|Well, this is nice: a few days ago “Interior Desecrations” was beat out by a cardboard edition of “Goodnight Moon,” and today it entered the top 16. (Which is to say, it was between 15 and 17.) And it grazed the top ten of Barnes and Noble. AND the “Gallery of Regrettable Food” moved up 1,000% at Amazon to #62, which is very nice.
Thank you. Believe me: Thank you. Now let’s get it into the top ten. (Links below. Click! Buy! Put bread on my table!) Top ten status should get some attention, which leads to reviews, which leads to maitre d’s all over the country whisking me to the prime table and bowing deeply, instead of putting me at the small table by the kitchen door and throwing a menu at me with a sneer.
Felt so fine last night I got out the Strat and was banging around; Gnat was very impressed. I played some basic chords.
“Is that rock and roll?” she asked.
Yes, my child. Yes it is.
Long week – ran out of adrenalin at 4 PM, and needed a nap. Not an option, so I brewed a pot of coffee. Three cups on an empty stomach + weariness = great aching nausea. What to do? Eat a chili dog, of course. Make that two chili dogs. My wife was at a retreat today, couldn’t make it home for dinner; I told Gnat she could have anything she wanted. “Hot dog store,” she said. Fine by me. It’s a fabulous little place in the neighborhood, an old gas station perfectly restored. When the owners started yanking off the 70s excrescences they found an original Standard station beneath the crap, and they brought everything back to original condition. The service bays are used as the dining room, and contain vintage toys for kids and adults. There’s one of those coin-op cars you used to see outside of Ben Franklin, although this one is English. (The fuel gauge says “Petrol,” so I’m guessing.) Amusing: when you put in the quarter, it doesn’t go up and down in a smooth motion, but bumps and bucks and goes up and down. Broken? No: it’s simulating what roads must have felt like, I think. Ruts and potholes. And there’s a 1966 pinball machine, Cross Town. Pretty good table; I won a game, and gave it to a young boy watching me play. Gnat was impressed when I floated the ball out of the side drains, too. Pinball, rock and roll: I think I’m getting a good reputation with my child. The boy was pretty impressed, too: here, kid, free game. Go ahead.
As we ate our hot dogs I heard a woman dissect the Bush Administration as the tools of oil and Christianity; she had a British accent, quite charming, and she was recounting her ideas with a bemused smile in her face. Curious, I shifted in my chair to take a look. She was alone. She was stick thin, wearing a wool cap, sipping coffee, and talking to a copy of the New York Times. Then she shifted into a low evil guttural devil voice. Then she laughed, and held forth with eloquence about Bush and the Saudis and 9/11. It says something when a schizophrenic sounds indistinguishable from Michael Moore. (Yes, I know: who?) What was truly sad was the eminently reasonable sound of her voice. Her mind worked fine; it was just misaligned. Transposed, if you will, as though her fingers were expertly executing a Chopin etude on the wrong set of keys. When we left she was the only person in the room, lodged in the corner, chatting to no one.
In the New York Times, some angst from our betters:
"Everybody seems to hate us these days," said Zito Joseph, a 63-year-old retired psychiatrist. "None of the people who are likely to be hit by a terrorist attack voted for Bush. But the heartland people seemed to be saying, 'We're not affected by it if there would be another terrorist attack.' "
Sir. Please. First of all, on a purely practical level, if New York takes a hit, the economy takes a hit. There are people in North Dakota who write financial management software used by big companies. The economy goes south for a year, they might well go south forever. On an emotional level, an attack on New York is an attack on us all. No one tunes in at midnight on New Year’s Eve to watch the corn cob drop in Des Moines, or whatever they do. For that matter, we simple folk in flyoverland tune in at eleven o’clock to watch New York declare the old year dead. Our own midnight feels like an anticlimax. We don’t even mind that you came up with the next new year first; hell, we’re used to it. We get one more hour out of the old one, and that’s fine.
That said, if I may quote Rita Moreno, who sang the greatest lyric of the latter half of the 20th century: I like the Island Manhattan. Smoke on your pipe and put that in. I could never live there, because I need space and mobility in terms the city can’t provide. But once a year I go there, and I never feel as alive as I do my first day in town. I’m not sure I could take that much exultation on a daily basis, and I would hate to become used to the Chanin Building at night, or the great golden sky of Grand Central. More than that, it’s the small places that abide, the idea that I can walk into Beekman Liquors on Lex and feel as though I stepped back one year, five, ten, thirty. It’s a miraculous place, if only for the sheer variety of ordinary things it provides. Just as every man feels himself somewhat less for never having been a soldier, every man would like to think he could have been a New Yorker in the classic mold, however he defines it. Hate you? I love you more than you know. We may disagree about the means to keep it safe; that’s fine. But don’t assume that someone sitting in a smallish metropolis half a nation away is indifferent to your fate and safety. On the contrary. They touch one hair on your head, they should sleep with the fishes.
We continue, alas:
"I'm saddened by what I feel is the obtuseness and shortsightedness of a good part of the country--the heartland," Dr. Joseph said. "This kind of redneck, shoot-from-the-hip mentality and a very concrete interpretation of religion is prevalent in Bush country--in the heartland."
Sir, speaking as a heartlander who makes it to New York whenever he can, may I kindly suggest you get out of town more often. There’s only one New York, which is why it is so important. But there are a hundred thousand Fargos, which is why they matter too.
As for a “Shoot from the hip mentality and a very concrete interpretation of religion” – well, if you hang around the right corners in New York long enough you’ll probably see a gun battle AND some Lubavitchers handing out literature; this would not make me assume all New Yorkers are gang-bangers or Torah-thumpers. It’s a big country. Please take this in the spirit it’s offered: we watch the news that comes from New York, read the magazines that come from New York, see the shows that come from New York. It’s entirely possible we know you better than you know us. Nu?
Finally, this week’s noir movie. It was the Asphalt Jungle, an inaptly named 1950 caper movie by John Huston et al. The name suggests some New York tenement tale about love and knives and gangs and hard times in the boroughs, no? It’s actually set in Cleveland. A classic of the genre: old jailbird brainiac has one perfect score left in him, assembles a team to break into a jewelry store, and thereafter things, eh, they don’t go so well. Some notes:
No matter how old he was, or how young, he’s still Sam Drucker of Hooterville. Believe it or not, he’s still alive, too.
The old mastermind thief visits the lair of the fellow who knows a guy who might bankroll the operation.
I had to pause right here for a screen grab, and do a Deckerd-like zoom on the scene:
Apparently people knew so little about stage lighting they could actually include the lights in the shot, and no one would notice or care. Hilarious.
Lovely women – she plays the moll, and for some reason she seems to drop 30 IQ points when she smiles. It’s not her best feature. She’s the house slattern, mad for the brutish gunsel (Sterling Hayden, who’s just great) and I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell I had seen her before. It bugged me. I couldn’t stand it. I cunnint stee-annit!
Of course: Lena Lamont from “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Tony Caruso, better known to my generation as Bela Oxmyx from the Star Trek gangsters episode, “A Piece of the Action.” Here he plays your typical sharp-dressed hood with a heart of gold, sort of. Born 1916; he died in 2003. Note, again, the conspicuous light in the background. What the hell, hang it from the ceiling, no one will care! I'm surprised a gaffer didn't wander into the shot to replace the bulb.
Sometimes, real American life in black and white looks like a Giger painting. Big sleek shiny black things moving in the dark:
Finally, the rich guy’s frail. She only had a few scenes, but she made an impression. Wonder what happened to her.
See you Monday. And BUY THE BOOK! Preview here, if you got locked out yesterday. And I thank you.