JUNE Part 3
Work, work. More work. Went to work; worked. Laid out the column but didn’t write it - i.e., arranged the letters, sketched my responses. Left office. Driving home, saw something that will be the top of Friday’s column. Went home. Wrote it. Supper. Scanning. Dog walk to video stores. Hollywood, which has a 5 day rental policy, has one copy of “The Green Mile” on DVD. And it’s gone. Mr. Movies had eight DVD copies, but they have a one-day rental policy.

This is what it means to be a DVDer now: you have to plan your weekend entertainment in advance. It’s all timing. They’ll have one copy on Tuesday - nail it down NOW so you have it Friday.

Speaking of Hollywood - this was, I believe, the company that pumped $100 million into Reel.com, which has now folded. How - and I am serious - how can a company burn $100 mil so fast? I know, it wasn’t all cash, there was stock involved, but still. I’m starting to enjoy the sight of these dot-com flameouts; they’re like lovely meteor showers that leave dead inert meteors hanging in the sky the next morning. Read about a dead dot.com in the evening? Check the site the next day, poke through the bones and withered gristle. There’s even a website devoted to a deadpool on dotcoms, and if I linked to other sites, I’d link to it. But I don’t link. Why should I? How many radio shows stop what they’re doing to tell you to change the station? Besides, there’s a clown photo coming up.

This isn’t to say that ecommerce is dead, just that the hype & hoopla is premature. I was walking past the Hollywood store on the way back from Mr. Movies, and I looked in the window - rows and rows and rows of magnetic tape, tons of inventory, only 10 percent of which ever leaves the store; heating costs, cooling costs, staff costs, rental costs, property taxes . . . true ubiquitous broadband will kill this thing dead. But not yet. Not for a while.

Reapplied at another video store chain the other day. Went up to the cash register; the clerk - a huge young man - asked for my card; I said I’d forgotten it, and my phone number was -

He actually stepped away from the cash register, as though he was in the presence of a madman. Phone numbers? You expect to waltz in here and take our movies with no more proof of your identity than a phone number?

“Seh,” he said, “we need a cuhd or a dwivaz wizens.”
To hear this small strange childlike voice was a little unnerving. I gave him my driver’s license. He couldn’t find me in the system. Turns out I’d been zeroed from the system, since I hadn’t rented in a while. So I reapplied - a tedious process made unnerving by the fellow’s odd brand of anal officiousness. He kept calling me Sir in a way that suggested he did not entirely mean it. And then his accent went briefly, and intensely, Australian.

I don’t begrudge these guys their games or occasional lapses in civility; I’ve seen more morons in video stores than any other outlet, and that includes fast food places. Bratty kids, arguments over late fees, STOOPID questions (“Do you have that dinosaur movie?”) - I pity them. Not too much, but, I pity them.

I am so furious right now that my irritation no doubt shows up on local radar maps as a small angry red welt, slowly revolving, lightning cracking from its jagged perimeter. Tonight I got a call from the BBC, as usual, asking me what I would be talking about in three hours - the same bleedin’ call they’ve made for two and a half years, the call that always goes the same way:

“I don’t know.”

Or:

“Fish sticks.”

“Could you be more specific, then?”

“No.”

It’s always the same. They want something to put up on the screen for the host, and I give it to them: Fish sticks. They're only doing their job, and perhaps they fear they will be beaten unless there's a full detailed account of the next guest's subject matter. The turnover on the show is spectacular; every week it seems I get a different intern, and I'm tired of explaining things over and over and over again. The host is a pro. He’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with - one of those ingenious souls who can take two words, such as Fish Sticks, and fashion any sort of intro or response. We've been doing this long enough that he trusts me, and vice versa. "Just put Fish Sticks."

