Greeting, Citizen
Just watched the Superbowl Half-Time show. Vulgar and annoying as it was, at least it was bi-gawd Amurican culture; last year I have a dim memory of Phil Collins doing his reedy warble over some drum-thumping love-the-world drivel while a gaggle of youth - The Hope of Tomorrow - waved gigantic puppets. You’d have thought this was a nation of pagan vegans. No insult intended towards pagan vegans, but they are a distinct cultural minority, and the entire show summed up everything that drives me nuts about happyface Western Civ at this point in time: this overweening conspicuous proclaiming of shame and guilt. We’re so sorry we’re a culture that comes up with horrible things like football - we’ll atone by having Michael Jackson come out of a saucer and sing a medley with a thousand ethnically balanced children.

Screw ‘em! It’s football, fer chrissakes! It’s red meat & likker & chaw, blow, weed, steriods, felons, hype out the wazoo and money for all. Which is why this year’s dreadful show got a little closer to the truth. It began with a little film “backstage” that united the triumvirate of modern comedy - the tiresome Ben Stiller, the unendurable Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock, who can be all over the road but at least brings some voltage to the event. We were introduced to N’Sync, whom the average guy viewer either knew and loathed, or didn’t know but suspected they would soon loath. Then a few words with Aerosmith, who are a four-man Portrait of Dorian Gray for my entire generation. The groups ran to the stage, followed by thousands of screaming girls with handmade signs. It stank of the ersatz from the very first second, and as soon as you saw MTV’s imprimaturs on it, you knew this was going to suck gourds through a drinking straw. And it did. (The Youth of Today may find this hard to believe, but there was a time when MTV was actually an active cultural force, and not a bad one at that. But that’s another Bleat.) N’Sync performed one of those hook-free modern songs in which everyone sings in some strange harmonic mode not used since the Gregorian chanters had the fermented honey for breakfast; it’s the same style as “Destiny’s Child” and the other bitchy girl-groups. A bunch of statements about how You So Unfair, spoken quickly to disguise the paucity of the material. punctuated with electronic flatulence. Then came Aerosmith, performing some lame number from their sober period, followed by the obligatory “Walk This Way.” Enter Brittney. Criminey. It’s been said that she represents a Dangerous Trend in America, that she’s a gateway drug to pedophila. (Oh, sorry, we might have some Brits in the audience: Paedophilia. Haeppy now?) Nonsense. It would seem that pedophiles want children prior to the manifestation of secondary sex characteristics; it ruins the fantasy if they have enormous cantaloupes surgically implanted on their ribcage. In any case, she looked as if she was having no fun whatsoever. She looked as if life really annoyed her. And of course, since this was Rock and Roll, she had to do that little get-down pout that’s been de rigeur ever since, oh, I don’t know, since Piaf belched up something sour.

Then came Mary J. Blige, who’s good enough not to worry that people will say her name’s but one transposition away from the truth. She didn’t want to be there, and when . . . I’m blanking, the Jagger-lipped guy - Tyler, right, Little Stevie Tyler - when he screamed “WALK THIS WAY” into their common mike, you could see a thought balloon above her head: fish.

Then, just to bring the entire event down to the submoron level, Nelly was brought out to grab his nuts and shout something or other into the mike. Finale. Fireworks. Rock is dead; it’s been dead for years. Will someone just drag it outside and bury it? Please?

Friday night I noticed that the bowl of a ceiling light fixture appeared to have discolored overnight. How? Why? From stark white to dingy yellow? Unless -

A chill, in accordance with all the cliches about premonitions and fears, went up my spine. I got up on the counter. Tapped the bowl.

The stain . . . moved. It sloshed.

The bowl was full of water.

The bowl was under the upstairs bathroom.

I looked at another light fixture three feet away: also full of water.

I felt the ceiling: the sheetrock joint felt soggy.

Then the bathtub came thundering down from above! Well, no. But this wasn’t good. This was, in homeowner’s terms, the antithesis of good. You have “good” on one side, and you have “trapped water from an upstairs bathroom” on the other. I called the plumber who’d replaced several fixtures in the bathroom, including the tub, a few weeks ago. They were busy, and couldn’t send someone out for a while. Say, eleven PM. Well, that wasn’t any good, since Gnat was sleepy, I was sick, and Sara was far, far sicker. She’s not been able to shake the cold - feverish, exhausted. She wanted to go to bed. Gnat wanted to go to bed. I wanted to stay up and play “Soldier of Fortune,” but I kept that to myself.

