Today’s editorial page had a little squib: “National Turn-off-the-Television week comes around every year. But as the Hennepin County Board prepared to pass a resolution to make the county a TV-free zone last week, Commissioner Mike Opat objected ‘My 3 year old is a big Timberwolves fan and he needs to know what Kevin Garnett is doing,’ Opat pleaded. The resolution’s author, Commissioner Gail Dorfman, renented with a special dispensation for the NBA playoffs. ‘The Timberwolves are quality television,’ she conceded.”

My tax dollars at work.

So why, exactly is the Hennepin County Board of Panjandrums spending its time on resolutions concerning my television usage? Is it now the official policy of the county that Tvs should be off, and am I now doubleplus ungood because I refuse to go along with this idiocy? I get annoyed by the very idea of “turn your TV off week” – and not because I think everything on America’s muscular sludge-pump is the height of quality entertainment. Nor do I mean to imply that whenever I do turn on the TV, I watch high-brow cultural or educational programming. (Tonight on Bravo: an operation on the knee of an opera singer.) More often than not I’ll just watch a Simpsons or something else, just to let the day run down the drain. In fact I’m Mr. Shut That Damn Thing Off around here; it’s never on unless we have decided to watch something, and Gnat’s TV stops after an hour in the morning and doesn’t resume until she gets to watch some cartoons while I cook supper. And then it’s not broadcast TV, but Disney cartoons from the 30s, which she loves. Hell, I love them. I love TV! I do! I love the old movies, the exceptional HBO shows, the fact that “Showgirls” is probably on Showtime at this very minute. I love the old game shows from the 70s, which are cultural artifacts that tell you more about the era than a museum exhibit of any “painter” or “sculptor” of that time. I love Rolie Polie Olie, even if the new ones are still hyper-jerky and lack the sweetness of the earlier batch. (Yes: 15 new Olie cartoons. Life is good.) I love turning on the TV during bad weather so we all can cower in fear as the storm fronts approach, and people call up the station to inform them that the sun has fled, all is dark, and hail the size of beachballs is taking down the trees and turning the wild animals into fur-flecked jam. I LOVE TELEVISION.

Apparently it’s okay to go to a movie theater and see “Shattered Glass,” but it’s not okay to watch it on TV. The DVD has the “60 minutes” interview with Steven Glass - it’s okay to watch it on your computer’s flatscreen monitor, but not on the cathode ray tube in the living room.

Killjoys. It may be highbrow spinach, but it’s spinach nonetheless, and I say the hell with it.

As I wrote that I realize that not everyone gets the reference, unless you grew up memorizing every panel of that great compendium of New Yorker cartoons. There’s a great William Steig cartoon of a kid and a mom; the mother says “it’s broccoli, dear” and the kid says “I say it’s spinach, and the hell with it.” Very famous in the world of people who make a point of letting others know they are versed in famous old New Yorker cartoons. I googled “Steig spinach” and found a few references, including a New York Times obit.

But then I found the cartoon, and it’s not a Steig. In fact it’s not the cartoon I remembered; the one in my head has the earlier Steig style, with pugnacious kids and big burly dad, Lower East Side stuff. What was that feature called? Ah: “Small Fry.” Google it. <majelbarrett voice> Working. <majelbarrettvoice.> Here we go:

So the cartoon in my head has one of the Small Fry defiantly addressing his parents. I can see the Dad – T-shirt, suspenders, big gut, maybe a stogie; mom has that big broad body in a sack that all mothers seemed to have in those days. But that cartoon doesn’t exist.

Turns out that the drawing was done by Carl Rose. And the caption was written by E. B. White.

The New York Times is wrong, then. Wonder if they ever made a correction.

Harry Babbitt died. He was one of the singers in Kay Kyser’s band, and I was amazed to learn he’d lived this long.He was not, as some have reported, the voice of Woody Woodpecker in the cartoons. He did Woody in a Kay Kyser version of the tune. I’m pretty sure Mel Blanc did the laugh in the cartoon version; that sounds much different from Harry’s version.

