Sitting outside on a shirt-sleeve evening. No bugs, no planes; scent of lilacs from the bushes. This is why we live here. Days like this. All seventeen of them. Saturday afternoon I reassembled the gazebo furniture, so now my living-room-in-the-backyard is up again. The only thing this tableau lacks is the sound of running water. But we won’t get into that.


Ah – phone’s ringing. Sunday night; has to be Dad.

And so it was. The traditional Sunday night parental check-in. He’s doing fine; drove the semi out to fill the trains the previous night, although he hasn’t been doing as much nocturnal train-filling as a few months ago. (His company supplies the juice for trains that pause, parched, at the rim of North Dakota, exhausted from their trek across the steppes. For years they filled the trains for a produce-shipping concern; this sent me to college.) He is perfectly content to get up at 3 AM, drive one of his ginormous trucks sloshing with flammable fluid to the butt-end of town, and gas up the huffing beasts becalmed on the tracks. But it’s not like he doesn’t know how to relax – he said he drove his Harley to the lakes the other day. A spring morning, smooth dry road, seventy-five miles to the shore.

In a month he turns 80.

War vet, businessman, pilot, biker, rifleman, trucker, by-God American Man: if he didn’t put ice cubes in his wine he’d be my hero in every possible way.

Note: to his generation, not a single one of those attributes was particularly remarkable.

Someone should do a long, boring, footnoted scholarly paper on the number of Greatest Generation types who took up flying in middle age. The very idea to me is remarkable: let’s learn to fly. And so they did. Clear calm Sunday? Let’s take to the skies. He would get in his plane and float over the land where he’d been sent off as a young boy to work on farms for room and board only. He’d bank south and see if the river was rising by the station. Then he’d land ten blocks from his house.

I never wondered why my father stayed in North Dakota; it was his ecological niche. It was free and wide, open and empty – and if you’d spent your teen years hunched in a metal coffin in the Pacific, that might have an appeal.

Anyway, that call ate up all the Bleat time, and I have three columns to do tonight, so this will be short & banal.

Orchestra Hall, final concert of the season. I did not have my favorite microphone. It was apparent the moment I began to speak I had that crappy old mike that has annoyed me for years. So as soon as my segment was done I stalked off stage and demanded to know who was responsible; I wanted him down here, now, backstage, to explain, and I threw a chair for emphasis.

Well, no. I sucked it up and thought FINE, I’ll just project a little more. It was a brisk show, and I’ll post a movie on Wednesday, probably in violation of some sort of policy. I know you can’t shoot inside the Hall, but backstage? The dressing room? Well, we’ll see.

Afterwards, full of vim & cheer – there’s nothing like doing a show well with a minimum of mistakes (bobbled one name, alas), but there’s also a nice quiet pleasure that comes from doing something that used to give you the vapors, and now seems utterly ordinary. So what to do with the rest of the afternoon? Buy a microwave, of course.

A year or so ago I bought an Emerson to replace a Sharp that had gone unaccountably dark. It could excite no molecules. You could stuff the thing with tinfoil and firecrackers, set the timer on 60 minutes and leave the house without a care. I liked the styling of the Emerson, because the front had no buttons. Just a blank black front trimmed with silver. The buttons were inside the door. Brilliant! No longer were the aesthetics of your kitchen marred by the ugly front of a microwave – generally the most poorly designed of all outfront appliances, for many reasons. No tactile feedback, uniform beep sound (why can’t I customize the input beep to something that doesn’t sound like Tweaky farting?)

It took me a few days to unlearn old habits; I would throw in a bag of popcorn, close the door, then remember: oh, right. I’d open the door, punch in the numbers, slam it shut. (The word to remember here is “slam.”) The “start” button was on the outside, incidentally, along with STOP and OPEN. It didn’t take long to get the trill.  About eighty bucks at Target.

A few days ago the door started sticking. Then the door stopped working. You’d press the button; nothing. It required extra pressure; then you had to use your other hand to free it. One small part; probably cost a quarter. Cured me of Emerson brand products FOREVER, but there’s always another sucker queued up, I suppose. They’ll survive.

What to do? Hit the Net! Consult Amazon! I found just what I was looking for – a combo microwave / toaster, which allows me to ditch my Cuisinart bread-browner. Oh, I like it; it does the job. But the metal casing is wafer-thin, and has become dented from many sneezes, or sudden brass crescendos on the radio. In the basement it goes. I almost ordered the microwave from Amazon, which seemed such a modern thing to do, but after the show today I drove to Best Buy to see if they had it. They did. Ten dollars less. What makes this unit special is the dial. It’s like a volume knob. In the order of things, it’s like this:

Toggle switch

Buttons, for all their Jetson-era appeal, are anticlimactic. (Unless you’re launching photon torpedoes.) Toggle switches have a basic retro appeal. Dials appeal to your inner fine-tuner. Plus, it has a toaster! TOAST FROM A SECRET COMPARTMENT! I’ve never been happier with a microwave, frankly – not since the pearlescent buttons of my old beloved Sharp microwave from the early 90s has an appliance spoken to me like this.

And I have to take it back. Why? Well, that’s for tomorrow. Stay tuned.

New Match & Quirk; see you Tuesday.



c. j. lileks 2006. Email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.