Monday, March 04, 2002
I’ve said it before: there’s nothing like a trip to the nursing home to make you want to take up smoking and order a steak. Nothing else reveals the mean rewards of a long long life. And the one we attended was one of the nicer examples - lavishly decorated with a new pool, small dining rooms for each wing, and a decorating theme that varied from floor to floor. One wing was done as a French village; another as a Northwoods cabin. The walls are painted to make the hallways look like Parisian streets or big city brownstones or New England clapboard houses. There are aviaries and fishtanks. It would be the coolest dorm in the world were it not for the faint aroma of soiled smocks, industrial food, and whatever chemical the staff splashes around after someone dies. I have to imagine that the front desk staff gets used to the parade of gurneys - you’d feel like a doorman at the Chelsea hotel.

We were there to see my wife’s Aunt Lee, who turns 90 this week. Lee doesn’t remember me anymore. I remember dinners at her Hopkins townhouse, when she would cook chicken wings that tasted like boiled mice with ketchup, and make dozens of cookies for us to take back. Even into her mid-80s she was sharp, but then came the stroke, the fall, the incessant succession of minor failures. She’s still lucid, but most of the memories have retreated behind a door and drawn the bolt. She remembers my wife, though, thanks to her constant visits, and she remembers our daughter. Gnat toddled around with a balloon she’d found hiding behind a houseplant on another floor. The sight of her lit up the faces of some of the residents; others, swallowed by a mudbath of disinterested senescence, gave her a glum dull glare. Gnat just ran around happily, her fist closed tight around the string. The balloon said THANK YOU.

Gnat and I wondered off to the library. (“de buks!” she said, and she started pulling down romance novels and large-print volumes of War and Peace.) She found a framed painting of some 19th century nature engravings, and named what she could: beeeeez for bees, and de bugs for ladybugs. She pushed every handicap automatic door-opening switch she could find, then paged through some National Geographics on a lobby table. I looked at the dates: 1982. 1998. 1990. They were all in perfect condition. The past just sat there in a jumble, unregarded; the past was just part of the scenery, something you dusted but didn’t really examine. That’s what’s odd about this place - for all the history of its tenants, for all the history of its benefactors (I was startled to see a wing named after a woman named Dyckman-Andrus, two great names in Minneapolis hostelry and real estate) the past does not exist; it was razed so they could build this jail called Today.

I don’t get it. If I designed a nursing home, I’d stock the library with old movies and copies of old mags, pipe swing and 30s jazz through the speakers, put up photos of Bogart and Bacall, and let everyone marinate in the age when they were limber and hale. Why not? What better way to tell people they’d best shuffle off to Buffalo then to plop them in this unmoored moment where none of their culture has survived?

We were up in the Northwoods wing, admiring the sweeping view of the lake, when a voice rang out from down the hall: Somebody push me. I can’t move myself. Somebody push me. I can’t move myself. I looked past the shuffling line moving in for the nightly meal (tonight’s entree: meal)to see a woman in a wheelchair, becalmed in the hall. Somebody push me. I can’t move myself. An orderly explained, in a voice that implied it was the sixth such reminder of the night, that her room was being cleaned, and she could go back in very soon. Somebody push me. I can’t move myself. It wasn’t a plaintive call, or a barked demand, but the unpleasant whine of someone who lives in a state of irritated confusion. You wondered if she'd been saying this in one for or another all her life.

We went back towards the elevator, me behind the wheelchair, Gnat still clutching her THANK YOU balloon. As we waited for the elevator were joined by two others - a stocky old lady who looked like she’d been the Girls Athletic Coach in ‘51, and a frail gray assemblage of twigs and parchment clinging to a walker. They oohed and cooed at Gnat until the door dinged and the doors grumbled open. I pushed Lee’s chair in; my wife and Gnat went in; the woman in the walker went in. “Coming?” I asked Coach. She shook her head no, and walked away.

