Pretens-0-Week continues!
Called the restaurant to get on the list. They don’t take reservations, but they’ll put you on a list. The distinction is rather . . . inventive, but if it makes them happy, well, then that’s what counts.

“Hello,” I said, “I’d like to be put on the list.” I said no more, because experience teaches me this: if I’d complicated the announcement with an ETA, or the number of people, or our smoking preference, he would have forgotten my answer the moment I spoke it. I just request that the conversation enter list-mode, and let him make the next move.

“We can put you on the list for up to an hour from now,” he said.

Possibly the least helpful response imaginable. “Great,” I said. “I’d like to be on the list for 5 o’clock.” Which was 20 minutes away.

“There’s no one here now,” he said. “You could get right in.”

Of course, I’m not there now, which is why we’re having this little chat. But he continues:

“Even if you got here in 20 minutes, it wouldn’t be, like, more than 15-20 minute wait.”

Grr. Inhale. Exhale. “Rrrright. Which is why I’d like to be on the list. So we don't have to wait 15 to 20 minutes.”

Pause; distant sound of synapses frying.

“Let me check with the manager.”

Jaysus! as the Irish say. I was put on hold for a minute. Then he returned. “The manager says that if you get here and there’s a line, we’ll put you at the top of the list.”


I’d done it! I’d bludgeoned my way into their restaurant, forcing them to exchange food for money at a rate highly favorable to them! Success! Mwah!


Jasper found a corn cob in the park. Not any corn-cob: some sort of wild-animal treat left by a good-hearted citizen. It was, essentially, compacted suet in phallus form, studded with corn, frozen rock hard. When my wife returned from the walk, I asked where Jasper was - outside, eating, she said. He didn’t want to come inside; he preferred to be outdoors with his roll of cold fat. Well. This sort of thing isn’t good for a little dog; it would be akin to a human eating a cheesecake cylinder the size of an oil drum. I brought him inside, threw the log in the snow, and gave him a rawhide to take his mind off the log. No good. This cob-log was now his version of Homer’s 6-foot-long gray sub sandwich, and he no matter how ill it would make him, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Sat around the house all night and whined softly, thinking about the cob-log. Life wasn’t fair. But he forgot about it, eventually. Dogs have a certain kind of short-term memory failure that helps them stay sane - otherwise the daily record of injustices would drive them mad. Life is fair, after all.

Baby Gnat had her first solid food today, and by solid I mean Completely liqueous rice-gruel, but delivered via spoon. She liked it; opened her little mouth, grabbed the spoon, grinned. This was the occasion for perhaps the best baby picture of them all - but of course you’ll have to go to the main menu page to see it. Why? Simple: if I keep all the links off of the Bleat page, it makes for easier archiving.

There’s also a Jasper picture, if you’re a dog partisan. Some people take sides. Interesting: I get lots of mail from people who like dogs more than babies, but none from people who like babies more than dogs. Now go to the main menu! See the pictures! Heed the Bleat! That is all.

Went car-shopping. We’re looking for a tank to carry Gnat through these dangerous streets. The car must be sturdy! and safe! and big! and powerful! You’d think the city was full of khat-addled technicals riding around in flatbeds pointing automatic weapons at a cowering citizenry. While I don’t want to stint on my daughter’s safety - I have every intention of buying a car that can take a side-on collision from a Tomahawk missile - I am constantly amazed at the precautions we must take these days. At BabiesRus tonight, we bought some UV filters for the car window, even though I don’t think more than six photons hit her straight on in an average car ride. They had rows and rows of safety devices for situations you’d never considered - but, once you’ve considered them, you’d be a dolt, a callous lout, NOT to get them. I was amused by some kneepads for crawling babies - aw, hon, can’t we just sweep the broken glass out of the room?

Needless to say, we’ll be getting the kneepads.