The plumber promised to call early the next morning. And I mean, early. I’ve been rearranging my hours to fit the new schedule - no more staying up all night like a college student. I have to rise at an Adult Hour. (Meaning, the hour set by your children.) I have the getting-up part down pat. Still working on the going-down part. So this morning when Sara handed me the baby, I woke, looked at the clock and realized I’d had five hours of sleep. Well. Here we go, then! Plumber should be here any minute anyway.

Three hours later, the plumber showed up. He evaluated the situation with brisk precision: not their fault. Not their fault at all. It was the work of the guys who refinished the tub. They’d reinstalled the drain incorrectly, and it leaked.

I called them; their phone was busy. A fast dial, indicating the phone was off the hook.

Great. Well, can’t have it leak all weekend until the ceiling swells like the udder of an unmilked cow. Go to it, pal.

Double-time rates, needless to say.

Later that day I went grocery shopping with Gnat, which was fun. I recommend bringing a baby, and putting her in the cart; she took up 65 percent of the cart space, and that cut down on what I could buy. The store overwhelmed her; she got that baby-glaze look, tuned out, and fell asleep. What the heck, I thought: let’s let Sara sleep all afternoon. So I drove to a strip mall, bought a magazine, got coffee at a Caribou’s, sat on the floor in the hall of the mall and read the magazine while baby slept.

Most ordinary moment of the week, and unquestionably the finest. You never think that’ll be the case; you never think you’ll be unbelievably happy just to be sitting in the sun with your slumbering daughter, drinking a good potent cup of joe and reading a review that eviscerates a movie about the Marquis De Sade, but that’s how it turns out.

Anyway. We’re both sick, and I’m behind on everything, including the things I’d promised for this site this month. And Gnat has stopped sleeping through the night; everything’s screwed again. Sigh.

But what about Space Ghost?



Finished “Battlefield Earth,” and it didn’t let me down. It’s bad, yes, as bad as advertised, but it has a certain kind of rare badness, the kind that holds up on repeating viewings. Juicy, generous, clueless, expensive badness in this quantity doesn’t come very often. It deserves attention. While not in the league of “Plan 9” - too many competent people involved - this movie it nevertheless contains scenes you know you’ll anticipate, again and again. It’s worth owning, just to take it out and share it with friends.

Others have skewered this movie until it looks like St. Sebastian at a Catholic nailgun enthusiast’s convention, and there’s not much I can add here. In fact, watching the movie is like reading a checklist of all the things you’re anticipating:

All camera angles set to the BATMAN VILLAIN LAIR position? Check! Travolta wearing a codpiece the size of a Galapagos turtle shell? Check! Evil conquering race with hearts as black as L. Ron Hubbard’s teeth? Check! Savage feral humans with perfect white dentition? Check! Ridiculous plot developments?
Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check Check

But then you see something no one else has commented upon. Such as the bad guy’s spy cameras. This is a civilization which plants miniature spy cameras in the shirt-buttons of the humans. But their office spy cameras go WHIRRR and protrude an inch from the wall when they’re activated.


The bad guys have domed over Denver as their base of operations. It’s a huge dome. Of course, it would have to be, in order to reach over the top of the skyscrapers. And the point of building this huge dome over a ruined city is . . . what? Why not build a nice five-story dome, say, over there, where there isn’t any city?

The bad guys are named Psychlos. So . . . they attacked Athens first, then. That’s the only other explanation. If an invading race crashes out of the sky, whips your planetary ass and says WE ARE THE CYCLOS, who the hell is going to spell it with a silent fargin’ P? I’ll tell you who: L. Ron, who hated the psychiatrists, that’s who.

Travolta: always a hack. Always a bad, bad actor. He had a certain ignorant charisma in “Saturday Night Fever” - a better movie than people think, really - but he’s a one-note actor, and this happy-crazy lunatic schtick he’s been pulling for the last five films is just awful. It’s okay when Woo directs; Woo cuts away fast enough. But here the camera appears to be glued to Travolta like the lens is a tongue and he's a cold metal pole. Forrest Whittaker is also in the movie, and he looks as if he just came from a Rastafarian version of Cats. He’s awful too.

