really! no lye! Actually, lots of lye

Whoo-hoo! Made the front page of USA Today’s Life section Holiday book roundup. This makes the, uh, fourfecta: NYT, WSJ, USA Today, and People. Nice way to end the week.

Is it just me, or is President Clinton turning into an image of Bill Maher in 15 years after a regimen of Mexican growth hormones?

This week’s podcast contains whistling. I apologize; it just happened. But we’ll get to that. Cold and ordinary Thursday; I had to move my stuff again at the office. The third move in four months; fifth move total. It’s easy now; I just never unpack. People are shuffled around like this often, especially people like me who are stateless, and belong to no managerial pod. I would be happy with no desk, really; the things that accumulate in one’s office always seem like remnants from a parallel life. I have some cube flair – Mojo Jojo, shaking his fist; a Happy Meal Gromit in a plane (with porridge-shooting guns) and a snap-together model of the Jetsons in their spacecar. The usual pathetic toys utterly unbecoming to my age, you say. Well, Mojo Jojo reminds me of sitting up all night watching TV, little Gnat sleeping on my chest after a night of dealing with the Knives of Gas. The Jetson car just looks cool. Everything about the Jetsons was cool except the actual show itself.

Boxes of stuff, boxes of letters, boxes of clips. There’s a cup with pencils I bought in 1997 at Crate & Barrel; I thought they’d be great for editing. I saw myself bent over printouts of the column, making those extra-special secret proofreading marks. I never sharpened one pencil. But they look great, so they make the move every time. There’s also a sticker from the Washington Post Style Invitational (“How’s my Drivel? Dial 1-800-etc) and some Gnat photos. A picture of Jasper, a wedding photo. A GIGANTIC poster of the Holiday Inn sign. It’s spare, and that’s how I like it. When I first got in the business I had the usual journalist cubicle – we are slobs, most of us, and horrible slobs with great tottering piles of silverfish-attracting newsprint and stuff pinned up on the wall six years ago, things we cannot bear to remove. Once upon a time I had my cubicle wall just so. Perfect. The arrangement, the interplay, the epigram or quote that let everyone know what sort of pith-appreciating chap I was – ah, it was a thing to behold. And if I hadn’t been forced to move it would have remained unchanged until I got the gold watch and the handshake.

I hate offices.

But I like to have an office to go to. I would feel differently if I had to be there 9 to 5, but I don’t have to be there 9 to 5. The desire not to have to be someplace at a certain time has shaped my life more than anything else, I think; in the back of my mind, I am still arranging my life along Valli lines. And by “Valli” I mean the crucible, the restaurant / bar where I worked for so many years, the place where I sat in the grotto night after night writing, smoking, drinking endless cups of coffee, getting up every so often to see a man about a horse, a horse with ENORMOUS PRESSURE ON HIS BLADDER, wandering off to play pinball or Asteroids if I chose. I have never done well when the possibility of just getting up and playing Asteroids seems remote.

So I found myself at the office today, moving boxes around, and I came across some old games I’d brought to the office in the previous century. Late 90s stuff. Not a great era for gaming. But it made me think of sitting at home on a wintery day, back in Minneapolis, underemployed. 1995 or so. No internet as we know it now, just AOL. No blogs. No website of my own. What the hell did I do with my time? Play Hexen, I guess. Hadn’t thought of Hexen in a million years; it was a DOOM offshoot that seemed quite advanced at the time – you could look up! You could look down! – and despite the Dungeons & Dragons vibe, I liked it. You could spend a lot of time bashing ogres in the head with a hammer. This passed the time. I think I spent most of 1995 just bashing ogres in the head with hammers. Then getting power-ups for bigger hammers.

A dark time.

Much better now. Went to McDonald’s Moon with Gnat tonight; utterly incompetent help. I’d like a cheeseburger with nothing but ketchup, apples, chocolate milk, and a girl’s toy. I got a hamburger infested with onions, fries, white milk, and a Power Ranger. Mind you, I don’t slur my order or speak fast and let them sort it out; I’ve learned that the best way to order fast food is to state the genre then the attributes: cheeseburger, ketchup only; fries, medium; milk, white; toy, female. That way you’ve stated the concept before the modifier, and it’s easier for the cashier – who for all you know started yesterday and has no idea what all these buttons mean – to get it right. But when they get everything wrong, and you’re the only customer in the shop, there’s something else going on: they don’t understand what you’re saying at the level below the phonic, and that makes it difficult. The whole gestalt of the order does not come across.

