|Friday was just a horrible day. And theres nothing like finishing up all the crappy business of a crappy day in the modern workplace, and thinking: well, now I have to write a column.
A funny! column.
Grrr. But I did what I could. Went home to an insufficiently sauced pizza. Did not nap. Did not write. Did not work on the web site. Did not scan, did not play a game, did not play the piano, did not watch a movie. Finally, after several hours of not doing anything, I found myself alone in the studio at 2 AM with a few miles of videotape, unedited. I sat down and cut some footage of leaves and trees to Sibelius. Two hours later I had 2 minutes of product.
Its good to have a hobby that has nothing to do with anything else. Even your other hobbies.
When Sara went to a meeting of new mothers, they all gushed about the resources available on the Internet. She came home, mentioned that as long as she was home, it would be nice to have web access on her own PC in her office.
Id have to replace that lousy old 386, I said. She said fine.
Why, I could give you my Dell - its a 400, faster than the ones you have at work. She said fine.
But, I said - and this was the delicate moment requiring great skill and precision - Id have to get a new computer to replace the one Im giving you.
Fine, she said.
Wifely dispensation to buy a computer is not uncommon here, but a wifely REQUEST to buy a computer is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Its every geeks dream: spouse asks for old hardware, requiring you to buy new.
So, off to Brainiac Warehouse. I had a particular machine in mind: a Sony VAIO, because - and this will just infuriate the hardcore - because I liked the styling. Its small, and unugly. Thats what I require the most of my machine beyond the usual attributes of speed, capacity, memory, etc. There were dozens of machines in the VAIOs range - 833mhz, 40Gig drive, onboard burner, 128 memory, doublesync atomic postulator, dual-port scrambulation, and USB-enabled disgronifiers. But they were alllll ugly. The Compaqs, for example, are puffed up like rooster-breasts. The BeONs look cool, but they feel flimsy, I dont like the name. It would seem like the sort of machine youd break just by turning it off. NO! NEVER TURN A BEON OFF! YOU EEDIOT! The Sony was small, blue and the monitor went well with its neighbor iMac.
Like any new PC, it contains so much crap that you spend the first day shoveling stuff off the hard drive. I like clean, lean computers. I dont like yard-high submenus, but with Windows you dont have a choice. The Sony is marketed right at the iMac, too, right down to the curvy design and the digital editing studio, but the programs are strange and annoying. Theres something called Movie Shaker, which lets you . . . well, I dont know. It shakes your movie, which is their term for adding music and dissolves to your series of stills. As with many Japanese designed interfaces, it is bold and cute and full of stylized faces, none of which mean anything in particular. After half an hour of poking around the various programs, I felt as if Id bought a Pokemon computer. So I booted up Elite Force, an insufficiently violent first-person shooter, and ran the machine through the paces. Maxed out every option.
Whew. This is a fine computer. This will do.
And its so cute! my wife said.
Glad you like it, I replied - its your next computer, some day.
Then I set up hers. This meant formatting the hard drive, reinstalling Windows, and putting a cute baby picture of Gnat on the desktop. I had all the driver CDs handy. I reinstalled Windows. I reinstalled the drivers. Only three things didnt work: the graphics accelerator, the sound card, and the modem.
So. I could either go play with my new computer, or spend irritating, unrewarding hours working on this POS Dell to get it back to speed. Chose the latter, of course.
Its been instructive. Reminds me why I love my Macs. There is a transparency to the Mac interface & OS that you just dont get with PCs. Windows put up a big show to keep you from poking in the guts - for heavens sake, it wont even show you the contents when you open the Windows folder, lest you RUIN THINGS. And its so infantile - My Computer runs WindowsME! My Computer! My Briefcase! My Documents!
Its DeeDees computer, not Dexters.
Speaking of Macs, though: Ive decided against the Cube, but not for reasons of expandability, or processor power, or anything else so useful. Im rejecting it on aesthetic grounds. I had an epiphany about it the other day, and it wasnt a happy one. The Cube belongs to another era, allright, but its not the future. Its the future of the past; its the wrong retro.
This is the computer of Logans Run. This is the computer of the early-mid 70s. This is Rollerball and Soylent Green and Sleeper. Clear plastic Lucite was the movie designers friend in those days; why, it was Future Plastic, Plastic of the Future! And it would be round and clear and thick as the sideburns on the heros jaw.
Theres always been a dangerous late-60s early-70s aspect to the recent design paradigm - the curves, the shapes that threaten to turn into teardrops, the colors have all been distant relatives of pop art and 70s kitsch, but theres been enough cool new twists to make them new, not retro. The Cube, however, goes too far. Its what the 70s thought the future would be.
This bad-retro bilge is becoming distressingly ubiquitous, too -at the magazine store yesterday I saw a fashion magazine with Cameron Diaz on the cover. Raccoon eye makeup, straight-part hair in a feathered cut, coke-hound cheekbones. pink background. It just shrieked disco. On an adjacent mag: CHARLIES ANGELS. On a weekly newsmag: WHATS BEHIND THE RISING GAS PRICES?
