. Went to pick up a bookcase for the studio on Saturday. When I designed my studio a year ago, I envisioned a certain look, a three-sided arrangement of desk and shelves at the same height. Very clean. Very rational. Very boring, I’ve learned. I needed a big tall shelf to stand by the door like the bouncer, so I went back to HOM (“We’ve eliminated the E - and passed the savings along to you!”) to get a bigger one. The thirty-inch shelf was still $150. The sixty-inch model was $250. The 72 inch model was $350. HOM: home of the irrational price structure. I got the sixty inch, then waited a week for it to arrive at the customer pick-up depot.

Cooled my heels in the waiting room. Paintings of deer on the walls, the sort of art prized by people who both love deer and shoot them. (Never seen this sort of romantic deer-related art on the walls of non-hunters, just as you rarely find autumnal geese-in-flight paintings hanging in the houses of PETA members - you find them in the rec rooms of guys who trek to the blind twice a year and knock the things out of the gloomy sky.) There was a fireplace that played music. Really: a fireplace with a radio embedded within. Or perhaps a radio that had a fireplace - hard to say. A gigantic break room, a coffee pot the color of a Lucky smoker’s teeth, and a strange series of scuffs along the baseboard that suggested some drunken elves had a party here last night. I signed for my shelves, backed up to Bay One where a guy was mummifying the unit with clear plastic tape. Purpose of such: unknown. They put it in my vehicle, and off I went.

Got home. Dragged it out. Discovered a hole punched in the back, right at eye level. It couldn’t have happened on the way home; must have happened before. So: I’ll have to carve out another afternoon, drag this thing back and get a replacement. Mood: happy-free. I call the store, get dumped into the customer service line, am assured that my call is very important to them and that would rather insert test-tube cleaning bristles into their urethras than let me down. Muzak. Lite, bouncy, receptionist-driving-home-from-the-health-club-thinking-about-new-shoes jazz. Finally I get someone, and I am loaded, cocked, ready to fire.

But! Be nice. Always err on the side of niceness until they prove themselves to be undeserving of your better side. It’s a good rule to live by. I was thinking of that today at Don Pablo’s, where we sometimes take a Sunday meal. (Ersatz Mex-Mex, but the place is noisy and messy, so you can bring the kid.) I always stack the dishes and put the silverware in a glass and crumple the paper and sweep up the errant rice, because I bussed tables for many years. It’s not so much that I’m saving the busboy work, but there’s something about a messy table that shouts indifference to the busboy’s life, and something about an ordered arrangement of detritus that says I know you exist. That’s all. No skin off my nose to do it.

I used to have the same approach to telemarketers - I did that once too, for two days. The shame made me quit. I couldn’t stand to bother these people. I felt like I was kicking down their door with a Time-Life book in one hand and an ice-cold speculum in the other. For a long time I let them down gently, but as the years passed and the calls multiplied, I lost my patience with the entire genre. There are other jobs to get. (Like busboy.) These people have taken jobs that require them to bother other people, preferably at dinner time, and I say to hell with IT, the IT being the evil that is cold calling. They may not be Satan, but he gave them their fetid, leathery wings, bid them to fly and gave them the map to my house. So I tell them no, and when the insist I tell them no and hang up.

That’s the extent of my cruelty.

It will get worse.

Anyway. The HOM rep asks what she can do; I describe my situation. I already know what I want: I want them to deliver a replacement to my hom, and I want them to waive the delivery charge. But I don’t say this, yet. She apologizes for the defect in the merchandise, consults her book, and tells me that a delivery team can be at my house Wednesday, with no additional charge of course.

We make arrangements, I bid her good day, and we part. Love is in the air. That’s how it’s done. That’s how a good company works. Apologize - but not with that nauseating tone of self-abasement; offer complete satisfaction without prompting, and give the impression that this is how the company operates. That’s what makes people buy more furniture from you. Some places get this. Some places don’t.

