09
19
00

A few people have commented on this graphic above, and I have to admit: for something done with a baby in one hand half the time, it’s not bad. I’d fix a few things if I had the time, but I don’t. At the time I was taking care of Gnat while Sara walked the dog; baby suffered a bout of the Knives of Gas, and embarked on an episode of inconsolable wailing, so I figured: let’s do some Photoshopping while she screams. It doesn’t require the same sort of concentration as reading, or even TV.

I would have fixed some things, but she unloaded with such force I expected her to fly around the room like a balloon. Off to the changing table; work was concluded.

Every time I change her I wonder: this will be strange when we can actually have a conversation as we’re doing this.

Were I to redesign the body, I’d start with the whole excretory thing. Or at least I’d phase it out after a while. In the beginning, when everything is cute, even crap is cute. Oh, look: her first blurt! Let’s plunge it into molten bronze. But in the beginning there’s someone who loves you who doesn’t mind swabbing your rosy buttocks ten times a day. Eighty years later, you’re at the mercy of an underpaid orderly who minds very much, thank you kindly, and he doesn’t care how many times you hit the call button, he’s gonna finish this Kool, so just get used to it, paps.

Lovely day. No: ugly day in a lovely day’s hat. It was 89 today, which is unusual for this time of year. Even now, with midnight just ten twitches of the clock’s hand away, it’s warm outside. But it was cloudy, gloomy, unsettled and worried. Some days just feel like you’re living on the furrowed brow of a distracted god, and this was one of those - it neither pointed back to the glories of summer, or forward to the quiet personal pleasures of autumn. It was a mutant, a mistake, a brundlefly day that unnerved me.

Then again, I’d had five hours of sleep. That will change your perspective. But every morning when I swing my dead limbs off the sofa and wonder how I am going to do it, again, I think: the guys who invaded Normandy had less sleep, and when I go to work no one’s going to be shooting at me.

Doesn’t help.



Finished the cover for the Gallery book. This is no small thing, no small project - this cover is going in the publisher’s catalog. Which means it’s being used to sell the book. Which means it’s sitting next to the work of real book designers. It’s truly bizarre: they’re entrusting me with the design of the book, because it’s my concept, my baby, and only I can provide that Barton Fink feeling.

Relatives this weekend - sis & bro’in’law with their two kids, and Dad and Doris. Everyone piled into Lileks Manor on Friday night for the inaugural cooing and ahhing over Baby Gnat. Showed everyone the second Natalie movie - it lacks the boo-hoo-hoo sweetness of the first, of course, but how can I possibly top that one? I feel like the Orson Welles of birth videos - nothing I ever do will be as good as my first effort. No plot point can ever match BIRTH for joy & drama. So the second movie, like the third one now in the works, is mostly comic with a few sweet scenes. I almost passed out comment cards - of course, no one will tell you what works and what doesn’t, but I could see where it needed trimming. I snipped five seconds here, six seconds there, rejiggered the music; it’s much better now.

But of course no one will want to see it again. Can’t blame them. It’s enough they should sit through it once.

I was working on #3 last night, and realized that they all begin the same way: white titles on a black background while classic jazz from the 40s or 50s plays underneath.

Gnat’s home movies are all going to look like Woody Allen films.

09
20
00


Brr.

brrrrrr.
A foretaste of the frost to come, to paraphrase the old Lutheran liturgy. (Feast instead of frost.) Ninety yesterday, the cellar of the sixties today, with overnights hanging from the rafters of the forties. Bring it on; the outside world has ceased to have any particular meaning for me. I’d almost welcome fiery hail, just to provide me with something interesting to see while driving to work. Hell on the paint job, though.

This has been one clusterfargin’ day. Woke early after six hours of thin fitful sleep. On the sofa, of course. I haven’t slept in my bed for 10 days, it being occupied in the wee dim hours by a small child. At first, it was just a one-night thing, to see how it went. Then it was two nights. Then it was the Way Things Are. I don’t really mind, but there are times I wake up and see Jasper sitting in his chair, wide awake, looking at me, and I feel bad for him: he’s awake at 4 AM with nothing to do.

