Why yes, I am enjoying SnapzProX, the new screen capture utility from Ambrosia Software. A thick, fresh no-prize to anyone who knows where I got the picture above, and if you’re one of the two people on earth who not only remember the scene but note that I got the font right, I thank you. And if you’re hoping that tomorrow’s bleat has a picture of Raquel Welch in a white scuba suit, sorry: couldn’t get a good shot. Donald Pleasance was always in the way.

Finished printing the book. More to say on that later. Printing is not finishing; I have to sort and edit. As per tradition, the book isn’t done until I print the cover, take a picture and put it in the Bleat. If you don’t see that by Friday, pray for me.

That was my weekend. Well, not entirely; pizza, dog walks, a movie, steaks on the grill. But in the back of my mind all the time: book book book. When I finished printing I put all the source materials away, cleaned up the room, hauled out a bag of trash that had accumulated in the closet, Endusted the shelves, arranged everything in the room just - so, to compensate for the miserable mess I’ve lived in for the last six weeks. Then I went downstairs and lit a cigar. The worst is over; the book is almost done. I can live again!

Just in time for the end of summer.

I’m a hypocrite. I’ll admit it. I use words in person I wouldn’t use here. I use words here I wouldn’t use in the column or on the air. Once vulgar words are commonplace in the papers and the television, there’s no going back - and public life just gets cruder and cruder. I know it’s a losing battle. Fifty years down the road a presidential candidate will say “My opponent says I’m soft on the military, and to him and all his advisors, I can honestly say: fuck you.” He’ll be celebrated in some corners for connecting with the genuine people, with those not bound by musty conventions. The authentic people! The ones who really fuckin’ live!

I used those words to make a point - namely, that I can still make a point by using them here, because they’re rare. And that’s the way it is in the mass media, so far. I’d like to keep it this way. I think we’re better off having several levels of speech for different realms - personal, private, corporate, religious, governmental, etc.

Vulgarities are the enemies of conciseness.

Our newspaper has an ombudsman, a gracious and decent fellow who mills the incessant complaints and figures out where the paper might be right, and where they might be wrong. This position is a sign of the infinite self-regard newspapers have for themselves and their place in the public dialogue; other companies have PR offices to run the truth through their Play-Doh Fun Factory and issue mealy press releases, but newspapers have one guy who speaks both for himself and for the paper, and frequently nails the paper for its mistakes. Like I say, newspapers think well of themselves; since we are Public Servants, we believe that any mistakes we make are a Crime against Truth. But strip away the high-mindedness and you’re still left with an honorable goal: do the right thing, and own up in public when you screw up. If you use a bad word, and enough people get peeved, tell the people why you used it; assure them that the walls are not tumbling down, that there’s still a process that sifts the context to find the reason for saying “ass” in their daily paper.

I drop in now and then on Ombudsgod, an interesting ombudsman’s blog about ombudsmen.
DISCLAIMER! My objections here are not necessarily with the worthy Ombudsgod, but with the ideas I infer from his post. Small, meaningless distinction, perhaps, but I'm extrapolating from his comments and adding what I've heard from other sources. I don't mean to suggest he believes anything other than what he wrote, which is this. Excerpts follow:

Congratulations to William Donohue, and the 350,000 member Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for transforming two “shock jocks” into First Amendment Martyrs.

Ah. Well. This would be about Opie and Anthony.

You’ve heard the story. A “Sex for Sam” promotion that awarded points to couples who did (gasp!) naughty things. Sex in public, in 2002? Take that, Doris Day! Opie and Anthony broadcast a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. During a Mass. The cops were called; the couple was arrested. Outrage and calumny resulted, as Ombudsgod reports:

By bringing pressure on the FCC to both fine and revoke the broadcast license of WNEW FM, they have succeeded in forcing the radio station to eliminate a popular syndicated afternoon show. Two DJs, Opie and Anthony, have been fired, and the General Manager, Ken Stevens, and Program Director, Jeremy Coleman, have been suspended. This censorship will have a chilling effect on other broadcasters who may wish to broadcast controversial material.