The Psychlos have been mining the Earth for 1000 years. Are they taking out the minerals with those little cranes you see in the Penny Arcade? They have matter transportation technology, but they still need gold? Etc.? Etc.? The problem with so much sci-fi is that it’s made by unbelievers, people who hold the genre in contempt. They’re just tourists. Travolta was different; he worships the material. (Literally.) But no one involved appears to have ever seen another sci-fi movie, or they’d know that every single section, every frame, every plot twist, every character, has been done before, better, a dozen times. The Psychlos are, in essence, Klingons cross bred with Ferengis, with absolutely none of the charm or culture of either. The filmmakers either didn’t know, or care. They thought no one would notice. They must have thought that mainstream audiences would attend on the Star Power of Johnny T.; women would say to their dates “Oh no, I don’t want to see that romantic comedy when we could see that new Travolta film!” They must have thought men would say “Hmm. Rockets. Explosions. Combat in space. Never seen one of those before, but it does appeal to me. Travolta’s in it? That seals the deal!”

And if one or two sci-fi geeks did notice a few flaws, well, no doubt some people nitpicked Schindler’s List because the Nazi uniforms had the wrong thickness of braid on the patches.

Idiots. It’s like the people who made that new Roddenberry TV show with Kevin Sorbo. They remade Galaxy Quest. The TV show, not the movie. This reminds me of my childhood, when every - single - scifi - movie STUNK, or if it didn’t stink, it didn’t have robots or spaceships.

To cleanse my palate, I watched the first few scenes of Toy Story 2, which I’ve not seen since the theater. It’s one of those DVDs that fills the entire 16:9 screen, and since it’s all digital, it really pops off the screen and makes me happy, happy, happy I bought this set. The first four minutes of TS2 have more wit, humor, ingenuity, character, heart and sci-fi goodness than the entire bloated white stinking corpse of Travolta’s brainchild. Superman, Black Hole, 2001, Star Wars 2, 2001, and even Tron - those were a few of the references in the opening sequence, and if you didn’t get any of them you didn’t miss a thing.

That’s filmmaking. But what about Space Ghost? Tomorrow.


I’m up for two Pulitzers this year. Isn’t that impressive? Of course, so is Joe Bloau from the South Putzville Gleaner, if his bosses pony up the entrance fee. I won’t win, of course. (Joe’s that good.) I’ll never win, but what the hell. I don’t measure personal success by awards or the recognition of my peers; I measure it by the amount of money and belongings I have. And they’re all going with me when I die. Heap ‘em on the pyre. I want all my best buddies to throw out all their backs dragging that TV onto bonfire. I want to see their spinal discs shooting out like clay pigeons in a skeet shoot. PULL! Of course, I’ll be dead, so I won’t see it. Damn: everything about death just stinks. Including the stink.

Where was I? Right! Coffee! Chock Full O’ Nuts! One scoop over the line, sweet Jesus, one scoop over the line: made it a little too strong tonight. But I’m correct about the Pulitzer. Never get one. Don’t want one. They kill careers dead on contact. I’ve known a few people who got one, and even though they were exactly the same writer afterwards as before, people looked at them differently. Now you’re Pulitzer quality. And if anything you do subsequently isn’t Pulitzer quality, people look at it and think: this guy won a Pulitzer?

I want the James Gordon Bennett, frankly. That’s the award I want. Irascible dissipate who’s still remembered for a a New York neighborhood named after his paper (Herald Square), who founded a paper that survives to this day (Int’l Herald Tribune) and is utterly forgotten except by a few who treasure odd newspaper knowledge. I thought of him today when my issue of New York magazine came wrapped in a warning: THIS IS YOUR LAST ISSUE. Yes, and good riddance. I’m tired of paying for a magazine that believes “Michael Wolff on. . .” is an enticement, not a warning. I’m tired of the entire magazine, and I don’t have time for it. How does this relate to Bennett? New York magazine was originally the Sunday insert for the Herald Tribune, the paper formed by the merger of Bennett’s Herald and Greeley’s Tribune. Both papers are dead; the magazine survives. But that’s not reason enough to buy it.

Some day I’d like to write a newspaper novel, but is such a thing even wise nowadays, or possible? No more the noise and smoke and bumptious combat, the intestinal rumbles of the presses below, the quiet rarefied air of the publisher’s office upstairs; no more the grifters and sob-sisters queued in the waiting room, hoping the bend a columnist’s ear; no more the liquor breath and ringing phones and smell of cigars, hair cream, sweat - no more the old world, of course, anywhere. Today at the office Bill took me to the second floor, where they used to have the presses. There’s a lovely little room where you can buy a latte.

But there’s also a phone . . . in a booth. In a classic glass-walled booth. With that heavy square metal thumb on the coin return. And it’s a rotary. It stands there on the second floor like it’s waiting for Superman.

Aren’t we all. Well, I’d buy that phone if they ever wanted to sell it. And I’d request that they NOT put in on my pyre. Burn my ten Pulitzer plaques first; they’re a dime a dozen. A good rotary phone: that’s something special. That’s art. Art you can use to talk to people, and hear them talk back.

