"What are the chances of nine people getting a table without reservations right at this very moment?" I say.
He merely smiles.
"But we're very influential and important people," I say, with great mock gravity. Given that we have a future U. S. Ambassador, a few well-placed journalists and lawyers, as well as an Assistant State Attorney General, it's not entirely untrue. But it would be declasse to mention the point, let alone press it. This is Minnesota. There is still the pretention of egalitarianism.
He merely smiles.
"Okay, I'm out of lies," I say. "What's the story?" He tells me it's hopeless until 9, at which point it could be less hopeless but probably won't be. I say fine and thank him for the time.
"Where you from?" he says with a smile, and right here I have two choices: knock his teeth back into his throat, or answer the question. Because what he really means is surely you are from out of town to think you can get a seat here now.
"I'm from here," I said, "and our first choice was Atlas."
Back outside. There's a grand opening for a new seafood restaurant up the street - invitation only. A gigantic lobster sits on the top of the building . . . 15 stories up. Searchlights flick across the skin of the building; people dressed in black disembark from black cars and enter the restaurant, whose interior appears . . .black. We head west towards the smear of dusk.
We ended up at The Local, a dim pub on Nicollet Mall. Much good news, good tales, good pictures, good omens, all conducted amongst the fumes of smoke and 25-year old Macallen. There's a recipe for a fine night. And, for once, I came to the table with a fresh story to tell. I never have stories; nothing eventful ever happens to me, so I lack a good store of Rollicking Picaresque adventures. Interesting things happen, but they don't make for bar lore. Even this story was pathetic, inasmuch as no one went to jail, heaven or Canada, but it would do among friends. Id been to the sci-fi convention that afternoon, and seen the homebrew hour-long Klingon drama in which I had a small role. Theres my story for the table - the oddities of the convention, the screening, descriptions of the geek milieu, etc. At an apt lull in conversation, I said well, I made my debut in a Star Trek episode today.
Oh, right, your Klingon tape, said the guest of honor. I stopped - how the hell did she know about this? Shes been out of the country for three fargin years. Well, she tells a story about how shed been at the doctors office in town the previous day, getting a check-up, and was chatting with the med tech, telling the tech that she was proud to be from Minnesota - home of the Klingon Language Camp, which was reported on by 75 journalists, one of whom was her friend James Lileks. Whereupon the said she was a member of a little Klingon troupe, and in fact theyd shot a movie which would be premiering the next day, and James Lileks was in it!
I hear this story, and my jaw is completely unhinged. What are the chances of this? Whats more, I cant believe she didnt mention this before. It would be one of those tales I couldnt WAIT to tell as soon as I saw the person.
Then I got into a raging, and desperately unpleasant, political argument with another member of the party. I didnt start it. I was trying to stick to facts. But it was like being poked in the sternum nonstop for ten minutes, and I finally blew my cool: I disliked the implication that I was a moral cretin because I didnt whip out a picture of Al Gore and give it a slow reverential lick every half hour. That did a good job of poisoning my end of the table for the rest of the night. But the bill arrived soon after. I really have to start drinking again when we go out for dinner. I think I'd enjoy it more. This designated driver stuff is getting old.
Ended up walking Jasper in the woods at midnight, feeling low and immensely dissatisfied with myself. Went home and read the New York 1880 book until three in the morning, then crawled into bed feeling no better. Felt small and brackish. The day had curdled on me in ways I hadn't expected.
Today: perked up by supper; had a good Indian meal, then we went to see Saras 88-year-old great aunt. Shes in a home. A nice home. Clean, cheery, well-appointed, a place where the outside world doesnt seem like a tantalizing rumor. It redoubled my conviction not to die of infirmity and age. This is as good as these places get, and its hell. But shes happy. A sweet gauze of confusion has settled around her senses, and that helps. We spoke of downtown Minneapolis - she used to work in the Physicians and Surgeons building, and I told her of its demolition. We talked of the great theaters, and her eyes lit up as she recalled each one. She was astonished to find they had been closed. Really? You dont say. The places I described had been gone 20 years, 30 years - but to her it was like getting the Sunday paper on a Saturday afternoon, so fresh was the news.