Hours later, I’m at Babies ‘R’ Us, a store I can’t stand. I’m buying swimming diapers for Gnat. Seven dollars. The clerk begins the transaction as usual: “Can I have your phone number, area code first please.”

“Oh my, no,” I said. I always act as if they’ve asked me to drop my trousers. “No thank you. I’m sure I’malready in your computers.”

The clerk gave me a look that was utterly empty of meaning. Nothing there, nothing en route; put your hand on the tracks and you’ll feel no vibrations. It was the dull glazed look that tells you cashierhood is not a stepping stone across the river of life to Zion on the other shore; she will be a cashier in one form or another forever. The only variety in her life comes when she switches indistinguishable jobs and the scanners in the new job have a different beep. You can tell by looking around the store who’s going where - the bright-eyed ones who mainline the company Kool-Aid and are going places in this chain, bless ‘em; there’s older but cheerful manager who’s got a good crew, all things considered, and is reasonably happy; there’s edgy guys who’ve taken enough shit from their friends about working here when they could be at Best Buy, but on the other hand it’s an easy job and you can make lots of money in extra hours if you hustle; the immigrants who don’t quite get the whole insincere-smile bit yet; the loathsome old-timer who’s going no where and will bitterly dis all the energetic clerks in the breakroom to anyone who’ll listen, and the wanderers, like my clerk, who will spend their employment history waving objects in front of lasers.

“I understand you don’t set the policy,” I said, as always, “but it’s just so unnecessary.”

Whereupon she said, tonelessly:

“It’s for our records.”

Oh, well, then here’s my shoe-size and blood type, then. If it’s for your records.

If ever a store comes along that competes with Babies R Us, or is slightly more expensive by a dime or two bits and DOESN’T ask for my phone number, I’ll go there. Because they’ll show that they understand. I’m not here to fill up their records. I’m here to fill up my cart. Which is more important to the store? Choose one, folks.

I thought of this when I clicked a link to an LA Times story on bloggers. I hadn’t registered, so I couldn’t get the story. The LA Times required my name, address, phone number, AND my income level. All required fields. Click on the privacy policy, and of course it’s the usual thicket of prickly conditions, concluding with the assertion that the policy may change at any time, and continued use of the site will be construed as agreement to the policy, even if it’s changed since last I read it. In other words, they could change it tomorrow to allow for the LA Times to send my personal info to Gobsmacking Wombat Porn, Inc, which would send me a torrent of full-color come-ons, and I’d have nothing to say about it.

All to read some crummy story in a bloated paper? I learned more reading the commentary about it on other sites. Which were free. Which asked nothing. Which did what I want before I knew I wanted it, and which have built up so much good will I’d subscribe to each if the price was right. And if any of the people who ran these sites asked for my phone number because they wanted to talk about something, I’d tell them.

Never trust a company that calls you a guest. Trust the ones who know you’re a customer and call you just that. Or treat you like a customer on the small chance you may be one some day.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0602/060502.html#062402

Writing a column now about the news that Saddam might step aside for his son, Uday. It’s in the form of a diary kept by Saddam, describing his son’s first few months. Saddam reports with dismay that his son has commissioned a new anthem, set to the tune of “Camptown Races.”

Baghdad ladies fear his name
Uday! Uday!
There’s no limb he will not maim
Oh, the cruel Uday.
Gwanna rule all night! Gwanna rule all day!
The Father of the People has tossed him the keys!
Saddam, he bet on Uday.

I love my job.

Another king-hell storm in progress. The day began with a Biblical downpour, and concludes with the same; in between, a blaring sun and soupy air. I like it. I like heat; I like humidity. Proof of summer, compensation for the wimpy mid-60s days when the slightest breeze made your arms pucker with gooseflesh. I like standing on the front porch looking down the hill into the basin, seeing every twig and leaf illuminated for a half-second, then lapsing back into darkness before the timpani roll of thunder rumbles down. A good storm should always remind you of Beethoven after seven glasses of wine.