This gives me an opportunity to correct something, and apologize. It’s bugged me for over a year, maybe two. Long-time readers of the Bleat will recall how I was stuck listening to “Three Little Fishies” twice a day in the car, because Gnat wanted to hear it. I had the opportunity to study every second of that song, and two things stuck out: Kyser introduced the song by listing the singers, and I misheard him say “Babbitt” as “have it.” At the time I thought he was handing off the song to the vocalists: have it. Well, when I learned more about the band I realized my mistake, but never corrected that particular entry. So what? You say. Well: I also noted that Ishkabibble ended the song by saying “those sharks almost had us for seafood, mama, and there was something in his inflection that made me think this was a reference to something I didn’t understand. He really leaned on the words “for SEAFOOD, MAMA,” as if it was a joke I should get.

The other day I was listening to the big band channel on the DirecTV, and there it was:

Hold tight, hold tight, hold tight, hold tight
Want some sea food mama
Shrimpers and rice they're very nice

It’s “Hold Tight,” made famous by the Andrews Sisters.

You might ask: who gives a flyin’ farg? Eh? So you’re making a correction to something no one noticed or cared about. Well, it has to do with that cri de Coeur from last Friday, when I adopted the posture of a Kirby superhero and declaimed my sorrows to the heavens. Part of my botheration sprang from guilt, over not getting to my mail in a timely fashion, or getting to letters before they sank in the spam pits. I think I have a better shot in the future since I shifted the official email to the Strib address, but that’s another issue.) Anyway, when I realized I should make that Babbitt correction and solve the “Seafood, Mama” question, I wondered when I’d first made the error. So I googled “Three little fishies” lileks.


To me, that said it all. He knew. Google knew. I would have known if I’d taken the time. It fit with something I was feeling last week: for heaven’s sake, what am I doing here but disappointing people one way or another? Disappointing them for what I say, or don’t, or do, or don’t. Or disappointing them just by putting up one lame slab after the other with nothing at all on Wednesdays. Petering out. Circling the drain.

Part of the problem was pain – nothing bad, nothing hard to bear, just constant annoying low-level pain in my back and legs. I’m pretty sure it’s cancer of the hip or something. Or perhaps it’s related to the previous weekend, when I threw out my back helping my wife move a gargantuan ficus the size of a 200 year old redwood into her new office. A few days before,, my lower back had been twinging because I’d just moved wrong, somehow. You know the feeling: you turn in a way that’s slightly inelegant, runs contrary to design specs, and you feel a sensation in your lower back akin to tinfoil on a filling. I only made matters worse the next day when, in a misguided attempt to show my wife how limber I was, I spread my legs as wide as possible and put my palms flat on the floor. I learned two things: A) I can do that, and B) I shouldn’t. Every day since then I’ve managed to exacerbate a different part of my lower body, and this means that I’ve had not just hip cancer but MD, MS, Lou Gehrig’s, sciatica, and any number of day-spoiling diseases. Yes, I tend to catastrophize. This leads to the old Bad Thoughts loop, which is not a welcome change from the previous two months’ run of whistling Zip a Dee Do Dah. I’d been walking down Life’s Sidewalk in good cheer, and all of a sudden I’m sitting on a manhole cover with tentacles snaking through the ventilation holes. It’s still uncomfortable, but it’s getting better. The only things that rekindles the fire are Sitting, Walking and Standing, so if I avoid those I’ll be fine.

