APRIL Part 3
Drove to Fargo for family and food; drove back. Those are the bones of the weekend. Here’s the flesh:

Made good time up to NoDak, driving at the usual illegal speed, passed by half the population, passing the rest. At least I know how to pass. I will not ride someone’s bumper if they’re passing another driver. There’s nothing more irritating than these idiots who sit on your fender while you’re passing a car in the right lane. Well, yes. There’s much that’s more irritating. Lemon juice misted over a cracked lip. Pomeranians. (The dogs, not the people.) (Ah, hell, the people, too, for all I know.) Discovering that you didn’t tape the entire show because a sporting event delayed the show’s start by 14 minutes. People who ride your bumper when you’re passing someone. They’re the worst.

Up to Fargo, over to the ancestral manor, get Dad, then off to sis’ for burgers. Spent the night sitting around playing with the kids and talking - but the Menfolk made a detour out for likker an’ gawkin’, as befits our gender. (If you can call Coors Light “liquor”; I don’t. I’d rather just drink water and make a note to hit myself hard in the head when I got up the next morning. Same effect.) Anyway, we drove past a new station in the neighborhood, since that’s the family business, and you want to investigate the competition, or in other cases your new brand-mates. Nice place, this was - huge, clean, friendly. And doomed, I think. Fargo has made some regulations to keep the main streets flowing at a particular pace, and this means no curb cuts in the middle of the block. So can’t just pull in, gas up and get out. Plus, new signage rules mean they can’t have a nice big shiny sign to reel in the traffic.

What the hell is the matter with people? Okay, I understand the curb-cut restrictions. It’s a high traffic street. But signage? This is a commercial strip. Full of businesses from one end to the other. Which tender aesthetic sensibilities are going to be abraded and bruised by a big mean old sign? I wish we had more signs, but not the sort you find on most commercial strips today. The backlit sign is the Curse of the Strip, I say. Backlit signs - like those gawdawful backlit canopies that hang over strip malls - are like a canvas, but the artists of that particular medium haven’t yet emerged. Whereas neon and sheet metal were in the hands of the craftsmen from the start. It takes skill to shape the glass, write the word in the dark.

Anyway. Back home. Sara tottered off to sleep, and I almost followed - brother-in-law had poured me a drink that needed both hands to lift - but I usually stay up with my Dad and watch the History or Learning Channel, which ever has Hitler or Tojo on at the time. We found a Henry Fonda movie; Hank was sweating. Also present was Jason Robards, sweating, and Burgess Meredith (dry.) Also this fellow who’s in 37% of all mid-late sixties movies; he plays smooth charismatic fellows who ought not to be trusted entirely. He looks like William Windom after they released a patch to correct the charisma glitch. Anyway, Henry Fonda et al were playing poker; Fonda was the Hopeless Addict who’s drawn into the game despite the Pathetic Cries of his Brave Son and the God-Forsaken Cries of his Dutiful Wife. The movie was called “A Big Hand for the Little Lady.” Hadn’t seen it before. Figured it out WELL in advance, and impressed my father by predicting every plot point. Of course, he thought I’d seen it already.

“Now how’s she going to get a loan from the banker?” Dad said. “She still doesn’t have any collateral.”

“She’s going to use her poker hand,” I said.

And so she did.

We watched the movie to its conclusion, which took some doing, since the movie ended and then KEPT GOING for 12 minutes. I went to bed. And tossed, and turned, for 45 minutes. Sara slept. Jasper slept at the foot of the bed, snortling occasionally. Dad slept, snoring like someone feeding bricks into a blender set on the lowest setting. I finally fell asleep, only to be awakened by a passing train, far far away . . . but then I decided that there were worse things to be awakened by in the middle of the night. Like Pomeranians fed into a blender.