Busy day, again. No kidding: 462 letters. None out. No time. Had Gnat all morning, went to work, wrote a column, came home, made supper, took nap, walked dog, played with Gnat: she likes to run around naked before and after her bath, saying “Imana gitchu.” She learned this from us, of course; we chase her around saying “I’m going to get you!” with the “get” defined as hugs and tickles. Later, in grade school, being gotten gets redefined as some sort of indistinct humiliation: you better watch out after school ‘cause I’m going to get you. It all confuses Jasper, who knows “get” in the fetch context, but he understands chasing. So Gnat’s running down the hallway, Jasper’s whining and barking, we’re chasing after the little butt heading for the spare room. Simple domestic calamity.

Before you have kids, you can’t imagine how much happiness this sort of nonsense provides. I couldn’t. Gnat loves to come into my room and bang on my keyboard. She loves to press the button on the keyboard that makes the CD tray open. When my wife pointed this out, I said it was coincidence - it was silly to assume that she knew that this key did that. Well, when we are the Mall of America Apple store the other day, she was playing with an iMac, and she pressed the eject key. Then she looked under the table, expecting to see a computer sticking out the tray like a flat beige tongue. Convinced me.

I wrote awhile ago about “The Wire,” and the unbelievable amount of cussin’ in the first episode - well, fairness requires that I report a diminution in gratuitous effenheimers. I look forward to the show now, and indeed it’s the only thing I watch on a weekly basis. It’s the only reason I keep HBO, frankly. Works out to about 3 bucks an episode. I’m wondering if I’ll hang on for the recycling of the Sopranos - never saw it, have bought the hype, but am ambivalent about another Mafia show. I don’t buy the whole code-of-honor BS; they’re a parasitical criminal class who get a pass because their lifestyle goes good with Dean Martin tunes, and this lends them a certain nostalgic value. They like Louis Prima? Heyyyy, I like Louis Prima! Paisan! Steve Dunleavy, a New York Post columnist, wrote about paying his last respects to the “Dapper Don,” and having read that piece I now know I need never write another word he writes. If Gotti had spent all his public appearances A) wearing a jogging suit, and B) being Black, no one would be talking about “honor” or “family” or “respect.” But Gotti’s image plugged into that wiseguy mystique. Odd how macho men swoon for a fellow with clean pinkies and freshly done hair.
From the column:

I was in the Renaissance Mausoleum where Gotti was interred. I placed a pink carnation in a vase and touched the bronze coffin out of respect and saw Gotti's lawyer and longtime friend Bruce Cutler.

Cutler broke down in uncontrollable tears.

I asked Bruce whether John Gotti was a saint or a sinner.

"He was a man. A remarkable human being. They never could destroy him and the most amazing thing about John Gotti was that he showed the world no matter what adversity, how to go through life's fears."

Yes, I can imagine Gotti’s reaction when told he had cancer: Same as when he faced the other adversities and fears life dealt him. He had the doctor’s family dumped in a landfill.

Gangster, gambler, mob statesman, I don't know.

There’s that famous reporter’s instinct at work.

But as Bruce Cutler said: "He was a man."

And what were the people he had killed? Chopped liver?

Well, eventually, yes.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0602/060502.html#062502

Yes, I know. I know. Hanna-Barbera kept animation alive during its Darkest Period, and for this we should be grateful. Heard it before. It’s like saying “we’ve revived Jayne Mansfield’s body, minus the scalp, and for a buck we’ll lift up the sheet and let you look.” The other night I TiVo’d an episode on the Boomerang channel, where all the HB crap crawled away for freeze-drying; the show was called simply “Boomerang” - apparently it features shows too lousy to merit a slot of their own. I’d no idea what I’d find. Well. There were two shows from 1981. The first was a non-HB show called Goldie Gold and Action Jack. The Yesterdayland site describes it thus:

  At the young age of 18, Goldie Gold became one of the richest people in the world and decided to use some of her immense wealth to publish an investigative newspaper called The Gold Street Journal.