Anyway. Looked at cars until all the cars looked alike. Out of immediate consideration: the Volvo Station wagon. It’s the sort of car that says to a man: your life is over. Done. Encase thy manhood in lucite, for yea, they are but vestigal symbols of a life long gone. I looked at that car, and I thought of my best friend in grade school; his parents bought a Pinto station wagon with wood panelling, and even then I thought that’s just sad. No man should have to drive such a thing. Also out: the Dodge Giganto, the Ford Imperator, and anything else that requires someone to give you a boost to get up in the cab. I’m not opposed to trucks; I’ve driven pickups since I learned to drive. But I’ve never really liked them. Driving my dad’s Yukon feels like driving a small nation. Well, it corners well for a geopolitical entity, but I’m looking for something in the duchy range.

All the car salesmen were low-key, taciturn fellows. Not a jot of pressure. There was so little pressure in the place you practically got the bends walking from outside into the showroom. They listened to me; they processed the data; they made a few suggestions, followed my lead. Brilliant work: I walked away convinced I’d convinced myself.

Most of the dealerships were built in the late 60s - high rooms, lots of glass - but one hailed from the dead doldrums of the mid 1970s. Horrible. Brown, brown, brown rugs brown brick brown walls, glass etched with pictures of wild fowl. Just awful. The cars seemed ashamed to be there.

I’ll go back this week. And yes, I am trading in my sports car. Why? Because the old life is over. A better one is happening now Really. I’m done with the sports-car phrase for a while. The way I see it, I can trade up to a big vroom-vroom vehicle to transport everyone around for the next few years, and then when I do buy myself another car, it’ll be something much, much better than the Defiant. In fact, today I stopped by the dealership where I bought the Defiant, and talked to the very same salesman who sold me the car. I like him, because he’s the perfect cliche of a car salesman. I don’t believe a word he says, but neither does he, but he does, in some odd cheerful way, and so do I. After dealing with these quiet non-invasive salesman, I appreciate up-front gladhanding. He said he remembered me, and rattled off an anecdote to prove it. (And I thought, in the voice of the unseen narrator of Quake 3, “Impressive.”) He was astonished to hear I might trade in the Defiant for another car.

“You’re not married, are you,” I said. He shook his head. “Well, if I give up the sports car, I get a new vehicle to drive, AND I get to say ‘I gave up my sports car’ when it’s time to get the new computer - WHICH I’ll also say I need to make DVD copies of the movies for the new baby.”

He understood exactly. I’d stumbled upon a foolproof equation.

But I think I’ll have to forgo the manual transmission if I want the flat-panel display for the new Mac.


Well, I’m not as sick as I was, and more’s the pity. I was ill, ill, will with fever and shivers and dull rusty knitting needles jabbed in my eye. This was four o’clock. The column was half done, and it was a limp, sad effort. I knew I didn’t have anything else in me, and I can’t bear to release a column unless it’s reasonably good. It cannot be slack. What I had was slack. So I closed down the shop for the day and went home.

Or rather tried to. Got to the car, hit the unlock button on the keyfob. Nothing. Tried it again: nothing. Well. Either the little battery’s dead, or the big one is. Of course, it was the big one. I’d left the lights on. Despair. I - just - want - to - go - home. Went inside, trolled around for someone with jumper cables. The kind fellow who co-edits the car section offered to help, but once we got to his car we discovered he’d left the cables at home. Back inside. Carol, one of the editors over in the dense quiet rows of the feature sections, offered to help, and off we went. got the jump. Home. Made some sort of Mexican chicken stew thing. Ate it, went face down in the bed for a 17 minute nap. UP. Assembled Gnat’s Activity Saucer while listening to Bruch’s Violin concerto. (Like everything else that’s even vaguely Gnat related, I filmed it all, so I had to be thinking about angles and blocking and transitions while I put the gaddurned thing together.

Anyway, short version: I’m exhausted and I still have to write a piece tonight for Saturday’s paper, and I’m bleary & googly-headed and I just want to sip something brown and/or medicinal while basking in the cold glow of my TV. I come upstairs, check the mail: 117 adoption requests from the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots. Oy. They’re all answered. The piece I was writing was just . . . slack, so I’ve ripped it all up and I’m starting again, and I’m starting to feel krepish once more. So here endeth the bleat.