Woke up much too early after much too little sleep. As is usual for every morning home since I left, the first 20 minutes consisted of me attempting to not to kill anyone. When I get up I want a few minutes alone with my coffee and my breakfast and newspaper. I don’t want to be bothered. Questioned. Poked, prodded, harangued. Peligro: monkey dangerouso. Once I get that first cup down, I’m fine, but until then, please, just leave me alone. (It was worse in the old days, when I was also fighting back the need for a cigarette, which I not only couldn’t have but had to pretend I didn’t want.) So I stared at my Lucky Charms and read the paper until I felt human again. Then we dressed and went to church.

Church still looks like church; the sanctuary still has that incredibly cool 50s renovation - blonde wood, jutting pulpits. It looks like a California courtroom, Judge Bobby Darin presiding. Not until a few years ago did I realize how modern it was; by the time I paid it any attention, it looked old, familiar, part of the landscape of obligation. (see also, Schools, Glass-block windows of) The usher was a father of a childhood friend, now deceased. He had aged, but they all aged; I looked down at the choir and saw a few familiar faces, parents of peers, and noted how they’d aged, as well. I thought: old people still are interesting. Twenty years ago, an 80-year old had lived through the 20s, seen the Jazz Age. Nowadays the oldsters were the men who fought the war. Next, the old guys might be Korean vets, then Vietnam vets, but more than likely the old guy you run into will be just another boomer. I dread the beginning of the big boomer die-off, because I fully expect them to be lionized as the most Progressive, Idealistic, Artistic and Morally Concerned Generation in human history.

I spit on their graves!

At this point people from other pews turned around to look at me, and I realized I should stop thinking out loud. Back to the sermon, then. The lessons of the day concerned the moment when the Marys discovered the tomb empty, and for the first time something struck me odd about the tale. They see the empty tomb. They weep. Whereupon two angels, sitting in the tomb, ask: why are you weeping?

This has to be the all-time stupid question, especially coming from an angel. You’re in the tomb of Jesus. He’s risen from the dead. Along come his loved ones. They’re distraught. They see that the body’s gone. You’re a celestial being. Is your first response: what are you crying about? To make matters worse, that’s what Jesus says when he shows up, too.

Sitting in balcony of my childhood church, I recall that this struck me as a peculiar thing to say when I was a kid, too. It’s . . . a leading question. It’s unfair and slightly perverse. I mean, I get the general idea - why are you weeping, when such a miracle has occurred? etc - but it seems a peculiar point to put to someone not yet apprised of the miracle.

Or maybe it was a way to make conversation. Really. People come to see a dead body, and find A) angels and B) the dead body, alive and talking are going to need some sort of small talk to bridge the gap between their expectations and reality.

I don’t know why, but nowadays every church visit involves a big theological tussle. Last time it was Leviticus, which I read during a long sermon. Leviticus? Don’t get me started.

The sermon ended
. Outside into the brilliant day; shake hands with the pastor, talk to old acquaintances and church members, walk my wife to the water fountain, through the Sunday school building (classic International Style institutional building) past the big wall-mounted display of every Communion class in the church since the early days, since the 20s. Somewhere between the day when half the names were German, and the present, when half the names are Asian, there’s a lone Balt with wire-rims and actual hair down over his forehead. I never need to look through those pictures. I know I’m there. And I’ll be there as long as the church is there.

And the church isn’t going anywhere.

Off to the Holiday Inn for brunch. It’s a family tradition. I’ve no idea why. It keeps my overloaded and overworked sister from having to rustle up ham for everyone, so I endorse it. It’s a huge room - four big ballrooms joined together, acres of tables, a thousand and one chairs. It’s packed all day. The Holiday Inn’s been remodeled, and now sports an august green classical interior that’s very, very 80s. Brunch: ham. And various oozing dishes. Also chicken from which all moisture had been scientifically extracted by a patented process.

Back to the house, my old house. We talked and played with the kids; the kids played with Jasper, who rolled over and took it.

