|In line at the pharmacy. Two clerks. One is the classic chinless milquetoast, the other a small coffee-colored woman with eyes both suspicious and bored. Three ancient men in line, plus me. I watch Caspar Milquetoast fetch prescriptions, and he seems to have a curious pattern - he goes to one basket, then stops, and goes to another. Happens every time. The young woman concludes a transaction, then closes her register and steps away. Then its me and Caspar. My wife had asked me to pick up her allergy eyedrops. I give him her name. He turns around to the wall of alphabetized bins, chooses one whose letters have nothing to do with my wifes name, then puts it back, chooses one the right one. Pages through it. No prescription.
Hmm. He has a harried and obsequious quality that does not inspire confidence. You want your pharmacist to be square-jawed and confident. You want to see the Professor from Gilligans Island frowning over his mortal and pestle.
He cant find the prescription. Someone else steps over - an older man with a grizzled mien; he finds the proper entry in the computer. They have it, but they havent made it. Ten to fifteen minutes, they say. Fine; Ill be back.
Wheres Teri? I hear one of the pharmacists ask Caspar as I leave. He doesnt know.
I kill time in the grocery store. I can always kill time in the grocery store. I love those places. Im fascinated by them. One day I will write a novel set entirely in a grocery store. The land of spoilage, shrinkage, of profit margins so thin that the accountants hands bleed with a thousand sharp cuts. I buy a few things for supper, then go back to the drugstore. Its been twenty minutes. My car is parked in an area where NO PARKING is allowed after 4. Its 4:05.
Teri, line one, says the intercom when I enter the store. I pass a display of plastic fish, mounted on plastic bases. When you pass within a certain range, the fish starts slapping its tail, and sings Dont Worry. Be Happy. I look over at the clerks: the short squat no-nonsense clerk whos been there forever looks at my expression, and grins; the short-timer clerk who got this job last week looks at the f*$(kin fish with a KILL ME NOW expression. Everyone who enters the store sets this fish off. Its a wonder any of these people remain sane after a week on the job.
Teri, you have a call parked.
Back to the pharmacy. There are three old people in line. The gentleman at the head of the line is having a dispute - it seems that Caspar rang up something incorrectly, but its fixed now, but the old fellow is worried that this will cause someone some bother, sometime, somewhere. The amount in dispute appears to be in the pennies. Caspar assures him that it is fine. The man seems satisfied, but walks away trailing disappointment: this world, this awful modern world where people dont worry about nine cents on the wrong side of the ledger. Then its a 60-something woman whos about nine feet tall; she wears dark glasses, and has a shopping basket: Ensure protein shakes, Hemorrhoid bullets, and a bodice-ripper romance novel. (Dont worry we hear from the front of the store. Be happy.) She gives her name to Caspar. He goes to the wrong basket. Then he finds the right one.
I realize: hes dyslexic. They hired a dyslexic for a job that requires alphabetizing.
Then its another old man dressed in one of those odd ugly shirts you never see sold anywhere. I fear that should I make it to 70, Ill start to get catalogs for this crap, and I fear even more than it will look good to me. But these are men who never had any taste anyway. Their wives dressed them. Or they just wore stuff because it fit. Me, Ill go the Picasso route. No collars. No checks, no plaids. Stripes, a beret, a stogie. Good enough for Groucho, good enough for me.
Teri, you have a call. Waiting. Line Two. The voice on the intercom is not happy.
My turn. Caspar asks if he can help me. His expression indicates that our previous expedition has been utterly forgotten. He looks in the bin - then goes to the right bin, looks. Nope. Not there. I ask if he could check the computer, as if the prescription would magically fly out of the floppy drive. Its done, he said It just needs to print.
Fine, I say.
Itll be ten minutes.
Ten minutes? Im overparked as it is. Forget it. Ill stop back.
Wheres Teri? A smocked clerk is behind me now,interrogating Caspar. He looks to the empty spot behind the other cash register.
