Spent a rare hour sitting in the comfy chair, reading. Gnat was coloring; my wife was napping; the dog was sitting on the rug, occasionally sighing those periodic gusts of disappointment dogs use to signal their boredom. I wanted to finish the portion of “Lusitania” devoted to the sinking. What a nightmare. The ship kept going – in circles – after it was struck, which made getting boats in the water quite difficult. There were boats for all, but some couldn’t be launched, others fell directly on top of others, and the men who tried to float the collapsibles discovered they were held immobile by rusted wire or coats of paint. So they jumped. Or they went down ropes, only to find the ropes turned to wires that opened their hands. Or they toppled off the end and were sliced by propellers. Or they stayed clutching their loved ones, only to have them ripped from their hands by the flood. Fifteen minutes, and it was over; fifteen minutes of horror and the ship was gone, the bright water thick with the dead.

Sinking ships are a unique form of tragedy – there are always survivors who give us the details we crave. Who was a knave, who was gallant (Alfred Vanderbilt behaved like a gentleman, it seems), who stood his ground and coolly smoked while the craft thundered into the grave. That sort of thing. When planes crash they take their stories with them. The WTC collapse is the only modern equivalent I can think of; in a away it was a modern shipwreck, perhaps because we have no analogues, no other stories of skyscraper collapse with which we can compare the event. Now imagine one of those happening every ten years or so, with smaller versions happening annually, and you have the perils of ocean crossings, the uniquely modern juxtaposition of technological luxury and sudden, complete disaster.

I put down the book, and felt s at the Germans. Ninety years later, I felt stab of fury at the U-20 captain who put the Lusy on the floor. The barbarity and stupidity of the Great War hums throughout the book and reminds you what a hideous gash in human history that conflict made. And how it set in motion other Lusitanias, over and over again. Googling around tonight I was reminded of another naval disaster, this time a German ship torpedoed by Russians in the last days of WW2. The Wilhelm Gustloff.
(You never know what you’re going to get when you start researching Nazi stuff – one link on the ship’s name took me to a skinhead music label’s UK site. So if you’re nervous about the link, here’s the site’s author bio. Here’s the site’s non-political disclaimer. And you're reassured by that, here’s a page on the Gustloff.) It went down with over 9,000 people on board. That’s eight Titanics; you can’t imagine it.

Good weekend, all told; sunny Saturday and a grey indistinct Sunday ending in snow. February retires with grace. The Oscars are on now; on the HDTV feed, Chris Rock’s eyes are so brilliant & intense I fear they will leave little pits in the other side of the glass tube. Everyone looked quite fabulous. Hooray for them, I suppose, but the actors are the least interesting part of movies to me, because they’re usually the least intelligent. Consider the smarts required to put a movie together, and spending all your time lauding the actors is like crediting a model who cuts the ribbon to open a new skyscraper with figuring out how to calculate a novel way to brace the structure against high winds. Yes, I know, without the actors you wouldn’t have a movie anyone wanted to see. But without the thousands of people who build the machine the actor would be wandering around a big dark room saying “hello?” over and over again.

That said, Annette Benning looks mighty good.

Kudos to her stylist and wardrobe consultants!

Couldn’t care less about who wins, alas. I spent some free time tonight finishing up my own project, the monthly family movie. Commonplace stuff, but the details of life are always shifting on you, and the child who dances without care in the middle of Southdale turns into the stoop-shouldered teen who rolls her eyes when you bring up her terpsichorean abandon. Catch it while you can. I should sell this stuff to Steve Jobs: got a nice shot of her shouting “It’s the Apple Store, Daddy!” and running into the bright white light at the end of the hall. I had the presence of mind this time to maneuver her over to a second-story balcony, where she looked down into the courtyard – a spot where my dad stood in 1963 to take a few grainy pictures of my Mom, Uncle Myron and Aunt Joyce dining below.

They’re going to overhaul Southdale again, I hear; new owners, new plans. But they won’t eliminate that spot from which he took the picture, and it’ll mean something as long as I can find it and stand there. And if Gnat takes a picture of aged Dad waving up from that spot in 30 years? I can only hope. I did give her a camera of her own – an old clunky digital camera with a busted thumb wheel. Downloaded the pictures today: My Little Ponys, Jasper’s nose, Mommy, the toilet. Always the toilet. That’s the naughtiest thing in the world: to take pictures of the toilet. Just the very thought makes her giggle.

Plunk a Pony in that thing, take a shot, and I can sell the prints as an ambiguous indictment and embrace of consumer culture. Pee Pony! Autographed and numbered copies will be available. For a limited time.

Back to work; it’s a column night, and I’m in that really fine chipper mood that says I can probably watch an episode of “Carnivale” without wanting to drag jagged glass across prominent arteries afterwards. See you tomorrow.

Oh - Joe's back.

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