APRIL Part 1
I was standing in the Young, Hip Person’s Department of a large clothing store. To my right, bell-bottomed jeans. To my left, racks of crap: shite-colored shirts with orange piping, and metallic disco shirts with wide collars. Boz Scaggs was playing softly overhead on the PA system. I thought:

We lost! They won! By “they,” of course, I mean the Forces of Shag. The late-60s early-to-mid seventies ethos, the period when stuff looked bad, sounded bad, tasted bad, was bad. Who wants to wear a shirt the color of Harry Knowles’ web page? No one I want to know. But there it was, racks and racks of it, every shirt spattered with those retro-seventies fonts I dislike so much. It was a peculiar moment; for one horrible second I was back in high school, shopping for clothes for the first day of school. I don’t know what it’s going to take to free this culture from its past and let it go on with life. And of all times to look back, too - my God, if ever we’re going to make the leap to jumpsuits, it’s now. We’re close to the 21st century; we’re besotted with computers and technology; we have no time, and we’re generally overweight. This is a culture that is primed for jumpsuits. Make ‘em with footies, too. No more searching for socks in the morning. And make them out of paper, so at the end of the day we can burn them.

Which reminds me. Must go fold laundry.

Sunday evening; chores. Wet night - walked Jasper to the video store. There are two in the neighborhood - the Big Soulless Chain, which doesn’t have dog treats, and the Small Charming Chain, which does. Jasper expects his treat. He walks in, turns the corner, sits, and waits; the staff knows him, and is happy to make him happy. But tonight we went to the BSC. No treats. He sat down in the aisle, looked at me, and BARKED. Once. Just to express his COMPLETE dissatisfaction. Now, I hate to make claims for the mutt’s IQ, but I wonder why he expected a treat here. At no other store does he get a treat. I wondered if there was some cue - visual or, more likely, olfactory - that connected the Big Soulless Chain store with the SMC around the corner. It smelled like videotape, therefore, treat.

In line, checking out, was a couple - the woman thought Jasper was cute, and she bent over and gave him some attention. The guy - well-dressed, well-groomed, your basic area professional - looked at the dog with a vague sneer. He held out some money to Jasper. “Here,” he said, “you wanna small this?” I can’t quite describe the inflection - contemptuous comes to mind, but that’s too strong . . . but accurate. There was just something WRONG with the guy; I could see it in big glowing letters over his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t like dogs - you could tell that they were just moving meat to him. And quite possibly people were moving meat, too. He just gave me the creeps, and I wanted to tell the woman to run, now, fast. It was just a passing impression. Could be wrong. But I generally give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. (Which often happens within seconds of meeting them.)

So what was I returning? “Spawn.” So what was I thinking when I rented that piece of junk? Don’t know. It was KREP, and nothing but. Just awful. Start to finish. The creator of the Spawn character, Todd McFarlane, splashed his name all over the thing, fore and aft, which tells you that A) he thinks most of his fans are too stupid to see what a steaming loaf of dreck the movie is, or B) he’s so blinded by his supernova ego that he can’t see how wretched it is. Neither is reassuring.

The movie had all the usual post-Batman cliches - dystopian city-scapes, cartoonishly amusing villains, laconic tortured hero, dramatic entrances through a skylight with much shattered glass. Like most of the post-Batman movies, it stank. Even the post-Batman Batman movie was a dud - long, tiresome, incomprehensible, full of the director’s ennui with his subject matter. (I haven’t seen it since it ‘92; I really should give it another view, but I just remember walking away exhausted and beaten. Now it probably looks like a leisurely intimate character study, compared to the dreck that followed.)

Anyway. Much work to do tonight, and midnight approaches.


Cold; flurries; tulip leaves. A worrisome combination. You can’t blame the tulips for trying; it’s been warm, and the days are lengthening. It all says GO to the Tulip-American community. I wish they could just . . . idle for a week. Shift to neutral and wait. Nothing kills spring glee faster than the sight of stunted tulips, dead as stones, their withered frozen skulls nodding over on their stalks. We need Tulip Hypnotists who can trick them to think it’s still March.

Worked at home today. Wrote in the morning, went to the office, stared at the screen and wrote nothing - I felt like someone whose specialty was frescoes, asked to carve reliefs in a sandstone wall. It’s the damnedest thing, but sometimes the Work Screen - black background, green letters - smothers all creativity. Puts a pillow on its face and presses, hard. So I went home, and wrote ten tons of stuff. Why? Because the screen was white, the letters black, the dog was on the stairs, the tie was off, the coffee close at hand, the music to my liking?

Well, yes.