I pushed the button for the third floor, pushed the door-close button.

ringringringringring - the elevator was upset about something, perhaps because we’d had the doors open too long. ringringringring-

I looked straight ahead, and saw another old woman threading her way down a white hallway whose lower thirds were painted to look like a brick wall, and the walls had 18th century Yankee-doodle decorations.No matter how nice this place is, how kind the staff and nourishing the food, it’s a movie set where the cameras have long stopped rolling and everyone is waiting for their close-up -
“Ohhh, there you are.” An orderly had appeared in the elevator lobby. She grinned at the old lady in the walker. “You know you’re not supposed to go off the floor.” She leaned into the elevator car and punched an eight-digit code into a keypad on the wall. The ringing stopped.

The old lady in the walker was tagged. The entire building was watching its charges; the vigilant wires had saved her from freedom. She might have wandered off, you know. She might have seen the frozen lake from the window and decided that she wanted to go sleep on the shore again, for old time’s sake, for fun, for good.

She got off. The doors closed. “Somebody push me,” we heard from the hall.

Driving away, I told my wife what I always tell her: if I have to go to one of these places, put the pillow over my face. When I stop kicking, keep the pillow pressed down tight. Count to 60. I want you to be sure.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002
Bad war news today. As I watched talking heads bob and frown I listened to a radio intervew with one of the men whose life was dramatized in that new Mel Gibson Vietnam movie. He was a quiet fellow, disinclined to tell anecdotes or bask in the refracted glow of a Hollywood account. He said next to nothing about anything, but you felt as if you'd gotten a good hard look at something horrible nevertheless, and you sat up straight while you listened. I had that feeling all day - felt like October. Made you realize that it's been October every day since October. And it's going to be October for some time, right up until the day it's September again.

Friday I did a radio show on old WCCO - was interviewed for the column, the website, etc. Lots of fun. Lots of commercials, but that’s the station - there was one jaw-dropping 18 minute block (news, ads, live remotes, ads, weather, news, ads) between interview segments. Eighteen minutes! At the Diner, that was the length of the time we had to talk; ‘CCO has it all in reverse. Afterwards I went to the comic book store, but it wasn’t open yet. Not ‘til noon. I had to laugh - at some point you have the tastes of your youth, but not the hours. Your like-minded caballeros were up until three. So, just head over to Denny’s for the Senior Grand Slam, Gramps, and come back after we’ve had our first cup of coffee.

Actually, it was 11:15 AM; I don’t want to make it sound like I was banging on the door at 6 AM with my cane demanding the latest “100 Bullets.”

The record store next door was open, so I went in to see how unhip I was. But I liked what they were playing. Asked the clerk, who had a soul patch and a ring through his lip; he said it was Moby’s “Play.” I said this was impossible, since I had every possible variation of all Moby works, and this wasn’t familiar. No, it was the Moby DVD. Ah, well, that explains it. I ended up buying two Pet Shop Boys remix albums, marveling, again, at the canny nature of modern music marketing. When my dad bought “Opus #1,” it stayed bought. That was it. There wasn’t an “Opus #1 (Super Orchidilicious Master Bowser Deep Dub Choco-Mix.)” I’m not complaining, and in fact I like this; I like having ten versions of every song, listening to the basic item get run through the grinder and reconstructed upside down. And I don’t care who knows it; I love this PSB stuff. Anyone who thinks it’s all twee “West End Girls” stuff never heard the remixes. I was particularly happy to find “Where the Streets Have No Name,” which segues into “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” - a great joke, a sweet tweak at U2’s Big Serious Music.

Techno does for me now what rock used to. Why, I couldn’t care less.

Then down the street to the cut-rate seconded bookstore, where I usually get something for Gnat . . . but the stock never changes, and I’ve exhausted the books I think she’ll like. So I bought something for myself. Saw a Gene Kelly bio, and having just written that bleat about him, I thought what the hell. Eight bucks. Bought a Rizzoli coffee-table book on Cesar Pelli for a sawbuck, and for another $15 I picked up a photo book called “Gotham Comes of Age,” a collection of photos from a Manhattan photo studio that served the rich & the real estate brokers for 40 years, and also did some work on the side illuminating Social Problems. I thought this will make a great addition to my collection, and I’ll want this some day because I’m not sure New York will be there in ten years. I think it will be nuked.

And then I read today what we all read today about the New York nuke scare.