Tonight I told the early caller that this would be my last appearance, since I’m getting too bollixed up with too many things to spend part of Thursday night discussing a subject that is not close to my heart. I’ve simply run out of things to say about the matter, and it doesn’t interest me any more, so off I go. So what are you going to talk about, then? I said perhaps we would simply close up the conversation and say goodbye, and -

It’s hard to describe the tone of her voice: incredulous, contemptuous.

“We don’t say goodbye,” she said. “That’s so unprofessional.”

This had roughly the same effect as calling Cuthbert Calculus a goat, to use an obscure reference, and it pissed me off so severely I got in the car and drove to Blockbuster.

Well, no, there’s no cause and effect here at all; I wanted to go there anyway. But I was fuming. Insulted. Child, I wanted to say, I’ve quit more radio shows than you’ll ever have. Don’t tell me what’s not professional. Then I remembered: two days ago, I’d looked at the gas gauge and found it empty. Dead empty. And since then I’d driven to work twice. Hmm! How much gas do I have now?

None. Less than none.

I drove to Blockbuster, gingerly, the way you drive when you expect to run out at any second. Needless to say, it was raining, so if I ran out, I was truly hosed.

At Blockbuster, I looked for, and found, “The Green Mile.” Like most Blockbuster rentals, it exists in a strange sort of manufactured time: A 3 Day rental is actually two days. I’ve never understood this. I stopped renting there because “overnight” rentals seemed to be due back before I’d left the store. I also picked up "Face/Off," because I was just in a mood to see people fire lots, and lots, of guns.

The Oddly-Voiced Clerk from yesterday’s Bleat was on another register, and he was telling a customer he had a wate fee, seh.

The customer did not believe it.

“The movie was wetuhd at elen thirry PM,” the OVC said. The movie was returned at eleven thirty. I noticed that the Oddly-Voiced Clerk has a hearing aid - the fellow’s probably stone deaf, which explains his curious speech, and shames anyone who wants to poke fun at his accent; for all I know, he learned to speak without hearing any examples.

Then my clerk - who, with his spiky colored hair and pierced ear, looked like a poster child for Hapless Trend-Sucker - told me I had a late fee. I wanted to lean over, wag “The Green Mile” in his face and say “yes, sonny, and I’m going to have a late fee for this one, too, because it’s about NINE HOURS LONG,” but, having just learned they logged the time a movie is returned, I wanted to know what their system said. I had returned the movie at 12:30, thirty minutes past the due time. If they were going to charge me for this, I’d pay it, but I’d never come here again.

“Four forty,” he said. Whoa. No sir.

“I was late,” I said, “but not that late. “I returned the movie at 12:30. There’s no way I returned it at 4:40.”

“Okay,” he said. And he waived the fee.

Such power!

I hate Blockbuster. I just hate it. Now I know why I stopped going there. It’s hard to describe, but the place just exudes corporate creepiness.

Whoa - here’s the Beeb. Let’s pick up the phone and have some fun.

(Pause)

There. It was fun. It was fine. It was as professional as I wanted it to be. We said our goodbyes. And now it’s over.

And now I’m sad.

Come back, BBC! COME BACK!

Actually, it’s always liberating to quit a gig. It frees up time. And time is precious. A ten-minute spot takes at least an hour out of my night, and even if it didn’t, it’s one more thing I have to be around to do. The whole point of the Stuff Reduction Program is to eliminate these hurdles, these things that have to be jumped at an exact time. This was the last one. Now I don’t have to be anywhere at anytime, ever. As long as the work is in - and the work can be done looong in advance - I can be anywhere, anytime.

Am I going anywhere, anytime soon?

No.

But I could.

Friday I was walking through the Midwest Federal building, through the ground-floor arcade of unwisely named stores. There’s the inexplicably named coffee shop: “Limit Up!” is the name, and I think I know what they mean. It’s a play on “Live it Up,” and there’s not supposed to be any limits on refills, but if ever there were a contradictory name, it’s Limit Up. It's like naming a store "Come Go Away." Next door is a convenience store called, believe it or not, “Needful Things.” There’s absolutely no explanation for a name like this. Let’s assume the owner is a Steven King fan, and thought the name would resonate with other King fans. I get the reference, but since everyone who bought something at the Needful Things store came to a horrid end - and since the triple-damned town of Castle Rock blew up at the end of the book - why would anyone who understood the name want to visit the store?