It was another Easter, another spring, another year, another episode of turning the key and backing out of the driveway, waving goodbye and heading out. Just the same as every other trip, except that Sis has a new baby, and Dad has Doris (which is good, very good; the years when we pulled and waved goodbye and it was just Dad alone on the steps or alone behind the window were too grim to bear) and every thing’s a year older, a year farther along whatever path these assemblages of bones and memories are taking.

All things noted and toted, it’s been a very good path so far. If only I’d been less stupid in the past I’d have seen that with greater clarity. But that’s youth: great certainty applied to hazy, inaccurate assessments of nearly everything that matters.

Back on the road. I was near sleep when we began, but the road perked me up. No radio; no conversation. (Sara slept.) Jasper sat watching the world. I drove and I drove and didn’t think about much. Made it home in three and a half hours, 240 miles and 24 years. Give or take a heartbeat.

___

Spring, at last. And as usual for this part of the country, it arrives intact - one day the mercury tickles the nape of 70, and you look around and see spring everywhere. The grass isn’t just green, it grows in unruly puffy tufts that look too healthy, too soon. Crab grass. Damn. And you haven’t even mowed yet. The trees are still bare, but if you look closely you see each branch punctuated with a hundred verdant commas. The tulips are up, sheltered by the leaves that curl like a ballerina’s hands. The creek is running and the creeping charlie creeps. Along the garage the fiddleheads of the ferns are up. The hostas - the chorus of the garden, the extras, the crowd-scene actors, the plants that never have any good lines but fill out the stage for half the year - have sent the first stubby shoots up through the stones. Everything is coming up. Green pencils, ready to write on the open page of May.

Makes a man feel . . . fat. Or so I felt today. Grabbed a pair of pants from the closet this morning, ironed them, put them on - hmm. A little . . . tight. Well, they’ll stretch. Shrunk in the drier, perhaps. Walked the dog tonight after supper, and was convinced I’d pop a button with such force it would embed itself in the flesh of a passerby. Turns out they were pants from 1991, 28s instead of the usual 29s, and damn tight 28s at that. It made for an uncomfortable walk, though, as I considered the Ravages of Age, the battle to keep fit . . . then again, why? Why not just give in? Let’s just say I get to have a 30 inch waistline for my 40s. Why not? I’ve earned it! The alternative, after all, is often madness, as I saw on the way back from the walk. A police car pulled up to the creek along Lyndale, and two officers jogged down a steep hill into the woods. As I passed I saw one officer bringing up a bike; the other officer was assisting a rather dazed middle-aged man in spandex. Apparently he’d taken a path, thinking it was a road into the woods, unaware it was a footpath best reserved for the nimble. He had . . . sailed. He had . . . flown. He had . . .surely sworn to himself with great conviction when he saw what he had done.

Jasper was uninterested. He wanted to go down in the creek and smell dead things, and small live things, and their spoor, so we did. Sirens wailed for five minutes, en route to assist the man who did not want to increase his waistband size.

Good day, busy day. Working on a computer game review. Dropped off the contracts for the Gallery of Regrettable Food book - how apt, since the San Francisco Chronicle had the GoRF as its featured link today. Other career note: my previous book can be had for $3.00 on eBay. Let the bidding begin! It’s item 312544136. Thanks to those who pointed this out. Spooky: I found it myself, last night, egosurfing. I was trying out the new search functions on this ultra-spiffy IE 5.0. I highly recommend this browser to all Mac users, if only for its cosmetics; it’s sleek and compact and appears to have fewer features than it really does. Hoorah. Which leads me to my next point:


Web standards NOW, I say. Translation: just looked at version 5.0 of this site through the lens of the latest version of Internet Explorer. And I’m here to say: I give up. I just give up. I’m sure there are ways to ensure the site looks right on every platform, every browser, and I’m sure that way entails something called “a salary.” Until the day this is more than a hobby, I’m not going to worry about it.

Yeah, right.