I’m not sure it will happen. I’d just be surprised if it didn’t, that’s all. (I could tell this was on my mind today, because I bought extra flashlights at Target.) This is what has changed: growing up, I feared the big nuke swap-meet, with nothing but rubble and mutants and hunter-killer robots left. It never occurred to me I would live in a world where there was a New York but no Manhattan, a scarred & pitted Woolworth Building but not Empire State or Grand Central (figuring that the fuckers blew it up in midtown to deny us Central Park for good as well.)

There are European columnists in respectable newspapers who would write about the event, and no matter how much sympathy they evinced towards the start, you’d be waiting for the fulcrum of the BUT, and you’d find it. There are reasonable, rational people writing for newspapers grounded in the Western empirical tradition who would feel it was their duty to explain the nuking of New York, and place it in context. They remember Hiroshima, but not Pearl Harbor. (It would be a hallmark of their intellect that New York could suffer both - a sneak attack and a nuke - and they would remain America’s fault.) They would bring up the camp at Gitmo; they would recycle all the false numbers about Iraqi sanction deaths and Afghan casualties, and if they shed a tear it would be for the Motherwells in the museums and the immigrants who, being new to the poisonous shores of America and being guilty of nothing but misguided hope, were blameless.

Think I’m kidding?


Wednesday, March 06, 2002
Reading a Curious George story to Gnat today. It’s based on the animated TV show, and appears to have been drawn by some ham-fisted hack incapable of Margaret Ray’s lovely simple lines. The story involved George’s misadventures at a pizza parlor, and featured a chef named Tony. He had to deliver a pizza to the factory - a typical children’s story situation, that. (“Tony! It’s the factory! They want a pizza!” “I’ll make them one!” No one asks which factory, or which door to deliver it to, or which kind of pizza - in children’s stories, these are just the sort of things adults know.) The Man in the Yellow Hat was not; meaning, he had a yellow suit but no Hat. Bloody revisionists. Anyway, George vexed Tony six ways from Sunday, and as I read the story I slipped into an organa-grinder Italian accent, eh? Wassamatta you monkey? Finally we got to a page where Curious George had gotten the better of Tony, and I summoned up the only-a piecea dialogue that fitta the moment: laugha while you can, monkey boy!

Okay, you get that or you don’t, and if you don’t, skip to the next boldfaced line.

Finally watched the “Buckaroo Banzai” DVD. Had the same feeling I had during the opening moments of “The Phantom Menace” - please o please don’t suck. Of course, TPM sucked like a shop-vac from the get-go; when Obi-Wan said “I have a bad feeling about this” I instantly had a very bad feeling about it as well, and spent the rest of the movie sinking in my seat, looking at my watch, waiting for JarJar to get sucked into a turbine and spewed out the back in a chunky gout of buckskin and scales. “Buckaroo” belongs in that special category of movies I love so much I never watch them, lest I spoil their charms. Don’t think I’d seen it since the late 80s, actually. So I pop the disc in the player, reminding myself that I was younger and more impressionable then, and it’s okay if it’s not as good as I thought. Really. It’ll be all right.

And you know what? It wasn’t as good as I remembered. It couldn’t possibly be. Now, the first half is almost perfect, and was better than I recalled, but let explain what I mean.

Think of the pitch for this movie. “It’s about a rock-and-roll brain surgeon who dabbles in dimensional physics, and travels the country in a high-tech touring bus with his bandmates, who are also scientists. Trouble begins when Buckaroo’s experiments throw open a portal, and Earth is vexed by Lectroids from Planet X who’ve slipped through the eighth dimension. Now, here’s the important part: everyone in the movie is absolutely serious about this, and believes in their characters completely. There are no jokes. And it’s a comedy.”

For this to work, the movie has to have a certain tone exactly one degree below camp and kitsch. It can never teeter into winking nudge-nudge self-consciousness, or it’s an Adam West Batman movie. And for the most part, it succeeds. Thank Peter Weller, who’s just great, and thank a cast and director who understood exactly what was required to make it fly. Thank John Lithgow, who overacts in direct proportion to the amount of underacting everyone else does.


When Buckaroo is on stage performing, we’re delighted - and not at all surprised, really - to learn he’s a great guitar player. Surgeon? Sure. Test-pilot of an interdimensional vehicle? Why not. Guitarist? Dude! Rock on! Martial arts expert? But uf cuss! But then he whips out a flugelhorn and plays a solo worthy of Maynard Ferguson, and I thought: now that I cannot buy. That’s just silly. When would he have the time to practice, let alone learn the instrument?

I’m serious: it’s one of those things that just goes a millimeter over the line, and pokes you in the eye for having accepted all the genial absurdities presented thus far. But the movie doesn’t make another misstep for the next hour, and in fact does nearly everything right. It’s hardly perfect (do you remember that Yakov Smirnov was in the flick? Hmm? It’s like renting “Unbreakable” in 2009 and finding out that Carrot Top had a small role) and the plot is a sprawling mess, but any movie that contains Christopher Lloyd wearing a mask that looks like a big melted suppository, insisting that his name is Big Boo-tay, not Big Booty, AND brings in War of the Worlds AND features Ellen Barkin at her dewy-fresh-yet-slatternly best, AND celebrates science as a hip pursuit, is my kind of movie. I love the 80s, and this is one of the tent-pole movies of the 80s cultural experience, so I will cut it vast bolts of slack. Now I can stop worshipping it . . . and go back to enjoying it. Beside, any small molecule-sized disappointment I had was healed by the end credit sequence, which just makes you sit up and salute and feel sorry for the World Crime League.

Apologies to the New Yorkers in the audience for yesterday’s grim Bleat; I was feeling - well, grim, and my fatalism was more a reflection of the day’s news than a prediction. Hell, what do I know. Sometimes tending a toddler is good medicine for bad news - and sometimes it makes you all the more saddened, because you’re desperate for your child to grow up in a world that's not at war. I spend the day in this strange bifurcated world - our kitchen and family room are conjoined in an L-shaped area with an island in the hinge position; I sit there at the island and write, prowl the web, hoover up the blogs while Gnat plays at her little table. We read, color, do the alphabet and numbers and bestiaries - when she identifies a small rodent as “de mohs” it’s so sweet it makes Mogen David taste like paint thinner. Snow falls outside; Jasper sits by the door with his cold nose on the window; swing music plays, the fireplace crackles. And the news crawl drags the dead across the bottom of the screen. When I’m at work, surrounded by adults, it’s different; you can bounce your paranoia off others, commiserate, theorize, then get back the work that fills the day. When it’s just me and her, the L feels like a fort, and no matter how much I tell myself otherwise, I keep seeing the points of Zulu spears on the horizon.
Thursday, March 07, 2002
Today: DC DMV VS MPLS DMV; Rallstones; mail from Blighty

I remember my experience with the District of Columbia motor vehicles department well - long lines in underheated rooms that smelled of armpits and feet, clerks who couldn’t make eye contact if they were propped up in your direction wearing a neck brace and those Clockwork Orange eyelid prongs, and a series of halls and rooms that made you fear you’d find the Minotaur behind a door, crouching over a pile of bones with blood-flecked khaki-strips hanging from his maw. It was one of the things I hated about DC. The civil servants regarded you like a dog that had fastened on to their shin. And even then they were too lazy to push you off.

I thought of that today when I went to get new tags for the Galileo. (That’s it, above, being washed.) Went to a suburban branch, but the experience was similar when I went downtown. The room was clean and spacious; the seating generous, and arranged in a square so all could see the four-sided display that indicated the numbers being served. There was a table full of Lego, and Gnat spent the 15 minutes happily stacking blocks . . . and counting them. (I don’t know if this is normal for a 20-month old, but she not only has her alphabet down, she’s got most of her numbers, and has started pointing and counting.) When my number was called we went to a counter with a nice old lady who took my money, then gave me a Kleenex to wipe off my license plate to affix the sticker. “Don’t moisten it,” she said. “It could crystalize, and then it wouldn’t stick as well.”

In DC, I think, they’d offer to come out and clean your plate - if it meant you’d give them a sawbuck to go out and spit at your car.