And if you don’t get the reference, isn’t it a rather creepy name?

Anyway: in the window of Needful Things, I saw the doggie in the window. This is what Jobs hath wrought. This is where the design impact of the iMac eventually ends up: a robot dog, a knock-off of the expensive Sony version, crafted in ice-white plastic and Bondi blue.

iDog!

That’s his name: iDog!

He also came in tangerine and grape, but I had to have the Bondi version. He cost nine bucks.

He doesn’t do much. Walks, wags his tail. He “barks,” but it’s a beepy-squeak, very undogish. His main accomplishment seems to be his ability to utterly unhinge Jasper Dog.

“This is iDog,” I said, when I got home. “He isn’t noisy, doesn’t require walks or feeding, and responds to the touch of a button. He will replace you.” I didn’t mean it, of course, and Jasper had no idea what I was saying. It all felt like a Jetsons episode.

I set iDog down and pushed the WALK button.

Jasper jumped backwards about seven feet. He backed up, barking, then sat behind the dining room table and peered at iDog. He approached it with great suspicion, sniffed - nothing! -then barked at it. Then he went behind me - I was on my hands and knees - and tried to push me away with his front paws. I took iDog away and put him on a shelf. And peace fell again on Lileks Manor.

Jasper went upstairs and hopped in bed with my wife, who was taking a nap. I looked in on them; he was staring at the door, as if expecting iDog to come around the corner. He was not happy about this. Not at all. He’d even forgotten that PIZZA was en route. Usually when I make the call he goes right to the door and waits. It’s as if he knows it’s Friday. Perhaps humans give off scents depending on the day of the week; there’s something about Fridays that the dog understands, a particular conjunction of moods, words, actions. He always goes to the door and waits for pizza.

Ten minutes passed. Then the doorbell rang. I walked out of the studio - Jasper was already out of the bedroom. Hit the corner - no way that damned iDog was going to get the pizza - down the stairs at full speed, into the foyer -

I saw it all. He was so excited he forgot to calibrate his braking strategy. Jasper planted his paws on a floor rug and rode it right into the door, throwing up his paws at the last minute to brace against the impact - he presented the pizza delivery man with a spread-eagled mutt belly, and I believe everyone on the block heard the CRACK of teeth against the glass. The driver was nearly doubled over in laughter by the time I got the door, as was I.

But Jasper was fine. I couldn’t eat the first piece; I had to put it aside while I got the laughter out of my system. Then I had supper. Jasper got some sausage and some crusts and some cheese.

iDog was just where I had left him, inert, unmoving.

Can’t improve on the real thing.


In the giveaway pile at the paper I found the June issue of Red Herring, a magazine that explains where most of the internet start-up money goes: ads. The thickness of Herring (and Fast Company) is a trailing indicator of the health of the web economy; this issue should be sealed away as a souvenir of the height of the boom. It’s 628 pages thick. That’s the thickest magazine I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile, PC Gamer - which, for the first time in two years, I didn’t buy - has shrunk to Esquire proportions. This is because the PC gaming industry is hosed, no matter how much I want to pretend otherwise. MacAddict remains constant at 120 pages, which is neither good nor bad. But I’m getting off the point, which is this:

There was a small article on a weather-related internet company run by Doug Kruhoeffer, and I thought: my, that looks like our local weatherman Paul Douglas. Of course, it was him. Paul Douglas is his stage name. And I thought: since when did weatherpeople have stage names? I should have doubted, since the two-first-names trick is common in broadcasting. But I grew up with weathermen who used their real names: Dewey Berquist, for example. In Minneapolis, Bud Kraehling. All of a sudden I felt like an idiot for calling Doug “Paul” when I’d seen him around.