This was plausible then, I guess. Nowadays the idea that an 18 year old would start a newspaper makes as much sense as an 18 year old funding a steam-thresher museum. It goes without saying that the facade of the newspaper building was covered with gold, because that’s what rich people do, right? They cover everything in GOLD. They change their first name to Auric (or Auricia) and spray liquid gilt on everything. Floors, walls, furniture. You can always tell where the dog was sitting because there’s a dog-shaped spot in the corner without any gold on it.

Since she owned the paper, she took the liberty of searching out and reporting her own stories.

Uh huh. Every reporter’s nightmare: the boss is off researching a series. We will all be brown-nosing until it’s submitted for a Pulitzer - except for the graphic department, which will refer to themselves as “burnt-umber noses.”

Goldie recruited the help of a part-time adventurer and intern reporter, "Action" Jack Travis.

Lots of those part-time adventurers around, but it’s rare one is willing to be an intern. We have interns at our paper. They’re all 19, and they’re given jobs with minimal impact, like proofreading Marmaduke. Having seen an episode, I can tell you why Goldie had this guy around; she didn't pay him Jack to be Travis. They drew him so his pectorals looked like filedrawers.

Did I mention that they flew around in a jet that had a big swimming pool under glass in the middle? Or that Goldie had her own Space Shuttle, and a mansion in space? And they fought Aztecs wearing multifaceted glass masks? And that the very thought of young faces staring emptily at this drivel makes me want to stick a lance in the creator's chest and decorate it with leis made of rotten orchids?

Each week, Goldie, Jack, and their loyal dog Nugget

The dog was capable of landing the plane. For that alone I would have him put down.

- would take off on a fantastic adventure and eventually return home to deliver the story to their editor, Sam Gritt.

Who was a J. Jonah Jameson rip-off. The show lasted one season; if had lasted two, they would be making a live-action movie of it RIGHT NOW with Reese Witherspoon as Goldie Gold. I watched the credits to see who was involved in this casserole de merde, and lo: the usual suspects. Voice credit: Avery Schreiber. he was part of a comedy duo, Burns and Schreiber, who had a brief vogue in the early seventies. Avery was the burly curly-haired twinkle-eyed guy, and Burns was the lanky goofus. Impact on human civilization: nil. Music credit: Dean Elliot. Ah, hah. Mr. Elliot I first encountered on some Ultra-Lounge CDs; he attempted to marry big-band swing with Spike-Jones sound effects, bedsprings, oogah car horns, coughs, gunshot, telephone rings, etc. Utter crap. Later I saw his name on Warner Brothers cartoon credits; he makes Bill Lava sound like, well, like Milt Franklyn.

Then the credit that was like an arrow to the heart: Character design by Jack Kirby.


Next up in the Boomerang parade of misery: “Richie Rich.” An HB cartoon, poorly drawn, poorly voiced, crude and blunt and weird, as all the characters looked like they were cloned from the DNA of Archie characters. (Side note to obsessives: I know, I know. Trust me.) What really piqued my interest was the closing theme. The late great Hoyt Curtin had simple recycled his lesser-known secondary Scooby Doo theme, orchestrating it with painful 81 wackiness. The world must know! I said, and so I recorded it, extracted the sound file, converted it to MP3, got it down to 183K, and put it up on my new Apple FTP site.

The world must know!

Later I learned that Richie Rich ran as part of a Scooby-related package, which explains everything.

So my work is in vain.

Or not. Now that I’ve discovered how easy the Apple FTP page is, I’m going to roll out a long-abandoned project called “Audio Lint.” It'll feature snippets of old radio shows, commercials, things I captured when I used to have a digitizer hooked up to the Mac IIcx, ready to record anything that came across the radio. It’s an odd selection: Anita Hill testifying, Radio Baghdad broadcasting to American troops, Wheaties jingles, sound cues from early 50s sci-fi radio dramas. It will replace “Flotsam Cove,” which will go on indefinite hiatus; I’m retooling the entire Institute, adding a few new sites, and making the Cove an irregular feature, a depository for stuff that doesn’t fit elsewhere.