Good. Maybe the next time some promotions director floats the idea of sponsoring a fellatio contest in a day-care center, he’ll be met with hard looks instead of high-fives. This stuff is “controversial,” sure - but only by the most banal definition. Sawing off a puppy’s legs on the air is controversial. Stuffing a midget up Anne Sprinkle and having him broadcast from her oft-examined cervix is controversial. It’s also sick. It’s tiresome. It’s the work of people so jaded they think that intellectual bravery is defined not by the traditions you honor, but the ones you debase.

You’ve heard of crush-fetish videos? They’re scenes of women’s heels impaling small woodland creatures, stepping on mice, etc. Some people enjoy this. Well, these brave radio announcers are the societal equivalent of crush videos, finding seldom-flouted taboos and laughing while the bones crunch.

Back to the Ombudsgod:

What caused all the fuss? In what was interpreted as a sacrilegious act, Opie and Anthony were broadcasting live reports of a couple having (probably simulated) sex in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Here I must take issue with the author of Ombudsgod. Interpreted? Look, if I sneak into Mecca in hajib’s clothes, then throw a bottle of Miller High Life at the Rock while dropping my pants and shouting THERE IS NO GOD BUT ELVIS AND ANDY KAUFMAN IS HIS MESSENGER, that would be a sacrilegious act. No interpretation required. It’s possible that Catholics regard a surreptitious game of grease-the-weasel during a service as an integral part of the Mass, and in fact have been trying to work it into the service for centuries - gee, thanks, Opie! Thanks, Anthony! Now that we have precedence on our side, the Pope’s bound to come around!

Maybe not.

Police were summoned and the couple was charged with public lewdness. One only wishes the Church had been as intolerant of pederasty among the priests.

Oddly enough, if the radio station had done what the Church did - shift Opie and Anthony to a different station - people would have been mollified. This is an unconvincing argument; it means that the Church cannot do anything in situation B because they did this in situation A. It’s like saying the Church can’t call the cops when they discover a parishioner’s embezzling funds, because they didn’t call the cops when they learned Father Friendly was holding Special Sleepovers with neighborhood youth.

I’m curious how we got here. How we ended up paying four million dollars to a breed of morons so devoid of empathy that they cannot begin to imagine the reasons why their stunt was so deeply offensive - and not just to Catholics, but people like me who are not welded to organized religion. Well, the Islamicists regard the sight of an uncovered female head as deeply offensive, and you don’t care about their reactions. No, I don’t. But I understand why it is offensive to them, and I don’t advocate sending scarfless women into their mosques, or sending in Stammering Stu to rip off their headgear and shout “saw your hair! Haw haw!”

The entire “Sex for Sam” promotion was degrading - so many points for having sex with a policeman, so many points for having sex in a certain place, probably ten bonus points for having sex with a pig and eating it later, etc. I was raised in an age when this would have been unthinkable. And yes, I know, that sounds like some old coot watching the Dean Martin Golddiggers wiggle their butts, wondering what happened to decent entertainment like the King Family or those nice girls on the Lawrence Welk show. But it’s that comparison that paralyzes so many people: if I say that our “Tits for Tots” promotion for Christmas is really wrong, people will think I’m some uptight square who thinks married couples should sleep in separate beds like Rob and Laura Petrie.

Since some people were really uptight about sex forty years ago, goes the thinking, no one should be uptight about anything regarding sex today. Thanks to these cowards, one actually has to explain why an Abercrombie & Fitch line of G-strings for pre-teens with “I (heart) candy” stenciled on the front panel is a really, really bad idea. Oh c’mon, they’re just cute. It’s harmless. G-strings for 13-year olds - what’s your problem, man? Y’ ever been to Brazil? They all wear ‘em. Relax. That’s what it comes down to: you have to defend yourself against charges of hidebound prudery because you object to a radio station sending people to rut like hooting baboons during a Mass.

Opie and Anthony got fired? Good. It’s a start. This means that we will deal with the issue of breast implants for nine-year-olds in 2012, instead of 2011.

