The top-of-the-hour radio news played today's news just as youd expect - everything shoved through the tit-for-tat template. Israel attempts to take out a terror leader; Hamas responds with a bombing. As if theyre equal. As if targeting the car that ferries around some murderous SOB is the same as sending a blissed-out teenager to blow nails and screws through the flesh of afternoon commuters so he can bury himself in the heaving bosom of the heavenly whorehouse. Cycle of violence, don't you know.
They dont have helicopters, we're told, so they use suicide bombers. If they had helicopters, they would have strafed the bus and everyone waiting at the corner. Give them a nation where Hamas runs unchecked, and theyll have helicopters. They won't be Apaches. The bill of sale will be calculated in Euros and the manual written in French. By then the excuse for the terror won't be oppression; it'll be "the legacy of oppression." Sometimes I swear the mainstream media won't take a look at the Palestinian's horrid death-cult subculture until we learn that a suicide bomber played "Doom" at an Internet cafe for five minutes. And then they'll blame Intel.
Cold day; cloudy day. Theres always a burst of sun and warmth just as were getting dressed to leave the house, and after weve dressed for, you know, summer, the temp drops 20 degrees. After supper, the sun came out again, as if summoned by the landscaper who dropped by tonight with the new plans: he wanted that flattering sunset light to put us in that dreamy, spend-a-buck mood. Ive decided to plow the tax rebate into Jasperwood, thereby violating my usual standard for moneys earned above and beyond our salaries. Usually I spend one third, bank one third, and put the other third aside for taxes. When it comes to tax cuts, of course, I usually burn the money or bury it in cans in the backyard; heaven forbid I release it back into the general economy, where it might do some good. But this time its all going back into the wild. As far as the economy goes, its a force multiplier; I give the money to the landscaper, who gives it to hothouses and stone cutters, who give it to their employees, etc etc. In the end Jasperwood is incrementally more lovely and at least three people have handled the same dollar, and paid taxes each time. Odd how that turns out.
This new addition is minor, but important. Theres a dead spot under a tree in the front yard. The broad low tree lets not a photon fall on the land below, so you just get weeds that hug the ground like Gollum. Were going to put in a small wall of the same stone that rings the north front and the cliff, plug in some hostas, and count that as this years contribution to the street. Which will jack up the value of the house. And thus increase my taxes. Its the cycle of life.
Gawker linked to a piece on the best and worst hotels in New York, and I really wish the story had more examples; I love reading about grim hotels. Grim motels are another story - unless the neighborhood is bad, crappy motels can have their own peculiar Norman Batesian charm. The summer I spent as a Northrup King Seed Salesman in the south was mostly a miserable time; I was lonely, and was reasonably certain my camp-counselor girlfriend was cheating on me. (She was. With a lifeguard. And it was Bible camp!) Every night a new small town, a different old motel. My per diem was a sawbuck, and that bought gritz & shitz at the Waffle House, a gas-station vending-machine lunch, Nehi for an afternoon jolt, a drive-in supper, and a $12 room at the Buzzing Sign Motel. Scratchy sheets, thin blankets, a TV that wobbled on the stand and refused to bring in PBS on general principles. Palmolive soap, sandpaper towels. The best motels had an old metal chair outside your room - you sat there, trying to rock, swatting flies. You watched the cars go past. You smoked cigarettes and flicked the butts into the dark, and you let a whole full minute pass before you fired up another one. You drank your beverage from a glass that just minutes before wore a crimped paper hat that guaranteed the glass was clean - just as the seatbelt on the toilet promised you someone had waved a Lysol bottle aorund the bathroom two days ago.
I wasnt me then. Or at least I wasnt as much me as I am now. All that stuff I took for granted. I didnt take pictures.
Always take pictures. Assume no one else will.
Back to crappy New York hotels. Worst I ever had was the Madison, on Madison, kattywumpus from Reubens Restaurant (Thats All!), a charmless but archetypical New York diner, and hence charming in that screw-you-heres-your-eggs kind of way I miss from time to time. It had the feel of a place where old show-biz people got together to talk about the clients Broadway Danny Rose passed on. The Mad itself was a dump, but it was my first New York hotel experience, and hence I romanticized it on the spot. The front desk was old-school, too - a weary homunculus behind a desk, reading a newspaper, fetching your key and your messages from the slots behind him. Id gone to New York to interview Fran Lebowitz (and meet an agent - another story) but she canceled the meeting. At least she left a message. I wondered if the desk clerk was impressed: wow, Fran Lebowitz canceled his meeting.
I know I was.
(Side note: by my calculations, since that date - 1983 - I have published over one thousand more pieces that Ms. L has published. Meaning, I have sold over 1K columns, and as far as I can tell she has published about a dozen things here and there. In 20 years. She must be buying those special cigarettes that have $20 bills in each pack.
This is not a good thing; her disappearance was a great disappointment to everyone. Comedy back then was all rubber swords, and she was a sharp short stiletto.)
Anyway. New York hotels. I wish the article had another category: gigantic past-their-prime hotels full of grumpy disappointed Germans. Most big cities have one or two old monsters, but New York still has dozens, and the scale of these behemoths is all the more impressive when you consider that they were built nearly one hundred years ago. By hand. From drawings. Some are now condos, like the McAlpin or the Martinique; some soldier on like the New Yorker, relying on fresh infusions of tourists who will never come back again; others are just big thick piles that cannot be retrofitted to modern life because the hallways are too damn wide. Im serious - the Roosevelt is one of those hotels where the hallways are wide enough so two porters hauling steamer trunks can pass without problem, but this means that the rooms are the size of an old computer monitor. You open the door, and you think: whoa, 640 X 480. The Roosevelt is up for sale, I hear. In another era it would be knocked down and replaced with a tall proud tower, but Bloomberg probably is working on a rivet tax and a glancing fee that requires high-rise construction workers to toss a quarter in a bucket every time they look up from their welding. So the place will probably be carved up for condos.
Thats happening here in Minneapolis - nearly every square inch of the riverfront is being rehabbed for condos, and the prices are preposterous. A building around the corner from my office is being gutted for this purpose, and a duller building on a duller corner youll never find. Looks out over a parking lot, and faces the buildings that face the river. (On the other side.) Top price: $1 million.
To me, a million dollar house is the sort of grand mini-Versailles occupied by the Clampetts. A long driveway, a cement pond, acres of grounds, butlers quarters, all nestled by the side of a private lake with a secret underground lair reached by monorail. A million dollars to live in an old warehouse whose floors have authentic scars from authentic hooks dragged by authentic WW1 era workers who had to pause periodically and cough up authentic blood because they had authentic Tuberculosis does not strike me as a millionaire lifestyle. Even now, you can get hella house around here for a million - walk-in dishwashers, thousand-bottle wine closets, tubs that would accommodate Paul Prudhomme and the cast of Ben-Hur, entryways the size of Monaco. And it will be in the peaceful silent suburbs, on a lake or river, with broad windows and DSL and gas fireplaces in every room, and the fireplaces are activated just by winking at them.
Granted, you have to drive four miles for Thai. But somehow people manage.