Same could be said of me, of course.

Anyway. I’d written a column on Alec Baldwin, who vowed to leave America if Bush won. Promises, promises. I staggered upstairs, called up the piece, and was doing the final edit when I decided - just for amusement - to go online and read the wires. First story I see: Baldwin denies story about leaving US.

Hmm.

Double hmm. Deadline: 90 minutes. Well, we’d better write another piece, then. So I did. That was fun. Oh, that was SUCH fun. Frant-O-Type, as we used to say in the TV Guide days, when an issue was closing and you were attempting to enter your syndication numbers by 5 PM Friday. (Syndie numbers, for those who read & love TV Guide, were supplied by the locaL stations - if they were running Dukes of Hazzard #s 114-119, you’d enter this into the computer, and the TVG mainframe would spit out plot summaries:

114: Daisy leans over and shows her butt; Boss Hogg reels back in shock
115: Daisy leans over and shows her butt; Cooter reels back in shock
116: Daisy leans over and shows her butt; Boss Hogg and Cooter reel back in shock

Etc. The stations were often late with the numbers, which meant you had to call them, extract the numbers from a poorly-paid underling, and bang them into the computer at the last minute.

I have never bought TV Guide since I worked there.

Almost bought it Sunday. I thought: well, I’m up late; I might as well know what’s on while I do my baby duties. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, even though I still knew the icon lingo. It’s just a mess. It has to accomodate two distinct demographics - people with no cable, and people with 500 channels. Consequently it satisfies neither. I was amused to see that TBS programs still started at :05 and :35. Bastards. You don’t know how much trouble this caused us, how it screwed with the computers. And the only reason they gave such peculiar start times was to get special listings in TV Guide. Everything else in the WORLD started at the top of the hour, and was lumped into a big long list for that particular hour. TBS shows always got a special left-hand margin time code.

Wife just handed me a crying Gnat, and said “I’ve had it.”

Well, that’s the end of this Bleat.


09
21
00


Not many people know this, but Wile E. Coyote had business cards. They read:

Wile E. Coyote
Genius

In his first appearance - I think it’s his first; I’m too busy to check - he went up against Bugs, and of course got his scrawny shanks kicked between his shoulder blades. He had a voice: a plummy, educated, self-satisfied voice that could only fit a Chuck Jones drawing - it was the sort of voice that had to come from a smile that took had a nasty curl at the very ends. One of Wile’s inventions was a mechanical female rabbit, and unfortunately he never got to use it. That’s how you get Bugs: robot dames. I know this because last night I saw “Hare-Raising Monster” - I think that’s the name, I’m too busy to check - which featured Peter Lorre, Bugs, and a peculiar heart-shaped orange hairy monster. One of the best. I’ve only seen this one 73 times, so it still has a few surprises, but I always remember the end. Bugs has been led to the Evil Scientist’s Castle by a mechanical female rabbitbot. He gives her a smooch, and she blows up into springs & gears - but no matter, we’re off and running with the Monster plot now. At the end of the cartoon, the bitbot reappears, walking in a mechanical parody of a sexy stroll, and Bugs laughs: “Mechanical.” Then lust completely overtakes him, and he shouts at us a line that sums up the entire male gender:

SO SHE’S MECHANICAL! and off he goes.

That’s Lenny Bruce’s entire “guys with schtup mud” routine, right there.

I love the cartoon network.

And Bob Fosse, poor departed Bob. One of the movies in this week’s late-night Gnat-placation sessions was “Lenny,” which I hadn’t seen since its original release. It’s a good movie - and I don’t say that as a Lenny devotee, because I’m not. I’m not even a Dustin Hoffman fan. Especially after “Sphere.” He’s always Dustin Hoffman. Same with DeNiro. I also watched, as part of this week’s Anti-Crap Film Festival, “Raging Bull.” I love the movie. It suffers from being A Classic, and a Much-Copied Classic at that; so many directors learned so much from that movie that it no longer has the impact it did back then. But I still remember walking out of the theater feeling both beaten and uplifted - and right then, on the sidewalk outside the Skyway theater, I decided I wanted to be a director.