Oh, and Sam Adams, the beer that was behind the event? Change your motto.

Sam Adams. Brewer. Patriot. Pimp.

Permanent link:


Gnat now demands that I play music when we drive. And she hates my tastes. Since they’re rather broad, this suggests a grim period of Toddler Imperatives is ahead; I’ll be forced to play kiddie tunes just to keep her happy. Today every song in the home-burned CDs met with disfavor. The Who? No. Underworld? No. Lindsay Buckingham? No. Brian Setzer? No. (You are no child of mine!) “Run Spook Run,” the best song-poem ever? No. John Williams? No. Willie Dixon? No. Wilson Dooley? No. Dirty Vegas? No. Johnny Cash? No. Louis Prima? Yes - but only if I tickled her feet.

So I’m driving down Lake Street, threading through Uptown, tickling her feet just so I can listen to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Used to live in Uptown, back in the 80s. Everyone says it’s too commercial now , ruined by all the chains and out-of-neighborhood shoppers. The Old Authentic Uptown is dead, man. We said that in the 80s, too. Uptown was “authentic” for six or seven days, I think. Some things remain - the old Carnegie library, the magnificent Uptown theater with its Moderne mast and Kasota stone bas-reliefs, the SubWorld theater’s delicate Spanish facade, the retro-hip Uptown diner, the sullen herds of the Pierced-American community. It’s certainly brighter and noisier than it was when I lived there, but it’s still a great neighborhood, and its proximity to the lakes makes it the perfect place to spend your 20s. As we threaded through a side street to connect to Lyndale and head home, I looked at the dense old brick apartments sheltered by the great green roof of the oaks, the small corner store and the small corner church - and I had a sudden wave of nostalgia for apartment life. Which is really nostalgia for one’s Mary Tyler Moore period, when you’re going to make it after all. I lived in some verminous dives in my youth, but spent a few glorious years in a Dinkytown flat (718 4th street) and Uptown (2880 Irving). The former was notable for the emotional sturm & drang of the times, the latter for the perfect summers of work and play. Sitting by the open window, chain-smoking Carltons, banging out the novel while the train rattled past across the broad green Mall, Infocom text adventures until 2 AM, Sean Connery’s illegitimate son living in the basement, a building full of clear-eyed professional women and whee-hah sun-blasted receptionists, the Fleshpots of Uptown just two blocks away - well, lucky me.

I hope I had as much fun as I now wished I did.

If you know what I mean.

I’m full of crap, of course; apartment life is inferior to living in a house in every possible way . . . except for the taxes. As we will see:

Today began with the frenzy of autographing. We refinanced, so that meant an hour of signing and initialing a variety of thick unreadable documents, any one of which might have authorized the mortgage company to break our thumbs if the payment is 17 minutes late. I learned from the appraisal that this house has 75 years left, after which they presume it will be knocked down and carted off, or the entire neighborhood will have devolved into a third-world mess with dozens living in each room, legless beggars clustered in the park at the bottom of the hill, the treeless sky darkened from thousands of cooking fires. So, Gnat won’t be living out her golden years in Jasperwood. Just as well.

There was one merry moment when I noted an $800 charge for NOT having an escrow account. The last time my mouth was open that wide, a dental hygienist had both hands in it. I don’t have an escrow account for taxes because my taxes are ruinously expensive, and I’d prefer to park the money someplace where it can produce a small brood of sawbucks. And my taxes are going up, too - the new city budget virtually promises tax increases for the next ten years. The mayor also promises less services, and chides everyone for all our profligate ways in the past ten years. Well, don’t chide me, Mr. Mayor. Chide everyone who voted the same spendthrifts into office year after year.

Chide the architects of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, which pumped millions into neighborhoods that needed no revitalizing. I served on an NRP advisory board years ago, so I’m not just ranting from the armchair here. We had to spend 1.5 million dollars. That was our job. We weren’t asked to find what the needs were and figure out how to meet them; no, we had to spend 1.5 million bucks. I’m not against using tax money to revitalize neighborhoods that need it - but ours didn’t. Since we had to spend the money, I suggested putting it all aside in an interest-bearing account, and use it for seniors who couldn’t make their tax bills and risked losing their houses. Eventually the money went for a program to stencil the drains to tell everyone not to pour motor oil into the sewers, and some home-improvement loans. And some other stuff. It all got spent, I’m sure.

