We’ve been holding our breath on this one for six weeks, which, as you can imagine, meant lots of passing out and dashing our heads against the coffee tables; damned autonomous body functions. But the call came last Thursday. It’s her dream job. No more state government work – after a decade and a half of public service (capped with that graceless & despicable exit engineered by some bootlicker who’ll probably be frogmarched into the yard and shot by the year’s end) she’s in the private sector. But it’s not a blood-draining job at a law firm that expects you to bill seventy minutes every hour. Easy commute. Honorable work. It’s the perfect job.

Thanks again to everyone who chipped in last July when she found the knife in her back – it really helped, it did. Now she has one last week before she returns to the world of work, and I return to my old life as the Obsessive Foe of Household Disorder. Today I went to Target with Gnat after Sunday School, and stocked up on things we might possibly, conceivably, need – unguents for itches, creamed analgesics, nostrums for the ague, flu, catarrh and grippe; razors blades aplenty, enough batteries to light the torch of the Statue of Liberty. It’s the Omega Man Syndrome, I think. If civilization crashes we’ll have at least six months where we can pretend we are still living as before.

Why did Charlton Heston stick around in the city? He had no chance of prevailing against the zombie mutants, after all. Personally, I’d load up a U-Haul and light out for the territories, where a man could relax without albino photophobic cultists throwing fireballs into my living room. And the chance of finding people who hadn’t been completely obliterated by bioplague would seem to be greater in Nebraska. At some point you’d be driving down the interstate, see a big smoking pile of zombies, and think: well, hello, Omaha. But I understand why he stayed put. Given that Jasperwood is up on a hill, I can see myself standing in the upper sun porch looking down at the moaning undead, picking them off between sips of Macallen. And if I used the binoculars and saw them loading the University of Minnesota’s Gutenberg into the pyre just to cheese me off? Say hello to my lil fren. But then of course you risk destroying the Gutenberg. So you’d go back to the rifle. But then you’d have to go get the Gutenberg and bring up to your house for safekeeping . . . but for what? In the unlikely event that the world is repopulated, and someone finds your cache of art, and is smart enough to appreciate the treasures you’ve protected?

There’s a downside to being the last man on earth. That’s all I’m saying.

I returned to “The Empire State Building” by John Tauranac today – one of those books you can put down for a month and pick up without losing a moment. He spends a paragraph on Mr. C. Cass Lawler, the first man to jump off the observation deck. He “calmly removed his topcoat, put it and a note on the tower floor, climbed out on a parapet, and jumped off, all in the twinkling of an eye and without a moment’s hesitation.” I was curious about the fellow, and googled the name – to my astonishment there was one hit, and one hit only: a genealogy database from Ramsey County here in Minnesota. He came back as a WW1 vet from St. Paul who lived at, or grew up at, 561 Laurel in St. Paul. I know that neighborhood. I’m sure I could go there tomorrow and photograph the house in which he lived. His note said that he was jumping because he had the rheumatism something fierce.

So he enters history twice – once to fight in WW1, and once to jump from the Empire State Building. More than most men get, frankly. It’s the bracketing details that make you speculate – a man who shows up only to jump doesn’t tell you much. A man who goes to WW1 and evaporates thereafter – same thing. But put the war over here, and the big leap here, and you have 20 years to fill in. How did he spend them? Did he stand on the 86th floor at the pinnacle of Western achievement and think of the stinking trenches dug down in the dirt? You couldn’t get farther from Flanders than that. And yet he jumped.

And lived. He hit the 84th floor ledge. Two broken bones. The first successful suicide was Irma Eberhardt, in 1935. Time magazine laconically noted that “She set a record for distance.” I guess.

The book.