Have you gotten an email forward of that Britney Spears chatroom piece? It is a piece of genius. Penned by the man who brought the world Dave Barry, among others. Gene Weingarten. Most contemporary newspaper humorists are sitting in his shadow, whether they realize it or not.

I know I said the Bleat was over, but consider this the part where Joe Bob Briggs turns to the other camera and says something else. Does he even have a show any more? Monstervision, on TNT? Always liked Joe Bob. Amusing fellow.

I’ve taken off my bookmarks. I don’t like it. It smacks of that whole Suck-Feed nexus, with input from NetSlaves and Spin: all the off-putting attitude-ridden snarky drivel you could possibly want. If you want any. Plus, the page title: “Look Out, Honey, We’re Using Technology” just annoys me with its twee snide supposed deprecation. And on my browser at work the title bar says NETSCAPE: Look Out, Ho . . .

Back to the piece. Which is still slack. But there’s hope. And if there isn’t hope there’s a finger of Maker’s Mark mixed with Nyquil -

Just kidding, bourbon gods. I would never even consider such an abomination.


snrtl. Goodnight.


A treat tonight: Battlefield Earth! In Widescreen Craparama! Yes, it’s an old-style clambake at Lileks Manor tonight, as I jack myself up with antihistamines and settle back for some big-budget career-ending swill.

Actually, I’m so light-headed from blowing my nose every minute I’ll probably enjoy it. That’s the problem with movies with abysmal reps: there’s always the chance they won’t be as bad as you hoped. For example: I’d heard good things about “Event Horizon,” and I hated it. HATED it. I’d heard bad things about “Supernova,” and while I didn’t like it, I’d hardly call it the worst movie since “Wing Commander.” (In fact . . . I didn’t mind “Wing Commander.”)

The cold has its claws in deep today; both my wife and myself are walking around slumped like Quasimodoes, heads ringing like Notre Dame on Easter Sunday, and of course baby Gnat is all cheers and grins. She shook off the cold in a day and a half. But that’s as it should be. We’re old & broken. She’s the Replacement Part. I don’t mind the sneezing part of a cold; in fact, I think that the dirty little secret we all share is how much we enjoy sneezing. Of your involuntary whole-body spasmodic fits, I’d say it’s resting comfortably at number two. The nose is a different story. After two days of blowing & daubing my nose feels like the one of those red-assed monkeys after it slid butt-first down the side of an Arizona mesa. I feel like krep, and what’s the piece of software I’m supposed to install tonight? WILL WRITER 2001.

Yes, I have to make out my will, just in case. Now that we have the Gnat, we have to figure out where she goes if an asteroid hits us. Otherwise, I guess the cops just put her in a box on the curb with the word FREE painted on the side. The R would be reversed, in the classic style.

Or, I could defrag the hard drive; there’s another thrilling night. Or - I could rearrange the website to accommodate the revision of the Old Ads site. What was a little stupid sideline now threatens to be another PROJECT; it’s been renamed Microfilm Follies, and it’ll be a home for all the newspaper ads I scan.

One of the questions I get daily is “how do you have the time for this with a new baby?” Simple: chloroform. We just knock her out and tape her to the floor. Then we have mary jane parties in the next room and listen to the Byrds, maaan.

Sorry. No. The trick is to always be doing something else while you’re doing something. Today I scanned 10 pieces of art for the site, half of which are up now. When I came home I discovered that wife and child were gone, out on errands. Ah! It was 20 to five; I’d start cooking at five. So: turn on the oven to get it ready for the potato portion of the meal. Upstairs: slap something on the scanner, hit scan, run downstairs, shove the frozen ground turkey in the microwave to defrost. Back upstairs - store scan, scan another. Back downstairs, turn over meat. Repeat four times. In five minutes I’d done two things. And - this is important - I’d done them all half as well as if I’d paid attention. The meat was overdefrosted and the ads were crooked. But you can fix these things on the fly.

