It’s really quite amazing. Aside from one questionable sequence in which Art demonstrates that he’s far, far, far smarter than Schulz, and aside from the obligatory “Sparky” reference (to show that Art’s one of the brotherhood) it’s the best tribute I’ve seen. (I call him “Art” because it’s easier to type than “Spiegelman.”) Art draws the entire tribute in the Peanuts style, incorporating his own comics persona (the Maus) as well as other characters from other strips; by the time he draws Popeye sitting in Lucy’s booth, with Swee’pea crawling up for 5 cents of advice, it makes perfect sense. He analyzes the art, the text, the influence, in a way no written tribute could. I almost winced when I heard that all the Sunday cartoons in a few months are going to be devoted to a Peanuts tribute; they will probably be as simple and obvious as . . . well, as Schulz’s goodbye cartoon last Sunday.

Spielgelman’s last four panels are absolutely audacious, and there’s no way any newspaper would print them. When I looked at the tributes on a comic artist’s web site, they all had the inane cheer and smiley bravado of a Hallmark card: get well soon! As if the man had tonsil troubles. Spiegelman ends with a four-panel monochrome sequence in which he’s dressed like - well, here’s your levels of meaning: it’s a small Peanuts-sized Grim Reaper, but it’s the Maus dressed as Lucy dressed as the Grim Reaper, and he’s holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick, but it isn’t the football, it’s . . . the bucket.

It sounds horrible, I know, horribly, callously literal: tricking Charlie Brown into trying to kick the bucket. But it works, and it’s certainly more honest & intelligent than anything else I’ve seen written about the man.

I’m tempted to scan it and post it, but you really have to read all three pages to see it in context. It’s the Feb. 14 issue of the New Yorker.

This weekend's movie: “The Professional,” a French action movie by the director of “La Femme Nikita.” I liked that movie, a lot, although I’ve no desire to see his last two films. “The Professional” - or “Leon,” as it’s known to the cognoscenti, was probably his last movie before buckets of Hollywood dollars brought out unbearable indulgent ARTISTE characteristics. “The Professional” is a solid piece of work, for the genre; Jean Reno is, well, Jean Reno: say no more. Natalie Portman is very, very good, and makes you want to smack Lucas in his wattled neck for making her give such an embalmed performance in the Phantom Menace. Gary Oldham, as usual, was no doubt flossing out drywall after every scene, but no one chews scenery like him - he wills his own damnation, revels in it, regrets it, then shrugs and screams and weeps and shoots. And smiles! Charming fellow. The movie, however, has creepy pediaphiliac (my spellchecker didn’t known that word, or any variants - somehow I’m glad; I don’t want to live in a society where the spellchecker expects to encounter that word) undertones that remind you why Roman Polanski fled to France.

My spellchecker didn’t known that word pediaphiliac or any variants, and I’m too lazy to get out the big dictionary and look it up. In a way, I’m glad; I don’t want to live in a society where the spellchecker expects to encounter that word.

There’s much more - but as I said, it’s Monday, and time is short; back to work. --30--

02/16

I need a vacation. I probably won’t take a vacation. Next subject.

I need a long vacation. Around four today I realized I have absolutely bled the tanks dry. I left the office at 6:50, and walked out to a car encased in ice. Spent ten minutes chipping off the ice in the sleet and snow, wondering why in God’s name I live here. I know why; that’s never a serious question. There will come a day three months from now when the sun is shining, the birds peep delight, the air smells rich and green, and I’ll sigh in delight: again, again, at last. But some days it seems an odd arrangement, a variant of the old joke: Why do you hit yourself in the head? Because it feels so good when I stop.

Got home, shoveled the walk. I lost my gloves a few weeks ago, and have decided just to go without for the rest of the season. No hat, dress shoes, dress socks, no gloves, shirt and tie, hacking at the ice on the sidewalk. Yes, I got that joy, joy, joy, joy, deep in my heart. Also gangrenous extremeties from frostbite. But joyful gangrene! Made coffee and got to work on the Block E web page. Wrote the computer review column. Which brings us to now: 11:25. No more obligations tonight, except for mail, which looms large as usual. I want to read this new book I bought on Grand Central Station, but -

but WHAT? IT’S MY LIFE. At least for the moment. I’m going to go READ the DAMN BOOK. Back later.