I dont know.
Apparently she just . . . left. As did I. Without the prescription. On the way out the fish sang at me again, and for some reason this added the final note of ridiculousness; I smiled when I walked outside, was grinning like an idiot by the time I reached the corner. I spied my car: no ticket.
Id just been reminded that I was more fortunate than the last ten people Id seen. Be grateful. Be happy.
Twenty-seven minutes to midnight, Garbage playing at deafening levels on these new cans I bought. Digital Ready, it says on the side of each headphone. Doesnt say they can handle anything digital, but theyre ready. Im in a pose which just struck me as unusual - left foot up on the table, right foot on the ground. Seems natural. It just happened. But were I ever to describe myself, Id never come up with this posture. Dont know how I got this way, either. Makes me wonder if I do this at work without realizing it. God grant us the ability to see ourselves as others see us, the poet said. (Actually, since thats a Robbie Burns quote, its probably Gaed grnt us thae abilite tae see owrsefs as othairs sea us.) Well, God spare me that. I dont think Id recover.
Wrote a column. Have to write a monologue for TV tomorrow. Did the BBC tonight - had a fill-in host who had absolutely no idea why he was talking to me. After so many, many enjoyable radio interviews its a bit of a surprise to find someone on the other end who just isnt with me here. Who doesnt really want to be here with me. I was drenched with sweat after about a minute. In these situations you can either yank the phone from the wall and blame it on satellites - dont think I didnt consider that - or you can just HIT IT as HARD as you can and keep going. Which I did. It was over after seven minutes. I had to change shirts.
Cool dark day. The sun came out in the evening when I took Jasp for a walk. This morning we met an old, old boxer. It had an expression common to boxers - wary, depressed, smart, contemptuous. Its the mouth, really; old boxers mouths look like the mouths of old ladies who smoke two packs a day. I chatted with the owner while the dogs did the usual so, what have you crapped lately? olfactory conversation. (In the BBC conversation tonight, I used the phrase olfactory aphrodisiac to describe the smell of microwave popcorn wafting through an office; the host repeated it as though Id described something dirty. And later when I described movie-theater butter as a ubiquitous lubricant he brought that up. And in both instances he brought them up a minute after Id used them.
Im still wishing you hadnt said lubricant, he murmured.
Well, its an olfactory aphrodisiac, I snapped. I think Ive had enough of this.)
Where was I?
Dont know. Cant tell. The days: a blur. A constant byte-bucket brigade, tossing the new site into the domain. Uploading - is there anything as exciting? Nay. Nix. No, nothing beats the thrill of watching the progress bar. But Ive been able to tear myself away from the computer while it spits bits into the mainframe in Atlanta. I set the program on sync, whistle for Jasper, and walk in the creek. When we return, its all done. Or would be, if the ISP hadnt kicked me off line while I was out. Reconnect. Plow through nested folders. Try to figure out what did and did not make it. Try again. Set the program on sync. Go make breakfast. In the middle of breakfast, the phone rings. Have fun conversation with friend. Hang up, realize that the ringing of the phone means the upload was hosed. Try again.
Repeat. Nightly. Daily. Over and over and over again.
How did something as boring as the internet get so hip?
Almost done with 5.0. Everythings ready on Monday. And if its not, ska-RUE it. Ill be switched if I spend this sunny Saturday shepherding files through the backbone. Consarn it, Ill be packet-switched!
Put the final touches on the main index page tonight. The new one. Looked back, folded my arms, nodded, and thought:
I hate it.
Hah! I have to laugh. Have to. Must. Or Ill throw myself down the stairs. I spend the weekend polishing the new site - everythings getting an overhaul except for the Institute, which is getting the BIG overhaul next month.
I upload everything tonight, and sit back: mission accomplished. Relax. Lets look at the mail.
