|Fargo for Thanksgiving. Up and out with military precision: I want to set a standard for family outings, wherein we go when were supposed to go. We had to be there by one; hence, we had to leave by nine. And we left at 9:06. Sloppy, I thought. Pushups for everyone when we get there. Gnat fell asleep right away; Jasper, full of his usual travel trepidation, whimpered and shivered until the Dramamine kicked in. Sara read, then slept. I drove in silence. Bright blue skies, snow from here to there and back and forth again. Stubbled fields and empty trees, the occasional herd of bison on the hill. Seventy-five MPH and Beethoven. Life is good.
The meal, at my sisters, was extraordinary; everyone was happy and sated and stunned. We crawled and limped to the lower-level family room to watch the Vikings; then, after wed digested a little, we got up, and moved to the lower-lower-level family room, where the TV is 30% bigger, to watch the Vikings. (The lower-level family room is where the kids rule.) We passed around Gnat, watched the game, ribbed Dad, had coffee and / or beer, and generally had a capital time.
My family never argues. I never note this, because its how I was brought up. There are disagreements and diputations, of course, but: we never fight. Ive never known a holiday to be spoiled, or even darkened, by an argument, by tensions that crackle and erupt in sharp words. And trust me on this: were not a mindless happy bunch of NoDak Robots, either - but my Dads irrepressible geniality sets the tone. You cant help but fall in line. Hes happy. Hence it seems preposterous not to be happy along with him. Ive never queried this, or thought much about it; Ive just grown up expecting holidays to be happy.
I never saw any evidence that it took a lot of effort for them to be otherwise. On the contrary. Youd have to work at it to spoil them.
Of course, in my sullen adolescence, I did my best.
The game ended with a win - hoorah - and then we had pie. Stayed upstairs and chatted until it was time to put the kids down and head to bed. Drove through downtown Fargo (noted where last summers fire took down an entire block, and felt like Id been punched) then got home to a happy, happy, happy Jasper. I fed him two cans of Mighty Dog Pate then went for a walk. Only 16 degrees; almost hat and gloves weather, but I had neither. He did what he did and was happy to get it done, and we went back to the warm bright house. The house where I grew up. Sara took Gnat to bed, and the Guys - being myself, Dad, and Jasper (who is utterly awed & intimidated by my Dad, and regards him as Zeus) - trotted downstairs tohe knotty-pine panelled basement
We always end up there. Dad turns on the TV; weve generally two choices - a war documentary on the War Channel (8:00 - Hitler. 8:30 Berlin - the Hitler Years. 9:00 How the Navy Beat Hitler. 10:00 Digging Up Hitlers Family and Pissing on the Bones. [Cartoon.]) Or theres a Britsitcom on the local PBS channel, and he loves those. He watched one while I reprogrammed his phone. Hed purchased a new one from Radio Shack, and of course it was stupidly complex, uselessly useful. I had no trouble setting up the answering machine, but setting up the stored calls was another matter. Telephone interfaces are the worst of any consumer device, and this machine was no exception. The manual referred to it as the TAD. Thats the companys name for it, I guess. But who the F$#k ever calls their phone a TAD? No one. Its one more obfuscating detail.
I gave up putting numbers in the speed dial (or what would have been the speed dial, except that TAD called it something else - Memory Select, or some such stupid name) and decided to look in the closets. I do this every time I go home. I always find something. Theres not much there anymore; most of it got tossed when my Mom died, and the recent flood soaked the stuff on the bottom of the shelves. But as I said: I always find something. This time it was a small box with snap-clasps on the top and the bottom. Heavy, but portable. I knew exactly what it was. The box that meant boredom. The box that meant a funny smell and stupid stories and nothing you wanted to see; the box that meant the Opposite of Television was en route.
The box of slides.
I remembered the slide projector, the clink-click sound it made when you fed it a picture; I remembered the shivery whoosh of the screen when Dad pulled it from its roll. Most people of my generation regard slides with boredom and horror; theyre all about Aunt Selmas trip to Cairo, and you dont give a fig even if its you up there. Especially if its you.
But. I took it into the next room, opened it up, and started holding the tiny squares up to the light. And I soon realized that this box was the equivalent of a lost episode of the Honeymooners. From 1959 to 1964, my dad took only slides. And that meant that this box had it all: my parents as young parents & marrieds, Fargo in its prime, all my aunts and uncles in their 30s, my dads business as it grew. Plus me as a tot. Astonishing stuff. My mom is gorgeous - there she is in a Laura Petrie outfit, bowling. My dad is buzzcutted and stylin, and his Merc is the coolest ride in town. There are six photos of a Shriners Parade in downtown Fargo - the signage alone made me start to twitch. There are five red, blurry photos from Southdale in Minneapolis, a grand expedition for everyone, that was. I showed my Dad a few, and we just had a grand time naming places, dates, times, people -
Then he went into the next room, rummaged around, returned and brought:
THE SLIDE PROJECTOR!