I had dinner with some current DC residents the other night, and was describing my unhappy tenure, and I wish I’d had the DMV example in my quiver. One of the things that drove me nuts about living out there was the mulish inability of city workers to realize how much they made people hate their city. When every encounter with the public servants feels like you’re rubbing your eyeball on a cheese grater, you disengage from its fate, or you accept this is as the standard price for living in an interesting place - and you begin to learn to expect less, an ever-downward spiral that eventually sends you to a calm green burb. Coming back home, I remember thinking how clean it was, how green it was, how cheerful the people were - and how frictionless my encounters with government felt. There’s no excuse for it not to be that way.

Then we went to Home Depot, a store so large birds fly in its rafters and tweetle above in the Lumber Aisle. I bought three small fire extinguishers, because Gnat’s at that adorable stage where she’s just lighting fires everywhere, and I’m tired of running behind her with a pail of sand.

Well, no. She has, however, learned that Daddy is not happy when she pulls out the power cord for his computer. She thinks it’s funny. Yank. No! Ha ha. Yank. No! Ha ha. When she senses I am really getting peeved, she leans forward, gives me a tight hug, and says “nice.”

Crafty little imp.

Ah, Ted Rall, the brave St. Sebastian of the Truth-Speaking Dissenters, now ground under the heel of the conservative nutjobs who run the New York Times. You’ve heard, no doubt, of the cartoon that got yanked from the Times site, the cartoon in which he makes fun of Daniel Pearl’s widow. (It’s about all the 9/11 widows - one panel has a woman saying that the worst thing about having her husband’s throat slit was having to watch the Olympics alone.) I don’t know why anyone’s surprised by this. Artistically, it’s typical; Rall seems to draw his work not with a pen and hand but with a piece of charcoal inserted into his ear canal. As for its subject matter, it’s like everything else he does: it bears no relation to reality, and it’s not funny. When you tote up the basics of Rall cartoon - ugly, nonsensical, strenuously unamusing - you wonder why, exactly, anyone runs him.

Apparently he was on the Mike Gallagher show today, a talk show on the Salem Broadcast Network. I didn’t hear it, and I’m glad I didn’t; Gnat does not need to hear Daddy say those words. From what I’ve read, the host of the show agreed with Rall’s critique of the widows. But before Ted takes any comfort in this, he should know that Gallagher is one of the most blockheaded people I’ve ever heard on radio. He bored me after a week of listening, because his brain seems like a rock set in concrete, devoid of intellectual curiosity. I will offer only this in evidence: once I heard him goggling over an illustrated tract that showed the dangers of Freemasonry, and he asked the audience to call and tell him if this was true. Were they really this super-secret evil society? “It’s a little cartoon book by some guy named Jack Chick,” he said, “and it’s disturbing.”

If one can reach 40, believe that the tentacular insinuations of the Shriner cabal have snaked through every institution, as well as NOT know about Jack Chick cartoons, you’ve no business cracking a mike on a national show. If he agreed with Rall, I’m not surprised.

Anyway. Why is anyone shocked by Rall’s latest? It’s not like the Family Circus turned into a strip about child mol3station, or Garfield took a hideous swing into b3stiality. (Misspellings to shield me from prevert Googlers.) Maybe it’s because we’re so used to him skinning the family pet we’re stunned to learn he’s taking the knife to the baby. I just find it interesting that he seems so besotted by his need to prove his intellectual bravery that he doesn’t realize when he’s walked off the cliff. It’s a Wile E. Coyote moment in a man’s career; we can only watch him shrink, and wait for the single puff of dust on the canyon floor.

Warning: the following is Screedy. Bail if you hate this stuff. I won't be offended.

Got a letter today from a British fellow, taking issue with my comments about New York & nukes a few days ago. It bears excerpting. He was more civil and friendly than these comments suggest, but my eyebrows still went up . . . .then down.

What is it with you guys? Paranoia as fashion accessory? A couple of skyscrapers come down and the end of the world is nigh?

I love that: “Come down.” As though they just tumbled from some structural deficiency. As though Atta et al wandered by and sneezed in unison, toppling 200 stories of steel. Let’s rephrase: Nineteen men drive planes into two skyscrapers, killing thousands, and barrel another into the Pentagon, and you act like war has been declared.

