My wife was out of town on Saturday, and Gnat had a sleepover; this meant I could sit on the sofa and watch TV with the sound turned up as loud as I liked for as late as I preferred. O the simple pleasures. It also meant I stayed on the sofa until the remote slid from my boneless hand, and went to sleep at the hour when the people who deliver papers get up. I need a night like that every so often. It constituted the sum total of my “vacation,” since I didn’t go anywhere or do anything different. I am considering carrying a small footstool around, so I can climb up and see over the rim of the rut in which I find myself. At least it’s a nice rut.

I take it back; there was something different last week – a tsunami of very angry mail about a column I wrote re: Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome.

No – more about that later. Crucial things first. Tonight my daughter called me an idiot. I do not think she knows what the word means; it was mentioned casually, in a context not noted for any conspicuous idiocy on my part. My wife was present, and we both had the same reaction: a sudden intake of breath that lets the child know she’s in for the thumbscrews now. I explained, sternly, that this was not a word we called one another – all the while thinking what a hypocrite I was, since it was a perfectly useful word, and the world is full of idiots; why not give her le mot juste? Why not sit her down and school her in the various forms of idiots who skitter and saunter and slump along our common paths?

No; later. I did the usual drill: where did you hear that word, who said it, what does it mean, here’s why it’s not nice, we don’t call each other idiots in the family –

“We don’t call anyone that name,” my wife amplified.

“Right. So let’s not say it again.”

“Is it like bonehead?”


“But Jasper has a bone in his head.”

“Right. But he’s not a bonehead. He’s not as smart as you; he’s just a dog. It doesn’t hurt his feelings to call him a bonehead but it’s still not nice.”

“But he is a poopymouth.”

“Yes, when he eats his – uh, right, but then he’s literally a poopymouth – but don’t change the subject, okay? Just don’t say that word again, because it’s not nice.”

“Like stupid.”


“Like stupid bonehead. Like stupid bonehead idiot. I’M SORRY! I didn’t mean it. I’M SORRY!” <runs to mommy>

Here endeth the lesson, with the usual confusion. All was happiness and glee for the next half hour, until Gnat knocked over a bottle of nail polish remover my wife had just opened. Seven ounces on the hardwood floor.

And then we gave the dog a bath. He was, as usual, outraged. General mood around the house tonight: SAME TO YOU, PAL.

Finished “Pennies from Heaven,” the BBC version. The difference between the original and the Steve Martin movie – besides the fact that the latter contains Steve Martin – is the difference between a novel, crudely printed, and an exquisitely drawn comic book. The movie is two hours long, and feels like six; the BBC show is six hours long, and moves with steady dread. The lipsyncing is spotty, the choreography hit and miss – there’s nothing in the TV version like Christopher Walken’s great Fosse-esque dance number. The TV version switches between video and film, and the latter makes the former look cheap and stagey, even though the quality was good for its time. And of course the TV version uses mostly British 30s pop, which did not swing. It minced.

But it had Bob Hoskins. He has two great modes: sudden brutish fury and impish delight. In either mode he commands the screen, and he’s so good that his lesser modes – rumination, regret, introspection – seem better than they are. (He has a minor gift for sarcastic rue, though.) He makes the thing work. Steve Martin is wrong, wrong, wrong; he’s too handsome, too blank. I admire his desire to do the movie; it was his “Majestic,” the period piece Jim Carrey did to make people consider him as a Serious Actah.

And before I go on I should note that I saw the movie version this weekend as part of my couch marathon. The music is better, the sets lavish, the cinematography exceptional. It’s a labor of love with some great moments. You want some nice set design?

Not unexpected, given that the design consultant was the great Ken Adam, who gave us the look of the seminal Bond movies and “Dr. Strangelove,” among others. I remember seeing the movie for the first time, and getting a thrill when I saw the Nighthawks recreation. But this was even sweeter:

That’s New York Movie, also by Hopper.

There are other such references, and it tells you how much care and affection was invested into this movie. But that doesn’t mean it works.

Except when it does. There’s nothing in the original to match the “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” sequence, in which Martin and Bernadette Peters stand in front of the movie screen, mirror the moves of Rogers and Astaire, then enter the picture. Doesn’t hurt that the song is one of those ordinary numbers made haunting and poignant by the passage of time. Soon we’ll be without the moon, humming a diff’rent tune, and then . . . there may be teardrops to shed

This, in the middle of the Depression; this, before the war. It seems more dramatic and important now for its context, and that’s probably just me; in forty years someone will see the defeat of Soviet Communism prefigured in the Ghostbusters soundtrack, I suppose.

I recommend both, but the BBC version first. The actress who plays the Fallen Woman is peerless, and her performance makes Bernadette Peter’s attempt look empty and mannered – for that matter, all the characters are deeper and richer, from the daft busker at the heart of the story to the policemen to the disciplinarian schoolteacher. Both were written by Dennis Potter, a man whose work deserves to be passed along with care and honor to the next generation.

Back to that Sudden Bush Hatred Fatigue Syndrome column. For some reason it ran in the Strib, prompting some nice letters, and some not-so-nice letters, a few of which were printed in the letters page. I rarely read the letters page; outside of the WaPo, the NYT and the WSJ, most local letters pages have little to add to the debate. Compare any local letters page to the comments section on good blog; it’s not apples and oranges, it’s raisins and bicycles. One of the letters snarkily remarked that there must be two of me about, since someone with my name also appeared on “hate radio” AM 1280. Yes, that’s right. Hate radio. Of course, people can say what they like in the letters pages; it’s the job of the editor to reflect the range of community opinion, and if some maroon thinks that Prager, Medved and Laura Ingraham constitute “hate radio” then he lumps himself in with those who think Zionist neo-con Bilderburgers forced war on Iraq to hasten their plans for global fluoridation. Personally, I wouldn’t have published the letter, since the accusation was both wild and unsubstantiated, but it wasn’t my call.

What caught my eye was the headline for the letter: “His hate is just fine.”

My hate.

My hate? So I appear on “hate radio,” ergo the author of the headline felt comfy asserting that I spread hate on the radio. You could have titled it “their hate is just fine,” suggesting that I regarded the mad, spittle-flecked rantings of shock-jock Hugh Hewitt as acceptable discourse. His hate is just fine. As if I’m on AM 1280 calling for people to sharpen their pitchforks and poke all the dusky folk into holding pens.

To remind you: this is where I work.

So now I am trying to fashion a letter to my editor to assure him that I am not engaged in Hate Radio, simply because I appear on a syndicated show that is broadcast locally by a station that also carries (dum dum DUMMMM) Michael Savage. Apparently I am to be held responsible for his every utterance unless I disavow him on another radio show distributed by an entirely different syndicate. By this standard, our sportswriter is responsible for the utterances of his political antithesis, Rush Limbaugh, because he’s employed by the station that carries Rush. And by this standard, one of the editorial writers of the StarTribune should be held responsible for Savage, since she also appeared on Hewitt’s show.

A headline like that comes either from laziness or malice. I don’t care which. Either has the same effect.

A great many letters took pains to assert that today’s bad climate is a result of the 90s, when Bill Clinton was hated because he had an extramarital affair. That was the point when American politics truly dove into the gutter of unfounded rumor and character assassination!



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