The other day a nice fellow stopped by to ask for my vote for the State Senate; since I had dinner on the stove, a baby in arm and a barking dog by the collar I couldn’t talk to him. But after examining his literature, I wish I had. He wants to raise my taxes, or at least keep them from going down. Ever. I would love to explain to him the Parable of the Stairs. To get up to Jasperwood he had to come up the new stairs, which replaced the old crumbling concrete embarrassment. Stairs are not cheap, but I’d put a little money from the book aside for the project. He would argue that I had an obligation to pay that money in taxes, as my Fair Share, my way of Giving Back. Well, here’s how I deviously kept the money from those who truly need it. I ended up going to:

1. The independent businessman who runs the stairs company
2. The three young men he hired to do the labor
3. The company that rented the loader, the haul-away bins, the giganto jackhammer and other sundry equipment to the independent businessman
4. The family-owned company that sold the stone
5. The family-owned quarry that sold the stone to #4
6. Self-employment taxes for #1.
7. FICA taxes for #2
8. Taxes paid on income by 3, 4, 5
End result: new steps - and additional taxes paid by me when the next assessment takes improvements into account

Pretty clever, eh? What a scam!

Some people think that the economic activity described in 1-9 is inferior to the economic impact of signing over the amount to the state. I don’t. So you don’t think anyone should pay taxes, then. Oh, go away. I haven’t said, and will never say, anything of the sort. I just tired of nice smiling fellow who come to the door, asks for my vote, and then treats me like a kulak who’s hoarding grain in the midst of famine.

I was just talking to my wife, who informed me that the local pools were shut down tonight - and that they’ve been closed since the weekend. It was 80 this afternoon, and it was 85 this weekend. No pools. Sorry. No money. The City Council has millions to spend on gawdawful developments downtown like Block E - more on that, some day - but no money for pools. In the suburbs the taxes are lower and the pools stay open longer. So why don’t I go? Because this is home; because the trees are tall, and they’ve grown up with my house for the last seventy years; because this is a good place, a city of great beauty and rare grace, and I’m not going anywhere. This afternoon I sat with my daughter on the shore of Lake Harriet; she leaned against an upended rowboat and watched a sailboat slide across the smooth silent water. It’s the same appeal as Central Park in New York: in the depths of the city, the city is invisible. And you can summon it up simply by turning around. Small town, big town, no town - it all depends which way you face. I love it here. Dammit!

Permanent link:


New Screed; go ye and marvel at my clueless casuistry.

Yes, I have been cranky, but it’s a been the pleasurable variety, the sort of mood where you channel Walter Brennan, give strangers a crooked grin, mutter to yourself and laugh over nothing at all. Indistinguishable from insanity, but without the insanity-part. No particular reason, other than work. Now I can relax a bit, maybe even load Medal of Honor on the Mac. Not play it, if course. Just load it.

I haven’t checked my mail to see if anyone has named the movie from which I took these screen grabs - and to give you an idea of the consequences of not checking my mail, this is from ONE of my four mailboxes:

So . . . if you haven’t replied, that’s why. I’m even behind in thanking the people who just send me stuff out of the blue. Some of you folks are just too kind - - one gentleman sent an entire Fortune magazine from 1934, a great prize that made my day. It’s about the size of an ottoman. All the ads are for cars, cruises and sweet relegalized liquor. It’s a magazine for people who no more felt the Depression than the driver of a Canyonero V12 feels the squirrel under the back tire. Another reader sent her favorite book - "Mrs. Minniver” - as a birthday present, and today the mail brought some odd synchronicity - one envelope had a motel postcard with the actual sleeves for the sanitized glasses, and the other was from a motel owner who included cards of his establishment for the last half-century. You should see the pile of stuff I’ve yet to add to this site.

Well, you will, eventually.

Rundown of the day: woke with the overwhelming desire to remain sleeping. Preferably for six more hours. Edited the column while Gnat watched a charming stop-motion show called Old Bear Stories - just a bunch of British stuffed animals behaving decently. (You wonder if these sorts of programs make real stuffed animals terribly frustrating for children. It’s not talking. What am I doing wrong?) The TV went off after 90 minutes, as is the rule; we played puzzles and coloring books while I listened to Ian’s show on KSTP; he was talking about the Opie and Anthony thing, and he read the Boston Beer CEO’s apology and asked if we were mollified. Being unmollified, I called. Fifteen minutes later I’m still on, and we’re arguing about Iraq. I’m still not certain how that happened, but it’s fun.

Dropped Gnat off at her Nana’s; went to work, wrote a column, picked up Gnat, ran an errand, came home and made the worst Gyros ever - apparently those flies they shave off the rotating spits in authentic gyros shops impart a special flavor you can’t get at home. Wiled away the time between supper and wife’s arrival by letting Gnat crawl all over me. Having learned nothing from “Hop on Pop,” she stood on my stomach and bounced. There was a Busytown Best Learning Songs Ever In the History of Human Civilization! playing in the background, and she sang along: if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. CLAP CLAP. I thought this was very cute until she got to the next verse: if you’re mad and you know it stamp your feet. Keep in mind she was standing on my stomach at the time. Hello again gyros.

Wife returns; kiss, hello, here’s baby, naptime. ZZZzzzz for 24 minutes, up and off to the park, back here, Frosty Paws for Jasper. An absolutely identical day to last Tuesday. Fine with me. I’ll take a hundred more, please.

Have you purchased your Achewood book yet? Mine arrived today. This is one of those strips you’ll love or be utterly indifferent towards; there’s nothing about it that can possibly inspire hate, since it has few pretensions and a faint aroma of shame. It might take you a few strips to “get it;” took me a while, because anytime I’m pointed towards something and informed that it is Brilliant and Funny, I put on the special Oh Yeah? lead apron and cross my arms.

So how about this: you should go there because it’s updated every weekday, and it’s free. (Also it’s brilliant and funny.) I had to buy a book, just to thank the guy. And! If you buy the upgrade package the cartoonist will draw pictures of the characters in your book, talking about you. This alone is worth the price of admission.

Anyway: it’s now 11:38 PM; I’ve written one column, edited another, heaved out a screed and nattered away in this space for 772 words, all under the assumption that anyone cares. If you do, I thank you. If you’ve written to say so and I haven’t replied, I ask your forgiveness. In fact I ask more than that - go find a website you like, such as Achewood, and give them money. A buck, two bucks, five, whatever. If it’s a blogspot site, buy off the ad. Every penny helps.

Tomorrow: who killed Mary Kelly? See you Thursday.


Okay, just for fun let’s do this Bleat live, as it happens. I have a big white envelope sent to me at the office from a Bleat patron, and I’m curious to see what’s in it. Meanwhile, let’s check the mail and see how many letters we have in response to yesterday’s Screed. . . .

Two hundred and three. Lord.

Opening the package . . . no white powder . . . plastic-coated object -

Oh my.

It’s a drink menu from
the Shangri-La, a long-gone restaurant that popped up in the matchbook section. The cover features a bare-breasted Polynesian woman in the style of Gauguin- rather odd choice for a Cantonese restaurant, really. Here’s a list of the drinks. And I’m not making any of this up, as DB says.

Waikiki Wench
The Eisenhower
Pan-American Cooler
Half-Caste Kate
Navy Special (limit 3) - oh, how I dearly want the recipe for that one
Army Special - apparently you can order as many as you like.
151 proof Stardust (limit 3)
War Chant
Buzz Saw (“A two fisted he-man drink - for those who want immediate action.”)

They’re all rum drinks. All of them. We continue:

End of the World
Gay Deceiver
White Cargo
Dry Guillotine (limit 3)
Three Days Later
Zombie (limit 2) - whoa.
United Nations Punch
Puka Puka

No doubt.

