Screenshot from HBO's magnificent "Band of Brothers."

Ah, memories. I cleaned out a closet yesterday and came across an old CD version of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus.” Hadn’t read it since college. I still have the print version somewhere, but it’s one of those things you don’t take out for a light skim. You either read Maus or you don’t - it’s not one of those books that sits on the top of the American Standard tank. The CD is done in Hypercard. Wow. That takes me back. The program now runs in the “Classic” mode, and it’s rather confused - it wants more memory. The help file says I should have 8 MB of memory. I have 1 GB, which was an unthinkable amount when we were screwing around with Hypercard. I ask myself sometimes: what did we do with computers before the Internet, exactly? In my case I used Hypercard for all sorts of pointless, tiny programs that have absolutely no use today at all. For example: I designed one stack that kept track of the movies I’d seen. I’d do some vidcaps, record the theme music, write a brief synopsis: voila. It had everything except a reason for being.

This Maus CD is something else, though. It hails from the early 90s, when CD-ROMs! promised to revolutionize the way we used computers. Thanks to computers, we would soon be experiencing . . . MULTIMEDIA! Which mean pictures and text and sound, all coming at you at once! Over six hundred megabytes of information - it staggered the mind. Why, that was 30 hard drives on a single platter! Think what you could do!
This was another boom-bust thing, albeit smaller than the great run-up and crash that waited at the end of the decade. In the end it all came down to Myst, and little else. No one wanted fancy-schmancy books on their computers, and so the genre died before it really had a chance to grow. Pity. This “Maus” CD has some interesting features; you can see the rough sketches of the drawings (not very helpful, since Spiegelman’s finished drawings still look rather rough; we’re not talking Herge here.) Best of all: excerpts of the interviews with his father, the words that formed the basis of the story. The old man sounds exactly like you think he’d sound. It’s a perfect example of what might have made the format work . . . but in ten years I doubt my computer will run Hypercard. And that book on the shelf will still work the moment I boot it up - er, open it to the beginning.

Heading into the office today I was startled to see the poles - ten per block, tall and gray, ugly lumps hanging from the wires that laced the poles together. The final step of the light-rail project: the electrical wires are back.

And so the bad idea finally showed its ugly mug. The ads for the light rail system are cool - they borrow 30s / 40s rail iconography, which is clever. The stations are quite impressive, including the immense, lovely, and utterly nonfunctional assemblage across from the Metrodome. Fifth street downtown has been screwed beyond belief - from three lanes to one until you hit the Government Plaza, at which point the street is closed to thru-traffic. Brilliant. But I think some people believed that the trolleys would just . . . move on their own accord, gliding on the rails. No one reminded us that we’d have to string wires in the sky again. And so the intersections now have these latticework constructs, these anal-retentive dreamcatchers, these tic-tac-toe puzzles pasted over your view of the sky. Wonderful.

Eight hundred million.

As I have said elsewhere, somewhere, I am not opposed to mass transit. I see the double-segment busses trundle past at rush hour, filled to the gunwales, and I’m glad: congestion would be worse without the busses. And even if the effect on congestion was limited, I’d still support it; people need to get around. When I was a poor college student I took the bus. When I was an entry-level 20something downtown drone I took the bus. I believe in dedicated bus lanes. I think poor people should get vouchers to take them to jobs in the outer burbs.

Eight hundred million dollars for a trolley that goes from the bar district to the Mall of America!

I keep thinking of some old guy coming downtown for the first time in years, looking up at the poles and bright string, and shouting: what are you doing? Do you know how pleased we were to see the sky when the wires came down? That’s why we welcomed the busses, you idiots! They were air conditioned, they went everywhere, they pulled over to let people out, they didn’t clog traffic - now you’re bringing back the old ways? What’s next, four-aisle supermarkets? Radios without FM? Black and white newspapers? TVs without remotes? You idiots!

Speaking of Dreamcatchers: saw the movie. They were obviously going for that “Stand By Me” vibe - four kids, bound together, facing evil later in life, etc. (Also the plot of “It,” which took place in that truly-screwed Maine town of Derry. And “Dreamcatcher” has its Derry scenes as well. Note to locals: sell! At a loss if you must! If it’s not the aliens it’s the malevolent nameless giant evil spider in the bowels of your town!) The movie got the details right for a King book - the creeping dread, the catchphrases, the overwhelming oh-crap moment that occurs about 1/3rd into the story - but it couldn’t grasp the spirit. I’m reading the book now, and as usual, it’s better.

On the way back from New York I started “Black House,” a sequel to “The Talisman,” a book King wrote with Peter Straub 20 years ago. My first review for the Star-Tribune. I was young and full of English-major disease, so naturally I panned it. I’d like to give it another read someday; the sequel had some brilliant moments, the sort of stuff that keeps you up an hour past your bedtime. The best parts are all pure King; when he’s on, he’s untouchable - but like my light-rail rant I’ve said that before, too. (Sorry - Monday night, column night, much to do.) “Black House” spends much of its time in a world King details at greater length in his Dark Tower / Gunslinger series, which I’ve never read. I will, someday.

Just went outside to consult the cigar; I was thinking about “It” and “Black House” and all the other King books that dealt with the vast creepy unknowable darkness on the other side of the waking world, and how, when you think about these stories, they seem, well, silly. Irrational. Fun to read, enjoyable vacations of the imagination, but really - when was the last time you were really scared in the dark? When was the last time you believed in monsters, goblins, beasts of the wind?

If I hadn’t looked up, I wouldn’t have seen it. A streak - fast, big, low, bright, and green. A phosphorescent ball. It burst. Sparks.

I stared wide-eyed at the spot for ten, fifteen seconds, wondering what I’d just seen.

Then all the dogs on the block began to bark.

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