We wished her happy Mothers day. She said shed been trying to call all day, but hadnt gotten through. Call her son? Shed been trying to call her son?
Duluth, she said.
Duluth? Who in Duluth?
My mother, she said quietly. And she smiled. She looked at the phone. It was busy.
And I looked at the phone - it had oversized buttons, six presets. I wanted to lean over, see if the nursing home presets were:
Beyond This Vale of Tears
I didnt look. Ill just assume they give them the afterlife on speed dial. Of course it was busy on Mothers Day. Of course it was.
The 3rd Secret of Fatima has been revealed, leaving only the mystery of the 11 Secret Herbs and Spices in the Colonels recipe. I was heartened to learn that the 3rd secret related to an event long passed - the attempted assassination of JP2. In the premillennial era, 3% of my brain was reserved for putting Full Complete and Utter Credence in all manner of apocalyptic nonsense- if it was all true, then at least Id have a handle on it. (Ah, yes, of course, this is the Fatima-Cayce-pole-shift-Mayan-realignment scenario. How droll!) The 3rd secret always spooked me. Too Horrible for Mankind to Know!
Now that its revealed, it seems niggardly and banal - and it calls into question the entire notion of free will and predestination. Niggardly in the sense that the BlessedVirginMary makes a rare appearance, and one-third of her remarks concern an unsuccessful attempt on a pontiffs life. Now, Im not Catholic, and cannot presume to know the intentions of the celestial agenda, but CAN WE GET A HEADS-UP ON A HITLER, MAYBE? Why show up to some children and sketch a few predictions when so much misery and death could be avoided with one appearance at the League of Nations? Flash of light, scent of roses: hello, Im Mary. Im going to cut to the chase here and just send the visiting delegation of German observers to hell; trust me on this one. Please hold. - BANG! FLAMES! SCREAMS! The floor opens, demons claw the Germans down to hell. Okay, now Ill explain.
Why not? Why a few cryptic lines to some trembling tots? Well, we have to figure this out on our own. We have to build heaven on earth with our own hands; if its provided for us, it wont mean anything. Thats the argument. (Made in last nights X-Files, actually.) I buy it; I dont buy it. The beauty of the argument is that its perfect for believers, and it seems like a pathetic justification to unbelievers . . . and yet the unbeliever sees the wisdom. And the believer wonders in those dank moments of doubt whether its just an excuse. . .
Like all arguments for or against religion, it either devolves to doctrinal specificity or evaporates into a cottony cloud of ecumenical good will. Probably not something I can settle in a Bleat. Or a thousand Bleats. Or 80 years - God willing I live long enough to decide He's actually the one willing me 80s years.
I prefer my religion imprecise and uncertain. The game is far more exciting. When you have all the answers, it's like getting BINGO on your first card, and spending the rest of the night watching other people play.
I mention this just in case my last words are BINGO, and no one knows what I meant.
I liked the X-Files episode, although I feared the worst. I have come to dread the episodes whose musical score is mostly an oboe, bassoon and pizzicato strings. It usually means its an off-beat episode, and the music is meant to elbow us in the ribs. Get it? This is FUNNY. GET IT?
Today was warm and hot and everything was just going the way a May day ought to go. Then the rain came. Iwouldnt mind if the rain just showed up and hammered the earth with humid fury, but the rain came with a ghoulish entourage of gray cold clouds and dank clammy winds. Around suppertime the sky ignited with a few coast-to-coast flashbulbs, and I thought: finally. A good thunderstorm. On the other hand, if the predictions are correct, and were due for a night of rain, Id best walk the pup now. Out we went - just as the rain started. Back inside. Jasper looked at me with sorrow - no walk? No walk?
No walk, I said. He sat down, put his snout between his paws and sighed.
Happiness, hunger, horniness and disappointment: the four things people and dogs in common.
Its a column night; back to work.
