No update this week, because I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest –

Why does that make sense? He wouldn’t be busy at all. He’d spend the majority of his time either getting off the floor, because the very act of participating in the contest would ensure he fell down every time he attempted to kick. Perhaps he would spend the majority of his time curled in a ball, shielding himself against the blows of those whose arses he was attempting to kick. You’d think there would be rules: you must have two legs to enter the ass-kicking contest. Maybe there was an ADA exemption, and he was suspended by a harness that let him kick without falling down and cracking his fool head on the floor. Busy isn’t the word. “Confused” or “Frustrated,” yes. And I am neither.

But I am busy. Two columns out the door this morning, all afternoon with Gnat: she got Care Bear #11 yesterday, and this meant we had to introduce him to the rest of the pack. She knows all their names, which is too charming. I had to pretend I was the various members of the Care Bear General Assembly welcoming the newcomer; I didn’t know their names, so she would lean forward and whisper them with a tone of grave importance. Daddee, that’s Wish Bear. Then we read one of her favorite books, a Little Critter tome about what the misshapen little hairy lump will do when he’s big. She told me what she will do: "I will get a radio and listen to music!"

What kind of music?

“Stylish music.”

No doubt, no doubt. It was a rainy afternoon, so we just kicked around the house; I cleaned, arranged, etc. Grocery store, home, Rogan Josh for supper, then back to the machinery to write the Sunday column. It took a detour in the middle, and I had to take out most of what I’d started with. I was writing about driving in the middle of Minnesota, and how my wife likes to listen to the radio – and I don’t. Excised from next Sunday’s column:

At worst you’ll pull in some tiny FM station still stuck in the 80s, and the promise of a ROCK BLOCK OF HOT ROCKIN’ DOKKEN does not quicken the blood as it once did. At best you get those strange AM stations that intersperse happy polka with “Swap Meet,” where some fellow at the start of his radio career – or, just as likely, the end – reads index cards. “For sale, card table, three legs good, best offer, give us a call . . . here’s one from Hermann in New Berlin, has a butter churn he’s itchin’ to swap for a china pig. Interested? Drop us a line, and write ‘I have such a pig’ on the back, and we’ll put you in touch . . . . Well, it’s half past now, and we’ll have the forecast after we hear from Adolph Pfennig and his Hot Five, with ‘In Heaven There Is No Tongue Sausage, That Kind That’s So Good with the Coarse Mustard, Which Is Why We Eat It Here.’ And I believe this is the techno remix version. Clocks in at nineteen minutes, so I’ll see you on the other wide. ”

Maybe those stations don’t exist any more. I know you can get MPR anywhere in the state; just scuttle back and forth on the left end of the dial and you’ll find them. But once there was a spot en route to Fargo where the radio just died away. You’d get ghosts, echos, bounced signals shot full of static, but even those would fade after a few miles, as they got winded chasing you. And so you had silence. The drone of the road, the purr of your engine, your thoughts. It puts you in a peaceful state of mind. Then it puts you upside down in the ditch, because you fell asleep.

I wasn’t happy with “purr,” because it’s a cliché. There really isn’t a good word for the sound of a modern engine doing 75 MPH; it just is. I can’t describe it. It’s the room tone of the highway. The motionless sound of motion.

While I file and sort and arrange things into the Closet Museum, I throw things on the scanner for future use. For example: I found a heavy cloth bag from my paper route days. It has separate pouches for pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters. I filled it with coins I got God knows where – perhaps from my father. Most of the coins are worn smooth, which makes them more valuable to me. A mint condition coin never went anywhere. But just imagine the stories behind this quarter from the last year of the Great War:

If I could have one transient supernatural gift, it would be the ability to learn an object’s history by touching it - and making the appropriate seer’s expression of pain and awe, of course. This quarter saw some action before it retired to the drawer. Nevermind my history books, my magazines, my postcards, my collections – I’d trade them all to see how this coin spent its life, because you cannot imagine the things you’d see.

Or not. I take that back. It spent its life in dark drawers and black pockets; every night it had a brief moment on the dresser before the light snapped off. Coins live in the dark. (Except for pennies, the lowliest of coins – they bask in the open in dishes in every store.) Maybe it would be worth it just to see what the world looked like as the coin traveled from pocket to drawer or drawer to pocket. Maybe it would be worth it to know the stories of the people who wore these disks smooth.

When I finished sorting the Very Goods from the Goods in the sack, my hands had the smell of old metal. New coins leave no scent. Old coins generously perfume your hands. I can imagine a teller in a Manhattan bank in the 20s, scrubbing the smell of his hands with LUX. He had a date that night, and he wanted to impress. Men with money didn’t smell of dimes.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks