Here’s hoping the new glasses show up tomorrow. I’d like to make my State Fair gig in high style - a fresh haircut, new specs . . . well, that’s about it. I have limited options at this point. I don’t even remember what the glasses look like, since I made my usual snap decision. The clerk was impressed - most people linger and dither, apparently. Why? There are only about three styles, and they’re all overpriced by a factor of 900% and you’ll be sick of them in a year. Just do it. My favorite glasses ever where c. 1986 - clear plastic frames a la Stephen Lang as the Crusading Attorney in Crime Story. I even had a stunt pair for TV work. No lens. Just the frames. The lens showed the lights. For continuity’s sake I had to wear them in all the shots, but it felt rather stupid, because I couldn’t see.

Also got prescription sunglasses. The options were twofold - giant dinnerplate Raybans or tiny pretentious chiclets, which give me that highschool teacher who grokked the Matrix look. Which did I choose? What do you think? Come to order, and turn to page 48. Whoa.

The eye exam was the best one I’ve ever had. Usually I cannot help but feel as though I’ve failed the test; there’s no feedback from the optometrist, no indication that I gave the right answer. Better? Worse? Better? Worse? I don’t know! You're the doctor, you tell me. But his time the doc told me when I was right, when I’d chosen the lens he thought would make a difference. He was a tall thin guy in his early 60s, right out of a movie about a small town. Kindly, pink, neighborly. I liked him even after he poured the acid in my eye.

Not acid exactly, but that nasty dilation fluid that makes your retina go wide for six hours. He examined the inside of my eyeball, and as usual I fully expected him to say holy cow, nothin’ but eye cancer in here! But I was fine. I stumbled out of the store unable to focus on anything close up. Light hurt. And where did I go? Of course: the Apple store.

The white, bright Apple store.

I walked in and groaned: man, this place hurts.

When I get my new glasses I might just snap the old ones in half. I’m sick to death of them. They’re nearly rimless, silver, discrete. But they’ve bothered me since I got them. In fact the reason I went back for a new prescription was the old glasses weren’t doing the job close-up. And why might that be? Because the prescription was too strong. This makes two prescriptions in a row that have been overpowered. I’m getting older, yes, but my eyes appear to be getting better. At this rate I will able to see through the nurse’s smock in the rest home. Probably see nothing but bones by then. O joy.

As I may have mentioned before, the StarTribune runs on a piece of software so old the manual is written in cuneiform on clay tablets. It’s a compact and efficient program, requiring about 64 MB of memory on a 286 powered by gerbil flatulence, or something. It’s pretty lean. I still remember seeing the big iron in the basement, ready for the scrap heap - big dead obsolete machines the size of pro-wrestler coffins. They’d run the ATEX system. They probably cost eleventy billion dollars. Now you couldn’t give them away.

The ATEX program survives in emulated form; when we write at the paper we call up a little window that pitches you back to the era of dumb terminals, clackety-clack keyboards, Members Only jackets and Weird Al Yankovic fever. It’s nostalgic. It’s pathetic. Green glowing letters on a black screen, obscure commands, a complete & utter refusal to play nice with the other programs - eh. I’ve been writing in ATEX since 1987, and I’m damn glad to see it go.

The new system comes on line in a few months. Training, of course, is required.

Sixteen hours of training, to be specific.

No sir, I said; don’t like it. And I won’t do it. I tried to duck the training, but the kind & helpful compu-gurus applied the pressure, ever so gently. (We have the best tech department I’ve ever known at any job.) I said that I understood they were under orders, but any system that required 16 hours of training was guaranteed to be unusable. It’s word processing software, for heaven’s sake. I suspected that much of the schooling would consist of explaining what icons were, and what double-clicking meant. I’d do it, but I’d given my peculiar schedule and work routine I’d have to take vacation time and hire a baby sitter. But I made an offer: give me the boiled down version, four hours, and I promise I will never call technical support with a question.

Today I had my private tutorial. We finished in 55 minutes.

What in heaven’s name was the other 15 hours and five minutes spent doing? Well, as I suspected, there’s much hand-holding and repetition and explanations of the difference between local drives and the network. The software is quite powerful, and often pointlessly so; it’s an Adobe product, which means it’s fairly solid and intuitive, but oy: so many palettes. They must have spent four hours explaining the palettes, and another four teaching you how to get them off your screen.

Fifty-five minutes! At least my tutor was a Mac guy. He understood my pain. When I saw that the new-improved-fancy-whee-ha word processor had a Win95 interface, I nearly wept.

Got an Amazon box today, stuff ordered long long ago. A copy of “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.” A Squeeze CD - d’oh; forgot. I’d just bought “Another Nail in My Heart” on iTunes the other day. “The Omega Man,” which I’m sure still sux ‘n’ bloz in widescreen as it does in TBS pan & scan mode, but I decided to collect all the wretched sci-fi of my childhood so my daughter will some day know what I endured. Best of all, a true gem, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen: Quimby the Mouse, by Chris Ware.

I’ve written a few times about Ware’s work - his big brilliant “Jimmy Corrigan” tome is the pinnacle of the storyteller’s art, I think. “Quimby” is a collection of collegiate and post-collegiate strips about a small stylized rodent who is alternatively headless, twinned with a siamese version of himself (who appears to be dying or aging), or just telling stories in Ware’s voice. The book now collects the old Acme Novelty Library editions into one hardbound edition, and adds something that makes rereading the comics an entirely new experience. Ware wrote an essay about his Grandmother, her death, and how he worked these themes out in the Quimby strips. The essay is interesting for two reasons: 1. it gives the work a poignancy that turns these little pictures into heartbreaking vignettes, and 2. you realize that Ware is not only a great illustrator, an incredible page designer, a wizard of typography - he’s a better writer than most professional authors, and he’s the master of several styles as well. Personal narrative, deadpan parody, bitterly grim humor, chipper glee - all here in this book.

Plus, Ted Rall disapproves of him! All you need to know.

Here you go.

If you don’t like it, I apologize, but if you’re remotely interested in quality storytelling and graphic design you will find this book immensely rewarding.

There will be small bleatage tomorrow; I will be preparing for my national radio debut. This might mean drinking lots of Nyquil - wife is very ill with another stupid cold that spent a morning in Gnat then bounced off to other local hosts. It should kick in just as I crack the mike. And if I’m delirious from the drugs? It’s the Fair. Who’ll notice.

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