Got a call from Yahoo! Internet Life this morning; they might need some original scans from the Gallery of Regrettable Food for their upcoming story. I find this hilarious. The Institute of Official Cheer has had many incarnations - a article in the Toronto Globe & Mails business magazine (lovely job, just gorgeous), a web version of the Art Frahm site on word.com, a billion print links for the GoRF, and of course the upcoming book version - but a magazine devoted to Yahoo! is like a radio show devoted to Paul Harvey broadcasts.
Am I complaining? HELL no. They say SCAN and I say how deep?
Which reminds me: lileks.com made the Forbes Best of the Web. They liked the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots. Props and shout-outs & mad love to my main man Stevie F.! Awright!
Its been a good year for the site.
I could say theres no time to Bleat, because I have a project due tomorrow. But the people who commissioned the project found me through this web site; what sort of confidence would they feel if they learned I was pulling an all-nighter to bang out a prototype? Im still tweaking and poking and scowling, but its been done for a few days. I like it, unless they hate it, in which case I completely agree: it sucks.
Actually, now that think of it, I could add -
No. No Flash. No nothing. It pains me sometimes to think how much fun it would be to add small unique musical cues to this site, and ask visitors to just use the Beatnik plugin, but I know what my reaction is when a site asks for a plug-in: So long! See ya! Dont be a stranger! Good bye! Sayanara! Dont let the screendoor hit your browser on the way out! Write if you get work! (Okay, thats enough.) Dont take any wooden nickels! Give my regards to Broadway! (Thats ENOUGH) Say hello to Hal in Cuke-a-monga! Bite the wax tadpole!
Sorry. Point being, I leave. Skedaddle! Light out for the territories! Vamoose -
Sorry. Point being, I sit at work behind a SOTA PC, the sack of meat at the end of a vast computational array, and we have no streaming capabilities, no Shockwave, no this or that, because these quirky interlopers might bring the entire network crashing around our ankles. I understand. And I also understand the needs of the man whose bandwidth has the diameter of Hank Hills urethra. What makes this project interesting is that its a corporate client. Theres a certain Corporate Style to web design - you have to reassure people that youre stable and sober and reliable, but your website cant be stodgy or stupid. Its like being asked to design a bank for 20 year olds.
Believe me, this website is not a summation of my own design ideas; had I world enough, time and bandwidth, it would be quite different. Im still churning out MPLS sites for the summer updates, and each of them hews to a fairly archaic template. But it fits the subject. Today I visited the Cyan website, looking for news on the next two Mystgames. Myst #3, it seems, will be done by Presto. Sigh. The fourth will be first-person 3D, and I might overcome my innate lingering FURY and disappointment with all things Myst to buy it. Anyway: the Cyan site was simple to the point of being utterly inscrutable. It either looked cool, or looked like someone had thrown mud on the screen and called it a day. Cant quite tell.
But I am calling it a day, right now. Its ten ticks past midnight and Ive much to do tomorrow. Im hoping it rains, and rains hard; today was warm and cool and dark and bright. If the clouds clamp down tomorrow I want drama and calamity. I want rain running down the gutters and sidewalks. Streaming audio, old style. No plugin required.
Are condemned men still offered a cigarette? Some prisons have banned smoking entirely, but youd think death row would be the one place on earth where one could smoke in peace. I thought of that today, reading an article in the WSJ about the inevitable fines thatll be slapped on Big Tobacco. Seems they advertised in magazines that kids read. Not that kids buy, but read. Sports Illustrated was cited as a magazine that dad buys, but the son reads. And of course once the son claps his orbs on a cigarette ad, hes a goner. Zombie-like he staggers from the house, eyes aglaze, hands outstretched, moaning: Must Have Virginia Slimmmmmms. (He picked up the womens tennis issue, poor lad.)