It’s the default font thing that does it. (Also, as I discovered, the different way Netscape and IE handle colors in tables. Netscape lets you specify a color for a table and override it for cells; IE doesn’t appear to do so. You have to hand-tint the individual cells. Doubt me? I’ve proof! Irrefutable proof!) Everyone’s default fonts are too big. These letters should not look like this. Defaults should be 12 or 14, sez me, butwhen I opened the preferences in IE 5, the default was 16. No doubt there’s a way around this . . . I just don’t relish fixing 549 pages.

That said, IE 5 is now my browser. Finally: a browser that doesn’t have fifteen strata of buttons and tabs. It looks like a Mac browser should, too. It matches my Superdisk drive and the casing of my computer. I know, that’s a stupid criterion.

But it’s really not.

Back to work; it’s column night and so much more.

____

Another hot day. Feels like summer. Feels like heaven. Feels like 1971. I wonder if I’ll be an aged man of 80 and have the same emotions; I wonder if the first aromas of spring on a warm bright morning will make me think back to a childhood Saturday when I opened my eyes, felt the warmth pouring in the window, and realized that the day would soon begin with sugary cereal and Josie and the Pussycats, and just get better from there. It’s an indistinct memory, no doubt cobbled together from a half a hundred Saturday mornings. But it’s good to know that the default position for the mind & the memory is a time of peace and pleasure, and that the memory doesn’t feel like something special. It feels like the normal order of things.

I was just at that breakfast table a few days ago, and I suppose this spring I’ll be there again. Thirty years in the same chair, looking east through the same window at the same broad backyard, a warm wind flowing in the window.

Nothing changes. Thank God for that.

Walked downtown, toted up the daily differences. The Amex Tower was open for Amex employees, so it’s only a few days until I can get in and shoot some pictures. Same for the USBancor tower. The sidewalk plaza has some stupid sculptures whose roughhewn qualities are utterly at odds with the tower itself, but at least you can lean against them and rest for a while. I sat down on a rock, a big rock, the latest addition to the streetscape, and looked up at the IDS center. It’s a view I haven’t had for a couple of years, since the fences have kept you from standing on that corner and looking up. Now the construction’s done; the sidewalk has been returned to its citizens. So I tarried a while, and soaked in the old view from a different angle. Since the new tower is set back several yards from the sidewalk, deeper than than its predecessors, I had a view that hadn’t been available since they first built a building on the site over a hundred years ago.

A minor revision of the cityscape, but a welcome one; without these little additions and editing changes, the city is just the same damn pop-up book over and over and over again. Some things change. Thank God for that.

As part of the ongoing Stuff Reduction program - my ongoing attempt to winnow out the krep, pare the nonessentials, box up the bits of history infrequently used and bring Order and Semblance back to life - I disassembled two black bookcases tonight. Two black particle-board, black-laminate bookcases. They were preceded in death by Black Bookcases # 1, 2, and 3. All five had been purchased in 1990 and shipped unopened to Washington. My second night at Fortress Lileks I opened the boxes and put them together while the local TV station ran a Star Trek episode. I even remember which one: Return of the Archons. “Festival!” I must have said, out loud, with no sense of festivity whatsoever. I really wasn’t too happy there from the start.

I filmed the room when I was done setting up. The tape’s long lost, but I did some vidcaps years ago with a crappy digitizer, and filed the picture in the DC folder. Just took a look at it now. Interesting what it yields after ten years. I recognize things. The blue arrow points to my collection of Vintage Contemporaries, a series of “hip” novels that shared a distinctive graphic design. The green arrow points to an orange Fiestaware pitcher, purchased for a dollar in 1978 when I lived in Dinkytown. It was, and is, filled with matchbooks. Right now it’s downstairs in the kitchen. The yellow arrow points to my old, old Lloyd’s multi-band radio, a veteran among my possessions. I got that one in ‘70, I believe - it’s a tube job. Right now it’s in the basement, spattered with paint, veteran of many home improvement jobs. The red arrow points to a glass block vase with dried wheat, a reminder of the midwest. It’s now six feet behind me on a table in my study.

