Friday night the satellite dish went out again. Around 1:45 AM. I actually called customer service, just to let them know that my grim struggle with satisfaction continued. But while I was on hold the picture returned. Fine. I hung up. What’s the point. As soon as I hung up the picture cut out again: searching for satellite. Sigh. I called again. Got through around 1:52 AM; I explained that I just wanted them to enter in my interminable record this instance of low-grade misery, in case I should want to cancel my contract some day, ‘k?

The woman on the other end of the phone was cheerful and sympathetic, as DirecTV people usually are. Here I am, unhappy because I can’t get a movie at 1:52 AM, and she’s happy and WORKING at 1:52 AM. I thanked her for her time, and she said something quite remarkable:

“Thank you for calling, Mr. Lileks. And have an awesome Easter.”

I wished her the same, and hung up smiling. I walked back to the TV. It blinked - static, hash - and the picture came back. Awesome!

I hope
you will cut me a few yards of slack this week as I continue to finish the book. I’ve had to pare away all non-essentials, alas, because Gnat’s on Spring Break for two weeks, and the time I usually steal at the office to write is now gone. Joe returns April 6, or so. The full screaming Bleat returns around then as well. Limp pale entries from then until now. That means a big Noir feature tomorrow, which I banged on Saturday afternoon in a coffee shop, and a Diner on Wednesday. This one has a mystery guest, as well as the most amazing piece of network profanity from 1949 I've ever heard. Not that the genre is overly large.

Tonight – well, Sunday night I write the next week’s Sunday column. I had an idea; whew. Nice to have an idea. I tucked it away in the back of my head and went downtown with the Giant Swede & the Crazy Uke to hear Dennis Prager speak, courtesy the fine folks at the Taxpayer’s League. (A wingnutcase assembly of MADMEN who believe that the state should have a finite claim on your property.) Dennis was at the end of a 10-city tour; lucky for him, he enjoys meeting people. And I think I know his secret: pacing. There are two kinds of famous people – those who blow past the hoi polloi, and those who take the time to give everyone a small but satisfying dose of the Famous Person in Person. Dave Barry is one of the latter, and so is Prager. There were three levels of access – a private little meeting with show sponsors and friends of the station, a larger meeting with the next group of general VIPs, then the speech. Put yourself in the Famous Person’s shoes: everyone has something to say and everyone has something to ask, and they’ve been carrying it around for a while. I was invited to the first, the small group meeting. I wanted to ask Prager about something I’d heard on the shows he did from other stations – sometimes I’d hear a distant little cellphone trill about a minute before a hard break, and I was convinced this was the producer calling him to let him know what the network clock said. Was I right?

Maybe. But who the hell cares? I didn’t ask this. I merely reintroduced myself as the fellow who’d had him over for soda and cigars last summer, etc etc. He remembered, and if I read the japery right I am now officially that guy in Minnesota who gave him a crummy cigar. A few moments about the need to do a show about tech gadgets, his producers’ protestations be damned, then retreat. In these situations you should be no more than a drop of rubbing alcohol on the skin, something that is briefly noted and leaves a pleasing sensation when it evaporates. Because everyone wants a piece of the Famous Person, and there were 500 of them outside the ballroom doors. And every one of them wants to say something nice.

It was all great fun, and afterwards we retired to the bar with some reprobates from the Northern Alliance the Taxpayer’s League for drinks and cigars. It was the first time in a while I’d been out, in public, with people, doing something sociable, but in the back of my head throbbed the big red neon light: COLUMN DUE. I had to write the Sunday column. So. Back home; kiss Gnat, who had a great day with Mommy, and had gone to the grocery store to get the things I never buy, like hypersugared cookie-based cereal. “I can’t wait for tomorrow to have some!” she exulted. “I wish it was tomorrow today!” Which is why I usually don’t buy the stuff: such happiness when a box enters the local orbit now and then. I grew up on Kaboom and Captain Crunch and Quake and Quisp, so I know it’s not exactly lethal, but I want to work through the boxes of cereal we have now before I buy more. That’s all there is to my objection, really. Otherwise you have 17 boxes of half-eaten grain dross, from Lilo and Stich Cereal to Count Chocula’s Vampirically Themed Undead Pressed Corn Nodules. She also got a watch at a Care Bears show she saw downtown, and some crafts she’d made at the Art Institute. What a day she’d had.

And how poorly it began! I stayed up late last night, way too late, watching movies. Very late. This morning I was dead on arrival, unable to wake, and when I took her to Sunday school I must have given off black spiky waves of displeasure. Not at anyone or anything, just at the notion that it was Sunday, and Sunday was a workday. I could hear the big clanking machinery of the week starting up, flesh-hungry gears clicking together in anticipation. And I couldn’t wake up. I was in a blurry dream state no amount of coffee could penetrate. All because I’d stayed up until 3:15 AM watching Spider-Man 2. And I’d already seen Spider-Man 2. And it was March and cold and bitter and bleak –

But on the way out of church we came across some ice, some pavement ice, the good kind that’s thick enough to hold you but has water underneath, and you can crack it with your heel. It’s very satisfying. It’s God’s own bubble-wrap. We cracked some ice then ran to the car and headed home for lunch. I swept. I did the floors. I felt better. Then I napped, only to wake with a thudding heart when I dreamed I got a phone call and Caller ID said “LAWYERS!”

By then family was off to the Art Institute. I got ready for the Prager dinner, waited for the Giant Swede to pick me up. Which brings us back to sitting in the bar, neon lamp a-throb: COLUMN DUE. I got home around ten, sat down, cracked my knuckles, and started to write the column. I got the idea on Friday. I’d filed it away: surefire. It’ll write itself.

And nothing came. The idea was nonsense, and if I’d dragged a column out of it, the result would have been mortifyingly stupid and labored.

What to do?

What to do? I had to write something. But I had no ideas. I was exhausted, yes, but worse than that: I was full of stuff that wouldn’t make a good column. The morning at church, the ice, the pleasures of housecleaning, the deep joy of stretching out for a nap, the Prager meeting, the dinner, the drinks afterwards, the speeding down the highway in the Swede’s mean Saab with the endless techno blaring, the conversation with Gnat, the comfortable pleasure a man gets when he takes off his suit and hangs it up after a good night – all of these things made for a wonderful day, the sort of day that makes me realize I’d have to be a millipede to count my blessings on my digits, but there wasn’t a column in any of it.

So I did the unthinkable. The nuclear option. The one idea that sits in reserve for moments when it’s gotten this bad. I wrote a column about not having an idea for a column.

Actually, if you count this, I wrote two.

JOE returns in APRIL
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