Ten billion letters with the same subject line:
So I go downstairs -rip open the mag - and there it is. They ran the URL in the Internet section. They ran the URL for Dateline: Kennel site. And they ran it BIG. Top of the page. This is my third EW mention: once when they quoted the dedication in the winner of the week box in the book section, once when I was listed as the co-author of the Myst books, and now this.
Forbes last month, Yahoo Internet Life next month, EW this week: I know its immodest, I know its ephemeral, I know that were all just kibble & bits for the chomping maw of the mass media, but I would like to take this opportunity, at 1:47 AM Monday morning, to get up and do the triumphal white-boy air-geetar head-bob thrash to Lips Like Sugar by Echo & the Bunnymen in celebration of this particular moment in my life.
Now: about this new version.
Ive been working on this other website project - thats what takes up the time, not the lileks.com 5.0 redesign. That was mostly done last month, and Ive been rehabbing and tweaking Every Stinking Page while I do other things. Time on the phone? Redo a few 5.0 pages. Scanning something for the Other Project? Redo a few pages. Etc. Thats how I fit this krep into my life - in the morning for the last few weeks Ive stuck a sheaf of bills into the scanner before I showered, letting the machine take its sweet time scanning the money for the Curious Lucre project. For a month Ive had the index page done; for a month Ive said: yes, thats it.
Except for the last week, when Ive thought: YAWN. I keep looking at other personal sites - blogs, mostly - and they have a certain sleek modern quality that I really want, even if the content looks like this:
(updated 12:35 PM)
This is weird.
Slim Jims: greasy.
The problem since day one: how to present all the stuff on this site. A menu with no explanation just didnt do it anymore, so I came up with this. But tonight, hours away from posting it, I looked at it and thought: close, but no cheroot; theres all that space on the left side I dont know how to fill. Then I remembered that I had a picture from a June 1940 Better Homes & Gardens I bought last year, something Id been waiting to use for months. This was the right time - but it didnt fit anywhere in the new design. In fact it would destroy the entire point of the new design, which was to have a single main index page I could keep up for an entire year, at least until v. 6.0. But I thought, and thought . . . looked at the new page, thought about how much I loved it then . . .
Then: hallelujah! The phone rang! I could carry on a conversation AND redo the main index page! And thats what I did. Took a mere 17 minutes. Much better. Much, much better.
Its the basic rule of web design: by the time youre done, you hate it. Every single page on the web is an embarrassment to someone. Or ought to be.
Movies? Saw three. Fathers? Saw two. Rain, dog walks, good meals, a few idle gripes - a fine weekend. Save it for tomorrow. After 2 1/2 months spent on v.5, its here, and thats all Im going to talk about now.
A round of applause, if we could, for the newest and most indispensable member of the site: spacer.jpg. This simple little file - 32 pixels by 32 pixels, utterly white - lives on nearly every page of this site now. One of the things that gripes me about my previous work is the close proximity of graphics and text. In the first version of this site in 1996, I crammed text into text layout boxes." This was during the bleak days of PageMill 1.0. The results often looked OK on this end, but were a nightmare on other browsers. (Hell, to paraphrase Sartre, is not other people, its other browsers. Also, people.) After a year it was looking a little better. (I still have a soft spot for this particular mess - if nothing else, it foreshadows all the retro chic to come.) With GoLive I went crazy with layout grids. I still used the text layout boxes. And yea, it did suck, verily, here and there. The real point of this redesign was to put everything into tables - yea, tables within tables - with our friend Spacer.jpg keeping everything at an aesthetically pleasing distance. So pages that previously had text 5 pixels from a picture now have text 32 pixels. Big deal? To 99 of a hundred people, no. To me, yes.
Why I cannot apply this level of detail and perfectionism to every other aspect of my life, I dont know.
But back to spacer.jpg. Think of it: a little square of white space, resizeable as the situation required. Protean. Invisible. Completely abstract. Its a computer file of 1s and 0s; it does not physically exist. I couldnt print it out, because if I did I wouldnt know where on the paper it was. Since I resize it all over the place - 20X100 here, 60X45 there - it has no true shape. When I resize the 32 x 32 file into a 33 X 33 file, it does not gain weight, or occupy a greater space on the hard drive, either here or in the Atlanta clean-room where lileks.com lives. Its just an idea.