Nonsense. I must have seen ten billion cigarette ads growing up, and I had no desire to smoke. I was around smoking relatives all the time. My teachers smoked. Grandpa smoked. Rod Serling smoked. But my parents didnt, and that made all the difference. So why, exactly, did I start? Because I was spending my collegiate afternoons in a coffee house, writing and yakking, and the fargin pipe kept going out, and the sultry Indian exchange student leaned over and offered a Sher Bidi. To this day I dont know what the hell was in that thing, but I saw Shiva. I communed with Shiva. I may have thrown up on Shivas shoes; dont recall. But for some reason I just liked sitting in coffeehouses drinking coffee and discussing European pre-WWII literature while inhaling rich, aromatic tobaccos. Yum.
Anyway. The ads had nothing to do with it. All the anti-cigarette ads I saw growing up had no effect, either, which is why I grind my teeth when I see these new PSAs. Theyre called Target Market, and consist of a bunch of snarky lip-lanced inadequately scrubbed Gen Y(n)ers talking back to Big Tobacco. Plucky Victims Strike Back, etc. Oh, please. I look at the ads and think, this is the age when you SHOULD be smoking. I want to get a pliers, pick them up by their tongue studs, drag them to a real coffeehouse - not a Starbucks, but some tumbledown dim gloomy tomb of a room with tubercular patrons and sarcastic waitresses, and I want to dump the kids around a table, fling Winstons and Rilke at them and command them to shut up, stop whining, and start arguing about angst and meter. Criminey.
No, Im not smoking again. No, I dont want to. Cigarettes look stupid to me now. Except for unfiltered Pall Malls: those look pretty good. But thatll pass, too.
Cloudy day, mostly cool except for a pointless interlude of heat and sun around five. It cheered me up and made me spend twice as much as planned at the grocery store. Made supper - linguine w/ peppered salmon, tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes; dominant flavor: pepper - and then napped briefly. Sara came home and napped, briefly. Clouds rolled in. Rain was predicted, so I took Jasper for an early walk. Went to the video store, which isnt any fun for him. He get a treat, yes - but thats right at the start. Right off the bat, treat. All downhill from there. For some reason everyone wanted to pet him today, and all were repaid with a happy bark and one of those full-ass wags that starts at the base of the tail and eventually grips the hips until I fear hell fall over. Could be worse; sometimes he gets the Phantom Humps, which grip him uncontrollably and cause him to mime The Act of Love with the very air itself. Once, while talking with someone, Jasper got the Phantoms, and went off across the grass, humping a ghost, until he reached the end of the tether. Its a very long tether. A few weeks ago in the kitchen he got so excited over a piece of pepperoni he got the full Phantoms, and spasmed himself into the corner of the cabinets; he hit the lazy susan door headfirst - bonka bonka bonka - and he would have gone inside the cupboard if I hadnt pulled himout. Its not graceful and its not cute and you actually fear for him. (See also, Larry King, fifth marriage, wedding night of.)
Back to work. Its raining now; I see the leaves on the vines that cover the window bending in the wind. Great. Another cold day tomorrow. Another cold spring. That makes four. But: I went back in the archives of the paper the other day, and sampled May temps in the 1950s. One year the third week was 70s; another it was 50s and 40s; another it was 80s and 90s. And so forth, again and again. It varies.
Theres your lesson for the day: it varies. The average rarely happens but its what we expect nevertheless.
I should stop listening to the radio while I cook, because when the forecaster says its going to be cloudy and cool for the next month, and I have a knife in my hand, its all I can do to keep from plunging it into my breast. But whats the point of that? They find me expired on the floor in a pool of blood, they think: the book negotiations went poorly. He lost his column. He despaired of ever finishing his email. No one would think: he could handle the fourth consecutive cold May, but another cold June put him over.
Remind me to practice writing 4th consecutive cold June with my finger, in blood.
Scanned a lot today. This is what I do in the manic phase: I scan. And if ever theres a pursuit thats not conducive to a manic phase, its scanning. Particularly at 200 dpi. Today I did Biafra, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba and Costa Rica. Thats about six percent of the money collection. Yes, its another needless element of the much-promised Version 5.0: a new site devoted to the foreign money collection. As I drifted off on my evening nap the title for the project wafted in:
The World of Money Presents: Money of the World.