Interesting fact of the day: In Russia, prisoners pass contraband to one another on ropes they swing from cell to cell. They call it the “internet.” Ten years ago no one knew what the word meant, and now it’s jail slang in Russian prisons.

As long as I’m on animation: I was watching Olie with Gnat today. It’s an episode in which the entire family dresses up for a family portrait. Gnat loves the show as much as I do - she laughs out loud at some of the scenes, which just tickles me. Anyway: Pappy, the elderly robot, was in charge of the camera, and he couldn’t get the flashbulb to work properly. Gnat understands the idea of the camera and the flash, but this contraption was foreign; looked like an old Speed Graphic. That fits the retro-retro-squared look of the show, which is steeped in 30s streamlining and archaic technology. The TVs are black and white with a circular picture tube; the record players have big horns like ancient Victrolas. (Uncle Giz is supposed to be a throwback, but as the show’s resident Rockabilly, he’s actually a glimpse of the future.) As I was watching this, and listening to the clever music - Li’l Rascals-style music with a kick - I realized that this would all make sense to someone in, say, 1935. It would look right. They’d get it. But the means by which the show was created - well, there’s almost no vocabulary to describe it to someone of that era. Is this . . . .drawn? It looks so realistic, with shadows and depth, yet it resembles no cartoon I know. Well, it’s done on computers. Computers. Uh - thinking machines? They’re boxes with, uh, typewriters attached, and you can draw and write on them. They make the pictures. How?

I’m not sure I could answer that. It’s one of those technology-that’s-indistinguishable from-magic moments. They knew about TV in the mid30s - at least the sci-fi geeks did. But explaining computer animation would be like explaining movies to a society that hadn’t yet invented photography; you’re missing the key technology from which they could imaginatively extrapolate theoretical usages. Makes you wonder what we couldn’t get. I mean, we’re ready for interactive sex-den holograms.

Jasper went to the vet today. They knocked him out, cleaned his teeth, extracted one dodgy molar, and X-rayed his hips. I was wrong, alas: he does have hip dysplasia, at least the earliest signs of it. I could pop for hip replacement, but they didn’t seem to think that was necessary; it’s mild, and there are many drugs I can give him to keep him limber. Poor puppy. I’m glad I noticed that hitch in his gait, and I kick myself for not checking up on this sooner.

It was one of those Interesting Life moments at the vet. Keep in mind that I’m about six weeks past a haircut, hot, bedraggled, I have four o’clock shadow, and my fly’s probably half open for all I know. I enter the office pushing Gnat in the cart, take a seat. There’s a woman at the desk with her dog. She looks at us and says without preamble:

“So this is the child we read about!”


We had a fine little chat about Gnat. Then a fellow behind the desk asked if he could help, and I said I was here to pick up Jasper.

“Ah, Jasper,” he said, and he said it with great affection. I know I have a good dog - had he made that good an impression?

“You sound like you’re old friends,” I joshed.

“We read about him all the time in the Bleat,” he said. (Hello, Jim! Hello, Jim’s wife! Thanks for buying the book!)

Another vet came around the corner, and said “You’ve come for the famous dog.”

I’m always surprised people read what I do, I guess. I chased that Public Figure thing for years, then grew up and decided just to enjoy myself and do what I wanted to do. And now my dog is a Public Figure. The lesson is obvious. Never follow a child or a dog on stage.