Then there’s the bad karma aspect. As noted, I am so behind on my mail. And I also mean my physical mail – I have thank-yous to send out to so many people for all the cool stuff they’ve sent, and I’m just hideously behind on all of this. I berate myself for not having some sort of schedule whereby I devote an hour each day to scanning and thanking, scanning and thanking. The other night I knocked off work at 11:30 (I try to finish up the Bleat by midnight so I can watch a half hour of TV before bed, so I can get seven hours of sleep) and I felt guilty for not attacking the tottering pile of scannable material in my studio. YOU SHOULD BE SCANNING, I thought. Whoa: Bee Gees tune! To the tune of You Should Be Dancing:

I try to post by midnight
Unless I wrote too long
I now must check the web links
The weblinks are all wrong

Why you givin’ yourself some slack AHHHH
Why you givin’ yourself some slack AHHHH

I want to watch some TV
I’m behind on Enterprise
But I’m years behind on email
I beg forgiveness, guys

Why you givin’ yourself some slack AHHHH
Why you givin’ yourself some slack AHHHH

This magazine has clip art
The potential has me stoked
It’s brittle and it smells bad
Whoever owned it smoked

Why you givin’ yourself slack AHHHH
Why you givin’ yourself slack AHHHH

Add to that an attack of something I can only call “Oh, SHUT UP” syndrome, where I stand back, take a cold look at what I’ve written, and edit out the entire 1500 word segment I’d just written. I did this nearly every night. Thus you were denied my deep and important observations on Supertramp (not as gruesome as it sounds; it was actually about how certain musical conventions, arrangements, and instrumentations sound completely foreign a generation later), as well as a response to a DenBeste remark about Star Trek space battles and a piece about the peculiarities of a local tax redistribution program.

That’s the thing about putting stuff up every day – people might think you are so drunk on your own Kool-Aid that you regard your every thought as an insight of adamantine brilliance. I should code these things with fonts or colors to indicate whether or not I think I’m full of it, suspect I’m full of it, or think I have a point worth the medium on which is printed.

And then there’s the desire just to do something else, whatever it might be, like listen to music. (Which I am doing now. ITunes, bless its shuffly heart, just called up “The Battle in the Mutara Nebula,” which YES is Star Trek soundtrack music, but it’s one hell of a workout. It’s program music, which means it has the usual rhubarb – notes that exist just to keep the music going until the soundtrack is required again – but it almost has a flow worthy of a symphonic movement. You know why? Because the film was so well edited.
I admit that one of the reasons I love this music is because I love the movie, and know it by heart. And there’s something else. When the Enterprise blows Khan to hell at the end, it was the moment we’d all been waiting for since the show went off the air. Trek was back. Kirk was back. What a payoff that movie was. But I digress.)

(729 words deleted about subsequent Trek soundtracks)

What’s more: I really had nothing new to add about anything. I’ve been too bothered by the news lately. Not events: the news. There’s a difference. My paper is doing body-count journalism. Every day I hear “Vietnam” and “quagmire” a dozen times; every day I hear someone say “Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11!” and I think: maybe. Maybe not. I can deal with people who understand the global nature of this war and think Iraq was a bad move, but I can’t deal with people who don’t understand the nature of the war itself. I have no time or interest in engaging, or even arguing with, people like this. I have nothing to say to them. They have nothing to say to me.
Frankly, I think the battle for the middle is over, but that’s just a suspicion. We’ll see.

Anyway: I have no resolutions about any of this, because if I say “I’m done doing X” then it’s certain I will do X tomorrow, for 3000 words. Better, I suppose, that I flame on about flaming out, rather than just quit in a fit of pique after biting my tongue bloody for a month. When I really need a break, you’ll know, and there will still be something every day. I won’t make resolutions but I will make a promise. I promise not to quit.

And just to make amends for recent lame-o stuff: Wednesday has a Gallery of Regrettable Food addition. Ten pages. Did you enjoy the last one, the 1958 Knudsen’s Recipe Book? Then you’ll love the 1959 edition.

Today, alas, we only have a matchbook. And by “alas” I mean “count your blessings, you greedy life-sucking web remora for whom I sacrifice my evenings, my days, my life, my blood!” Jeez, already.

There! That should make the guilty ones hit the tip jar. Mwah! Brilliant! Confess your own guilt, then carefully walk them around to feeling guilt that results in a contribution of money. Sweet, lovely money. Man, this is the greatest scam since –

Is this thing still on? Oh, Chr-

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