BARK BARK BARK
Damn. Someone was at the door; Jasper was barking his head off. I rolled out of bed, opened the window, looked down: someone with a clipboard. Yes?
Hi, Im with MPIRG, he said. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. Naderiffic goo-goos; I know them well.
This isnt a good time, I said.
Okay, he said. Later tonight?
Actually, all evenings are bad, I said. "Always." He nodded and went away.
I flopped back on the bed. I was recharged, thanks to the nap. Ready to scan! Ready to design ! The World of Money Presents: Money of the World. This was going to be great. I practically did a sailors kip out of bed with a half-twist in the air.
Then I saw the clock: Id been asleep for no more than two minutes.
Its not the duration of a nap. Its not the quality of a nap. Its the simple fact of a nap.
Good day, if cold. Had an interview with Canadian Public Radio this morning, Hung up the phone and thought: wow, I can use all those lines on the BBC tonight? Wholl notice? Went to work, and wrote the column in one of those SheBANG blurts I love to experience and wince to recall; enthusiasm and ease often mean something sucks, and Im just too fond of my good mood to notice.
Web news: the Booth is gone. A co-worker - one of perhaps three people on the News floor of the building who know of the fabled booth - came over to tell me its been removed. This is a tragedy. For some reason I called it this week. I was in a low mood, and I wanted just to close my eyes and imagine the sound of the ring slicing through the dry vacant air. It had the desired effect. No one answered and that was answer enough. I hung up and went back to work.
Never be able to do that again. Damn.
More web stuff:
I was a big fan of Mirsky back in the early days of the web; we all loved Worst of the Web. He flamed out, as many did. Now he has resurfaced, sort of, with a little jape on NetSlaves. (I only go to NetSlaves because thats where my Ghost Sites bookmark takes me; must change that.) Its a rather insubstantial effort, and seems to presume that we all know Mirsky = hilarity. In Internet years, hes Samuel Johnson - meaning, only a handful of people know the name, and fewer still have read anything he did. Its a reminder that you have to keep it fresh and do it daily; every web site is running as fast as it can, because the minute you stop for a drink or a meal a thousand lean hungry competitors thunder past.
Anyway - I thought of Mirsky today as I paid the weekly visit to the Worst of MP3s. Heres something we never saw coming two years ago - a ubiquitous high-quality format that would allow every halfwit to post his music on a planetwide distribution network. Most of the bad MP3s are, well, bad - half are intentionally bad, the rest are earnestly awful, and a small precious percentage believe that theyre really, really good. Cyrus Sullivan falls into the latter category. Clueless, deluded, mesmerizingly awful. Message boards have been convened to celebrate his awfulness. (Small note: I found the site all by myself, thank you; its now a badge of honor to find a lousy site before it shows up on Cruel.com. And as long as were on that subject: is it my imagination, or has Rogers - bless histireless & fine-tuned sensibility - become overly fecalicious in his choices?) The Worst of MP3.com is the future of culture: the crap-filters are off. Now well see the difference between banal mass-market drivel and true untutored garbage. Now well learn that it actually takes skill to make a bad TV sitcom. Even if the jokes are dreadful, it takes actors, lighting directors, cameramen, set directors, costumers, etc - all of whom probably have more talent than the enterprise requires. Were going to learn what it looks like when everyone involved in a creative enterprise lacks the rudiments of the craft.
Anyway. Back to working on v. 5.0. Back to my own version of the amateur hour.
Finally said it. Finally worked up the courage. Ive been thinking of it for months, maybe a year; its always in the back of my mind, but this time it just popped out.
Thats going to be a dollar said the clerk, handing me my mug of coffee.
When? I said.
When is it going to be a dollar?
He had the register open and his hand out and a nice hat and fine teeth and his whole life ahead of him; he had everything in the world but a clue.
I handed him the money and let it go.
Fabulous Sunday, just lovely. Had to mow the law, though - usually a simple joy, but a pain since the lawn mower handle broke off. I had, per Paul Harveys instructions, used some J-B Weld to fix the handle. Worlds Finest Cold Weld! I let it sit for 24 hours, then fired up the mower this afternoon.