Incorporate them into your act.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0602/060502.html#062602

The old freezer died several months ago, and sits in the basement forlorn, both corpse and casket. The compressor went, as it always does. Since we have company coming this summer in three great waves, this means we’ll want to lay in a store of prefab lasagna, hamburgers, popsicles, etc., and that means a new freezer. The other day I saw a delivery truck for a company that sold “factory dented” appliances - the term summons up an assembly line with one fellow who whacks each appliance with a hammer. I figured I’d find one with a dented side and save a few dollars. Given the hideous blood-draining expense of the Stairs Project, a few bucks shaved off the cost would be nice. (The other day a neighbor noticed all the brickwork had been smashed on the steps. “New bricks?” he asked. “New steps,” I said. He thought a moment. “Second mortgage,” he said. “Two-word reply,” I said, ruining everything.)

Gnat and I went to the store, which was located in a distant suburb. Lots of appliances. Very few freezers. A fellow steered me to a compact frost-free model; it was a Frigidaire, a brand for which I have much affection, since that’s what we had growing up. It was a beaut, too - a chrome door handle that looked like its father was a tailfin, attached to a big chrome panel with the word FRIGIDAIRE written in turquoise. I loved that one. It was replaced in 1973 with a big brown blocky food-coffin the same color as our LTD.

Have I mentioned before that the Formica in our kitchen was turquoise, with a boomerang pattern?

Have I mentioned how much I loath 70s design?

This freezer was rather spare, but that’s all you get from freezers these days. The clever lads are concentrating their brainpower on washers and driers, which are starting to resemble incubators for alien babies. The price was reasonable, and they took away the old unit. But where was the dent?

“Oh, there’s no dent,” said the salesman.

“But I thought your stuff was factory dented.”

“Some is, but we don’t get enough of that to keep the place full.”

“So it’s a technically accurate but somewhat misleading come on,” I did not say. Instead I made a series of calculations: likelihood I will have the time or energy to make a trip elsewhere plus likelihood I will be satisfied at that place plus husband points accrued for Taking The Initiative and buying one now . . . sold.

They’re going to bring it by Monday. The replacement bookshelf comes Monday, too.

The steps to the house are being removed, on Monday.

So the workmen are going to confront a hill strewn with rubble, and they will to a man fill their drawers. Not to worry, lads; I’ve set up an alternative means into Jasperwood. Because I have, believe it or not, a Tradesman’s Entrance.

I wondered when first I toured this place why there were two doors leading to the backyard, spaced rather closely together. The backdoor was the Tradesman’s Entrance, it seems. It’s right by the old grate where the coal came tumbling down, and it leads to the laundryroom where the strange & nervous Swedish girl did the clothes once a week. (Or so the memoir of the man who lived here as a kid in the 20s described her.) The concept of a Tradesman’s Entrance goes against my character, frankly; if a fellow is coming to fix something, he can enter through the front door like any other visitor.

Of course, I don’t have workmen delivering coal, so I am afforded this egalitarian conceit.

I am rushed tonight, and have to cut this short. But I want to make a small announcement: a change in email policy. It’s ridiculous to HAVE a policy, of course; the amount of self-importance that radiates from the very idea is risible. But here’s the problem: I am now behind in my mail forever. It’s never going to get better. I have, at present, 1500 + unread letters. Guilt keeps me from reading them; Life keeps me from answering them. I write for a living and bleat for a hobby, and after I’m done with the two the energy I have left over for letter-answering is frankly nil.

So: in the future I guarantee you probably won’t get a response.

I apologize; I really do. But this actually makes it more likely that I’ll read my mail in a timely fashion instead of avoiding it out of shame. I’m not saying I won’t respond, just that I probably won’t. This is unfair to the people who write long wonderful letters, but I have to make a choice: either I answer my mail, or the site dies here. No updates, no new projects, teeny Bleats.

There. I’ve said it.


Just kidding. Thanks for not scowling too much, and thanks for your patience and patronage. I hope to make it up to you with new thrilling additions in the months & years to come.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0602/060502.html#062702

Friday June 28

Hoorah! I thought as I woke Thursday morning. Really: hoorah. Usually I hate to travel, but this was going to be fun. DC. Three days. The all-star blogger panel at the National Press Club. Back to the old neighborhood; back to have drinks at a swanky Adams Morgan bar, drop in on the bureau, meet the bloggers by the dozen. So let’s go!