Many thanks to Bosley for this - it’s headed straight to Flotsam Cove. Incredible.

Yesterday’s work left me a little tapped - those things are easy to write but always require lots of cleanup - odd how you never see the mistakes or crappy lines until you’ve uploaded it; then you have to go back and rework it, upload, check to see if the new version took. Surprise: it’s 12:15 AM. And yesterday was a two-column day, too.

And another column today. I felt a bit like some burned-out musician dragged from the tour bus and propped in front of a mike, staring at the playlist and trying to remember how the chords went. But I did another column, then picked up Little Miss Imp. She’s got the somewhat-terrible twos going on now, and is asserting herself like never before. You try making supper with a toddler hanging on your leg whining Daaaadeee, daaaadeee. Do puzzle. Do puzzle. (Cue super-adorable voice:) Do budderfie puzzle together, Daddee. So I pick her up to go do the butterfly puzzle together, and am rewarded with “I love you, Daddee.” So sweet. You have to remember that a few minutes later when she pours a glass of juice on the table and slaps her palms on the little sticky lake, just because she can.

Read the New Yorker on the porch tonight, and noted an interesting squib on the Car Talk guys. Seems they now have an anti-SUV crusade, for all the usual reasons - short guys think they’re powerful when they get in a big car, SUVs smush small plastic toy-cars in accidents, etc. I’m no fan of those gigantic machines - I drove a Navigator once while doing a story on the cars the Governor drove, and I felt like I was driving a city block around a city block. I do, however, know people who not only have gigantic cars, but put them to good use carrying around the kids, the bikes, the groceries, the stuff that makes up the daily American life; I know also that size and traction count in rural North Dakota. You don’t want to get stuck in a drift in those silly little Minis. You will die.

Two things stuck out in the piece. One: the Car Talk guys teamed with a yogurt maker to put their philosophy on lids of creamy breakfast spackle. “Live Larger, Drive Smaller,” said the motto. Okay, fine, whatever. But the lids, as the New Yorker article put it, “cited NPR, leaving the impression that the ostensibly politically neutral news organization was involved in a controversial advocacy campaign.”

You don’t say.

I stopped listening to them a few years ago; can’t quite say why, other than they began to annoy me. I had the suspicion that the calls were pre-screened and interviewed ahead of time, with the solutions investigated in advance; when a caller would say “hi, it’s Joy from Twin Falls,” and Ray or Tom said “Joy! From Twin Falls!” I heard in their voice the sound of someone looking for the piece of paper that said JOY FROM TWIN FALLS TIMING BELT PROBLEM. And then there was that stuff about “even though Daniel Schorr fills his pants when we say it, this in NPR.” Right. These guys are linchpins of the weekend lineup, much beloved, and the outsider schtick just grew weary - to my ears, anyway. I’m sure they’re still funny & much-beloved by millions. But what really surprised me was the conclusion of the piece, which is Point Two:

“It turns out the Magliozzis are not especially fond of other types of automobiles, either. ‘I do not own a car,’ Tom said. ‘I either ride a bicycle or use public transportation.’”


So Ray should say “don’t drive like my brother would drive, if my brother drove.”

Why doesn’t this surprise me?

Okay, that's it - sorry. Tomorrow we get to Who Killed Mary Kelly. Promise.

You want to see human nature at its absolute worst? Take 30 kids. Put them in the Mall of America Lego store. Build a ramp that lets them test out their homemade Lego cars. Add 5,000 Lego pieces.

And ten wheels.

The last time I saw this sort of brutal competition for resources, Mel Gibson was driving a fuel tanker and being chased by guys wearing spiked iron codpieces. Poor Gnat did her best to gather wheels, but there just too many grasping, oversugared brats unschooled in the concepts of sharing. But we managed to build a compact little vehicle, and took it to the ramp for testing. Here again, the mob ruled; kids shoved and pushed to get a slot while parents halfheartedly preached restraint and civility. We got a slot and sent the car down the ramp - beat them all, I’m happy to say.

