A good start to the day: you wake up before the alarm, toss and turn trying to get back to sleep, realize it’s hopeless, and look at the clock – and it’s only five minutes before the alarm would have beeped. Well then! Onward.

Have to give a little speech in half an hour on the anniversary of a co-worker’s employment; these things are always death, to quote Krusty. I think I am expected to be “funny,” which is always a guarantee it won’t be. It’s the people who aren’t expected to be funny who get the laughs when they say something amusing; if someone expects you’re going to be very ha-ha and you’re only mildly ha-ha, they don’t laugh much after 30 seconds or so. The key is to be genial and give the general impression that you will be brief – when you can hit your second point seconds into the remarks people relax a little.

Jeez, it’s like I think they’re going to throw things at me. Well, I don’t have any prepared remarks, but I do have a visual aid. Everyone loves a prop comic! It’ll either work because it’s so stupid, or it will be humiliating, and lead to much wincing on the way home. Stay tuned!

Finally got the contractor on the phone. He thinks the electrical contractor overcharged us. He thinks we could sue him in small claims court. He thinks I am smoking a nugget of hash the size of bowling ball, apparently. I explained that the whole “overcharge” thing might be difficult to prove, since his guys didn’t get a bid before work began, and because they already agreed to pay part of the bill and dumped the rest off on me without calling to explain their situation.

While we spoke the snow began. It’s been steady ever since, and from my vantage point here at the Strib coffee shop the world looks cold and fresh and new. It’s not plasant for driving – stopping time is now multiplied by 4 – but it beats the hard dead bare world we had this morning. Yes, it’s cold. But it is February, after all, the month from which no one expects anything, the seasonal equivalent of a 3 AM infomercial.

Started watching “Thief” last night, an early Michael Mann film starting James Caan with all his entourage of twitches and grimaces. Guy’s got more mannerisms than a Pontormo collector. (Hah! Oh, must use that in the speech.) If “Heat” was Mann’s “Goodfellas,” this is is “Mean Streets.” So very 80s – the Tangerine Dream score, the wet streets, the shots of streetlights running over a polished car hood. It’ll do.

And no, I’m not looking forward to “Miami Vice.” It looks dreadful. The previews make me think well, Ben Stiller has to show up eventually, and assure us this is another week jokeless ironic reimaging of a campy retro delight. But no.

You know what I’ve discovered, he said, once against relying on his playlist for something to write about? I don’t like Bing Crosby. I don’t dislike him, but he leaves me utterly cold. It’s all disengagement and diffidence, however genial it sounds. The most effect touches, after a while, sound like gimmicks – the effortless vibrato on the higher notes, plucked like ripe fruit on a low-hanging bough, is lovely enough the first 1000 times you hear it, but when you hear it applied to silly banal songs it loses its power. At least to my ears. It’s like the Giant Swede said about Elvis – he could sing a spiritual or the phone book with the exact same conviction. Which suggests a lack of conviction in the first place. I know, it’s too much to expect conviction, especially after six or twenty takes; the ability to fake these things on demand, or rather simulate with perfection the moment when you actually felt the song, is more common than not.

Okay, it’s show time.


Well, that wasn’t so bad. But the opening remarks were all predicated on the sort of stuff you know about a guy when you sit next for him for ten years, and judging from the reaction they were not, as assumed, common knowledge. I was an inch away from hunching over, hooking my hand into a claw, and saying “And I don’t approve of that in the workplace!” in a bad British accent. If you know what I mean. But the rest went fine.

The prop didn’t flop. The prop was bacon. That’s all I’ll say. Except that you can never go wrong ending a speech with bacon.

Got home – which took a while; the streets were paved with ice and filled with idiots – and had an hour before the family came home, so I did the Diner podcast. I’m proud of it, which is never a good sign. To repeat: these are not scripted, and that should be obvious – but they’re not plotted. One thing leads to another. If you can see how this one evolves – I held back one piece of music because I felt it would come in handy later, and Lordy, was I right. I suppose I could have written it out and practiced it, and it would have been better, but that defeats the idea. And we never did that on the air, so I’m not going to do it here.

Well, it made me laugh. Which, again, is never a good sign.

I’m working on putting it up on the iWeb site now, in MP3 form so all can enjoy. Alas, the stupid iWeb program has some ridiculous quirk – converts all the text and accompanying graphics to a frickin’ PNG, which would be okay except that there’s some bug that refuses to size the graphic correctly. I’m having to scrap the site and s
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tart from scratch. The upload is taking half the night, too, but it gave me a chance to catch up on the mail. Yes, it’s working, and no, I’m not close to answering everything. I’m trying, because it’s fun. But. Time to quit – or rather, time to write the daily column before I shut it all down and finish "Thief." Screedblog up around 1 PM CST. Let’s see – Matchbook, telegrams, motels, ACME, Quirks, Diner – that’ll do, no? if not, you know where to write. Have a fine weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

Update: the iWeb site is still hosed, which is why I'm not submitting to iTunes yet. The actual Diner Podcast link is HERE. Enjoy.


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