But first: minor packing. I had to assemble the electronic paraphernalia, which always makes me laugh. Ten years I took a walkman. This time it’s a laptop, the laptop charger, a firewire cable, the camcorder, the camcorder charger, the camera, the camera charger adapter, the USB cord for the camera, and six vials of pure pharmaceutical cocaine. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) Instead of my usual method of conveyance - putting each in a newspaper delivery bag - I put each in a Ziplock bag, which somehow felt less hobo-like. (And then I put them all in a paper bag.) Grabbed a couple of movies for the flight, another sign of how things have changed; ten years ago no one had fancy shining discs that played personal in-flight movies on their personal computers. Why, in my day, we only had books and magazines, not fancy two-grand machines fer playin’ solitaire. All of this makes travel heavier, but more interesting. Editing home movies on an airplane is just cool, that’s all. Period.

Auntie Jill came to watch Gnat for the rest of the afternoon, so I bade my daughter goodbye with the usual sundered heart, missing her already. Off to the airport! Got my e-ticket, which is like a Popular Science prediction from 1967. In the future you’ll slide your Ident-O-Card into the slot, select your seat with the touch of a screen, and receive a freshly printed, personalized travel ticket. Then you’ll be wanded by scowling Somalis! They didn’t get that last part, but who could.

I had some time. Lots of time, actually. I like to show up early and just hang out. I like airports. Nowhere else do you have two utterly disparate classes of people: the Lumps, slumped in their seat, glassy-eyed waiting and waiting and waiting, and the Striders, who are moving at warp 3, dragging a suitcase, yammering into a cell phone. Not much in-between. I try to avoid Lumphood by moving around every so often - a cup of coffee here, some pinball there, a drink, then off. Very relaxing.

I found an old Centipede machine, of all things, and pumped in some quarters. I couldn’t believe how quickly my instincts came back; I was as slick with the trackball as ever, even showboating a tad when possible. At one point I trapped a lengthy ‘pede in a gutter, dispatched him, took out a spider, swung left to kill one of those things that makes the ‘pede fall faster, then spun the ball all the way to the right to pick off the last two guys with two clean taps.

“Nice,” said a voice behind me. I looked: kid was about 16.

OG pillah-killah representin’ the Valli Crew, dawg, showin’ the shorties how it be done.

Off to the bar. I never have a drink in the afternoon, except when flying; then a drink at a quiet nook with a good novel seems the civilized thing to do. Most airport bars are horrid places, full of loud gross people using the trip as an excuse for a messy afternoon buzz, or some sweaty solitary types tamping down their fears. Some of these bars are chains - they carry the ultra-exclusive “Private Label” liquors, which are not only public but lack a label. And they always ask if you’d like a double for a dollar more. After all these years it still sounds like a trick question.

There was one of these in my concourse, but it was playing a Bob Seeger tune, and I am well aware at this juncture in human history that he, or his love, or his determination, or his truck, is analogous to a rock. I went across the road to a new Hawaiian themed bar, wondering if they had Minnesota themed bars in the Honolulu airport. Nice and quiet. Ordered a screwdriver, opened the novel I hadn’t read since my last plane trip, and fell into the story like someone falling down a well. Ahhhh.

The waitress wandered over, saw that everyone was reading or staring into space, and she turned up the TV. Loud. To a GOLF MATCH. At least golf has its moments of quietude as well, so it wasn’t that bad. I kept reading, reading, sipping, until I realized I’d best find something to eat. They don’t serve dinner on the plane, after all, lest I use my sandwich to open a flight attendant’s artery and force my way into the cockpit with a packet of damp baby carrots.

I went to Miami Subs, a restaurant trading on the well-known connection between Florida and processed meat. (Is there a Minneapolis Hoagy shop in the Miami airport?) The woman behind me in line started to talking to the uniformed fellow behind her - a navigator, I’m guessing. “Where are the storms?” she said. “Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, all over,” he said, his voice indicating that he was in no mood to talk shop with the civilians.

