Today: out on the town. The WaPo piece on Red America. Joe moves.

In the old days a night on the town was simple: Drive downtown. Dance. Drink. Dance. Leave. Embers.
For the whippersnapper demographic: the Embers was an all-night joint in Uptown, the gutter into which the demimonde of Minneapolis emptied after the bars closed. It was a wonderful time of peace and diversity, where punks, poseurs, happy shiny couples and twitchy loners and could coexist long enough to gobble pancakes. Not an inordinate number of parking lot fistfights. There were many Embers – it was a Midwest chain that rose to challenge Perkin’s in the late 60s and early 70s. In Fargo it was not-quite fine dining, but damn close, and we all loved the occasional Emberger, with its savory sauce. Many of the restaurants wouldn’t look out of place in the Googie compendium, and if I remember the Embers of Uptown accurately, it had a counter that wrapped around a great wall of irregular stone, with conical light fixtures . . . sigh.

Anyway, it’s gone. Nowadays a trip downtown starts with the babysitter, or dropping off Gnat with relatives. The very existence of your child means you’re not going to greet 3 AM in a vinyl booth trying to focus on your pigs in a blanket. It means you’re going to be back by ten, which puts the kibosh on everything but sitting around with a Diet Coke. Which makes everyone wonder: oh, a soft drink? You must be an alcoholic. No, I just have to drive. Of course you do. So I’ll just sit here and sip my Diet Coke and speak clearly while you grow thick-tongued, okay? Don’t let me spoil the party. Waitress? Another Kibosh on the rocks, please. Twist of lemon.

We went to a lounge that had probably been four different bars since we moved back to town. Spent two hours talking with marketing / PR people, which I enjoyed; I love the subject. Back to the car, past the shivering young women heading to the club wearing no coats, just club fashion. Mind you, it was 4 below. They had decided that the pain of walking two blocks in a short skirt was greater than the inconvenience of checking a coat at the door, because, well, the guy you’d picked up might see someone else while you were getting your coat, and then were would you be? ALONE. Ah youth. Picked up Gnat, went home, called it a night. Nothing happened, but for once it happened in a hip, urban venue, and that counts.

I lit a fire and watched “Carnivale,” the show in which nothing happens, as far as you can tell, but it’s oddly compelling. And it remains the most explicitly religious show on TV, in an uncompromising Old Testament-plus-Revelation sense. You got your Gog; you got your Magog. You have Satan on Earth in the form of a mad preacher played by the guy who was the drill instructor in “Starship Troopers;” you have Adrienne Barbeau. You have the Twin Peaks Dwarf, and the Depression. I loved it. Then bed.

Much sport has been had with this piece from the WaPo about the Red Sea. Short version: Three Beltway citizens loaded up their pouches with Elvish bread and headed out to find why people voted for Sauron. Tim Blair applied his usual cruel pith; Insty has more, with links to other comments. Maybe I'm just in a warm happy mood, but I tend to side with those who cut Von Drehle much slack here – he’s a smart guy; he’s from the Big Empty and obviously has some affinity for it. What may seem to some like condescension or confusion strikes me as someone gently explaining to the Inner Party the curious songs of the proles, and why they sing in the first place.

A few passages gave me pause; I'll choose one:

One of the first things worth noting about the Red Sea is that people live there because they like it. (Several people proudly pointed out to me that there are no houses on the market in Waco.) This basic fact strikes wonder in some city dwellers, who live in cities because they love cities. They love the bustle, the myriad options, the surprises and the jolts and the competition. It can require a leap of imagination to perceive that there are people who seek precisely the opposite, and not just on weekends and vacations.

It shouldn’t require a leap of imagination, but it often does – which says something about the people who cannot see beyond the Hudson or the Beltway.

I love some bustle. I prefer to commute to the bustle, however, not be embustled 24-7. Myriad options are nice, but I suspect that 84% of these options consist of “ethnic food, readily available,” and the other 12% are made up of museums and concerts most urban dwellers rarely have time to attend.

But at least they’re there if you want them! In any case, it’s somehow flattering to know you live in a place where someone, right now, is setting up an art installation that forces us to rethink the way we think about something. Anything. Except the historical failure of art installations to make anyone rethink about anything, ever. Surprises? Who doesn’t like surprises? I was surprised when the fellow across the street dangled himself out his eighth floor window and fell into the bushes below; I was surprised when the neighborhood had a riot one weekend and we were under curfew. Little things. Jolts? Most of the jolts came in a cab with bad shocks drove fast down the potholed roads of DC. Competition? All well and good for the big things, but when you’re also competing to get across the street, get noticed in line at the deli, get your cart down the narrow grocery store aisle, and all the other ordinary details of life, you get either tired or cranky or both.

Or you get exhilarated, depending on your mood and temperament, or depending on something as simple and unique as turning a corner in Manhattan during the blue hour, looking through a store window into a salon, heading up the sidewalk with the traffic streaming the other way, forty stories of lights rising up on either side, and thinking: nowhere else but here, and here I am. Having lived on the East Coast, I can see why some people love it. And I understand why I didn’t, in the end. At some point in your life you may think I'd prefer a little less public urination, if I might. The fact that some prefer the Big City strikes me as utterly unremarkable, and I’d bet that most people in Red states don’t think much about why Blue staters like to live in concentrated urban centers. Why? Because they don’t care. They know that the big cities have advantages the rural areas lack, but they’re not that important to them, and they don’t worry about what they’re missing. If they do, then they move.

Does the Fargo Forum send a team to BosNyWash to find out what the Blue State folk are like? There’s no need. Everyone in the Blue states grew up reading and watching material produced by the Red States; the TV alone was an open hydrant, to say nothing of the magazines and movies. Blue Staters were hardly mysterious. Different, but not separate. You get the sense from DVD’s piece that he’s gently breaking the news to people who regard the Red Staters as different and separate. The Amish, with zippers.

Maybe I’m wrong; there’s certainly enough evidence in the piece to the contrary, if I wanted to pick and fisk, but it would feel strained and tiresome. Perhaps the main point is really this: once upon a time the major media at least pretended that the heart & soul of the country was a porch in Kansas with an American flag. Now it’s the outlands, the Strange Beyond. They vote for Bush, they believe in God, they’d have to drive 2 hours for decent Thai. Who are these people?

Maybe what often bothers the Blue staters isn't the ire of the Maroonies; in the end, it's the relative indifference. We think of you, all right - just not as much as you think about yourselves. And probably more than you think about us. Take care; love, Red.

Sunday: the photo shoot for the WaPo piece. They wanted, God help me, something “quirky,” so I suggested I sit in the corner in the rocking chair, a spot where Jasperwood has a high degree of Arts and Craftiness, and hold the dog in my lap. Quirky enow, apparently; stay tuned. Then I fixed up the Joe Ohio site, which has moved. A new site with special graphics doesn’t mean higher quality; these things will still be 20-minute dash-offs with no special regard for historical consistency. If I think about it too much it’ll be a burden. I’m still somewhat surprised that in this period of great obligations I decided to double my daily website workload, but, well, what the hell. Buy the book! If I sell all the Interior Desecrations they can print, they’re more likely to buy a Joe book, and I can really do the thing right.

If you'd like to see the site from the start, it's here. Warning: short music file. The new addition is linked below.
Perm link: here.

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