Well, no. I decided nothing of the sort. Thank God. Although I did try some interesting for this month’s movie; I put the camcorder on the dashboard and talked for 20 blocks as I drove home. In the end, I didn’t use anything but a little sequence where I whistled an idiotic tune - but even then, it’s the sort of snippet that makes the movie, because it’s nothing like the rest of the static, housebound, babycentric shots.

I’m storyboarding my daughter’s childhood.

She’ll thank me for it.

Other movies watched: “Tombstone.” By GOD that’s a damn manly movie. The Giant Swede has been recommending it for years, and I’d held off; I don’t like most Westerns, and I don’t like Val Kilmer. Well. Turns out the movie is exceptional pulp, with all the prerequsites of the genre:

1. Lotsa ridin’ & shootin’ & whoopin’ & killin’ to Stirring American Frontier Music, YEE HA!

2. Really, really, really skinny bad guys who grin tauntingly at inappropriate times

3. Sam Elliot and his patented Mournful Moustache

But it’s so much more than that. The cast is a round-up of late-century B-list actors: Kurt Russell, a big favorite of mine; Bill “Game OVER!” Paxton, Michael Biehn, Powers Booth. When you see Billy Bob Thornton in a minor role, and realize he went on to greater fame than any of the rest, it just seems . . . wrong. But it’s Val Kilmer who really grabbed the movie by the neck-nape hairs and made it stand on tiptoes and promise to be good. For manly men’s manly-man movies, I recommend it completely.

In the children’s corner: Saw:“Iron Golem.” Interesting animated film. A kid finds a gigantic clay automaton, teaches him that he is not a weapon. Then the Nazis come to empty out the Ghetto and take everyone to the camps; the Golem, who has learned that violence is wrong, does nothing, and 2,126,302 Jews die.

Well, no. Saw “Iron Giant,” which was one of the more politically incoherent movies I’ve seen in a while. I’ve been resisting seeing it - I knew the animation is fabulous, the story moving, but Hollywood is incapable of making nuanced political messages, and all these stories about the director’s big brainstorm - “what if a gun had a soul?” - made me grind my teeth. It’s a freshman dorm-room spleef-party puzzler. Hey, man, what if a gun had like, a soul, man? And what if like pizza felt pain, dude?

Violence is bad, the movie says; and in general they’ll get no argument from me. But the movie ends up as an NRA infomercial at the end and proves every point the 2nd amendment people like to make about responsible Iron Giant ownership: he attacks only when others attack him first, and then he responds defensively.

Ah, but why is he attacked? Because unthinking xenophobic military men are fearful of him, and they must destroy what they fear. It’s the height of that silly old Red Scare - and really, what a lot of bother over nothing that was, eh? I mean, they stopped killing & imprisoning dissidents eventually, so what’s the problem? Anyway, these army guys are soooo bent out of shape over the Communists that they actually are suspicious of a gigantic red-eyed robot that falls from the sky and eats a power station.

To my complete & total satisfaction, the movie ends up as a commercial for a missile-defense system.

Don’t misunderstand: I enjoyed it. The animation is just terrific; the voice work is leagues ahead of most stuff in the genre. I plan to buy it and watch it with Gnat some day. It’s the half-assed tentative self-congradulatory politics behind it that keep me from giving it all available thumbs up. The movie villains are all government-types who are either misguided or paranoid, or both, and have come to kill the good giant. Lesson for me: guns are dangerous, but not having one can be even more dangerous.


I’m quite certain this isn’t what they intended.

Lame Bleatage this week, I realize - a hideous confluence of duty, sleeplessness and fussy baby have shoved the Bleat down below Jasper in priority. Dogs, however, are more forgiving than Internet audiences. If I never played with Jasper again after his evening walk, he’d still expect it, every day. Whereas let a page go fallow for a week, and people drift away; fail to update for a month and they leave for good. That’s the bad thing about this medium. The good thing is that almost any sort of daily content seems to satisfy people, as long as it’s fresh. I speak from my own experience. I visit dozens of pages daily, and I swear this was the extent of the day’s contribution for one of them:

11:59 AM
headache. sucks.
permalink

As if I’d want to link to this. (START GEEKAGE: It’s probably a feature of Blogger - don’t know if you can turn permalinks off. END GEEKAGE)

It’s like turning on your favorite TV show - say, COPS - and finding nothing more than a Polaroid of a policeman in a chair, reading the newspaper. You’d still come back the next time, though - especially if they promised an ALL NEW COPS. And if that show consisted of nothing more than unseen Polaroids of policemen sitting around, you’d still come back. But eventually you’d drift away. There used to be a site devoted to bonehead callers to tech support; it was lovingly updated and maintained for a few years, then it just . . . ended, and turned into a zombie. Everything was still there, everything still worked, but you could tell that something had happened in the life of its creator - death, a girlfriend, something.

I must have gone there once a week for three months.

The web isn’t like your favorite cafe. When your favorite cafe closes they lock the doors and soap the windows, and no: you can’t come in. But websites let you come in, take a seat. Your server will be with you in a moment! But it’s closed and dead nonetheless. Ditto a compendium of X-Files reviews; the webmistress must have gotten overwhelmed by what she’d created, and stopped updating.

It’s not entirely difficult to build an audience on the web. Once you have a core audience that’s used to visiting your site, it takes little to keep them around. But they can smell your disinterest. They can smell it when you’re coasting. I have a daily prowl, like everyone else; I go here, here, here. That’s the Bookmark path. But when I edit my Daily Bookmarks folder now and then, someone lives - and someone dies. Latest casualty: suck. After a few years of reading it, the site just bores me. I’m tired of the illustrations - even though I think they’re sharp and clever. I’m tired of Polly Ester - even though I think she plays that one note better than anyone. I’m tired of IT. And that terrifies me, in a way - if a well-written, thoughtful, link-laden site like Suck can bore me, well, the Bleat is probably shedding readers like intestinal cells from an Ebola patient.

THIS IS NOT A SOLICITATION FOR MAIL ON THE MATTER and I apologize for shouting, but I’m not casting around for support or sympathy. Just saying that I value every patron, and hope that there’s been enough quasi-quality over the years so that the barren, arid patches of pale thin Bleats are accepted in the spirit they’re given, i.e., it’s FREE so SHUT YOUR FARGIN’ PIE-HOLE.

Sorry, that didn’t work out quite as I intended.


09
22
00


Bright sun in the morning, grim clouds by noon, cool wind by sunset. Not cold, not one of those bitchy thin winds that make early November seem so vindictive. Not one of those bottomless winds that give you a terrifying preview of January. More like the breath of the freezer when you open the door to take out some ice. Not too bad.

Of course, we’ll all be living next to the icemaker in a few months, but at least we’ll have company.

Apple now has one-click shopping! Hoorah! Now I can drop by daily and purchase computers purely on impulse. Tonight I bought iMovie 2.0, which is available only as a disembodied version. They won’t ship a CD: heaven forfend. Hard media = oldthink, brother. So I bought it and downloaded it. Internet Explorer said the file was finished. It would not expand, and was 2 MB smaller than advertised. Called up the browser: the Apple page said, in that skinny Apple type, SORRY. I’d timed out.

Tried again. Mind you, it’s a 14 MB download, and I’m still on a 56 kps modem here. This time it got 13.1 MB, and then it quit. Hmrhg. Harrumph. Called the Apple Store (1-800-MY-APPLE, cursing as I hunted for the MY APPLE numbers) and got a helpful tech.

“I’m having a problem downloading iMovie,” I said.

“No problem!” he said.

“Well, no,” I said, laughing. “Problem.”

“What?”

“Problem. I’m having a problem. And you said No Problem.”

“Right! Because I’m here to help.” Ahhh, forget it. We went through the usual customer service dance, where I prove to him that I’m not a complete idiot, and he proves to me that he’s not a seething maniac who hates me on general principle.

“You’ll have to download the updater to use iMovie 2.0,” he said. “You need 9.0.4.”

“Fine - but my problem is getting the program to complete the download.”

“Rrrrright. Well, you’ll have to update to 9.0.4.”