Yes, Im making too much of this, but sometimes when youre typing ../../../spacer.jpg to summon up this albino sprite, this ceases to be a design decision, and becomes a magic incantation.
Spoken like someone whos been at this too fargin long.
So. Here it is. The new Bleat, as you note, is fabulously underwhelming, but I like it. And of course it will change, as will the main index page picture every month, just as before. What else is new?
Everythings been brought under some General Subjects. Some of these subjects are not yet active links, but will point to future projects. Note: most of these future projects are finished, and will be rolled out ion the second half of this year. I am going to have ten tons of work to do come the fall - trust me - and Ill probably cut back the Bleat to four or three times a week. But if theres no Bleat on a Wednesday, there will be a new site to see. Picking up much of the slack will be Curious Lucre - odd and lovely money from various countries. It is neither authoritative nor humorous in intent, but it will expose you to the engravers art, and show you what the average Chinese banker had in his wallet in 1937. Colombian money with buzzards! Iraqi bills with benevolent Saddam! This is the big addition for 2000 - 40 MB when done - and itll be free, so shut up and take it. Its a work in progress, but its not an idle promise. Its en route.
As of today: there are many, many more Jasper pictures. Youll find a new batch of New York architectural details in the new NYC section, as well as two dozen new Manhattan postcards. The motel postcard site has been redesigned - perhaps my favorite of all new designs. (I did that one on the iMac in a New York hotel room last March while watching Spartacus.
The Minneapolis sections have been completely redone. Every single page. In some cases this made for worse-looking pages, since I stripped out the left-hand borders and aimed for a consistent appearance across the entire site. The menu pages have been redesigned to load a little faster. There will be new additions throughout the summer, and a site devoted to the University in the fall. The Mpls site was no small project, incidentally. The Grand Hotels area alone has nine different subsites. At times, I wept. (In fact Id finished the Grand Hotels site when I discovered some old ads from 1956 - perfect condition. Had to go back and add them.)
There are a few new pieces in the Writings section.
There are two new additions en route later to the Institute - both have been scanned, designed, laid out, and partially written. The Permanent Collection of Impermanent Art - devoted to ad art from the 40s and 50s - has been promised for a year, but I could never come up with a format for the damn thing. But I got that one figured out, too.
So. Most of this project was building up 90 MB of stuff to dole out during the great Time of Trial, the Epoch of Duty that will begin in the fall. Ive had so much fun with this thing, enjoyed the conversations that arise from the Bleat and the other sites, and Ive no intention of letting this site go fallow.
Its done! Finished! Except for all the things that arent, and all the links that dont.
Refunds cheerfully offered on request!
Argh. Column night. Im tired of sitting at this desk. Im tired of typing and Im tired of the small familiar box this room has become. Im tired of archiving and backing up and reinstalling drivers to get the printer to print the labels for the CDs Ill probably never need. Im tired of dark gloomy skies and rain, rain, rain -
Which is why today should have been better than it was. The sun came out - tentative, distant, but it was blue and bright outside. The jet stream is heading north where it belongs. The summer now begins, having been preceded by two false starts. Three months of mid-to-high 70s: thats all I ask of this place. Thats all.
Among the other duties of the weekend, managed to see a few movies. First, on tape, was The Insider. I like Mann, like Crowe, am indifferent towards Pacino. It was a good movie, and I didnt like it very much. Kept my interest through the sheer skill of its construction - its one of those modern movies where 65% of the action consists of people talking on cell phones. I was, however, quite sure I was being lied to throughout the movie, and that this was not exactly a documentary. So. . . whats the point? When everything hinges on a companys decision to manipulate absorption rates for nicotine, and this is presented as some sort of gigantic deception, all you can do is roll your eyes. Please.
