Saturday night at Southdale, the Mother of All Malls. Wife has gone to the Guthrie with a friend, so I took Gnat out for hamburgers and computer games. She puts the cardboard crown from her Happy Meal on her head, and said “I am Natalie, the Queen!”

I want to say “well, no; you have not been married to another despot who either got his throne by poisoning his father or putting a broadsword through the previous despot’s breastbone; your fate is not determined by the numbers of male heirs you can produce, nor is your entire existence an example of a tyrannical system that regards the proletariat as a mass of sodden humanity fit only for toil and taxation. You are not attended by maids and courtiers whose devotion to the mincing intricacies of palace politics stands as a cruel contrast to the world of blood and tears below your crenelated balcony. You are not a Queen. We don’t believe in Queens. You are an American.”

But I agreed that she was a Queen, and a lovely one at that.

“I am a hero!” she said.

Well, we can’t let that pass. “You’re a heroine, honey.”

“I save the day!”

That she does. Always. While she worked on her hangiger I studied the crowd. Not too many patrons in the food court - loud loutish knots of teens, a giggle of junior-high girls practicing cheerleading moves, a sullen man slumped in a puffy jacket so large it looked like some sort of flotation device that had inflated by accident. Half the food-court stores have closed up. The Great American Steak and Fry store is gone, and thank goodness - the food wasn’t bad, but that “Great American” prefix belongs back in the 70s from whence it came. Taco John’s has closed up. People know what they’re getting from Taco Bell, but Taco John’s - well, the gamble was too great. The A&W stand has closed; it sold mostly hot dogs, and I think the suburban teen audience for hot dogs may be waning somewhat. It only took a hundred years, but people are finally wising up to the fact that we don’t know what those things are made of. Lean Sphincter fillets, yes. Pureed brain-tissue with binding agents, yes. Minced thyroid spiced with attar of fistula, sure. But after that you don’t know what you’re getting. At some point we all stand in the supermarket aisle, looking at the two varieties of hot dog:

Armour Hot Dogs
Armour All-Beef Hot Dogs

The second one makes you question the first, and eventually you question the second as well.

When we were done eating she straightened her crown, and we rode exgsalators up and down for a while. Then off to the Apple Store to play games. She called up a GI Joe game by mistake, and frowned at the interface. Ooh, this is a tricky one. I got her back to the happy game with happy ducks, and she happily painted away while I played with Final Cut Express.

Then I had the epiphany: of course! USE THE MALL’S BANDWIDTH!

To explain: I promise a lot of things here, but eventually I deliver. There will be T-shirts, some day. There will be video-blogs, soon. I’m going to add a weekly streaming video here, but since I don’t have broadband at home the notion of uploading huge files via my syrup-through-a-pipette connection was daunting. Then I remembered that the Apple Store has a wireless network. So. That night I roughed up a prototype of a weekly movie, and Sunday I went back to the store.

It’s simple: you open the laptop, and your machine hears the music of the spheres. Right there in my menubar was the name of the network. I connected, called up my iDisk - a virtual hard drive that exists GOD knows where on some computer somewhere in the world; could be next door or half a continent away. Doesn’t really matter. I transferred the movie to the iDisk over the wireless network, and then as long as I was there I let the laptop gulp up all the software updates it requested.

Apple! They think of everything! Well - no. I brought my optical mouse, and it wouldn’t work. Odd. I asked the fellow behind the Genius Bar if he’d plug it in and see if it worked on his machine, and he said sure - then he caught himself and said “the counters here are Corian, and it’s reflective in a way that doesn’t work with an optical mouse. You need to use a pad.” He tossed me a mousepad.

So the people who designed these clever stores, these hip white embassies for Mac hotness never thought to ask whether their choice of surfaces worked with optical mice. It’s not the sort of thing you really worry, I guess, but I expect it resulted in Steve Jobs throwing an iPod at someone’s head.

Dull bland weekend, which was fine with me. I ended up watching “Taxi Driver” - yes, by choice. I’d been hoovering up soundtracks from my DVDs for use in home movies, and I remembered that “Taxi Driver” was Bernard Herrman’s last score. Watched the first few minutes, ended up watching the entire movie. Quite the day-brightener, that. Movies like these always end up being inadvertent documentaries - at the time, in 1976, no one expected Times Square would be anything other than a fetid scumhole, so the shots on 42nd street’s porno row now look like the urban equivalent of those shots of the Titanic taken by robot submersibles. The facades, the marquees, the lobbies - they were all products of 60s renovation, meant for mainstream audiences, but by the time Scorcese shot his movie the rot had set it, and these bright clean jet-era spaces had been taken over by the great Wave of Grot that inundated Times Square. (Travis Bickle turns out to have been a prophet: a rain did come away and wash away all the filth, and when the waters receded there was a Chevy’s restaurant and a nice new Loew’s Multiplex.) The scenes in cafeterias and cafes made me hit PAUSE and study the details - all these fabulous postwar interiors now no doubt lost. In 1976, though, that’s how things looked; we all inhabited these quasi-Jetsonesque interiors without a thought about the future they had once represented.

The “Making Of” featurette has some priceless moments - Harvey Keitel looking like he had just exfoliated with a can opener, DeNiro attempting to conquer his famous dislike of interviews and failing as usual, Scorcese ratatattatting a dozen details - and Albert Brooks. He wore sunglasses throughout the interview. He looked like a walrus. He described how he’d improvised his dialogue, but he’d taken pains to make his character the sort of guy who was funny around the office. Albert Brooks wanted us to know he could have been much, much funnier if he’d so desired.

And then there was the matter of Iris. Jodie Foster’s character, Iris, was based on a real-life underage hooker. As the screenwriter Paul Schrader described it, he met “a 15-year old, a working girl”; he invited her back to his room, left a note under Scorcese’s door at the hotel saying “I’ve found our Iris” or words to that effect. Foster’s mannerisms were based on this young woman - the scene in which Foster slathers toast with jelly and dumps sugar on the bread was taken from Schrader and Scorcese’s breakfast with the lass; she was a junkie, and ate sugar all day. They even worked her into the movie - she has a walk-on with Foster, which the documentary duly showed in slo-mo with a circle around the nameless hooker. They’re all quite pleased with the verisimilitude she brought to the movie.

But no one expresses any interest about what became of this woman. (According to the credits, her name was Garth Avery.) And the question of how Mr. Schader “met” this underaged hooker is never really raised. And I don’t want to know. Consider Schader’s oeuvre - “Hardcore” - George C. Scott goes looking for his daughter in the porno world. “Taxi Driver.” That Greg Kinnear Bob-Crane biopic. If 70s muttonchoppy pre-video pr0n is hell, Schrader is our Virgil, our tourguide.


It’s a brilliant movie. The civilization it portrays is a sad and empty place - Weimar Germany without the energy to muster up the brownshirts, Rome that fell because it was grew bored waiting for the Huns. If I had to choose between its 1 hour and 54 minutes of brilliance and the few minutes of Herrman’s score - no question. That sad sax theme alone sums up everything about the latter 70s, its exhaustion, its dead-hearted nostalgia for everything it grew up pissing on. Julia Phillips was one of the movie’s producers. I’ll bet she would have wanted someone to play that theme at her funeral.
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