I wasn’t even going to do this at all; I have decided to lay low this week. No columns due, so maybe I should take the vacation I promised myself and just relax. I have a new book – “Devil in the White City,” a true story (not a fictional account) of a serial killer at the Columbian Exposition. I read just a few pages at the bookstore, and got hooked: the protagonists in the opening chapter are architects, and not just any architects: Burnham and Root. The Columbian exposition is also the setting for Chris Ware’s matchless “Jimmy Corrigan” graphic novel. I think my Great-grandfather attended – my grandma had a small oval container from the 1893 fair. When I come across ephemera from the event, I snap it up:

(I’d say “click for larger sizes,” but one of the reasons I’m taking some time off is to let my bandwidth cool down. I’ve had overage charges for three straight months.)

This was the event that introduced an entirely new way of understanding urban environments, and its impact was enormous - 27 million people attended, out of a national population of 65 million, and they all took home a vision of a gleaming neoclassical city laid out with grace and majesty. The City Beautiful movement didn’t transform the nation, but it had its impact – at least on the career of Edward Bennett. I didn’t know anything about him ten minutes ago. I thought Burnham did the Minneapolis Plan, an excerpt of which you see to the left. (Never built.) Turns out it was Edward Bennett, who did plans for every city that had more than 100 residents and a stop light. He was a design associate with Burnham, and I wonder if he’ll enter this book I’m about to read. But I won’t know unless I read it.

Also, it’s my birthday Monday. Thank you! Thank you very much; I will be celebrating, yes. But mostly I just want to turn everything off for a week. I have come down with a profound case of SBHFS, and the only way I can recuperate is to ignore everything but home, hearth, child, wife, books, and DVDs. I’ll give you an example. Sunday I had some rare time to strangulate as slowly as I pleased, so I went to the office to cart home all the packages that have been piling up. (Can’t do that with a kid in tow, and that’s the only way I make it to the office this summer: with Gnat.) I did some microfiche research on various projects, including the amount of political news on the front page of the Tribune on Aug. 9, 1944. Answer: Zero. Not a word. The first mention of politics in the paper was a Gallup poll printed on the editorial page; it showed FDR behind in Minnesota and Wisconsin. (He won the state handily the first time, but his winning margins had decreased in the ’36 and ’40 elections.) The story made no grand predictions about what this might mean.

On the way out I checked the periodicals rack. Esquire. Hadn’t read that in a while. Flip through it; hmm, an article on Stem Cell research. Title: “Please stand by while the age of miracles is briefly suspended: How the president is trying to kill my daughter.”

And I put it back. Yes, of course that’s what he is trying to do. There cannot be any possible other way to put it. Fine. Loaded everything in the car, drove to the mall to meet the family for supper. Then I went to Barnes and Nobel.

Oh my.

I do my bookshopping on line; I often find the long wandering chains of Amazon links more fruitful than bookshelf browsing, but I go to bookstore as often as I can just to see things ordered differently. The store had many tables of Current Events and Politics, and if I can sum them all up: Bush Needs to Be Dismembered and Fed to Jackals Who Will Barf Up The Chunks For the Maggots To Consume, by Garrison Franken. I’ve never seen anything like it.

SBHFS. Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome.

If the clerk had said “did you find everything you were looking for?” I would have answered “inasmuch as I was seeking a corner of the store uncontaminated by politics, no.” But she didn’t ask. Off to Starbucks to read the book. I was behind a fellow who had ten years on me; he was schooled in the old ways of joe. He placed his order thus:

“A cup of coffee, black.”

“Room for cream?”



I was next. What would I like?

“I’d like a medium coffee,” I said, since I’ll be gol-durned if I ever say “venti” to these people. I’ll give them Beijing for Peking, Hindu for Hindoo, but medium will be Medium until the day I die. “Black.”

“Room for cream?”

Kids today. They don’t know. They’ve lost the lingo. When you’ve established that the nature of your coffee is BLACK, cream no longer enters into the picture. Ever. But you could walk up and say “Blorg chulavista spaz mocha” and she’d ask “Room for cream?” It’s the script. Hidden cameras record her every word. They beat her with burlap sacks stuffed with beans if she doesn’t say the words.

Well. Hmm. My wife is watching the end of her movie, and I’ve already moved down to the kitchen island. Once I’ve done that, there’s no going back. The upstairs machine is busy burning DVDs – I spent some time this weekend digitizing old VHS tapes. Commercials from the 80s, outtakes from my own projects. It’ll all be up on the site in 05. I found one tape that had footage from my apartment in 1986 – 718 4th street, catty-corner from Ralph and Jerry’s. I have no idea why I had a videocamera. It’s a mystery. The camera makes a drunken pan around the apartment, and I was amazed – both by what I forgot, which was everything, and what I remembered, which was the same. The pictures on the wall I had handled just last week while filing and sorting all the crap from the basement storage bins. That lamp – warehouse sale, Dayton’s, 1983. A passing detail: the slumping piles of newspapers against the fridge. Never would have remembered that, but it was key detail of the apartment. It was a rare and fleeting glance at a place I lived for several years. The Giant Swede, with whom I spent Saturday afternoon at the computer store playing Doom 3 <homerdrool> lived on the other side of the wall; the apartment had been previously occupied by the girlfriend of the Crazy Uke, who was over at my house last week at Gnat’s birthday; Wes the Filmmaker lived downstairs, and he was over to the house last Fourth. That was almost 20 years ago. Then the video goes to fuzz and comes back with a Miami Vice episode.

I opened another box: whoa. My auditions for a local anchorman position on a news show. The live shows at KTCA. All the raw footage for the Mary Tyler Moore mockumentary. The PBS pilot show, “Bad Trips.” All the raw footage for “Trips.” My entire aborted late-80s video career, right here. Ignore / Retry / Abort? What to do? Well, transfer it all to DVD, of course. For Gnat. So someday she can say “wow, Dad looks young.” I was never happy with my TV work. I had a model: Michael Palin. But he connected naturally with the camera; I was always trying to convince the camera, and that’s a fatal difference.

The evidence will be posted next year.

I have about 922,348 additional words about an AP article I read tonight, but I think I will present it without comment, and let you chew it over. Is the author missing something? Does the headline reflect the story? Do you detect a bias? Does it give you SBHFS? What the hey – might as well carve off the slab I’ve written about this story, and save it for tomorrow. See you then – unless you’re disinclined to endure my blather on these matters, in which case you’re invited to show up Wednesday for one of the more peculiar graphics this site has ever produced. Really! See you then.

Oh: 46, if you’re curious. My dad called tonight to wish me a happy birthday. My child is just a-twitch about tomorrow: a card she made! A present, she found! Cake! Do I have any advice? No. Other than this: it’s tempting to give up on the world, because it’s not like the world will notice. But you’re really giving up on yourself. And that you will notice, sooner or later.


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