The World Before the Rain

We have a new slogan for the Bleat! Not that it ever had one. Wait for it.

This is the first test of the new order: I have to write a few columns in advance for the redesign. And by “few” I mean “Six.” So the next few days will be given over to coughing up a segmented bolus of stuff, and I expect it will be thus for the foreseeable future. The new column will be called “The Daily Quirk,” which is both apt and – mwah hah – subversive, since I proposed the title in a prototype as a veiled swipe at the old Backfence ad campaign, which said people could turn to my column for “a cup of quirk.” (I was shown holding out a Pyrex 2-cup container.) (Over the Back Fence, you see. Neighbor-like.) I would prefer to run the column with just my name, but hell, I don’t even call this by my name – putting LILEKS on the top graphic would seem, well, unseemly. So the Quirk it is. I even considered changing the Bleat to the Quirk, hoping that we might have that oft-dreamed synthesis of paradigms wherein my daughter isn’t Gnat here and Child™ there, but I think changing brands in mid-stream is ill-advised. Assuming I’m midstream, and not beached and panting. I think I’ll keep it the way it is. Consider the Bleat a commentary track, and the Quirk the main feature.

All I know is that I have a veritable caneage of work to do in the next few days. (There’s a word I haven’t used in a long while: caneage. That goes back to 1977, when my college roommate spontaneously generated the word as a measure of large quantity, in this case relating to sugar. He was very high. I wonder what happened to him. He left the U after a year, moved back to his home state, suffered some vague mental freakout after the loss of a parent. He was a smart guy, genial, but given to coruscating self-doubt and the smothering certainty that he was a loser. He’d tell you that, then grin, then he wouldn’t grin. The sort of guy who wonders whether the fact that he laughs at an Onion story that seems to describe him means he’s really not that guy at all, but knows better.) I hate to do what I’m doing now, which is write a Wednesday Bleat on a Monday evening. It wrecks the illusion of the constant flowing conversation, if you define a conversation as one guy yammering on without letting anyone else let a word in edgewise. Already I’m planning what I can do tomorrow afternoon to make up the slack.

On the other hand, this is a night I want to savor. It’s the third of October. It’s 75 minutes from midnight, and it’s 80 degrees out. The only thing the night needs is the sound of the Water Feature, but changes to the design mean that it won’t be finished until, oh, 2007. (Don’t get me started.) (As if you, as opposed to my own mulishness, are the one doing the starting.) I don’t mind the occasional skeeter. The breeze makes the light in the gazebo sway from side to side; I could swear I hear crickets, but perhaps those are just ghosts. (Good thing insects don’t have an afterlife. Ditto birds: can you imagine the racket?) I am polishing off the last of the Fris. I am content. I am waiting for the robbers.

Last night a neighbor’s house was burgled. While they were home. Sleeping. Money was taken from a purse. What’s the adequate sentence for the crime? Ten dollar or a hundred, it shouldn’t matter; what counts are the intangibles they take away, the feeling of safety in one’s home, of ordinariness. Of course I suppose these feelings will be deemed “privileged” by those who point out that people in bad neighborhoods have this happen to them all the time. True. But the people in poor neighborhoods who burgle are vcastly outnumbered by the percentage who do the burgling. In any case, I doubt anyone commuted to commit the crime; if anything they drove or walked from the less-spiffy neighborhoods 20 blocks to the east and south. I’m going to walk the property now and see how burgle-ready I look.

Next day

I got mugged! Just kidding. I actually took the Nano and laid on the lawn and listened to Eno and watched the leaves fall. Very peaceful. I gave the new Eno a qualified “meh” when it came out, but a few songs have that perfect weightless presence he does so well, and they’re perfect for laying on the lawn at midnight on the last warm day and watching the leaves drift down.

Right now there’s a big nasty thunderstorm overhead; very cool. So this will have to be it for the day; I’m off to write one of six columns. There will be something tomorrow and Friday – probably a new (revised) Joe Ohio episode, and an addition to the Institute if I have time. If not, well, we’ll all make it through this together.

Recall that conversation I had last week with an old acquaintance who called to tell me why I was an idiot, and how I should listen to Air America to get the truth? One of his points, oft-repeated, was that Bush is an idiot who can’t talk. While I have never been a defender of the president’s ability to spontaneously craft deathless oratory, this is not exactly the mark of a moron who needs an earpiece and a wireless transmitter, okay? It doesn’t hurt that he’s talking about what Bugs Bunny might call Da Boid Flu. I’m not saying that I was comforted by any of the remarks – if we get hit by H5N1 or Smallpox I’d be surprised if the government said hey presto, here’s vaccine for all. I expect quarantines, vaccines for some, and the suggestion that we wear surgical masks – the medical equivalent of duct tape. (And I say that as someone who not only didn’t scoff at the whole duct-tape scandal, but has duct tape along with the other emergency supplies. I also have surgical masks. I’d rather buy them now and laugh at myself for being a paranoid nutball who twitches every time the threat hue shifts than go to the store someday and find they’re all out of masks because everyone’s flippin’ CRAZY and scared.

Speaking of flippin’ – I finished "Napoleon Dynamite." Ended sweetly, but man, that’s a long way to go for one joke. So he can dance. Noted. The movie played two cheap tricks at the end: 1) it had all the characters smile for once, which made the last few minutes seem happy and resolved and optimistic, and 2) it used “Music for a Found Harmonium” by the Penguin Café Orchestra, which is 36 pounds of emotional MSG. Or maybe that’s just me. I discovered them in a brilliantly difficult summer in the later 80s, and the “Broadcasting From Home” album – why, it tasered my heart. Which is to say it left small embedded darts and microfilaments which, even now, can cause convulsions. Of joy!

Okay, I’m full of it. But I do like that album.

I’ve been watching the “Crime Story” DVD. Long-time readers know how much I loved this show – saw it during the original run in 86, saw it again a few years ago in syndication, and found it just as good after a decade and a half as it was in the high holy 80s. I’m getting screen-grabs-a-plenty; there was enough left of 1963 Chicago to provide lots of spiffy neon, and the set dressers must have emptied every thift store and boutique. And auto graveyards, although part of me dies everytime they crash a car. This shot made me hit pause: what’s on the cup?

Wait for something closer . . . ah. I got one word, but what’s the stuff written in yellow?

Full screen / freeze frame / sharpen, stand back from the monitor, let the words come . . .

I’m pretty sure it says “Coffee Refreshes . . .Nembutal Relaxes.” A drug-company rep hand-out for a mother's-little-helper sedative. You gots your yin, you gots your yang. 1963.

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