Next time, I’m calling him Doug, and there’ll be an edge to my voice.

Lie to me, will ya?

Saw “The Green Mile” - not a bad way to while away an evening, but underwhelming all around. Tom Hanks seemed to be avoiding the act of acting, as if he really, really didn’t want another Oscar. (And it worked.) The really, really bad inmate, Wild Bill, just seemed crazy instead of evil. Too many exploding light bulbs, too many long takes, too much reverence. It was such a careful movie.

Followed this with “Face / Off,” which was better Woo than his other HollyWoo’d movies, but looks as if a lot was lost in the editing. Half the action scenes felt like someone was mashing the gas pedal while the parking brake was still engaged. At least I got to root against John Travolta, which is always a pleasure. It takes a movie like this to remind us what a truly bad actor he is. I kept thinking of the picture I saw at the grocery store - a Good Housekeeping cover with Travolta looking like some hideous clay monkey; his hair was done like Eddie Munster, and all his features looked lumpy and melted.

Sunday: Edged the lawn. Both neighbors had edged theirs over the last week, and I had no choice. One guy does it, everyone has to. It’s the law. So I mowed, edged, then realized I hadn’t eaten anything except a bowl of cereal and a banana, and it was 3 PM. Hmm. That explains the dizzyspins, then. Had lunch and, my wits restored, went to buy a digital camera. (Fuji 4700.) I’d seen it the previous day, and I’d wanted it right away: it’s about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Just looks cool. It was touted as a 4.3 megapixel camera, but, ahem, it’s really not. I still want it anyway. And, of course, they were out of it. But they had, for the same price, another camera with 3.3 megapixels. But it was clunky. It was large. I didn’t want it. Left empty-handed, feeling cheated; once you’ve made the mental decision to BUY and discover you can’t, you leave the store feeling as though you should go buy something, somewhere.

Doesn’t matter - found it on the web today for $100 less, and it’ll be here Wednesday. Then it’s back to taking pictures of absolutely everything, including summer. Which arrives tomorrow - just in time to be over.


Well, this is a disaster, and the loss may be incalculable. Fargo got flooded, again - but this time it wasn’t the river swelling up, over and out; this time it was just a plain old fashioned prairie cloudburst with no where to go. In the old days it would have stood around, seeped down in the cracks of the the summer-baked earth; it would have fed the streams, found its way into aquifers. In the new days they could expect it to find the grates and drains. But this time the drains were overwhelmed; this time the power station failed, the pumps shut down, and the water flowed into the basements. We were watching the local news tonight here in Minneapolis - and when they led with the Fargo floods, we knew it was bad. When they showed a picture of the floor of the Fargodome under six feet of water, the building itself surrounded by a brackish dun-hued moat of sludge, dirt and slurry water, I reached for the phone. The dome is three blocks from my house.

No answer. Of course, no answer. Dad’s away on the annual fishing trip, and he’s due back tomorrow. (Surprise!) Called sis. Got an exhausted brother-in-law; they’d been over all day ripped up the new carpet, hauling it out. Six inches of water in the basement.

Six inches. I thought about the desk, the big old wooden desk where Dad kept papers - nothing critical in there, but you never knew. It was at least six inches off the ground. I thought about the bureau in the corner, taken from the farmhouse, full of family photos. It was six inches off the ground.

It had to be.

What if it wasn’t? What if the flood took them, too, and all that’s left are the few pictures I borrowed for scanning?

And then, really bad news: the archives at NDSU had been flooded as well. Historical documents, photographs, newspapers: the loss, they say, could be total. Total.

Well, then: I’d better go home soon, then.

It’s been a bad year for the old town; first the fire downtown, now this.

The station survived just fine, thank heavens. Good. It’s done its time.


.