Did an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company this afternoon - short merry talk on the Institute of Official Cheer. I still remember the moment, three years ago, when I was in the shower, wondering if I should bring my odd pop-culture sites under a single conceptual umbrella, and I thought: The Institute of Official Cheer. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I liked it. And now Australia calls. Good on ye’! the producer said to me when all was done. I felt as though I had been suffused with pure fine boisterous Aussieism: Good on ye’! Mait! G’dae! That’s a naif! ‘Ave some Vegemait! Bloody Abbos!

I went to the home page for the radio station, toured the city of Perth, and thought, as many Americans do from time to time, how much I’d love to visit Australia. But I fear I wouldn’t want to leave. I have the feeling that entire country is a mixture of Minnesota, California and Arizona. Deserts, isolation, medium-sized big cites, beaches, prairie.

Sounds wonderful to me.

Walking through the mall Saturday afternoon I saw my next car: the CRUISER! I’m not sure it’s a car at all. Minivan? SUV? Sedan? Yes. No. It’s a 1930s sedan filtered through 1960s hot-rod mythos and retooled to light up double-aught sensibilities. It’s the damnedest thing. It’s probably the Pacer of the 00s. But I loved the Pacer.

Really. I had one - pumpkin colored with orange-beige trim. My second favorite car, all things considered. (The Defiant, my current car, is my favorite; the Probe will forever be tainted as an 80s car, and it never quite got over those four years in DC where it did nothing but get groceries on Saturday. Never forgave me.) Anyway - the Cruiser is just the damnedest looking thing. Sometimes you see a car, and it speaks to you in a language you haven’t heard before; this was one of those moments. The Defiant said: let’s go, pal. Let’s go real fast. The Cruiser, for all the heavy connotations of its name, has the posture of a big dog that wants to play. They’re going to sell a million of these things - partly because they’re nifty, and partly because they just look different. Occasionally Detroit realizes that if they actually BUILD the concept cars, people will buy them. This is one of those.

I showed it to my wife tonight. She liked it. Eventually. It’s interesting to watch people’s reaction: first you get this YIKES! shock, and it’s instantly followed by hmmmmmmm. No one’s ambivalent about it, that’s certain.

Went to Home Depot. I hate Home Depot. Home Depot hates me. It’s one of those classic hate-hate relationships you read about. They’d called to tell me the carpet was in. We ordered carpet for the utility room - because my wife wants to put shelves in, and the shelf people said that the units sit on top of the carpet, so if we’re going to replace the carpet, we’d better do it now . . . and of course the room needs painting, which should be done before the new carpet’s down . . . the shelf people haven’t called back with an estimate, and we haven’t even discussed what color to paint the room.

But the carpet’s here!

And it’s huge. I looked at the roll: 12 feet long. Much more than we need, but of course they only sell it in 12-foot-long increments. To cut it smaller would go against the entire Home Depot modus vivendi. They just don’t do it, said the clerk, so I nodded, took a step back, and kicked him in the nuts as hard as I could. Actually, no. The clerks were all very kind and helpful. They always are. It’s HOME DEPOT itself that hates me, the very building, the thing that it is; it’s my version of Thurber’s House-Woman. The clerk did all she could to make sure I was happy. She was in her late 50s, silver hair, very nicely put together, and she spoke with a Brooklyn accent.

“You’re from New York, aren’t you,” I said.

“Brooklyn,” she said, correcting me. I asked when she’d last been back. “Two yeeahs,” she said. In retrospect, I believe that her husband was a mobster, and they’re in the Witness Protection Program. She looked exactly like one of the Goodfellas wives, 20 years later.

Anyway. The carpet didn’t fit in the car. My choices: rent a truck for twenty bucks, and take it home - how I’ll get it into the house, I’ve no idea; weighs a ton - or have them deliver it, and put it in the basement.

Mind you, two years ago I paid someone to come to my house and haul carpet out of my basement. It never ends.


Ah, the healing power of beer. I’ve had a wretched stomach all night, full of knots and hot hornets. I took some Pepto-Bismol: Maximum Strength! I always buy the maximum strength; never can quite figure out why I wouldn’t. I’m not likely to reel back and say whoa, that’s just toooo much relief there, buddy. Give me regular strength.

Maximum Strength tastes odd - not as good as Regular Strength. I love the flavor, actually; it reminds me of my grandfather, who used to give us little pink lozenges as rewards for playing Hide the Thimble. (Simple game - Grandpa would announce the temperature based on our proximity to the hidden thimble. Hot. Hot . . .cold. Colder! And so forth. The games lasted forever, because Grandpa actually used to mail the thimble to distant cities. He’d give us bus fare; we’d call from various places. “Cicero, Illinois.” “Cold.” Click.