Again? Again, daddee?

Sigh. Again. We retrieved our car, which was already being disassembled by the grimy little Moties at the bottom of the ramp, and did it again. Then we had half a doughnut, and went home. The main purpose of the trip - get OS X 10.2 - had already been achieved a while earlier. I love going to the Apple Store; it’s a clean, white, perfect parallel universe where Macs are beloved and believed. I was chatting with the grizzled tech who rang up my order - the subject was Mass Storage, since I need to backup my MP3s. He said he’d squeezed four 80 GB drives full of MP3s on to one (1) 4.7 GB DVD. Good Lord, how?

“I’ll never tell,” he smiled.

He granted that they were all old scratchy C&W tunes - you really don’t worry about lossy compression with Woody Guthrie, I suppose. Then Gnat and I went back to the kiddie computers - what, you mean the G4s? Shut up. They have a circular table with five eMacs, loaded with children’s programs, and she likes the Toddler program that lets you color bucolic scenes and play with letters. I spelled out her name, one letter at a time.

Natalie! she said. Why, yes. Then I taught her to color pictures with the mouse, and she got the basic idea: click, and something happens. It’s slow going, but that’s the project for the next year. I have an old iMac waiting for her, and some Rolie Polie Olie and Maisy programs to use. She’s not exactly clear on all the concepts yet, but she does have the right attitude.

“What am I doing?” she said. That’s her catch-phrase for the week. Obviously she got it from me. Obviously I say it a lot. Not that this should surprise you.

It is a bad thing to call your agent the very day they move to their new digs. You get a recording telling you the number has changed. Then you get a recording telling you the new number is not in service. For one horrible moment - well, one agitated hour, to be honest - I had visions that they’d packed up and left, cashed all the royalty checks and decamped to Brazil, where they were now living in a villa furnished entirely with their clients’ moneys. You hear stories about this all the time with bad investment councilors; why not agents? This is the Lileks Room of the villa, furnished entirely by the 3rd quarter revenues from “Regrettable Food.” You will note it is mostly empty, alas, but we did purchase this very special box of Kleenex; the tissues are made entirely from spun moth wings. Mugabe uses them for toilet paper. Do you wish to try one? No? Your nose is not running? Let me bring in a selection of mildly infected servants for you, then. No? Fine.

I fired off an email, and promptly learned the location of the new office. Good thing I didn’t head down to the old office to drop off the book - facing the locked doors and empty nameplate, I would have felt like a kid who comes back from camp and finds his parents have moved away.

Went to the grocery store, which is being gutted and rebuilt. The old sad crappy store is turning into a yuppie comestible boutique of the finest order, and it’s open during construction. The building was once a bowling alley, and when the suspended ceiling came off I’d hoped to see remnants of the old Brunswick infrastructure. But it’s all gone. Nothing. No phantom lanes under the linoleum, no signs of the old bar, no proof at all of its glorious past as a pin-monkey habitat.

We bought eggs. A small miracle of civilization, when you think of it: far away a chicken excretes this fragile orb; it is conveyed along machinery, possibly to the tune of “Powerhouse,” to an assembly room that nestles it in a six-slot crate both hard enough to cushion it against the vagaries of the journey, and soft enough to yield to the pressure of a toddler’s thumb. Gnat wanted to hold the egg carton. I said she could, but she had to be careful.

“Be careful,” she said.

We got to the checkout line. She threw the carton on the ground.

“What am I doing?” she said.

I picked it up. Five out of six eggs: cracked.

I put in on the counter. “These are all broken,” I said. “I’d like to pay for them, but I don’t want them.”

The clerk didn’t quite get that. “Do you want another carton?”

“No - I really don’t need eggs that bad. But my daughter broke them, so I’d like to pay for them.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” she said.

“But I should,” I said. “I should have known better than to give them to her, and it’s my fault they broke.”

“That’s okay,” the clerk said.

I really wanted to pursue this, but I was about one more protest away from being an Inexplicably Weird Customer, so I dropped it. A stockboy came by, took the eggs - “you want another one?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “It was my fault”

Again, the look: does not compute. You broke them, so you don’t deserve eggs now?

