WEDNESDAY MARCH 22 2006
The good thing about writing, oh, 12 or so pieces a week: there’s always another shot tomorrow. Or two. If I wrote one book every two years, and it was roundly slammed, the despair would be enormous: all that work for naught. It’s still for naught in the end, I suppose, but there’s always the promise of another chance tomorrow to keep you going. If nothing else, there’s the email to remind you what you got wrong. I knew I should have spelled the shoe “Prada,” not Prado; I was thinking of the museum. And pi is not infinite, which I had erroneously assumed. I just never finished that book.
“Scarface” was on last night, and since I hadn’t seen it in a decade or two I gave it another look. Its popularity mystifies me – it’s cheesy and obvious and utterly predictable, and while Pacino gives a luridly amusing performance, he really does seem to be slumming – it’s his “Malcolm McDowell in ‘Caligula’” moment, perhaps. There is amusement in his dialect – ju caga-rochez! – but otherwise, eh. Perhaps it can be seen as a Seminal Text that updates the gangster clichés for the cocaine age. A film that simultaneously ushers out the 70s and brings in the 80s. Or perhaps, most importantly, a movie that has Richard Belzer performing the worst stand-up act in movie history before a crowd in a dance club.
Never liked the guy. Not since he made fun of Katherine Hepburn’s Parkinson on Letterman. Real class act, that man.
There was a murder in Uptown the other night – just a few blocks from the old movie marquee pictures I took the other day. I’d link to the Strib website on the matter, but it fell off the front page. (Side note: Right now the main page has a story about how the number of gun dealers has dropped, a “victory for gun control advocates.” The article credits “a Clinton-era reform” that boosted the cost of a licenses and put a few more restrictions on casual dealers. This probably refers to the Federal Firearms License Reform Act of 1993, which was sponsored by a Republican. There were three co-sponsors, one of whom was also a Republican; the other two were Democrats. So perhaps “the 1993 Reform Act” might have been more accurate, inasmuch as it does not attribute the bill to a particular side. But that’s just me, flaming wingnut who's not even a big gun guy. The article on the fellow who was shot, gun dealership declines aside, is here.)
The man was walking down the street with his mom; got held up, got popped. Right outside the Giant Swede’s old apartment building. Twenty-three blocks north of my old home. Rising crime has not yet penetrated the minds of many comfy Minneapolitans as it did in the mid 90s, but it will. And then what? Among the good folke of my neighborhood, building additional jails is regarded as an act of civic failure. There remains the notion, polished smooth and indissoluble, that the thieves are somehow the spiritual heirs to Jean Valjean, and the drunks are the children of Dylan Thomas – as long as they stay in the dicey parts of town, anyway.
I’ve no doubt the local government agencies will spendmore than half a billion dollars to run a light-rail train down University Avenue to downtown St. Paul, so people in the riverfront condos can attend the Ordway in St. Paul twice a year without worrying about parking. Don’t get me wrong - I think all the new condos going up downtown are a remarkable sign of the city’s health. Bravo. I'd love to live with a view of the Mississippi, but I also like being able to walk around the nabe after dark without fear. When I lived in Uptown - three blocks from the shooting - I had no fear. None. Don't have any now, either. But the increasing population of bummage and lowlifes can undo your peace of mind quite quickly; perception overruns reality. City Center, for example, was a downtown mall that died, and they couldn’t quite figure out why. The retail mix? The hours? The pink walls? Good Lord, it sat at the base of a 45-story office tower with a 20-story hotel next to it and a 25-story office-hotel across the street; it’s not like it sat in the middle of the desert. There were enough people around. But it felt unsafe, because it was the unofficial home of Young Men Who Hang Around Downtown And Yell At Each Other, Then Spit. Didn’t bother me – I never felt afraid, just annoyed. Annoyed of hearing people carpet-F-Bomb the entryway, annoyed at the hard looks, the shouting after women, the rest of it. So move to the suburbs, gramps!
No; not for me; I like it here. It’s civil and decent and I still love downtown. It’s mine and it's ours and the hoodlums don’t deserve it. But I’d feel much better if the city’s leadership gave an indication they knew what to do about crime. They don’t have a clue. They’re like someone trying to access a webpage with an Etch-A-Sketch. And if the mayor did somehow access the Strib site about the shooting, he might do a search for his own name to see what he said about the matter.
NOT FOUND says my browser. How odd.
Watched part of a Harold Lloyd movie with Gnat tonight: “Safety Last,” the great thrill comedy. A thrillody! She was delighted and terrified, clutching her hands to her chest and whispering “be CAREful, Harold!” when he teetered on the edge of the ledge. She read all the title cards; I gave a running commentary in the characters’ voices.
“This is really old,” she said. “And are all those people in the movie dead now?”
“Probably,” I said. “But they still live on in the movie.”
She thought a moment. “What about the babies born when they invented technology?”
I was startled – never heard her use that word. “What do you mean?”
“When they invented phones and computers. A baby born when they invented technology would still be alive?”
“Yes. But they had phones when this movie was made. And cars, too. See?”
“But they’re old cars. I saw those in Phoelix.”
“That’s Phoenix, honey.”
“No, Felix. The cat. The old cartoon from the same time as this.”
She’s fascinated by this stuff, and I can see why; the city in “Safety Last” looks like it’s made of concrete frosting, every building slathered with ornamentation. The streets look alive; the cars don’t chug along in a sludge of metal, but dart around like dark quicksilver. It’s tremendously vital. She loved the entire sequence, but didn’t understand the last joke when Harold loses his shoes and socks to fresh roofing tar. Hard to explain that. But there wasn’t anyone in the audience who didn’t get it at the time, and couldn’t imagine the smell of the stuff.
I was playing the movie to grab a sequence for – well, I hesitate to call it the weekly vidcast, but that’s what I’m aiming for. After writing for a few days it’s a relief to edit pictures and set them to music. They will get longer and longer, I suppose; I don’t have any set theme for these other than Something That Occurred To Me. In this case it’s the ancient theater that was turned into an antique store – it’s closing this month, and I grabbed some shots of the few architectural details that remain.
The Wednesday update has been moved to tomorrow to coincide with a Quirk column, and this will probably a permanent move, inasmuch as anything is permanent here. Wednesdays will be mini-movie day. If by the end of the year I can look back and say I did one book, 300 columns, 260 bleats, 52 Newhouse, 50 Diners, 30 movies, 20 site updates (not including matches or motels or money) I can say it was a good year, I guess, but it’ll still feel like small beer doled out in thimbles.
Everything that nagged me in Arizona is still in play; I’m still unsettled for no reason I can really name. I almost dread true spring, because if it’s cold once more I will feel it slip away every day, and the start of summer will suggest the first tint of autumn. It all moves so quickly; the calendar is a particularly cruel clock. I understand completely why people move to warmer places when they feel the Scythe tickle the hairs on their neck. If the warm days never really end, the clock seems to slow a little.
Snow is due Friday.
Anyway. Late night miserabilism; apologies. Here’s the video. The man who died was shot fifteen blocks to the west. You’d never guess it. No reason you should.