Engrave that on my tombstone.

Made supper, welcomed family back home. Napped for - I’m not kidding - 6 minutes. Entertained Gnat while Sara walked Jasper; we had fun doing all sorts of stupid things. The new ExerSaucer is a big hit; she gets that solemn look babies get when they’re being seriously industrious, and she’s already starting to learn how to turn herself around. But nothing compares to the biggest delight in her life these days: Jasper Dog. She can’t get enough of him. He has no idea how much she loves him; it’s just a delight to watch her light up and laugh when he sits and woofs hello.

Whoa: iTunes just pulled up a scratchy LP conversion of “You Owe Me Some Kind of Love” by Chris Isaak. That was the song that made me trade my Gibson for a Strat. I never could decide if he tuned the guitars a half-step lower to get that sound, or if my turntable was set too fast. In the digital age, of course, we can’t set the speed of our songs to our preference.

Can you tell I’m just filling time? I am. I’ve been uploading the Microfilm Follies pages. Stop by and see the Rooster offer the Hen a Chesterfield. Really. The link, as usual, is on the main menu page.


This is the first time in my life I’ve been quoted in two magazines that appear on the newsstand. Quite a nifty thrill. Really: I was at the grocery store, and they had both the Minnesota Monthly piece on Jasper Dog, and the Yahoo! Internet Life article on retro-sites, which had a few quotes about the Institute of Official Cheer. I thought: if I turn to this guy who’s looking at the rack, and announce “I’m in these magazines,” he would smile, nod, and back away.

It’s always amusing to hear the Institute described as a real place, an actual Thing that I run.

Unfortunately, the covergirl for Yil is that blobby doxy Monica Lewinsky: why? Which demographic is attracted to Monica? Clinton fans dislike her for the Vixenish Spell she put on Our Beloved President; Clinton detractors are automatically suspicious of anyone who kneels down to that guy symbolically, let alone literally. Even the most clueless consumer of pop culture knows she’s famous for nothing more than performing lap-nookie and impersonating a humidor - who gives a big fat fargin’ yahoo what electronic gadgets she’s going to buy? Criminey Joseph.

Anyway: I swear, mildly, in the interview, which I’m always surprised to see in print; once I said a Really Bad Word - the penultimate four-letter cuss - in an interview with the alternative weekly, and it appeared. The interviewer was doing a story about how I’d come home after my tour of duty in DC, and he wanted to know how I thought this would affect the arc of my career. I replied, honestly, that I didn’t give a shite about the arc of my career. (The “e” was silent in this pronunciation.) I felt bad about that. Not because it was a cuss - I am bad that way, in the right company - but because I hadn’t adopted the usual FCC standards when doing an interview. There’s a mentality you assume when you do radio: certain words simply cease to exist. They just don’t come to mind. I try to do that in any interview, but hmm: not this time.

Pisses me off!

(That’s what I said, anyway.)

Whenever I’m interviewed on the whole “retro” subject I get frustrated, because the good quote is invariably bright & shiny & wrong. If not wrong, then just insufficient, because some things can’t be summed up in a quote, and my attitude towards post-war pre-JFK-in-Dallas pop culture is one of them. For some reason today I got out a book I like to reread every few years: “Depression Modern - Thirties Style in America” by Martin Greif. It was written in the 70s, during that brief vogue for all things 30s. Greif correctly noted how most nostalgic recreations got it wrong, and how the very term “Art Deco” was in danger of being permanently misapplied to a style it does not fit. He lost that battle. Anything streamlined is now “Art Deco.” The most severe skyscrapers of the era are “Art Deco.” Hah. Not so.

In any case, he’s a joy to read, because he’s not only right, he sets his arguments out with brisk astringent precision. Here’s a graf I intend to post somewhere in the Institute, because it sums up what I fear the Institute encourages.