There. Back. The opening chapter has some miserable moments - for years, people wanted to slam a skyscraper on top of the station. Of course, the original plan had an office tower, but it wasn’t very big. In the 60s they got the brilliant idea of building a tower right - on - top of the station, driving the support columns through the waiting room. The building, of course, was utter KREP, another piece of shite from Marcel Breuer; they ought to have pulled him from the meeting room by his ear, dragged him into the middle of the road that runs around the station and hoss-whipped him into unconsciousness. If I had my way, I would invent a Person-Fuser Machine, and combine Jane Jacobs, Paul Goldberger and John Gotti into one person. This person would sit on all boards that reviewed the destruction of great buildings. The architect would make his case - in the example of Bruer, he’d unveil drawings of a hideous slab, a building of dreary banality whose very existence was predicated on the destruction of a rare amazing example of masonry and grace.

He’d finish his proposal.

JacobGoldGotti would stare. The room would be silent. Then JacobGoldGotti would laugh - a humorless bark that made everyone uneasy.

“Are you nuts?” he’d say. “Are you f**kin’ nuts?”

Breuer would grin in fear and horror.

“Are you outta you f**kin’ mind? You want to take the Grand Concourse and replace it with this? Whadda we look like, Miesians? That what you think we are? Reflexive Miesians? Well let me tell you something, my friend, we ain’t Miesians. I eat Intanash’nal Style advocates for f**kin’ lunch, and I still have room left over for a nice calzone. You wanna build Mook Tower here, you go ahead, but put it f**kin’ Canarsie because if I see you touch one hair on the head of that statue over the entrance of the station, you’re going to spend the last hour of your life inna trunk bound for Fresh Kills, you got me? Huh? DO - YOU - GOT - ME? Allright, then. Getoutta here.”

Breuer heads for the door, hunched over to hide the stain in the front of his trousers.

JacobGoldGotti nods to a henchman. “Frankie? Follow ‘im. If that sonuvabitch goes over to Emory Roth & Sons and tries to get some muscle, I want you to whack that motherf**ker so hard they’ll put a pediment on the LeverHouse, just outta fear. Okay? Okay. Alright, new business. Skidmore’s gang is threatenin’ to hang a cantilevered tower over St. Barts, utterly destroying the delicate sense of scale on 5th Avenue. I want Louie the T-Square and Joey “Beaux-Arts” to pay ‘em a visit. Explain how the Italianate decoration is a necessary counterpart to the gilded opulence of the Helmsley building. Crack heads if you gotta.”

There ought to be a simple rule: don’t demolish what you cannot reconstruct. The vogue for tearing down the monuments of New York hit just as the old stone artisans were dying off, and the new architects had no idea how to work in the classical vernacular. No one seemed to worry that they demolishing unreplaceable objects, ruining things that were best left untouched.

But I am a sentimentalist, and a myopic one. To me, New York without the Pan Am tower would seem wrong. We adjust to anything. That’s the good news, and that’s what keeps the bad news coming.

02/17

You might have noticed that I never address you. Specifically you, the Bleat Reader. How many of you there are, I don’t know; I don’t care. I don’t check my logs. If fifty people come a day, that’s fine; if it’s five or five hundred, I don’t care. The Bleat is really written for my sake - it’s a way of forcing myself to note the events of the day, the character of the times, the idle thoughts & rants I’d otherwise let pass into the ether. And of course most of this stuff deserves to evaporate; who cares if it snowed today? (It didn’t.) But I like nailing down the gossamer wisps, proving I was here, proving I did something today. Every day should contain one small act of creation. Besides cooking supper.

Anyway. I never address You, the Bleat Reader, because I find it easier to write these things if I pretend there’s absolutely no audience whatsoever. Once I start to ask “who cares?” then the entire enterprise collapses; the “Who Cares?” question guides all the public printed work. This is the place where that question doesn’t matter. And by now, you’re thinking: Who Cares whether I think anyone cares? What am I leading up to?

Nothing much, just this: are we all pathetic losers?

Short answer: no. Long answer: While some of us may indeed seek the anonymity of the net as a means of simulating human interaction without the messy quirks of meatspace, most of us are here in this medium because it expands our lives, our interests, our circle of acquaintances. Today I read a story - mainstream media, naturally - about how the Internet is driving us all into small isolated cubbyholes of empty solitude; we’re all just molecules circling a big black hole that sucks our social skills and turns us into dead-eyed typing mannequins.

The story noted that Internet usage has led to a decline in - gasp - TV watching. And this is bad? Yes, if you’re one of those idiots who believes that the nation was better off with three channels, because everyone could gather around the watercooler and discuss “Sanford and Son.” Why, today everyone watches different shows. There are no common narratives anymore. Narrowcasting rules, and instead of a nation that stands shoulder to shoulder agreeing that Lamont is smarter than his dad, we all begin the day in a racer’s crouch, arrayed in a circle, and when the starting gun goes off we shoot off in our individual directions.