Okay, Space Ghost. There’s nothing to say, other than I ordered this from Big Brain Comics, and it came the other day. I love Space Ghost. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. (It reminds me of the Diner, with Moltar as Jeremy the Dark Chef, and me as the cheerful clueless infantile egomaniac host.) When I was a young lad, I watched the original, and I loved it: Space Ghost was as cool as it got back then. Well, almost as cool as Johnny Quest. Now I have the toy, and I’m happy.

In my parents’ generation, men did not collect dolls. I could go on a rant about Fallen Standards of Adulthood, but I just don’t have it in me. I have a few figurines: Space Ghost and all the Simpsons. Okay, and one Buzz Lightyear. And a Duke Nukem. And a Duke Nukem Pig Cop. But that’s it.

Oh, and the head chicken from Chicken Run. And all the Powerpuff Girls, with, of course, the Professor.

As for how I did this little scene (and Mojo Jojo. I do a damn fine Mojo Jojo impersonation, incidentally; too bad Gnat doesn’t like it. I also do a good Louis Armstrong, and that one scares the hell out of her) it’s quite simple, and a fine illustration of my always-do-two-things-at-once modus vivendi. I shot a bunch of pictures of the water-filled light fixtures on Saturday; when I put the camera upstairs I took two minutes to pose & shoot Space Ghost on my desk, shouting I’LL BE RIGHT DOWN at the one-minute mark. Later that night while checking mail, I uploaded the photos. While Gnat was taking a 20 minute nap, I made the graphic. Voila. I don’t spend a lot of time on this stuff. Although it’s time I could spend watching TV.

Such as Space Ghost. I have two episodes on the TiVo I’ve not yet seen.

To those who thought this meant I might actually be on Space Ghost: Don't I wish. But I'm hardly famous enough. I mean, I'm not famous at all, if you want to get all TECHNICAL about it. But a Pulitzer will change that!

Suuuure it will.


Watched DePalma’s “The Untouchables,” now out on DVD. Holds up well, although I was once again amused to see that the Chicago Police were stationed in the Rookery, a rather famous Chicago building. DeNiro is absolutely wonderful as the gangster Al “Bob DeNiro” Caponiro, although you could detect notes of DeNiro’s famous performance as Jakebert LaNiro in Raging Bull, or Travis Bickeliro in “Taxi Driver.” Still, an original performance. NOT! (Sorry, but sometimes an early 90s catchphrase fits too well.) I love DeNiro, but if you chopped off his index fingers you remove 50 percent of his physical repertoire. Kevin Costner’s performance reminds us why he was once a movie star; Sean Connery proves that little else has the solid, manly satisfaction of listening to a Scotsman cash a check; and then there’s Toad. Or whatever his name is. He’s one of those three-namers. He played Toad in “American Graffiti;” he was a SETI scientist in “Starman,” he was a wolf researcher in “Cry Wolf, Toad” or something like that. Charles Nelson Smythe-Reilly. James Nelson Charles. M. Emmett Charles. Whatever, to use another annoying 90s catchphrase: he’s just a likable little squirt.

In any case, it’s a fine movie - study, romantic Hollywood BS at its finest. DePalma is restrained, and Mamet’s script doesn’t sound like the scripts he directs. (Mamet movies are some of my favorites, but he has the old Marian Davies problem, and I wish he’d fine a new leading actress.) But Costner has this moment at the end, this grand payback moment where he says “Here endeth the lesson” to draw the lessons of Sean Connery’s character fullll circle. And he flubs it. He does such a lousy job you don’t get the callback until it’s over. DeNiro looks at him in complete incomprehension, and the audience shares his reaction.

Turned off the DVD: on came the Game Show Channel, playing a Match Game marathon. I love this show - as a cultural artifact. You can do a dozen documentaries on the 70s, and they won’t tell you one-tenth of what you get from five minutes of this smarmy, boozed-up, open-shirt, high-camp dank little polyester leer-fest. The top row guests: Barney from Mission: Impossible! (Greg Loomis) Brett “hic” Sommers (the host made a passing reference to her husband Jack, and I remembered: she was married to Klugman, ol’ Oscar Quincy himself) and, occupying the Charlest Nelson Reilly spot, MOREY AMSTERDAM. He was in full old-man mode, a little wrinkled gremlin in a suit two sizes too big, his tie poorly done with a knot the size of Goliath’s gallstone. He was clearly happy to be working again, but no one seemed to like him.

