Café, afternoon. Waiting for Gnat’s class to finish, working on a column. I have my headphones on; all hail iTunes radio, because the lady at the adjacent table is yelling into her cell phone. She does not realize that she is compensating for the lack of auditory feedback you get with normal phones. It’s why I make a point of talking softly on a cellphone in public, just to balance it out. And no one ever says excuse me. There’s also a guy pacing the aisle of the café, talking on a cell phone. He’s very important. I wouldn’t have known that if he hadn’t stood and started talking. I’m glad he told us. I feel better just knowing that meeting is going ahead as scheduled. The entire café feels better. The entire café would also feel better if the skies parted, an angel descended, and smote him with a terrible flaming sword. Of course, one of us would have to pick up the phone and say “better reschedule. Bob has been cleaved in twain by heavenly justice made flesh. Uh – hold on.” Mr. Angel, are you flesh, or some sort of divine phlogeiton arrayed in mortal form?

"Pretty much the latter."

Okay thanks. “Not really flesh, but, uh, more like dense holy smoke compacted to deal vengeance. I'd snap a picture on Bob's phone but small insect-like demons are already disassembling it and jamming the pieces in one another's orifices, laughing and screeching. It's creepy. Anyway, I gotta go. Bye.”

By now the woman at the next table would have wet herself, wondering if she was next. The angel would probably wag a finger and head back up. And she’d never make a cell phone call again. In one year she’d be arrested at the mall for knocking people’s phones out of their hands and stepping on them. Two years later she’d bomb a Verizon store.

Up late watching educational TV. Sort of. I enjoy history documentaries, because they give you the illusion of learning something without much effort or reading. I could watch docs about ancient Rome all day – less so Egypt, which had many fascination accomplishments but sometimes just looks like 5000 years of pyramids and boner-worship. I have a split reaction to the pre-Columbian civilizations – that’s what they called themselves, you know, and boy were they surprised when Columbus showed up. So what are we now? Do we have to wait for you to get back on the ship before we’re Post-Columbian? On one hand, the documentaries always show ruined cities, scored with Peruvian flutes and Spanish guitars, and you can’t help but be impressed by the scale and sophistication of their cities. On the other hand, those guys were nuts. So I’m watching another episode of Conquistadors, a high-def documentary that explains how 500 Spanish guys managed to walk into Montezuma’s Oval Office, say “You’re under arrest” and take possession of ninety billion square miles of jungle. It’s fascinating stuff. But why does Spain get a pass?

You don’t hear much about Evil Spain grinding the natives under their boot, any more than you hear about Belgium’s merry escapades in the Congo. In fact, the Spanish culture has been subsumed into a general Latino identity in a way that makes it oddly immune from criticism. Hey, don’t talk to me about racism and oppression – look what you guys did to the Indians! It would sound bizarre, no? It would be equally peculiar to congratulate them for “civilizing,” in the usual uncivilized way, the garish blood-cults of MesoAmerica. You might have been imperialists lusting for glory and gold, but you certainly put the boot in those dreadful Toltecs, eh? Well played. That would be an insult. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the Spain vs. The Southern Hemisphere story, inasmuch as it’s the same old tale of an expansionist technologically superior society with a compact theology coming up against an empire ready to rot and fall from an excess of misrule and an overpopulated pantheon of disputative deities. Yet the Original Sin of the New World always seems to focus on the 19th century American experience, and everything else is just a messy regrettable blur.

Or so it seems up here. No doubt my ignorance is shooting off flaming roman-candle balls again, and in Central and South America the Spanish influence is regarded with shame, statues of Cortez are pulled down twice a day (noon and five, barring strikes) and there are constant calls to rename all the cities to reflect the ancient names of bird-gods instead of thin-eyed noblemen who had the misfortune of being born then, when gold had to be wrested from the hands and the lands of the natives. Nowadays we can just pick up the phone and call a dealer, and no one dies. Everyone wins!

And it’s a great time to buy gold. Or so the radio tells me. Daily. For the last 17 years.

Link o'rama. The Supreme Court decision that allows government to take your house so a private entity can build on your land - yikes. Oy. Double saturated oy. Here's a local example of a neighborhood near me that was knocked down so Best Buy could build its HQ.

I don’t care for Superman. Never did. When I was growing up, the comic was the lamest thing you could buy. But this feature on the new movie makes me want to see it – the architecture looks like it’s a slightly sunnier version of the Gotham City of the first Batman movie, and there’s a moment where the writers discuss how Superman decides who to save, what to do. It’s a very cool moment, at least for geeks - in fact, the last frame of this feature could be a diagnostic tool to see if you test positive for Geek. If that last shot doesn't work for you, you're a very practical, sensible person, and you have my deepest sympathy. I still don't care much for Superman, but I look forward to this bit of juvenalia.

I plan to see the Batman movie this weekend, but already I feel my interest wane. (Hah! Joke. Sorry.) Again with the darkness. Again with the grimness. Okay, you’re haunted, I get it. Well, we’ll see.

Cass-Clay TV commercials from the 1980s. How white is this? It’s a North Dakota ad for milk, that’s how white. (Ad menu here.)

Some shots of Minneapolis – this is the Johnson Meat Company – now, Billy, why are you snickering? It’s on Nicollet in a strange zone where downtown just stops lest it tumble into the trough of the highway. The intersection enjoyed a spasm of attention in the 60s, to judge from the architecture; across the street, your all-purpose quick & easy international style crackerbox (not without its charms, especially as these unloved buildings gradually vanish.)

There’s also a strip mall. And then there’s this place. There was a brief vogue for black brick in the 60s, and all the buildings looked just like this. Flat, low, with modern ornamentation – which is to say none, unless you could the non-structural I-beams inserted in the walls.

You’d think the logos would all be in some blank rational san-serif face, but no. Click for larger versions.

Finally, a shot of the Balmoral, an apartment building in Minneapolis that has few distinguishing qualities, aside from the ENORMOUS SIGN hanging on the corner. It’s from another era of signage, back from the day when custom sign shops bent metal and glass to create something utterly unique.

(Screedblog up around noon CST - sorry about today; busy.)


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