Hmm, I thought. Bumpy weather. Turbulence. Wonderful. We are now operating at 87% hoorah factor.

Back to the gate; I checked to see if the flight was on time, or if it had moved.



Excuse me? That’s my plane -


I went to the gate, where the airline had posted a fellow carefully selected for his ability to make his irritation with customers quite plain. This had never happened to me before, so I was unclear on the next step. What me do? I said, in essence.

“You can rebook there,” he said, pointing to a kiosk. It had six phones and sixteen people queued behind each one.

I should note that the earlier flight to DC had been canceled as well. This meant approximately 200 people attempting to get on the last flight to DC, which was 90% booked when I made reservations a while ago.

You can see where this is going, can’t you.

I could. I found a payphone, and tried to call the airline’s 1-800 number; that’s what the people in the rebook queue were calling, after all. A recording informed me that they had too many calls, and could not talk to me right now. But they appreciated my business. Lord, how they appreciated it. They’d walk a mile over broken glass for my business. They just wouldn’t answer the phone.

Back to the gate. I asked the harried Answer Man where my baggage was, and he said to go downstairs to the baggage window. This is about as specific as telling a tourist who wants to see the Grand Canyon to head west and brake sharply when the road suddenly ends. I found this window, which had people eight deep. I presented my ticket and said I’d like my bag.

“I can put a check on it,” the clerk said. As if this meant something.


“We can try to pull it before it goes out, but I’m afraid I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Go out? Where? Like I said, the flight was canceled.”

“Right, but when a flight is canceled the baggage goes out with the next plane.”

“Even if I’m not on it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Even if that flight is completely booked and there’s no way I could get on it?”

“They have no way of knowing that,” she said. “It’s two different systems.” This was said as though Jehovah Himself had decreed that the number of the systems shall be two, and two shall be the number of thy systems.

I had her flag the bag for removal. She asked for a description: “It’s black and rectangular.” She wrote this down. If they could get it, she said, it would be available to me in two hours. Minimum. Then I went upstairs to see if I could possibly get out tomorrow morning and make it to the conference. It was not possible, a fact which the clerk took with remarkable ease. Northwest Airlines, Where It’s Never Any Skin Off Our Nose. But he could put me on standby for the last flight out. Warning: it was 197% sold out, and my chance of getting on was equal to a lame runt piglet getting pole position on Momma Pig’s mammary gland. I took it anyway, and went back to the gate.

The flight was supposed to leave at 6:40. The 6:30 to Dulles was canceled. Then the 6:40 was moved to 7:01. (Love that oh-so-precise 01.) Rumors ran round the gate that this one would be canceled as well.

The gate attendant announced that they were no longer accepting standbys, because they already had 50, and the flight was sold out. Fifty! I went up to the counter, told the clerk my number in the standby queue, and asked if there was any chance I was getting on this plane.

He couldn’t say one way or the other for sure, of course, but he made it plain that two-dozen people who had already checked in and were sitting in this very lounge awaiting departure would have to change their minds.

And so it came to pass that I left the terminal and drove home, feeling the most wretched sense of tripus interruptus. This just hasn’t happened to me, ever. You get all gussied up, all full of wanderlust, stoked with vim, ready for fun - and then pop! it’s gone. There’s nothing you can do. Sorry! Go home.

An hour later I was walking Jasper around the block, thinking: WHAT THE HELL? I mean, WHAT THE HELL! JEEZ! HELL!

I had to cancel my hotel reservation. Of course I’d gotten it online, a fabulous price at a fabulous place that required prepayment for all this fabulousness, and imposed a one-night penalty for a cancellation within 24 hours.

So when you count parking and the drink and the sandwich, it cost me about $180 to sit around the airport all day.

That’s funny, I know. Hilarious. But it gets better.

Where’s my luggage?

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