But it gives what-fer to the Merchants of Death! Yes, it does. It does indeed skewer the institutions who profited for years from tobacco. Institutions like CBS, which advertised it; Mike Wallace, who surely smoked enough during his TV shows and for all I know endorsed a brand here and there, and the State of Mississippi, which taxed tobacco sales. Here in Minnesota, the state sued the tobacco companies for ten tons of money, arguing that the state had paid out for treating sick smokers. (A responsibility that the state willingly assumed.) Did the money go back to the taxpayers whod been footing the bill for smokers diseases? Of course not. Of course not.
Pacinos character is obviously set up as the hero, and I had to chuckle when he proudly cited Herbert Marcuse as his idol. A Freudian, and a Marxist - twice as wrong as most 60s intellectuals.
The most curious thing in the movie: no one smoked. I mean, no one. Here we have Evil Big Tobacco hooking the hapless nation, but NO ONE SMOKES.
Since this was a Mikey Mann production, the casting director was Bonnie Timmerman; I like her Rolodex. Always have, ever since the old days of Vice and Manhunter. The most amusing cameo took place in a courtroom scene; one of the tobacco lawyers was played by Gary Sandy, who played Andy Travis, the program director on WRKP. He had no lines, but looked self-important. Still had all that leonine hair. Good for him.
Saw Mission: Impossible, since it is my duty as an American citizen to see all the movies Hollywood instructs me to see. It had some exceptional sequences, some wonderful new Woo mayhem that got my attention. The last 40 minutes were pretty much spot-on, although a little restrained - to the smoking movie in which no one smoked, add the shoot-em-up in which no one bleeds. Thats not exactly pure Woo.
In fact, unless our hero is going up against 456 guys in white jumpsuits (shows the blood better) its really not a pure Woo movie. It was close - slo-mo, the patented two-gun side-sliding firefest, needless avian symbolism. I enjoyed the last third; never forgot how much I could be enjoying it MORE. Tom Cruises character has no character. He has no backstory, no reason for doing what he does. Hes just there because the movie needs a character in his place.
IMF needs to change its name. Bad for recruitment. Would you like to work for the Impossible Missions Force?
Well, what do you do?
Impossible in the sense that . . .
They cannot be done.
So you want me to work for a company where Ill get killed in the first week?
Well, we say theyre impossible, but so far we have accomplished 100 percent of our missions.
So theyre not really impossible?
Usually not, no.
In fact they are quite solidly within the realm of feasibility. What are the downsides?
If youre killed, your real body is never found, and a duplicate is filled with heroin and left in a Bronx gutter, just to provide us with a cover story.
Yes, sign me up.
Sunday: saw Three Kings. Thought Id like it; thought Id really, really like it. I did not. Didnt hate it - although a few moments irritated me hugely. Why? Liked all the performances; George Clooney was fine. (Although imagine him in the Gladiator role, and you get a sense of his limitations - cant pull off Deeply Morally Pissed, not yet) Spike was amusing, Ice Cube as ever was reliably solid and glowering with a surprising teddy-bear nougat center; Marky Mark didnt make you think of Dirk Digler, which shows how capable he is. A lot of good scenes. Some nice editing. Great sound work. I just didnt feel as if I was on anyones side. Especially the directors.
Id like to see a real, serious Gulf War movie. But no. We get Kellys Heroes right away, and never get A Bridge Too Far.
Today: sun, observed through a distant window, seen in reflection on the office monitor. Tomorrow: sun, the highway, standing in a parking lot shouting into a cell phone, and the Artist Currently Known Again as Prince. If I have the chance to say anything to him, I know what I'll say: thanks for the tip. Meaning, what? Read on.
Do you want to be taken seriously? Cultivate a musty hobby so narrowly focused that no one else can begin to understand the appeal, and then speak knowingly about its details and wonders, leaving the outsider feeling like an utter Philistine. One of my favorite artists has an intense throbbing devotion to ragtime. Okay, fine. But it gets worse: ragtime on the banjo.