Do me a favour. World War II: London, Coventry, Dresden ... scenes of utter devastation, shocking, certainly, but the world did not end

True. Europe suffered horribly. So, in retrospect, it would have been a good idea to destroy Nazism the moment its nature was revealed, eh? Everyone always entertains the old time-travel fantasy of heading back to the 20s, finding Adolph glowering in a lice-ridden chair in the common room of a Vienna boarding house, and putting a round through his skull. This is morally acceptable, since we all know what he did. It would not be acceptable, however, to attack Germany after it had attacked Poland, gassed a batch of people, and attempted to build every bad bug and big bomb modern science provides; you have to wait until he comes after you. Die pure, that’s the idea.

And no, the world won't end if New York or LA goes up, but neither will it end if a comet takes out Brazil and blankets the earth in a shroud of particulates, carbonized forests and airborne thong residue. But I'd like to be on record against the collapse of civilization, regardless of whether the species comes roaring back in a couple hundred years.

The events of September 11th were terrible and the loss of life was devastating but somehow America's sense of proportion seems to have slipped away, if ever it had one.

It’s that last little twist of the toothpick that tells you what we’re dealing with here.

You say that when the big one goes off (and you seem to have some kind of death wish here, almost hoping for a nuclear attack to take place) European sympathy will soon pass away.

There’s nothing I’ve ever written anywhere wishing calamity would revisit our cities. I leave that to British newspaper columnists who write glib columns encouraging the assassination of President Bush. These people, to repeat my point, would consider it their duty not to be horrified by the nuclear destruction of an American city. Those scribes with a small pallid jot of humanity left in their marrow would wait a week before weighing in with they-were-asking-for-it columns. Those who believed it was the duty of the press to take a contrarian view, particularly if it sold papers, would express sympathy in the first few paragraphs of a finely tuned editorial, and conclude that the real victims would be those America would doubtlessly kill in response.

You go on to mention unequal comparisons of infamy, how we'll mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki and quickly forget Pearl Harbor. Well, so we will and quite rightly so. Due to its own crass military and intelligence failings, the USA suffered casualties of 3435 at Pearl Harbor and lost 188 aircraft and 15 miscellaneous navy vessels. The atomic attacks on Japan razed to the ground two cities, causing 105,000 people to die and 94,000 serious injuries.

Well, don’t START A WAR WITH AMERICA, then. And I like the idea that because we had intelligence failings, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. Why, next thing you know, rape victims who didn’t check the closet before going to bed will expect the police to arrest someone.

My father was part of the force that would have invaded the Japanese mainland. He volunteered for this. At the age of 15. He didn't sign up for the Grand Colonial Extermination of the Yellow Peril; he signed up after Pearl Harbor. If there had been no Pearl Harbor, a North Dakota boy might not have felt the need to head to the seas, okay? But because there was a Pearl Harbor, there was this one thin farmer boy on a ship in the middle of the trackless ocean, knifing through the waves to the battle of the mainland. And if he'd been torn to bloody ribbons like half his friends, I wouldn't be here, and my amazing Gnat slumbering in the other room wouldn't be here either. Most important: if Japanese militarism hadn't conflated tyranny, racism, and territorial expansion with a mystical notion of national honor and ethnic destiny, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have looked the same in '46 as they did in '41.

Your lack of balance - is it only Americans who can feel pain? -

Remember - he’s extracting this idea out of a piece lamenting the possible destruction of New York. He’s already pissed in advance that Americans might feel bad about that, since it just shows our narrow self-absorbtion. “Balance” requires that Americans regard an unprovoked attack as morally equivalent to our response to that attack, since pain is felt in either situation.

- is what makes we Europeans wary of President Bush's "war on terrorism" and the US's gung-ho militarism in relation to the totally artificially-constructed "axis of evil".

Ooooh, Smithers, save me from the wary Europeans. Note that the “war on terrorism” is in scare quotes, because any thinking person knows that this is a simplistic concept. And note how the military is, of course, “gung-ho.” Well, I want my military to be gung-ho, especially when the other side is equally gungy-hoish about killing us, but in another sense this is just the same old tired reactionary thinking that sniggered about the oxymoronic implication of “Military Intelligence.” I’ve been watching Pentagon briefings since this thing started, and these guys aren’t foaming Buck Turgidsons pounding the table and baying for blood; they’re smarter than that. And they don’t let passions blind them, as is obvious in this last phase of the war. We learned from the mistakes of Tora Bora, and now we’re doing things differently. This sort of flexibility is not only essential, it is a hallmark of an army of a free nation. No one in the Pentagon worries that their family will be shot if they screw up.