The handle snapped within the first ten seconds of operation.
I tried to use the mower as Id done the previous week, but this time I snapped a cotter pin, and had to find another one to hold the handle in place. So now Im not only dragging the mower along, steering it with a busted tiller, but I have to stop every four minutes, put the handle back on, replace the pin and bend it back in place. Will I get this solved by next week? Of course not. Id like say I would, but I know myself.
Tonight: Walked the dog. Returned the movie. Did chores. Around 6 we had a mini-block party for the new arrivals - three new couples have joined the area, so everyone got together in the middle of the block. Juice and cookies and merry conversation. Its such a fine place to live; such a fine place. Now its a quarter to nine, with the last few planes starting to come in; still warm, still light. Im sitting outside typing because the main Mac is burning some CDs, part of a miserable duty I decided Id complete this weekend. Since Sara is away at Law Camp, I figured this would be a good time to . . . digitize the record collection.
Its a job that prohibits any sort of multitasking. You cant just turn the machinery on and walk away - theres all that needle-dropping and -lifting, level checking, file storing, song selection, etc. Annoying. You have three-minute windows to do something else, which isnt time to do anything. You just sit there and listen, even if youre not in the mood to listen to that song, and you wonder: do I want this song? I dont like it. I might like it later. No, I will never like it later. Or will I?
Its alarming to discover how lousy my musical tastes used to be. Circa 1977, I was so deeply steeped in all that overproduced prog-rock its a miracle I responded to the skinny-tie genre when it came along. I was headed right for Classic Rock Doofus status, where you decide that its just not gonna git any better than Steve Miller or Pink Floyd, so theres just no point in listening to that new crap. While I am still amazed by Bill Nelsons guitar playing - there are some solos on the live album where he sounds as if hes playing in a key that hasnt been invented yet - most of BeBop Deluxe strikes me as rather . . . precious. But I nearly wept when I found my moldy - really - copy of Stiff Live, which probably sold about seventeen copies. Its a live show from an English college, back before anyone was famous. Most of the acts went nowhere, but the album contains two manic thrashing performances by Nick Lowe, backed up by Dave Edmunds. You have to love a song called Lets Eat. (I want to move move move move move my teeth / Lets Eat.) Discovered an equally obscure album from Eric Idle and Neil Innes - a parody-song compilation that contains the best Dylan parody in human history. Found - hallelujah - the New Musik discs, which Ill listen to tonight, fervently hoping my recollections were correct.
You can trace artists careers just by the album art.
First album: everyones shaggy, posed against a wall in a blurry photo thats been posterized or given some wretched post-60s effect. The cover art is bad, because a bandmembers girlfriend did it. Second album: new label, new producer, and now the moneys on them to produce a hit. If it does, the third album - which will be delayed three years while the band self-destructs - will feature a gatefold cover, lyrics printed on the sleeve, and perhaps custom art on the record label. This one will sell well at first, but will generate no hits. The fourth album will be scaled down, slightly. Then the band is dropped from the label. If they resurface on another label, the art will be stark, and everyone photographed a la Avedon to show they are mature artists. Etc. Repeat until theyre on VH-1 discussing their new sobriety, third marriages and imminent comeback.
I was surprised to discover I owned three Gerry Rafferty albums - each of which was duller than the last. City to City contains Baker Street, which I love to this day. Just one of those songs that nails a time and place for me with such force that I slip back two decades within seconds of hearing the opening notes. I like his voice, too.
Other treasures: One cut from a David Byrne / Eno collaboration - Help Me Somebody from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Scratchy white-boy art-school braniac jerk-funk. I just love it. It reminded me that I also owned a copy of Remain in Light, which is equally jerky, Enoesque, Byrney and lyrically impenetrable - put it on the turntable, and listened, rapt.
Its a pleasure, revisiting these songs. I probably wont need them for another few years, but theyll be there. And although I have the editing tools to clean up the recordings, I kept the sound of the needle hitting the platter, searching for the groove - a moment of anticipation and satisfaction digital formats cant touch.