Watched no new movies over the weekend. Watched two episodes of Enterprise. Very good. Yes, it’s TV, yes, it’s Star Trek, yes, I’m a dork, but it’s a fine show. They realized quickly which characters are boring (Hoshi, Meriwether) and moved them to the margins, or perhaps Surprising Story Arcs in seaso
n four (or most likely, Tragic Deaths.) Late Friday I watched “Interiors,” which I don’t think I’d seen since 1978, when I made a pilgrimage to the Cooper. I came away thinking what an artist Woody Allen was. What a genius! What piercing insight into the human condition!

What a load of pretentious rubbish! I think now. Woody Allen can write punchlines and jokes, yes. But punchlines and jokes are not normal speech. He’s like a reverse alchemist – he takes these golden actors and makes them speak in sheets of tin, in hunks of lead. Diane Keaton plays A Poet – the sort of job people have in New York, apparently – and in one scene she confesses that she’s been overwhelmed by her own sense of physicality, and hence her mortality. “The intimacy of it . . . embarrasses me,” she tells her husband. Mind you, he’s just reading a book. As far as he knows she was upstairs sorting photos or tweezing her eyebrows. No: she comes down trembling because shaZAM she started listening to her heart beat and it freaked her out.

Why? Because she’s a poet! Because she’s an artist! And that’s what artists do: they spend the entire day attempting to screw their head into their navel, after which they write a few lines about the dunes, the tide, and the gulls mocking the bones of a fish washed up on the shore. The New Yorker publishes it. No one reads it. But it wasn’t meant to be read. It was meant to be discussed.

You can tell you’re in a mid-period Woody Allen movie when you have a character whose job is poetry – it’s that etiolated stratum of Manhattan society we expected Woody to fillet, not encase in Lucite and hold up as a thing to admire. I can’t imagine how he directed the actors, except to tell them to scowl and frown and look at the floor a lot. Mary Beth Hurt spends the entire movie acting like a constipated mouse, and she’s as repellant as her sister Keaton. They’re both “dealing” with the decline of their mother, the breezily daft Geraldine Page, whose husband left her because she was boring and crazy. (He was merely boring: irreconcilable differences.) There’s another sister who’s the female Tony Roberts – uncomplicated and completely disconnected from the neurosis of her two sisters. Utterly typical of Allen; complicated people are deep and vice versa. Happy people might have their problems, but they’re small things, petty things, emotional knick-knacks, because they’re not wrestling with ART.

In Allen’s films, art is a creed, a belief system, a religion full of sermons and dirges. If ever Art alights on a tinkerbell emotion like glee or delight, it’s always presented as a freeze-dried object – a Marx Brothers routine, a Louis Armstrong recording from the Hot Five days. Butterflies on pins. It made me think of Peter DeVries, who was nine times the writer Allen would ever be – he was smarter than Allen, funnier than Allen, and could thread his intellect through his stories in a confident fashion Allen could never begin to emulate. The difference? DeVries was a city man who decamped to the exurbs, I think. He had that Cheeveresque spin on Eros-in-Suburbia. He twinned an exuberant carnality with white-bread religious guilt. He never seemed to be writing to impress the troubled brunette from Philosophy 101 who dropped out halfway though the semester. He knew what he was: a humorist. And that gave him license to be intensely serious now and then, in a way poetasters like Allen can never achieve.

Exception: Radio Days, Annie Hall, and a few others where Allen connects with the material with a casual honestly that highlights the standard contrivances of his annual efforts. Why, it’s almost as if those movies seem so real, so true, that the intimacy embarrasses him.

You know what's really sad? DeVries appears to be entirely out of print.. My old paperbacks are falling apart. It's the same with Anthony Burgess. Trust me - Burgess belongs in the canon. Good that he had two hits ("Clockwork Orange" and "Earthly Powers," the Manichean disquisition masquerading a popular potboiler) - it means someone might unearth the 40+ books he wrote and carry them forward. Anyway: limited quantites. Brilliant stuff. England in the 60s. Dickensian, Rabelasian, Chaucerian, Shakespearian, bawdy smark brisk stern heady Joycean novels, and brilliantly funny as well. The best serious author of the post-war period? I'd say yes. And I always have.

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