The pink arrow points to a coffee cup, a ceramic diner mug I would use seven years later for a publicity photo for my radio show. It’s a great mug, but it’s just not big enough. It’s the mug that never gets used unless all the other mugs are in the dishwasher.

And it’s the mug sitting on my desk tonight.

It makes me wonder what items in this room tonight will be recognizable ten years hence. The only item from DC in this room now is the small flag of the District I keep as a memory of my tortured relationship with that city. Tonight while disassembling the shelves, I remembered putting them together, remembered hearing the sirens, seeing the helicopter lights stab the backyard. What had I done? Whywas I hear? Three years later, we moved across the creek, across the Ellington bridge to Woodley Park. To safety. To a sane part of town. Why, it was right around the corner from the Zoo. Nothing bad every happened there.

It was two blocks away from Monday’s Zoo shooting.

I carried all the black boards out and left them in the alley for the garbage man. Jasper trotted along. I stopped in the alley, looked up and down the street; Jasper looked up at me, ears alert, waiting for news. It was an utterly commonplace scene, and one I couldn’t have imagined when I bought the shelves ten years ago.

Everything changes, eventually. Thank God for that.

____

For the last few years - ever since, I believe, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition of ‘97 or ‘96 - women on the covers of magazines have been pulling their bottoms off. Not entirely, of course, but they have a thumb hooked in the waistband, and they’re yanking down one side while looking me straight in the face, as if to say “In your presence, I cannot help but remove my underwear.” It was fun at first, but it’s now the standard mode for all cover models. I expect to see Janet Reno doing it on the cover of Time next week.

Today at the magazine store I scanned the rows of mainstream men’s mags - the Maxims and FHMs and GQs, and nearly everyone of the models was shot in the same posture. I felt a sudden surge of resentment towards the ones who were not yanking off their drawers - what, you DON’T want to have sex with me? Well, be that way. Estelle over here does, I can tell. See you later.

I’ve been plinking away on these machines for years. I’ve been online since the late 80s. Like most people who grew up with a head full of sci-fi and Trek plots, the Internet has never really surprised me - the whole ‘net is just a well, duh, of course, hello McFly! sort of thing. It’s an inevitable creation, and frustrating at that, since we all know what it should be, and will be, and isn’t yet. Even so, I had one of those little epiphanies a month or so ago. I finally decided I would convert the entire collection to MP3s, as part of the Massive Stuff Reduction Program. (The MSRP - which I now realize shares its acronym with the manufacturer’s suggested retail price - is my attempt to digitize everything that can be digitized, archive the valuables and originals, and throw out the rest.) I bought a good ripper and started feeding disks into the iMac. I noticed the GET INFO ONLINE feature, and remembered there was a massive database that held all the track titles. I clicked. “Querying database . . . retrieving titles . . .” And shazam! there they were.

For some reason, this was the moment when I realized that everything was actually different, after all. It was the seamlessness that impressed me. I didn’t have to go to a website, get the info, cut and paste. I didn’t have to use a search engine. I didn’t even have to use a browser. In fact, it was the browserlessness of it that made the light turn on. Just push a button, the machine flees into the ether to get the information, and puts it right where I wanted it. Very Jetsonesque. Ever since then I’ve spent many, many hours loading every CD into the machine, getting the info, and culling the tracks I want. It’s fun. It actually feels like I’m accomplishing something.

Tonight, I put in a disk. Queried the CDDB.

It didn’t recognize the disk. I don’t blame it - the CD was a crappy Madacy compilation of 50s rock instrumentals, most of which are dreck.

But if there’s such a thing as web karma, well, I’d better compile and submit. So I did. Heaven knows I have to thank the fellow who submitted the seven versions of Ali Click by Brian Eno, as well as the Maxi-Single of New Order’s Spooky. That’s what really heartens me about this: someone else took the time to add these titles to the CDDB, and someone else has this record. Someone else has the RCA Victor Dorsey Bros. compilation, the “Absolutely Fabulous” remix single, the “Komputer” CD from those Kraftwerk clones, and someone - bless them - hung on to their Tanita Tikaram CD for 13 years, just as I did. (Found it in a box downstairs last night, wondered if Istill liked it; to my surprise, I did.) Feeding each disc into the machine now feels like Stump the Band. It’s fun when they get it and it’s fun when they don’t.