TURN OFF THE TV! LETS WATCH SLIDES, DAD!
So we did. Plugged it in - did it work? It did. Pointed it at the non-panelled wall. (Concrete: the poor mans screen.) Put in the slide . . . focus . . . its upside down. Eject. Try again. Ah:
Its Pastor Lindberg, standing on the steps of the church in 1963 . . . the same fellow who baptized my daughter this month. My daughter whos upstairs sleeping with my wife.
Everything in my life is back in this house now, I thought.
We had a beer and looked at slides.
Went upstairs to sleep, and Jasper was in my bed. Its not a big bed. I slept in it for 18 years, though. Just never with a dog before.
Drove home at warp speed, stopped but once. Napped. (The drive always makes me tired; all that concentration.) Up! Digitized the trip video while watching the Gnat; she sat in her bouncer and grinned and cooed and issued some shotgun blasts from the hindquarters that surely meant shed filled the butt-bucket. Aye, she had. Clean, swab, reswaddle, replace in chair, requeue video, start again . . . BRRRAAAACCCKKKK! She grins. Check diaper. Whoa: once more into the breach. While the iMac rendered a transition, I swabbed, reswaddled, replaced - then the pizza arrived. Get pizza, pay delivery person, retrieve baby, place baby in place where shell trip out on the lights, eat pizza while reading Wall Street Journal with Gnat holding on to one of my fingers as she looks at the ceiling light and grins.
And thats as good as it gets.
|Cables were laid; fortunes wagered; insurance companies crunched the numbers, issued the policies. Scientists built the machines in clean white rooms, then placed them on tall silver columns that blasted off the earth in an eruption of flame. Men hunched over computers in a dozen cities, conferring, adjusting, tracking, making sure this mad, crazy scheme was possible. Meanwhile, on earth, a container ship braved the heaving seas to deliver to America a television set that represented the apex of modern technology. Giant cranes removed it from the cozy womb of the ships hold; trains - their paths guided by a network of computers and sensors - took the TV to Minneapolis, where two strong men put it in a room. Another man came to attach a satellite dish on the side of the house, thereby linking this Japanese TV - so far from home - with the silent birds in the sky.
A day later, a man made a call on a phone - relays and wires and satellites again combined in the accustomed configuration, and the man spoke to a Customer Service Representative. The call might have been monitored for quality assurance; perhaps it was not. Who knew? Life was full of mystery. The man read off a series of numbers to the Customer Service Representative; computers conferred, the database for American Express was consulted, approval flowed in all directors like warm honey. A global network of computers, ships, rails, wires, and satellites high in the sky all came together to provide, for one man, the first thing he saw when he turned on the big TV and stepped into the world of satellite TV:
Gene Rayburn on Match Game, leering at a square-headed plaid-clad woman who looked like David Letterman after three minutes in a trash compactor.
Naturally, I told TiVo to tape it.
Or, rather, record. No more tape. Tape is oldthink, brother. Im a TiVolutionary now. A convert. For those who dont know what Im, talking about, TiVo is a machine that records TV, lets you pause live TV if you choose, lets you record all your favorite shows for a year, lets you record according to actress, or genre, or director - essentially, its the natural combination of a VCR, the ceaseless datastream of satellite TV, and gigantic searchable databases. Having lived with the system a few days, some observations:
1. Brilliant user interface. Theres not a huh? moment in the setup or use; everything flows, and no matter how deep you get in the menus, you never feel lost. Even the sounds are well-chosen - when you make a mistake, or choose something wrong, you get a timpani. It tells you youre wrong, but it doesnt make you feel stupid. You will never be annoyed with TiVo. Because TiVo is your friend.
2. Its a little too helpful, at first. TiVo watches what you choose to record, what you like to watch, and unless you tell it otherwise, itll record something it thinks you might like. Its a great idea, and once youve inputted a wide variety of preferences (while watching a show, for example, you can hit a thumbs-up or thumbs-down button, and TiVo remembers: ah, you dont like Full House. You do like Space Ghost. Noted!) Im sure it will result in some serendipitous choices. But I recorded one show - Match Game, just to get some audio for the upcoming Anti-Seventies site - and TiVo assumed I wanted ALL classic game shows. I wouldnt mind, except that this month Im sleeping in the basement, right next to the TV. I woke early Friday morning wondering WHAT the HELL that SKRITCH SKRITCH SKRITCH sound was - well, it was the TiVo, busily inscribing a Spanish gameshow onto the platters.
Ive turned off this option.
3. TiVo understands & accommodates 16:9 TVs, and I cant thank it enough. On a related note: its fun to watch the X-Files in widescreen format. Even though it wasnt filmed as such, its still fun.