Grrr. Stop. Breath. Think. Say: “Ooohkay, I’m not making myself clear, and I apologize. I cannot download the program that will, in the future, require the update once I’ve successfully downloaded it. Are you telling me that I need the update to download anything? Because if you’ve just instituted this fancy 1-Click shopping, and no one can get anything because they don’t have yesterday’s version of the OS, you’re going to blow off 98 % of the market.”

“Sir, I don’t have any input on those matters -”

“I know! I’m not holding you responsible. But they said this call might be monitored for quality control. I’m praying that they’re ACTUALLY EAVESDROPPING.”

I don’t blame the guy; he was very eager to help, and I said so, just in case THEY were listening. I hung up, did what he said: switched to Netscape, downloaded the software updater.

27 minutes later, Stuffit Expander informed me that there was a disc error (-39).

Can’t download the updater so I can download the updater. Catch-39.


Last night’s bad movie: Mulholland Falls. Bad noir. Bad, bad, bad noir. You can tell it’s set in the past, because everyone wears hats and everyone smokes. All - the - fargin’ - time. And they smoke without conviction. They smoke as if it’s the 14th take, with each take requiring the actor to light up and inhale. When the credits run I expected to hear the sounds of the entire cast, doubled over, coughing blood. I like a good smoking movie, but this movie reminded me why I quit, not why I started.

And for those who want to see Jennifer Connolly having sex with John Malkovitch: enjoy!

(shudder)

Nick Nolte didn’t act, he just . . . existed; occasionally a thought would cross his face, but it was like watching a handkerchief flutter across the face of a cliff. Everyone else was silly or underused; the script was flaccid, the direction dull - the entire movie was like listening to someone with a mouthful of novacaine describe the plot of Chinatown. So bad that Bruce Dern decided not be credited. And lord knows he needs them. At least until they do that Silent Running 2 movie they've been talking about.


Such a life: I have to review three comic books this week. Well, not comic books in the hypermuscled super-hero sense. Illustrated stories, let’s say. I’ve already read two - the latest Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer collection is quite good, but doesn’t show any growth in the artist’s abilities or his subject matter. That’s not necessarily bad - his scratchy line is part of the charm, and I like the subject matter. (He abandoned the entire Knipl world for a new strip called “The Cardboard Valise,” which got a little labored after 20-some installments. But I’m nitpicking.) The other book, Chris Ware’s “Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth” is just brilliant. I’d read it before - it’s been doled out in twice-yearly installments in small chapbooks, and I’ve been following the project since ‘96. I’ve read it three times, six times, ten times over. Reading it start to finish, with some of the more comic Corrigan sections edited out, you can see the story start from a simple little humorous tale to something so unbelievably . . . depressing that you almost want to go back to the first book, the funny one, and remove the staples and JAM THEM IN YOUR EYEBALLS so you never have to read anything this sad again.

I say this as praise. “Jimmy Corrigan” is one of those most profoundly sad books I’ve ever read. The center of the story - the tale of a young boy in 1893 Chicago, living with his blunt ass of a dad - is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever read in this genre.

The third book is Daniel Boring - a dangerous title for a book. It just dares the reviewer to stoop to the obvious retort, the one-word review: IS.

I don’t like it. I don’t like the Clowes’ style; never have. He’s much beloved by a younger demographic, but there’s something weightless and dank about the pictures. Charles Burns meets Seth. And it’s just dramatically incompetent.

Speaking of which!

A new feature coming in v. 6.0: weekly cartoons from 1947. The syndicates that ran them are gone; the artists are too obscure to make the comic-bio books. They’re long forgotten, but they’ll have new life here.

Speaking of which.

There are gwine ‘a be some changes ‘round here, I’m afraid. I’m going to be moving things around, experimenting. I believe I’ll be moving the Bleat to the main index page. In my usual ability to follow web trends about a year after they’ve peaked, I’m abandoning the table-of-content main index page - which was just soooo 1998 - and moving to a dense, HTML-thick main index page, which is just the height of late 1999 fashion. We’ll see. First I have to get the book out.

Also planned for later: a radio station. But that’s much later.

First I have to get the book out. And write another.