Digitizing everything has its annoyances, though - you tend to think you should be digitizing during every free moment. Going downstairs to fetch a beer, scratch the dog, talk with the wife? Pop in a CD and transfer a few tracks. Waiting for the mail to download? Scan some postcards. It gets overwhelming at times, but if you hesitate, you lose momentum. And when that happens Stuff piles up.

And I’m starting to hate Stuff.

___

Now and then life resembles a movie, a good movie, a thrilling film where tense things happen to other people. Today I got home, checked the mail; there was an envelope from Blue Cross. Addressed to Jim-Bob Lileks.

Jim-Bob? No one calls me that. Anyone who would call me that would know how much I don’t like to be called Jim. Let alone Jim-Bob. And it’s unlikely Blue Cross would call me Jim-Bob. . . but then I noticed that the mailing label was printed from a home computer - it was oversized, homemade, and applied to the envelope with big strips of clear packing tape.

I opened the envelope. Inside was a clear plastic sheet over a negative . . . no, a picture. A satellite picture printed on clear heavy stock. I couldn’t identify the location. Straight roads, meandering river, flat terrain: standard-issue Midwest; could be Iowa, Illinois, Anywhere USA. There was a city in the middle of the picture, and the road bisecting the picture ran right through the center of town.

On the plastic overlay, magic-marker writing: a circle, an arrow, and this handwritten notation -

74.5 MPH
“The Defiant”

I looked in the envelope. Nothing else.

Hmmm.

The Defiant, of course, is my pet name for my car. This would be known to someone who used to listen to the radio show, or read too, too many Bleats. The location on the map - well, it’s nowhere I’ve been recently. If the person who sent this wanted me to think it was a surveillance photo of my Fargo trip, he made several mistakes:

1. The road on the map isn’t a freeway, and I only take freeways to Fargo;
2. I don’t drive 74.5 MPH. I set the cruise on 78 and leave it there.
3. I didn’t drive the Defiant to Fargo. The Defiant hasn’t been out of town since - well, nevermind.

So it’s a hoax. So . . . why? So . . . who? And then I thought: it’s my archenemy, Colonel Austin. Back in the days of my radio show, the Diner, we played off Art Bell, whose show followed mine. We frequently incorporated quasi-Bellian ideas into the show - and since Art was always talking about Area 51, I came up with Area 52, a slightly more secret area than Area 51. Col. Austin was a caller - never identified - who hotly disputed my theories about Area 52. This guy was good. He knew the drill - never leave character, be able to improvise, and call infrequently. When we went back in time to 1923 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the radio station, he broke months of silence to call as the great-grandfather of Col. Austin.

And now he was taunting me, somehow -

But no, wait a minute, that was the radio show, that was fiction, and this is real; I don’t REALLY have an arch enemy.

So . . . who? Why? I’d be amused, except that it’s anonymous, and it came to my house.

That crosses a line.



A note to bloggers: please, please make your links open in new windows. I came across a blog today, one that had been nominated for a Webby for personal sites. I guess the new notion of content is linking to other people’s content. (Oooh! Bitter!) One of the first words on the page was a link, and it promptly whisked me away from the site and dumped me into another domain. Take a clue from Suck, you bloglodytes: spawn a fresh window if you want me to come back and read the rest of your sentence.

Tonight, I think, I will answer some mail and read, and say To Hell With The Web. I’ve been utterly uninterested in the site this week - with working on v. 5, answering mail, fixing things, designing new stuff, writing new stuff. Feh, I say. Feh! I just want to sit outside and chew on a cigar and read. It’s raining now, steady but slight; there’s a fresh cool breeze and absolute silence outside.

.