I realized again: we lost! It was all for naught, the 80s. Better hair, better music, better fashion, better architecture - too good to last.
So now, I wont buy the Cube. I dont want to give the 70s the satisfaction of knowing they won.
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Put up some shelves in Gnats room last night. Its starting to look like a babys room again - not that she ever sleeps there, of course. She spends about 14 minutes a day there getting her keister swabbed. But someday shell stay there in the nice crib with the nice mobile and the nice mural on the wall that Mommys been painting. Someday. Someday shell hang something on the hook on the wall. And itll all FALL DOWN AND CRACK HER SKULL because Daddy doesnt know what the hell hes doing.
Woke on the sofa with a big grin on my face, and thought: today is a great day - for science! Got up. cereal, paper, coffee, upstairs; see wife & baby, smile, goo, gaa, hello. Click leash to Jaspers collar. Out. Warm. Bright. Think:
|Man, am I beat. Pounded flat. Good day; warm day; too warm for late autumn. It should be early autumn, really, but its been a dead dry fall, and the trees never had that lurid bloody glory I associate with wet Octobers. Of course, rainy autumns strip the leaves from the trees early. Cant win. Its still green; half the trees havent gotten the memo yet, and the grass of every lawn still broadcasts bright life. Most of the houses on the block have pumpkins out. Most of the houses have a pumpkin for every resident. This year we have four - two big ones for the adults, a smallish one for Jasper and a wee one for Gnat. Makes me smile everytime I come home, seeing these blank gourds. Thats us; thats my family.
Soon I will plunge a knife into them and carve smiling faces on their flesh!
The gourds, I mean.
What a curious tradition.
Since people around here put out one pumpkin for resident, Im tempted to go to Lunds and buy 50 tiny wee pumpkins, and scatter them on the stoop. Anyone asks, Ill say theyre for the Sea-Monkeys.
Anyway: good day. Lunch with my immediate boss, which was, as usually, a fine hoot conducted over perfectly grilled Vietnamese Spam. Went to work, called up the column I wrote last night and sighed in relief: it wasnt utter Krep, but could be handed in almost intact. Snipped here and there, hit SEND, and thought: thats today. Home; grill chicken outside while leaves fall and Jasper watched intently at a respectful distance, his hedgehog toy between his paws. Nap. Walked Jasp to the video store; walked through the dark woods listening to nothing. Couldnt take the debates - the crunching of leaves underfoot was more instructive. Wrote and scanned and coded and cleaned and now its midnight, and now I am going to edit some movies. Good day? Damn fine day.
Just thought, idly: Everything in my room was produced with the intention of turning a profit. Well, almost everything. I have two tickets from the 1896 Republican Convention, held here in Mpls; one ticket I bought at the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego, and the other turned up at the bottom of a drawer in my parents house when we were going through some stuff. (Greatgreatgrandpa was a delegate, much to my astonishment.) For that matter, much of my convention memorabilia, Dem and GOP, wasnt intended to make a profit. But everything else was launched with the hopes that it would garner a penny or two.
Electronic devices, magazines, liquor miniatures, dried wheat sold at Conrans as a decorator idea, CDs, a Squeez-Pleez ketchup bottle, a bottle of champagne with the presidential seal (lifted from the Presidential Suite at Kennedy Center) a 1961 Dairy Queen wax-coated paper dish, a stack of quarters, the hundreds of books that line the walls - all produced with the intention of making a dollar.
Id love to know how it all worked out. How many of these items failed in the marketplace, failed to return their investment? How many turned a buck? Sometimes a product sells well, but screws the pooch because the company mishandles the money. Id bet that everything here, taken together, generated a profit. Not much, but some. It would be somehow depressing to learn that the net profit generated by items in this room was, say, $9.63.
Id be tempted to remove my books and ask them to recalculate . . . but of course, such a temptation would be sternly resisted.
|Supper: VanDeKamps Crisp n Healthy cod wads. Theyre Baked, Not Fried! Small, Not Large! Crappy, Not Good! Blech. But one must apportion your daily fat with care; I know some people who suck down their 60 grams by the time theyre halfway through breakfast. By choosing VanDeKamps Brittle n Non-Lethal entree, and the OreIda! potato wedges, as opposed to the tallow-drenched Zesties! we used to have, this means I can afford that big pizza tomorrow, that Anvil of Fat I love so much.
Happy day at Lileks Manor: my wife discovered she could fit into her pre-preg jeans again. And these are the skinny jeans. Her secret to staying svelte, gals? Crisp n Blandy fishfood, fat-free popcorn, lots of walks, and carrying around a 10-pound baby 23 hours a day. Also, no sleep in two months. Try it!
I havent, but I seem to have stopped my own post-smoking-cessation / post-baby weight gain. No love handles. I have, at worst, indifference handles. My secrets, lads? An hours walk around downtown every day, fat-free popcorn, and a habanero pepper with every meal.