There’s institutional entropy, of course, and depending on who’s the CinC, there’s confusion and timidity. But these guys have free rein now, and gung-ho is not the word I’d use. That suggests someone whose enthusiasm is matched only by their delusions. The men running this war have ice-water in their veins, and believe me: against that, gung-ho doesn’t stand a chance.

Anyway ... thanks for reading this.

You’re welcome.

Friday, March 08, 2002
It started to rain tonight, but halfway down the rain changed its mind: I heard a thousand little pings on the skylight, hail-spittle clattering against the glass. Went outside, and the entire ravine was alive with the same sound of freezing rain - like a mob of aggravated insects, or the sound of a violin bow inverted and bounced on the string. (There’s a musical term for it - woodenstickenclich, probably. And I know this will get me a dozen letters telling me what the sound is, and how its most famous use might be in Dance Macabre, and to all you kind emailers: consider this your thanks in advance.)

I was actually thinking that as I stood out there. You know this web thing has assumed large proportion in your life when you’re not only composing what you’ll write later, but composing the response to the people who will respond.

So, here’s the Friday roundup:

Games. I rented “Wreckless,” another . . .driving game for the Xbox. As noted before, I cannot play driving games, but this one was ridiculous. If you floor it, you spin out and crash. If you don’t floor it, you lose. What fun. Oh, please, let me spend nine days turning my wrist-muscles into burning string so I can defeat six Yakuza getaway drivers, and be rewarded with . . . what? Will twenty-dollar bills come out of the Xbox? Will it hop in my lap and give me a kiss? The only reason I got it was to see the graphics, which were described as - all together now! - stunning. And they were, ah, (that word.) The city in which you’re driving is HUGE, and filled with people who quite sensibly run screaming when you screech around the corner. Once I didn’t brake in time, plowed through a glass warehouse, shot through the building - and found myself in a completely new part of town, with freeways and traffic and people.

And all the stupid game could do was tell me I was going the wrong way, and that my imminent loss would dishonor the police. Oh, yes, add that to the things I’m worried about, right below Michael Moore’s vexatious bunyon inflammations.

I returned the game to the store. I’d like to try that Simpsons driving game, just to wander around Springfield, but I’m sure that’s not allowed. Oh, no. What Simpsons fan would like to drive around Springfield at his leisure, seeing the sights, visiting the World’s Biggest Escalator, driving through Monty Burns’ gates and fleeing from the hounds? No, we gamers are stupid unimaginative dorkazoids who must be dragged through a linear experience by our noserings, lest we lose interest.

Rallstones, con’t

Just saw Our Boy Ted on O’Reilly. He clarified some things.

I’d like to note that criticism of the government charity re the 9/11 victims is a worthwhile topic, and I’m troubled by some aspects of it, just like many people who’ve emailed me on the subject. But Rall’s cartoon was the equivalent of pissing on a grave to protest the high cost of tombstones.

Anyway, OBT cleared away the smoke, and set my mind at ease. First of all, he’s not making fun of all the Terror Widows, just those who got on TV to advance their “right wing” and “religious” views. You know. Those widows. Second, he disapproved of Mrs. Pearl showing up on TV after her husband’s murder. He thought it was okay that she was on TV before, but he disapproved of her showing up afterwards.He didn't give a time-frame - say, it would be okay to grant an interview 72 hours afterwards but not 71 hours, but I'm sure if pressed he could oblige with a list of actions he'd approve. Also, he wasn’t specifically making fun of Mrs. Pearl. O’Reilly asked who ELSE got their throats cut, and he said “the people on the planes.” So he’s making a Trenchant Point about the wives of the butchered stewardesses who came out afterwards and made right-wing, religious statements. Screw ‘em! Lousy God-bothering jingo-maddened flat-taxers.

O’Reilly then called him a “talented guy.” Apparently Ted was performing a juggling act before they went on the air.