Perish the thought.

How the net - with its chat, IM, ICQ and email mediums - can possibly be insuperior to sitting like a catatonic flour sack in front of the TV, I can’t imagine. Every day I get ten tons of letters from people, many of which write at length with skill and ingenuity on various issues, and I answer them all. (Eventually.) (Trust me.) I write more letters in a week than I used to answer in a DECADE. The net isolates? Please. If you can find me the place on the Internet where one can be alone, TELL ME because some days I’d like to go there.

But I wouldn’t want to stay there.

Tonight I was listening to my favorite local radio host, and he was, as usually, hammering the Internet. It might be a bit; you never know. He has a cranky Luddite streak, and he may be amplifying it for comic effect. But he was ranting about the net’s inability to be old, to be historical, human, reverent towards the past. (I’d have called him and ranted right back if I hadn’t been in the woods, walking the dog.) So much of this site is devoted to a slavish & insufficiently critical love of the past - and many of my favorite areas of this site wouldn’t be available at all were it not for the net. The Fargo site - who’s going to publish that? Sure, it’s of limited interest. But that’s the point. If not for the Net, there’d be no account of the history of downtown Fargo available to ANYONE in the WORLD who happens to be interested.

But I’m preaching to the choir, of course.


Today: ordinary. Went to work, edited the computer review column I wrote last night. Home; quick nap, up to finish the Block E web site. Worked on the version 5.0 redesign of this site, which is a stem-to-stern reorganization based on a bunch of fonts I bought from the absolutely incredible foundry of houseind.com. (No, it’s not a link. But there will be links in the 5.0 version. On Fridays.) I love this redesign so much I wish I could roll it out tomorrow, but of course I have to finish it first, and it’s going to be a huge fustercluck to accomplish: it involves hundreds of pages, but once done, I can leave it alone for a year.

Yeah. Right.

Well, enough. I have to write a book review - damn, it’s midnight already - and answer mail, and if all goes well I should be able to watch 30 minutes of “The Big Sleep,” which I bought on DVD. Ordered it on the web. Had a conversation with the UPS guy when he brought it, in violation of all the rules against web-based interpersonal contact.

When I had a question about the fonts, I didn’t e-mail the firm; I called their 800 number. The designer of the fonts answered the phone. As we chatted, his infant son burbled happily in the background.

Somehow, it seemed like an ordinary modern moment, but that can’t possibly be the case. We were talking about web pages and email, so it must have been an example of isolated, atomized culture.

As I worked with the fonts tonight, I kept hearing the gurgle of the designer’s son, and it made me grin. But of course I’m deluded. And you?

02/18


Just read a line in a PC Accelerator article about an upcoming game: “Single-player game is estimated at roughly 200+ hours.”

And there you have most everything wrong with games today. Two hundred hours of play? Here’s an idea: give me a game that takes ten hours, and make it really, really good. Then next month, give me ten more hours. And charge me. Sort of like . . . magazines. Does anyone buy a year’s worth of New Yorkers at once?

No.

This will be short, because I can’t really discuss today’s most significant development, lest I jinx it. And it’s not what I did, it’s what I didn’t do. That’s right: I’ve kicked smack! No, that’s not it.

It’s not that I don’t have the time for this; I simply don’t have the inclination. Frankly, I feel as if I’ve spent every day and every night in front of the computer this week - perhaps because I have. So I’m going to go downstairs and watch “The Big Sleep,” special pre-theatrical release edition. It’s the version with 4.5 extra seconds of footage, and a plot that’s seven percent more incomprehensible than the original.

I lied; I’ve already watched a little of it. Earlier I watched “The Maltese Falcon,” which is one of my favorites - although I can’t see the attraction of Mary Astor; weak chin, watery eyes, excessive forehead. I haven’t seen the movie in 15 years, but I remembered at once - and rued - the crappy editing and voice looping in scene where Gutman hacks at the statue. It’s all done in post-production - why? It’s the pivotal scene of the movie, for heaven’s sake.

Anyway. Back to the sofa. I’m going to make some popcorn, open a beer (James Page) and watch the movie. It’s Friday night on Thursday - except that I have to get up tomorrow, go to work and write another column, about . . .

No. As the fellow on the BBC said tonight: save yer powder. And so I will.

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