Walking around downtown today I passed one of those people who has such extraordinary body odor you wonder if the wallpaper stays up in his apartment. He was professionally dressed - khakis, shirt, tie - but he had this oddly distant, acidic expression like a young Mr. Carlin from the Bob Newhart show. It breaks ALL THE RULES of downtown for people with ties to have that much stinky funk, and I couldnt help but wonder if hed just been in some horrible meeting where hed had his ass handed to him, and then had to sit there for an hour while his supervisor flayed him down to the bone.
Yes, it was BO so severe it made you wonder if there was a story behind it.
Among the tottering stacks of parenthood books that fills the house these days, theres one whose title always gives me pause: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
As opposed to - well, you fill in the rest. It would be easier around here if I could feed Gnat from the old parental spout, and I do pity her when she bangs her head against my pectorals, looking for a snack. Everything about the posture and contours says: feeding time. Yet there is no food to be had. Its like walking into a McDonalds, seeing the clerk in the paper hat standing at a register, passing the tables with salt and pepper shakers, and asking for a cheeseburger, only to be told this is actually a turpentine factory. Sorry, it just looks like a McDonalds.
Cut some video tonight to Peter and the Wolf. It had long been my plan to edit some footage of a walk I took with Jasper, and set it to this music - ever since I was a young boy, Ive loved the simple theme for Peter; its a pure expression of unencumbered joy and contentment. Its the melody of someone setting off across a meadow on a spring morning, or an autumn afternoon. When I was very young I participated in a performance of the piece by the F-M Orchestra - there was a fellow who drew pictures to go with the music, just in case the music and the narration didnt drive the plot into our thick little skulls, and I turned the pages on the easel.
Or did I? That doesnt make sense.
Easels are tall. Little boys can hardly turn the paper over the top of an easel. Did I imagine this? I also remember getting a page, one of the drawings, from the man who did the narration. Did I imagine this too?
My Mother would know, but of course I cant ask her now.
Well, this is why I write, and why I take pictures, and why I shoot video. Its a parents job to remember what their child is too young to nail down with certainty. My very first memory of anything consists of playing with my dad on the stairs at our house on 8th street; it had stairs that took a right turn, and the stairs were pie-shaped. (He verified this detail years later.)
I think it would be extraordinary if Gnats first memory coincided with something I had on tape, or in a picture, or a Bleat. But if I show her these things too early, how do I know I wont affect what she considers to be her first memory? Id hate for her first recollection to be something she saw from my perspective, instead of hers . . . well, theres but one solution. Burn it all! All of it, I say - put it to the torch!
No. Im saving all the raw footage I shoot - I just chuck the tapes in a Chock Full O Nuts coffee can (Better coffee millionaires cant buy, you know) where they mingle with all the other stuff from year one - quarters released in 2000, parental wrist bands from the hospital, deflated welcome-congrats balloons, and other stuff Ive forgotten. Ive labeled the can, and itll go in storage. Shell find it one day.
Sometimes it seems as if I spend a good portion of my freetime making things easier for whoever has to sort through my crap when Im dead. But if I dont, who will? Ive been meaning to do a quick tape tyour of all the stuff here in my studio, and explain why it matters to me. An item with a story stays in the family. An item whose story was never passed along gets sold. An Instamatic camera that just looks like an old piece of outdated crap floats into the thick Sargasso sea of ebay; if you make sure folks know that this camera was the device through which I saw the summer of 1969, the camera I took to camp, the camera I took on our trip to the Black Hills, then that changes things.
At least it had better, dammit. I have my Grandmothers camera. Its ancient; doesnt work; the case flakes away when you handle it, and Im afraid to open it lest it snap and crack and break for good. Closed, I can imagine it has something still inside. I have some pictures she took with it - long faded sepia shots of mysterious banalities. No one knows who any of the people in the pictures are, or where they were shot - some faded writing indicates they were taken on a trip to Florida, which deepens the mystery even more.
My grandmother was adopted, which means my mothers line veers off in a strange unknown direction before her. A parallel story. Whatever the true tale was, it doesnt match the drama of her adopted fathers life, nor does it mean that the adoption somehow makes her connection to her fathers line less genuine - thats not what I mean at all. But she is one of those people you come to know in reverse. First you know them as the old soft kind powdery grandparent; then one day you find the pictures of them in middle-age, in early adulthood, in their youth. Theres a picture of my grandmother smiling at the camera - a girlfriend took the shot, and they must have been having a grand, grand day.
Beyond that picture she unravels into smoke and shadows. All lost; all gone.
Thats why I nail these banalities to the wall of every day I pass through; thats why I end each day by describing it. Ive no idea what will matter to my daughter. I want her to have enough raw material for the story she eventually writes.
Tonight she got this precious expression that reminded me of one of the victims of the lights of Zetar.
Will that reference make sense to her in 20 years? Of course. This isnt my grandmothers time, where pictures fade and stories evaporate. We dont have to rely on mere memory anymore. Memory is permanent now; memory can be handed down.
Provided you back up your data, of course. Provided your backups arent corrupted. Provided the machines of the future are backward compatible. Provided -
Ahhh, its hopeless.
Perhaps thats the way it should be. Perhaps we need the mystery. Perhaps all we need is the smile. We dont need the why, or the who, or the how.
Just the smile.