Sometimes you just can’t do the right thing. And if I’m pulled over for speeding tomorrow, in the back of my mind I’ll be thinking does the fact that I wanted to pay for eggs I helped break mean anything to this policeman? Hah. Not likely.

Damn! Mary Kelly! Forgot all about that. I’ve been meaning to remark on “From Hell,” a movie I saw this weekend. It’s the Jack-the-Ripper movie by the extraordinary Hughes brothers, a movie that seemed to get mild and tepid reviews. I thought it was superb. The Ripper case is one of my old fascinations, because it’s a Titanic-level event in Western civ, one of those moments when the old world turns and the new world comes into view. You see the 20th century coming when you study the Ripper case, mainly b/c of the role of the mass media. The movie chooses the least-likely theory for the case, the whole Masonic / Royal conspiracy, and in this sense it’s like Stone’s JFK. (My money’s on Trembeley as the Ripper.) But the Hughes Brothers summoned up the era with amazing skill - you’d have thought this was some twisted offshoot of a Merchant / Ivory unit, not two young American men whose source material was a comic book. I’d forgotten how good they were.

(SIDE NOTE: Is "two young American men" an adequate description? Aren't I leaving out something that is normal in American life but unusual by Hollywood standards - i.e., they're Black?

If I mention their race, then it might have that condescending whiff - My, who could have imagined that the ebony fellow could play Walton’s Cello Concerto with such feeling - and get all the notes right! Bravo! But if I don’t mention it, then I’m a racist for not acknowledging their directorial breadth - namely, moving with effortless skill from the milieu of their last movie, “American Pimp,” into the distant streets of 19th century Whitechapel. And I’d be ignoring the fact that a production of this size helmed by Blacks is, after all, still unique. I'd be a typical clueless paleboy, assuming that the Hughes Brothers obvious success means that all racial barriers in Hollywood have been demolished. I mean, isn't Bill Cosby rich?

Name two other Black directors whose names don't end with Lee or Peebles. Name three Black second unit directors. Name one Black Joe Esterhaus.

Actually, I think it is relevant, inasmuch as most people who watched the movie had no idea the filmmakers were Black. (Why should they? No one wonders if Quentin Tarantino’s mother wasn’t Italian.) For those who popped in the second DVD and watched the interviews with the Hughes Brothers, and hadn’t followed their career, it might have been a shock - wha? BALD BLACK GUYS MADE THIS? Get out. And maybe, just maybe, that reaction would be instructive, and the viewer would realize that they’d never wondered how the Coen Brothers - two Jews from Minnesota -could make a movie about Arizona white folk.

And then racial harmony would blanket the land! Well, no; I don’t think anyone will rethink anything. But it can't hurt. I’m just happy these guys got the money to do this. And it does point out that there’s probably more racial harmony in a comic book store than at a Democratic convention. This still doesn’t mean that Ivan Reitman should do the Luke Cage movie. Please, God, no. END SIDE NOTE.)

It’s not that gory - except for the last murder, which was unbelievably hideous. It’s not that scary, either; this isn’t a bogeyman movie. It is an antidote to all the movies that define Victorian England as a quaint peaceable land where‘Liza Dooliddle an’ Sterling Olloway laughed their way through the minor imprecations of gin addiction and social stratification. It doesn’t try to make a point about class - it simply sets out the facts, which are more damning than someone trying to jab you in the eye with a lesson about How Britain Sucked.

I worry about Robbie Coltrane, though. He’s wonderful, as usual, but he looks as if he’s eaten John Goodman. I only hope he has a bypass scheduled twice a year, and is first in line for Britain’s first heart-lung-liver transplant. Gob less ‘im.

And yes, yes, yes, YES I know that my command of British accents is orrible; a number of kind readers have chided me for mixing up Liverpudlian and Manchester and Cockney and all the rest in the recent Screed. I could say that was my point, that I was trying to create some uberBrit synthesis accent, but that would be like trying to pay for broken eggs. What am I thinking?



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