Note to self: want publicity? Make fun of people who jumped from the WTC, especially if they were religious types who probably thought God would catch them. Hey, it’s a valid critique. And don’t you think it’s ironic that these brokers - the very embodiment of private greed - were splattered against something as collectivist in nature as public infrastructure? I’m not saying I don’t feel for the families, mind you. I just think the most important thing right now is making fun of the loss of a tiny number of widows and orphans whose actions annoy me.

I think they should feel worse. They can rest assured, though: I’ll tell them when I think it’s okay to feel better.

Obligatory Gnat Portion.

Today she’s walking around the kitchen, chewing on something. Since I hadn’t fed her, I naturally wondered what it was - an ancient Cheerio retrieved from beneath the sofa? A gnarled fragment of Jasper’s rawhide? A corner of a library book? Nae - it’s a crayon! I fish out the fragments (we get the non-toxic, E-Z Crumble kind) and she finds this vastly amusing. She thinks it would be funny to clamp down on Daddy’s finger. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, my ass - you want pain, try brand new baby teeth undulled by time chomping down on your digit. And of course, any reaction is funny, and since funny is good we must do more to get a bigger reaction, so I am crouched down with my finger in my child’s mouth, suffering excruciating pain, wondering what exactly to do: can’t laugh, as that would send the wrong message. Can’t pull my finger out, since she’ll just bite down harder.

So I just . . . waited. When she hit bone, she released it.

I have such respect for nursing mothers. Good Lord, if the baby sneezes, she’ll snip the nip right off.

Today’s new phrase: “’night, Daddy.” That’ll turn your heart to a pool of butter. Tonight was the first time I heard that, and it couldn’t come soon enough. The war has entered a new phase: she no longer needs naps. I cannot tell you how terrifying this is. My day is constructed like that old Mousetrap game - when my wife wakes me up the ball does down the slot, and 16 hours later the little plastic cage chitters down: game over. In between is a complex array of machinery, the most important part of which is THE NAP. It comes at eleven, which allows me a shower, a shave, a meal in peace. I collect my thoughts, if collected thoughts are required that day . The Nap is the island of sanity, surcease and renewal; take it away, and I’m a goner.

Maybe this will pass. For God’s sake, kids take naps. All kids. In kindergarten we had little mats on which we laid in silence for a while - although now in retrospect this may have been the teacher’s way of reforming her brain cells and her will to live. All I know is that Gnat was sleepy as usual Monday and Tuesday - yawning, rubbing her eyes - but the last two days it’s as if Mom soaked her diaper with Jolt and the kid’s getting a contact caffeine buzz non pareil.

We’ll see. Pray for me.

Google today had its logo redone to reflect Piet Mondrian’s birthday. That is too cool. I’ve always loved Mondrian, from his amazing early nature studies to his early abstractions (the colors he used were almost proto-50s) and his later severe de Stijl works. The ideology behind de Stijl, like all 20th century art meta-doctrines, was silly - we will make rational art for the common man, who will come home from his job in the Machine Age factory to his house uncontaminated by bourgeoisie ornament, sit in this preposterously severe chair and contemplate our rational artwork! Didn’t turn out that way; the factory worker wants an overstuffed La-Z-Boy and a beer and a picture of dogs playing poker.

I think Mondrian got this, eventually. His last paintings - the Boogie Woogie series (really!) - were done while listening to swing and expressed his love of the same, even if they do look like a series of lines made up of Lego squares. You can’t love swing and monastic Bauhaus drivel about the needs of the noble prole.

Some people find his work cold and impersonal, but I see an individual hand - both in the brushstrokes you can actually see if you get up close enough, and those few paintings where he refuses to let the black line touch the bottom of the canvas. I’ve always thought that was his little joke, the artistic equivalent of playing “shave and a haircut” without giving us the “two bits.”

Won second place in the columnists division of the National Headliners association today; was unaware I was even entered. The awards ceremony is in Atlantic City - if the home office pays the freight, I’m there. I know a White Tower diner that I’d like to shoot - as well as the rest of the fabulous decay of that peculiar town.

Oh, criminey. Just remembered I have to do TV tomorrow, and I haven’t thought about what I’m going to write. Well, back to work, then; have a fine happy weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

(Odd spell check note: it knows boogie, but not woogie. There’s something profound in that.)

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