Before you upbraid me for being mean to service people: I was a waiter for eight years. I’ve been there. I’ve been slammed with six tables at bar rush, all drunk, all wanting breakfast in all its infinite combinations, all unaccustomed to the idea of leaving more than dimes as a tip for a $30 meal. Like many former waiters, I overtip. I cut slack. But when you have a five-year old girl peering over the lip of the counter, maybe you should think twice about giving her a Power Ranger instead of a W.i.t.c.h figurine.

On the W.i.t.c.h. toys: eh. More anime-influenced kidvid dreck. They all have elemental powers, and the pamphlet explaining their personalities – done in usual anime big-eye no-nose style – give the relevant details, like hobbies (fashion, ice skating) and sign (Taurus.) Can’t wait to have the astrology conversation with Gnat. “What’s astrology, daddy?” “It’s a system of belief for people who cannot handle the intellectual demands of Scientology.

The Corner linked to this piece by Camille Paglia on Madonna’s latest album. I’ve heard a few tracks; nothing spectacular, not as bad as the last few year’s stuff, but that’s a matter of hiring the right producers and composers. Paglia makes a rather brave attempt to rehabilitate the word “disco.” It means so many bad things to so many people for so many reasons, most of which are valid - providing if you think the word means that string-heavy high-hat mechanical drivel pumped out en masse in the wake of “Saturday Night Fever.” The stuff punk & new wave hoped to kill. (It didn’t; New Wave turned into technopop, which took over from late-70s do-the-hustle disco quite nicely.) I don’t use the term, because people think you mean “Fly, Robin, Fly” et al. But maybe I should. Because nowadays if it’s not geetars, it’s disco. It’s come down to that. Over here, strings. Over here, computers.

Paglia writes:

. . . the gushing reviews . . . applauded the CD for achieving Madonna's purported aim of making people dance. My blood boiled at this insulting reduction of dance music to gymnastics -- mere recreational aerobics. I for one do not dance to dance music; disco for me is a lofty metaphysical mode that induces contemplation. (Of course, this may partly descend from my Agnes Gooch marginalization in the old bar scene, where I was -- as Nora Ephron would say -- a wallflower at the orgy.) Giorgio Moroder's albums, which I listened to obsessively on headphones, were an enormous inspiration to me throughout the writing of "Sexual Personae" in the 1970s and '80s. Disco at its best is a neurological event, a shamanistic vehicle of space-time travel.

Well, I don’t know about the time-travel part, but I understand what she means. I can’t write to classical or jazz music; it makes me listen. But I have hours and hours of trance / techno, and I do not dance to it. Just as well; it would frighten the dog. But it works at a level no other music reaches. Most of what I write in the evenings is written at the island in the kitchen, standing up, head bobbing slightly, nano in my pocket rolling through the playlist. Unplugging at the end of the night feels like I’ve just thrown a bucket of cold water on my head.

But of course:
New today!
Best observation in Paglia’s piece:
Even allowing for the fact that she must strenuously maintain her hipness for a busy husband 10 years her junior, Madonna is starting to morph into the mature Joan Crawford of "Torch Song," still ferociously dancing but with her fascist willpower signaled by brute, staring eyes and fixed jawline.

Yep. Paglia also provides her ultimate disco playlist, which contains a lot of 90s duds – “Cruel Summer”? That one will clear the floor; no one knows quite how to twitch to that particular tempo. But she includes “Send Me an Angel” by Real Life, which has all the Miami-Vicey angst and overproduction of a great 80s single. Of course it’s all schlock and dreck compared to Mozart, but how many Wolfgangs does the species get? Pop culture has replaced high culture, and that’s that; no going back. There’s nothing wrong with cranking up the disco, however you want to define the term. Does it make you feel alive? Well, all right, then.

New Podcast on holiday music; don’t worry, I don’t play the whole song. Just snippets for compare & contrast purposes. Enjoy, and I’ll see you Monday.