Where was I? Right, right, getting delirious. Anyway, my stomach’s in knots, for a variety of reasons. Nerves. Pressure. Much to do. Lack of ease. Bad supper. Too much coffee. Take your choice. But I do know that regular, deep breaths and a good cold Summit Extra Pale Ale go a long ways to calming a querulous gut. Grandpa used to have stomach troubles, too. Never knew that until after he was gone, but he had the exact same constitution I have. I see him in the mirror some mornings, too, looking back when I shave.

Got a phone call from an old Valli compatriot, a waitress I worked with 20 years ago; she had a story that might fit my column. Or someone’s column. That’s not the crucial part of the story, anyway. I recognized the voice, the name; couldn’t quite assemble all the details of her face. She’d married another waiter, although the fellow was more customer than waiter. Some guys ended up working at the Valli because they’d abandoned all pretense of going anywhere in life. That semester sabbatical had turned into a year; they weren’t pursuing a degree anymore, they were suddenly four years older than all the new sorority girls who thronged the place on Saturday night. That employee discount looked pretty good. They signed on for a while . . . quit a month or two later, and forever after acted as if they were part of the soldier class instead of the civilians.

This woman’s husband was one of those. He was also a jerk.

Mentioned the phone call last Friday to Wesley when we had the annual Birthday Roundup at J.D. Hoyt’s. Wesley remembered her at once. The Giant Swede noted that he frequently saw this woman’s ex-husband. He was a laborer at the airport where the Giant Swede works.

I still couldn’t remember what she looked like. Oh, well.

The other day, walking around downtown, far from the newspaper, I ran into her. She was making a rare trip downtown. It had been 20 years.

That was Monday’s peculiarity. Here’s Tuesday’s:

The Midwest Petroleum Jobbers’ Convention began today. It’s the first sure sign of spring. I always forget about it until I get a phone call from dad, either on the road or in the hotel. Every year, it’s the same place; every year it looks the same, smells the same. Same old guys with rawboned faces crowding the hospitality suites around the pool. Same old small-town men with buzz cuts, leathery necks, thin windbreakers and expressionless eyes. I don’t know what it is about the business, but it attracts an extremely practical brand of man. I mean, practical. Pared down. Perhaps it’s the nature of the business, which requires long hours, heavy hauling, and a constant exposure to stuff that stinks and gets on your hands and under your nails, erases your sense of smell and tastes bad. It’s just a commodity, but it’s ubiquitous, nasty and benign. And it can blow everything up. Also, it comes from A-rabs. Or worse, Texans. My dad’s been in the business for half a century; he knows it well. But I don’t think he likes it. I’ve never asked; it would be a stupid question, really. It’s not something you like. It’s something you do. And then you use the money to do something you like.
My brother-in-law has the business now. I doubt very much whether he likes it. Who can possible like gasoline? I like the smell of a well-tuned motor, the summer perfume of a lawn mower mixing oil and gas and dirt and grass. But gasoline, fuel oil, lubricants - well, they might be perfume to some. But I invite such a person to walk into the warehouse at Lileks Oil: whew. Everything’s in bottles and barrels and cans and tanks, and the smell still knocks you flat. No, my brother-in-law likes the business. Making deals, working out branding arrangements. Texaco has returned to North Dakota after many years’ absence, and my bro’law is helping plant the old flag back in the stony turf. Good for him.

I intended to attend the convention tomorrow, for lunch. Then I remembered that my Dad had a form I needed for my taxes. It happens every year. I forget I need the form. He brings it to the convention I forgot was going to happen. Because these things always happen, I don’t need to anticipate them, odd as that sounds. I was going to finish up the taxes tonight, so I thought I’d swing by and get the form. I went at rush hour to the distant suburb - or rather what had been a distant suburb when first our family paid a visit to this town, back in ‘65. Now it’s the epicenter ofsouthwestern urban growth. Took twenty minutes, half of which was spent at traffic lights; I’m still amazed at how easily one can get around in this town. Swung into the parking lot. Parked the car. Walked to the hotel -

- and there’s my brother-in-law, walking out.

It’s a big hotel - a 15 story wing and an 8 story wing. It’s a big suburb. It’s a big parking lot. There are thirty doors on the ground floor. My brother in law knows about six people in this multi-million person urban area, and as he leaves his hotel he runs into one of them.

That’s Tuesday’s peculiarity. It’s a damned odd world. Damned? No: charmed. Odd. And charmed.