Barney Loomis gave a speech on his new charity work, which was helping The Kids of Today, and it was one of those smooth unctuous bits of California blarney no one could make with a straight face today. Except Kathy Lee Crosby, and her face would be straight only because she’s had her facial muscles novacained into permanent cheerfulness. “Kids today,” Barney said, “are our greatest resources.”

“Kids today are much better than in my day,” Morey said from the other end of the bench. “They’re certainly better armed.”

No one laughed and no one looked at him. Well, he gets the last laugh. He’s the eternal little Borsch-Belt imp jabbing the withered shiksa and the thin jittery goy. In fact, there’s a movie I saw last year where he actually played a Catskills comic who gets knifed, rather horribly. Can’t remember which movie it was. Some gangster movie.

I wonder, if in the French version of DePalma’s “Scarface,” Antoine Montana says “Direz-vous bonjour a ma petite ami!”

French: a lousy language for setting off bazookas in your office. Dit moi, anyway.

Ici end-moi le Bleatage.


Somehow today I stumbled into the world of game emulators - I wasn’t intending to, because I have real modern games stacked to the rafters, waiting to be played, and I just don’t have the time. But I had a brief painful stab of nostalgia for my TI/99 computer, and I thought again of the one game I never finished. It was a bad omen, I think: the second game I ever played, and I never finished it. I played it with the Giant Swede while I was living at the house on Hennepin with the Crazy Uke, six blocks from the bar in the movie “Fargo” that’s supposed to be in Fargo, but isn’t.

Anyway. It was a text adventure. I loved these games; still do. They’re from the infancy of gaming - the equivalent of riddles tapped on on crystal radio sets. Walking into a room rendered in the Q3 engine can be lovely and impressive, but when you’ve only 16K to tell a story, you have to rely on the gamer’s imagination to provide the details. Just the words “you are on a beach” can summon vistas no game can provide.

This game was inordinately frustrating. We did everything we were supposed to do. It was obvious we were supposed to cut the vines with the knife, and use the vines to build a raft. Or, in the lingo of text adventures:

> cut vines
- with what?
> with knife
> i (inventory)
- watch, coconuts, bottle of rum, fish bones, knife, vines
> tie logs
- I don’t know the word “tie”
>make raft
- with what?

And so forth. It looks dull now, but it was thrill-a-minute then; we were interacting with a computer at home, and in 1982 this was a novel concept. But we couldn’t make the damn raft. Periodically, the game would respond “I shawda picked another profession!” and we agonized over this word. Was Shawda a verb? A noun, an acronym? Someone’s daughter? Eventually we just quit, and moved on.

And never, ever forgot that we hadn’t finished.

Today I found the hints file for the game. It’s called “Savage Island,” and was written by gaming granddaddy Scott Adams. I read through the list of hints: yes, to get off the island I had to cut the vines with the knife. BUT HOW?

Only one way to find out: 19 years later, I am returning to Savage Island. I have an emulator for the Mac. I’m playing the game again. And this time I know that if all else fails, I can get in my car and drive south and be at the programmer’s house in 3 1/2 hours, because he lives in Wisconsin. His website even has a picture of his family.

Last week I got together with the Giant Swede, the Crazy Uke, and our wives & families. The Crazy Uke now has a new son, and I have a new daughter - we’re both late to the game, but we’re glad we’re in it, and it’s amusing to think how far back we go.

We didn’t have wives & kids then, of course. Nor do I have the painting that hung on my wall, a Lionel Feininger I loved and somehow lost. I don’t have the desk; it went out in 88. The TV I used for a monitor: gone. I remember watching “Overnight” on that TV in that room, watching a news report on a new disease called GRID, which they were describing as a way to get cancer from sex. Oh, wonderful, I thought. That’s just effin’ perfect. That’s what I have to look forward to: nuclear war or sex from cancer.

I later learned to enjoy the 80s.

But I never finished the game.

I called the Giant Swede tonight; I said “Here’s what’s on my screen. I am on a beach. There is a giant stone head and an impenetrable jungle.”

“You got the game,” he said without a pause.

It’s frightening how much we forget; it’s disheartening what the brain chooses to keep. But fiction has a peculiar persistence - we not only remember it, but the wheres and whens and whos were around when we first encountered a story, a character. I’m quite sure that every interaction I had with someone today will be forgotten; I left no impression anywhere on anyone. But this page might enter the great Google Cache in the Sky, and when some old old man does a search in 2037 to see if anyone else remembered Shawda, he’ll pull up this page. I did a search for Shawda today.


Consider this my gift, then. Here you go, old man in the future.

And no, I’m not telling you how to make the raft. YOU figure it out.