Hell to me is ragtime on the banjo. But hell is not ragtime itself - as someone who was not yet made a sullen little heavy metal Satanist when The Sting came out, a little ragtime makes me smile. So I figure Im missing something, and he knows better. The cognescenti all know that ragtime banjo is the real thing! Right?
What do I know?
I was thinking of this tonight, listening to Yes Yes, a forgettable and forgotten pop tune from the late 20s, performed by Sam Browne & the Carlyle Cousins. Yes yes, my baby said yes yes / Im glad she said yes yes instead of no no. Pretty much sums up every other love song, eh? The lyrics stay in a baby-talk mode, but the music is something else; theres this mean modulation that walks through about 14 keys in two bars. It turns my head around every time I hear it, and reminds me of several things:
1. I know just enough about music to be impressed by this
2. I also know enough to know that this really isnt THAT spectacular. Tasty, perhaps, but its not like theyre pulling rabbits from hats. In fact, this modulation was probably something everyone knew how to do; it had a name everyone knew. The Toledo Break, it was called, although no one knew why . . .in the recording session, the arranger said to the musicians: okay, boys, verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, then give me a toledo, and Bix takes the solo. Ready? And a one and a two.
3. The composer of 20s pop might not have been trained musicians, but the men who played it were pros, and the arrangers knew their stuff. You had to know how to play an instrument, as opposed to manipulate a computer. This isnt good or bad - I doubt Moby can read a note, although I might be wrong. But it will be . .. different when music is composed, arranged and performed entirely by people who cannot compose, arrange or perform music.
Listening right now to Cherry Rare by Hugh Cornwall, another one of those lost 80s albums; Hugh was the songwriter for the Stranglers, I believe, and this was his solo album, his shot at fame. It died hard, and died fast, and I cant figure out why - its Bryan Ferry in a merry mood, exceptionally assembled. Makes one weep at the volume of great music thats been tossed on to the heaving seas and sunk without a trace.
Perhaps its all waiting in heaven. We get our choice: Popular Heaven, where you can spend a comfy eternity cossetted and swaddled by the favorites, and Edgy Heaven, where its all the good stuff that never got sufficient attention. Decide!
Ill take Edgy Heaven, on the condition that I get a field trip to Popular Heaven now and then. Lately Ive stumbled across the Mary Tyler Moore show on Nick at Night, and amused myself repeating certain scenes verbatim. I hate most old TV shows; cant bear to watch any of them. I enjoy watching the first few minutes of Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, etc., if only to study the themes and animation. But to actually watch these shows is an utter waste of time. Note to world: Gilligan not funny. Repeat until lesson learned. Gilligan not funny. Weve extracted all available irony from these krepfests. Enough.
MTM, though . . . well, there are three aspects here. One: great characters, sharply drawn, well acted. I always wanted to be Lou Grant; I always feared that I was Murray Slaughter with a broad streak of clueless Ted. (None of these characters ever slept with Mary, which made me even more depressed.) Two: it takes place here, in Minneapolis. Three: I saw most of it in childhood, and it gave me a deep need to go to Minneapolis and make it on my own. Which I did. Ended up a waiter. Working the late shift. Serving pancakes to Prince when he came in with a date.
Which reminds me.
Im supposed to go to Paisley Park on Wednesday - Prince is throwing open the doors, come one, come all, pay your $15 and see the sights. Of which there are few. Are there any tickets available? No one seems to know. Not the New York publicist. Not the local publicist. Or was she the receptionist? Its a fluid situation in PrinceWorld, and it would B 2 much trouble 2 make sure it all goes as planned. As is typical for any newspaper nowadays, this story required a conference whose pointlessness mirrored its length - such things are unavoidable, but they just underscore the basic inability of human beings to A) Communicate and B) Coordinate.
Except in music. There its different. Put the instrument to your lips or fingers, and in the words of Louis Anubis, shut up and talk.