“Each succeeding generation is false to its predecessor in reconstruction and interpreting the events of the past, in selecting and stressing the details that conform to its notion of an age recently become history, in sentimentalizing or libeling the days and years of its elders. And - in punishing its parents by distorting their era, their time in the sun - my generation is no different from any other.

“Perhaps no American period in memory has been so falsified and fictionalized as that of the 1930s. . . The sycophantic imitations of Bogdanovich, the very face and voice of Streisand, the make-up of Dunaway, the pin-stripe suits of Redford and Newman are totally false to the 1930s - hard-edged vulgarizations of its soft-edged sophistication.”

He makes the point that using Joplin music in “The Sting” was ridiculous, since it was 20 years out of vogue; it’s like someone using, oh, swing tunes for a movie set in 1963. But even as I was casting around for that analogy, I realized that you could use 50s doo-wop for a movie set in the 70s, since the 70s had a 50s revival, too. (Which came from American Graffiti, which was set in the early 60s.) You could use 80s pop in a 90s movie about the future, as they did in “Mission to Mars.” It’s all getting messed up, swirled around, blended into a sugary shake that hits every bud on the tongue.

This isn’t good. Any perhaps that’s why I am fascinated by those previous eras: they had no concept of retro.

“The Jetsons” is now retro, which is highly ironic. I was Gnatsitting this morning and came across one of the newer, crappier Jetsons, and I wondered: in a world where everything looks & behaves like it does in the Jetsons era, what’s their version of sci-fi? When we’ve colonized space and mastered interstellar travel, can there even be sci-fi anymore? I once wrote a Star Trek novel (yes, yes, I’m a geek, leave me alone) that made the mistake of trying to flesh out 24th century culture; as it turns out, the publishers presumed that Trek readers didn’t want any of that. They wanted Jean-Luc saying “engage” every 20 pages, and Worf muttering about honor. Well, my character was a 24th century journalist; wore a small camera on his shoulder that responded to small retina overlays, so you could point, shoot, focus, just by looking, using certain muscles, etc. (You can imagine my amusement during the opening scenes on the Enterprise in the movie “Generations.”) He was doing a rote feature piece on the Enterprise, since the recent unpleasantness with the Borg had soured many Earthlings on the whole idea of belonging to a galactic alliance. (“What do they get, exactly? Food they can’t digest, music they don’t like, worms in suits and robots in big cubes coming out of nowhere to turn everyone into machines - you got to ask, what’s in it for us, exactly?”)

Anyway. I had a scene where some 24th century film geeks were discussing the works of Chaplin, but it wasn’t the 20th century Chaplin; in the 22nd century a team of dramatists and comedians had used a computer-rendered Charlie Chaplin for a series of films that were far better than anything the original ever did. It was a brief scene, but you got the impression that the entire 20th century was regarded as a raw-materials storehouse, that all the really interesting stuff came later.

Too much 20th century chauvinism in Trek, I always thought.

Did I mention that the book didn’t sell?

I should also note that it was based around a very late 20th century concept: alien abduction & implantation. Oh, yes, it was real, and the offspring had finally found a way to send a message to earth via the only fragment of their remembered culture they could agree the 24th century might understand. Earth governments had always known about the abductions, and in fact they were in collusion with the aliens to ensure their own survival, right up until the Eugenics war came out of nowhere and upset all the plans.

I wrote this one in the fall of 92. You can imagine my amusement when that other show came along in 94. Amusement, and depression: it was clear I didn’t have an original idea in my head.

Then came the Web. Then came this site. Then came the Gallery. And now something I would have never have guessed in ‘92: my all-color book is coming out with my website listed on the back cover. See? It all works out just fine.

Which brings us to this. Do a search on my name. Hallelujah! Let the preordering begin!

(I'd link you right to the page, but it comes up on my account with one-click buying active. I'm sure there's a way to turn this off. But I am sick and tired. Literally.)