4. TiVo has recorded three hours of stuff for me to watch, so why exactly am I sitting at my desk typing?
5. Good question.
|On a day like this, when everything goes wrong, and nothing seems worth doing anymore, its important to remember what counts: namely, the ability to squeeze off six shots in short succession and keep a nice tight pattern.
Just a merry thought from our house to your house.
On a day like today I shouldnt write anything. (Or I should write A LOT.) I certainly shouldnt watch TV, because theres the chance Ill come across a Gap commercial; nothing makes me want to ventilate the tube Elvis-style like a Gap commercial. Saw one last night; featured four kids as some sort of pre-teen bubble-gum group in 70s outfits. Nearly coughed up my small intestine. Almost wish I had. Sure, Id have passed out of blood loss eventually, but how often does a fella get to whip his big-screen TV with his very own small intestine while shouting Screw the 70s! Screw it!
Once, maybe twice a year, I figure.
|In the middle of today - which was worse than yesterday by a factor of ten - I drove a few blocks to a used book store to get some old magazines. Its the store where I got the Life magazines in 1996, which eventually led to the Gallery and the Institute, but thats another story. The entire collection of 1950s Lifes were gone. Gone! Someone had bought the lot for $700.
Probably going to cut them up for the ads, said the store clerk.
Vandal. You cant really understand the ads without seeing them in context. I bought, for example, two Christmas-week Lifes, one from 44, the other from 45. The 1944 edition has a cheerful ad for wine, with a big color picture of a succulent roasted turkey. A few pages later, theres a dim gray series of images about nighttime combat, and how our boys will flush the Jerries out with fire then cut them down as they run to safety. The only consumer goods of consequence are cigarettes and liquor. When theres an ad for a consumer device such as a radio or an electric shaver, its usually to remind us that these things arent available right now. But they will be. Soon. When we whip Hitler. Knock on wood.
That puts the bird and the booze in perspective.
Anyway. Bought a stack of magazines, including some early 60s Saturday Evening Posts. The early 60s interest me as much as the rest of the post-war period. Its part of the same cultural bloc, and even though you can see the rot starting to set in, theres still a clear clean line back to the prewar culture. Youth culture is a powerful force, but its not yet the dominant voice. Thats the gift of the 60s: Youth culture trumps all other voices. Rule by the uninformed and inexperienced. The Callow Peril, Ive just decided to call it. The death of middlebrow culture and the utter marginalization of highbrow culture.
Out of this glorious time came Tony Blair, the current PM of Great Britain, and the only reason I mention him is this: in todays Wall Street Journal, there was a nice warm profile on the nice warm music of Mark Knopfler, whos been one of my favorites for years. Walk my coffin to the grave to the tune of "The Road Home" from "Cal," lads. Play the "Local Hero" credits music at the wake, and when everyone's loose & liquored, put on "The Bug." Knopfler was discussing his old neighborhood, how it was also the home of other fellow musicians from the late 70s and early 80s - the Difford-Tilbrook team, my generations Lennon/McCartney (until they tired of making coherent, interesting melodies, that is) came from the area, for example. Well, its all gone now. All knocked down for that useless blancmange, that albino carbuncle called the Millennium Dome. Typical Blair: the past is no more than a trunk of useless geegaws and stories with pointless morals; why bother poking around inside? What can the past possibly teach a modern enlightened child of the 60s? Put it in the attic. Then raze the house. Raze the block, while youre at it.
I wonder if the house from Madness My House is still there.
My point, inasmuch as I have one, is that the reformer and the collector can be equally destructive. Blair knocks down old neighborhoods for his utopian banalities; the collector sunders a disparate agglomeration to pick out his favorite details and ruin them with love.
Humanity: its rotten to the core!
No. Just kidding. I did enjoy my trip to the dusty basement; I enjoyed looking at the Saturday Evening Posts - and lest this make me sound old and crotchety, I have always enjoyed old magazines. In high school I discovered the bound Life magazines at the Fargo Public Library, and thus came to know the look of the past, the vocabulary, styles, jargon of the past - as well as the smell of its pulpy sarcophagi, the aroma that wafts out of any old magazine. Its a comforting scent, but its sad, too; its like watching a home movie in which everyones having a marvelous time, and you know they all got creamed by a bus a year later.
I should post and sleep. Im tired. Gnats winding up in in the next room, gathering little lungfuls for the evenings oratorio. So far, no luck on getting her to take the pacifier. Oh, I had a method, and worked fine, but it turns out that the duct tape gives her a rash.
And now she is quiet.
WHATS WRONG? IS SHE OKAY?
No. Shes fine. Smiling and happy. Everyones miserable here but her, but who could possibly want it to be otherwise?