Great Jumping Judas, it got cold. The temps look normal – mocking, Kate-Moss-sized numbers like 17, but the wind, she flays. The wind shoots right through your pores and rattles the marrow. I say to hell with it. On the other hand –

Well, the other hand is blue and needs to be banged against the granite counters to get feeling returned to its tippermost regions, so nevermind about the other hand.

A house of croup, we have. My wife and Gnat both came down with the cold I had a few weeks ago. Of course, I didn’t really come down with it, since A) I zinced, and B) Me Strong Like Bool, etc. I had two days of raw throat, and that was it. But it hit my wife harder; Gnat has my constitution, but nevertheless had a nasty sounding cough on Friday, so I kept her home from school and piano lessons. Poor kid. She took two naps, stayed in her jimmies all day, and occasionally made those raspy hoarse pained sounds you’d get if you fed Suzanne Pleshette into a woodchipper. We dragged out old toy bins and played with things we hadn’t seen in a while, which is always amusing: I remember that, she says, thinking back to the dim misty recesses of last year. I remember it, too. I remember it all. There’s a story behind each toy: even the crappy McDonald’s Happy Meal Ariel Comb brings back a few frames from the mental films long archived.

She played; I cleaned. One of those serious cleaning days – tackled the fridge, the woodwork, got out a toothbrush to scour grot from the shower. Had the radio on, and was listening to the Medved show; a caller I recognized – Nancy, I think; she always says “you do mensch” as an introduction – referenced Friday’s Bleat about the joy of talking with people who are forty times smarter than you are, and Mr. Medved said “yes, I had dinner with James Lileks at Jasperwood.” I mention this only because Gnat stood up, astonished, and said “he said your name and he said Jasperwood!” That’s right, I said. And I pointed at the dog: You’re famous! And you have no idea. He thumped his tail, the standard what-do-you-want-boss reaction; the moment passed. The next caller – swear to God – referenced the podcast’s Fiddler on the Roof theme. I’m standing in the kitchen with a frickin’ mop, grinning like an idiot, and on the off chance both you guys are reading this: thanks; it made my day. In an ideal world, I am at home with Gnat, cleaning, checking blogs every fifteen minutes, switching between radio and the 1939 playlist on the iPod, ten minutes away from the sainted hour of Five – that’s when I start the coffee maker for the Evening Pot, and fire up the tiny cigar - and it’s Friday, which means pizza, and a night of working on the website without worrying about posting anything. To hear on the radio these reminders that I am not shouting into a dark barn and scaring the owls – well, it’s sweet.

Or, I am mad, and am hearing voices.

Saturday I went to an antique store in Uptown, a place that always has good stuff. Plenty of mid-century furnishings, for which I have no use, alas, but ten tons of quality ephemera. Found a batch of Better Homes and Gardens from the 50s, and those suckers are the motherlode of postwar clip-art and ad pages, friends. I bought three issues, and I can live off those for a year or so. Also picked up a grotesque “novelty” catalogue from 1960 I will be doling out in weekly doses, starting next Thursday. Just to be ridiculous. Six columns, five bleats, five site updates a week. Why not. Of course, I could dump everything into a Flickr site and get a BoingBoing link, but that would be so obvious. Anyway. I’m standing at the counter; next to me is Mom and Daughter, agonizing over a purchase. It’s a gigantic map of North America printed on canvas, obviously rescued from an old elementary school – it has a wooden dowel at the bottom, it’s spooled around a metal rod. I remember those, dimly: the teacher would pull it down, unfurl the glories of the continent; with a simple motion of her hand she could make it roll up and vanish just as easily as she revealed it.

They were arguing about the price. The clerk said he suspected the price was a bit low, since this was really an unusual piece. Granted, it had some tears, but really, look at this. It’s incredible. The mother was doubtful; she asked her daughter if she had room for this thing. Well yes, said the daughter, in that no-duh voice kids use without thinking how such small elemental insults accumulate. (Only to be willed away, of course.) They balked. They fretted. How much? Is that a lot?

I asked the clerk who was ringing up my purchases: what’s the map going for?

“Well, the tag says $20,” she said.

“TWE – twenty dollars? For that beautiful thing?”

She shrugged.

“How late are you open?” said the daughter. I could tell they’d decided against it, and were trying to conjure some emollient to get them out the door.

“Six?” said the other clerk.

“Okay!” and they left.

Honest to God: both clerks looked at me. I pointed to the map with my index finger, then pointed at the invoice my clerk was writing up. Oh yes please move it on over. Of course. That’s all it took. They got it.

“Good,” said the male-clerk. “If you don’t get the piece, you don’t deserve the piece.”

“Twenty bucks!” I said.

“Twenty bucks!” he said. “I hope they come back.”

What will I do with it? I don’t know. I don’t care. But I had to have it. Here it is:

The map has scores of red lines that indicate the distance between cities via ship - Colon to London, Havana to San Francisco. The top of the map describes the Arctic as “Unexplored.” Unexplored! What a wonderful word. To think that some parts of the world had never felt the boot of man. What Yeti roamed? What giant bears lumbered from floe to floe? It’s the sort of word that ignites a kid’s imagination, sitting in a classroom in Minnesota in February, drowsy from the stuffy heat, slipping off into a dream of ships cracking through ice, men on sleds snapping the whip to urge their tired dogs on. Unexplored! One day the paper would have a news dispatch from the first man to cross this trackless land, and everyone would settle back in their chairs to read the thrilling tale. Someday no part of the planet will be unexplored. We will have been everywhere, seen all, bent the land to our will, twanged the lines of longitude and latitude to play our brave bright melodies. Unexplored? Not for long. Someday soon there won’t be any mysteries.

But for now it’s good to have a few.

There’s probably someone standing in the vicinity of the letters UN right now, making a cell call. “I SAID PIZZA’S FINE. FINE. I KNOW WE HAD IT YESTERDAY. ITS FINE.”

Ah, but back then, it was different. Back then, it was this:


New Matchbook & Quirk. Big new SCREEDBLOG. See you tomorrow.


c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."