Dec 3rd: a letter arrives from the Motor Vehicles Department, informing me that I can now get my tabs on line! Just log on, use a credit card or check number, and we’ll mail you the tabs! No lines, no long waits, no hassle. Great! I think, and I put the letter in my pile of things to do tomorrow.

Jan 28th. With three days left on my tabs, I drive to the Motor Vehicles Department, cursing. Idiot! But I forget: this is Minnesota. This is nothing like the DMV of DC, a hellish labrynth populated by dead shuffling souls and stone-faced civil servants who will, on the bus home, replay over and over again the sweet moment when they put the CLOSED sign over their cage just as you got to the head of the line.

Your expression was priceless.

So I show up expecting a wait; the room’s half full. There’s no one in the line. I’m here for plates, I tell the dispatcher, and he points me to window 3.

No waiting. Well: this was unexpected. I’d budgeted the afternoon for this, and it took 5 minutes. What now? Barnes and Noble. I had a gift certificate from Christmas; why not. I should note that I rarely buy books – I work at a newspaper, which is a cornucopia of free reading material. You cannot imagine the heaps of stuff shoveled from the book room every day. I always want to take young writers to the book room and show them the mountains of books – unread, to say nothing of unreviewed. This is what you’re up against. And this doesn’t included the sixty billion paperbacks printed every year, half of which are pulped and set to Japan to make toilet paper. That’s right: the end result of most American author’s labors ends up hanging on a roll in a karoke bar in a Tokyo suburb.

But keep writing!

Kid, your expression is priceless.

So when I get something at B&N with a gift certificate, it’s something I wouldn’t otherwise get for free. That meant the West Side Story DVD. Which I already had. But this is the expanded version, whatever that means. Perhaps Riff is named Rifff, and Tony’s called Tonny, and Natalie Wood’s songs are credited to Marnie Nixxon. (There’s a nom de porn no one ever thought to adopt.) The sound has been remixed, but I’m sure they didn’t do anything about that atrocious harmony on “Quintet” – I can’t listen to the Jets without thinking about the Ghostbusters' admonition against crossing the streams. If you’ve heard it you know what I mean; they’re all singing out of their range, and they don’t even hit the notes next to the ones they’re aiming for.

Will I ever watch it? Probably; some day with Gnat, when she gets interested in this sort of thing. “West Side Story” has the best score of an American musical, in my opinion; others have great songs, but the WSS story score has a quality unique to the genre,, s the nervy jangled edge of someone tossing a switchblade from hand to hand. And then it’s pure and lovely in a style you’ve never heard before, mainly because Lennie was grabbing from everywhere, including his own brilliant soul. I could listen to that score every day and never tire of it – and YES I know there are other versions that have salutary attributes, but the movie score is what burned the music in my brain, and leaving it for another would seem like infidelity.

I’m full of those peculiar, unexplainable acts of devotion. I swear the reason I never watched “Babylon 5” was because it would feel like I was cheating on Star Trek.

Anyway. Got a collection of Peanuts cartoons, and not because I love Peanuts. I don’t. But this was a collection of early strips, imaginatively presented: the strips are reproduced as yellowed cut-outs held in place with ancient tape, and there’s some interesting photographs of 50s & 60s memorabilia as well. It was such a different strip when it began – cleaner, sharper, and nothing like anything else on the page. Oh, you say that because that’s what everyone says! Brilliant groundbreaking strip! Well, I don’t see it. Fine. But go back to the microfiche at the library, wherever you live, and look at everything else on the page. Every era has a style, and these styles usually end up with one survivor to carry the era into subsequent decades. Blondie is a 30s cartoon. Kathy, God help it, is a late 70s cartoon. They freeze the zeitgeist in place and recycle it for fargin’ EVER, which is why most cartoon pages in newspapers are horrible. They should be dynamited every ten years, and hang the reader mail. If we want the younger demographic, we should do something to court people who, you know, like comics. Understand comics. But no: newspapers are the only journals that publish 30 comics every day – and are regularly ignored by people who love comics.

Now why might that be.

Also bought a magazine and a National Geographic Special Edition about space exploration. Total cost: 45 cents. Thank you, brother-in-law Tim. I wondered if the clerk was judging me: you got 75 clams in B&N script, and you buy a movie, an old comic book compendium, the Weekly Standard and pictures of the Crab Nebula? Mainstream lamer.

But I always think the clerks are judging me. Probably because they are; I spent many years in retail, friends. Don’t think they don’t have opinions about each and every one of you. It’s the only thing that keeps them sane.

Tomorrow I co-host Hugh’s national radio show. Coast to coast! Should be fun, if I don’t suck like an Oreck. Now I have to burn my bumper music. A full report tomorrow, of course.

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A large addition to the Institute: a Spiderman Big Little Book.
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You know that 60s music where everyone's singing "dabadabadaba dee, dabadabadaba, doo'? Turns out there's a name for it.
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