Well, now it’s freezing. I suppose we deserve it, but I can’t quite figure out why. One of those days that starts out 47 degrees, tops out at 47 degrees, and gently sinks down to 47 degrees. Add a mean thin wind, and you have early April, in the middle of May. The weekend will be much the same, which means I can get some work done; no lounging about outside reading in the gazebo, unless I want to set fire to the adjacent chair for warmth.

This will be brief, as it’s late and I’ve been doing 19 things simultaneously all night. I got a device today that will hasten the transfer of all the old VHS tapes into digital form. The UPS driver showed up just as I’d put Gnat on the bus, and was heading up the steps to Jasperwood; he called after me, and I turned around to accept the package.

“I get more free stuff this way, pretending I’m walking up people’s stairs when I see your truck pull up,” I said.

“Works for me!” he said.

I attached the device to the VCR – long unused, but recently hauled out for a Ballerina tape Gnat wanted to play with a friend – and set about the grim dry business of bringing the old tapes to life. They do not want to return. They are happy being dead. They’ve been dead since 1987; why am I bothering them? I banished videotapes a few years ago, and this experience instantly reminded me why: it’s a horrible format, at least by modern standards. (Hah! VHS tapes are now pre-modern.) You wait and you wait. You wait for the tape to get comfy; you wait for it to spin up. When you fast forward there’s an UNBEARABLE pause of perhaps one or two seconds while the machinery attempts to process your command. You always overshoot. You can never tell where you are in the tape – the counter resets to zero when the tape’s put in, regardless of the actual position.

But oh, how modern it was. How remarkable. The ability to record a TV show and watch it at the time of your choosing changed everything. Now you could go out on the weekend, strike out at a bar, AND have Miami Vice waiting when you got home. Of course it led to piles of slickery ugly black videotapes, unlabelled, cluttering up the house. It lead to dark despair when you learned you had taped over something you’d meant to save. It meant buying a brick of tapes every other week – a fresh tape! Highest Sony quality! Man, I’m going to see every one of those 200 lines of resolution tonight. The picture has degraded on the tapes, of course, but not much; it was never that good to start with. But we were used to seeing the world through a glob of Vaseline. It was a tiny price to pay for fast-forwarding through the commercials.

So what am I doing now? Fast-forwarding through the shows, and recording the commercials.

A few notable frames extracted from the bygone days of 1987, one of my favorite years:

This is from an unbelievably sexy Pontiac commercial. The car, a LeMans, is ugly, but the Flashdancey lass is pure 1987, with all the mounds of curly hair and serene-but-spunky character. The commercial begins with our heroine wandering around her apartment in a state of slinky botheration, the reasons for which are not entirely clear. The split ends? The fact that she is wearing no pants? She gazes at the billowing curtains; she gets that look that says STICK SHIFT and then she’s off, experiencing Pontiac Excitement. At the end of the ad she’s at the beach, and she drops her outer garments - why, that leather coat concealed a one-piece swimsuit all along. She runs away, presumably into the ocean, where presumably great clouds of steam were created when she came in contact with water. It’s like “9 1/2 weeks” with the car in the Mickey Rourke role, and that’s fine; they both contained at least four quarts of oil.

A frame from a Claymation ad for dog food:

For a while, the B. Dalton’s book chain featured a Woody Allenesque spokesman named “Books,” who made Matthew Lesko look like Arnold Schwartzenegger. Here he is emasculated by Erma Bombeck.

My favorite find, besides the Pontiac lass:

I believe that was a chap named Jacko or Jocko, and he was a Strine footy player. Let me check the internets . . . yep. Haven’t thought of him in nearly 20 years. He was a peculiar and not particularly well-received spokesperson; to Americans, he looked acted like some happy Neo-Nazi Billy Idol impersonator.

This was not my main activity today – I just let the tape run while I did other things. Obligations and such. And I have to get back to them now, so if you’ll excuse me –

Oh, right. How could I forget? The Oak Island Water Feature update. Well. The lads arrived at the crack of eleven o’clock, cloaked in hooded parkas, and began dismantling the stone wall of the upper basin, intent on checking for leaks. Because, you know, there’s a strong suspicion that the project has more than one leak. At noon g. Burly himself appeared, and I inserted my brook-no-guff module into my neck and headed out. I didn’t need it, of course; G. Burl does not deal in guff. If anything, he’s mortified by this.

We had a little chat about the week that had elapsed without progress – sure, that leak was patched, but for all we know there are sixteen others, no? He showed me a new leak-hole they’d just discovered. Well then! Progress! But, I repeated, for the 29023453rd time, the problem is two-fold. The leaks are one thing. There is a fatal drain elsewhere. I pointed out my theory of the pipe, which I described to you a few weeks ago.

“I don’t even know why they did that,” he said, looking at the cobble-de-gook with a craftman’s distaste. 


He said he wanted to start it all over again, but, well, the boss –

What about the boss, exactly?

Well, the last thing he’d said was that he was ready to wash his hands of it.

Oh. Oh really. Oh really do tell. “If he wants to give me my money back,” I said, “that’s fine. I’ll have someone else do it.”

No, no, no . . . he’d fix it, but . . . well, it was just the sort of thing that needed to be started over. The people who made this just didn’t know what they were doing.

That’s apparent, I almost said, for the 29023453rd time, but then GeeBee said something interesting.

“They’d never done one of these before.”

Scusi? Pardon? Say wha?”

Geeb said that the company for which he worked had never done a waterfall.

And the employees who had designed it and built it had never done one, either.

I should note that this came as news to me. I should note that I was assured from the start that this was the sort of thing the company did.

Every day, a new twist. At least they made progress today; after listening to my suspicions that the project’s buried lines may be leaking – something I mentioned last October – OCT FARGIN’ TOBER – they dug up all the lines.

Then they left! Because it was THREE O’CLOCK, the contractor’s witching hour! They would turn into newts if they stayed!

But they’ll be back tomorrow. I told them I had a gathering planned on the first of June, and this thing would be done. Emphasis on would. As in will. As in must. As in lawsuits.

Then I went upstairs and did a quick Diner. Only 12 or so minutes, since I’m hosting this on my Hosting Matters server, and have no idea if I will spend all my bandwidth on this silly little thing. But it’s here, if you need a “fix.”

How I dislike that term. It’s peculiar; you’ll hear church ladies say “oh, I need my Oprah fix!” as if they’re belting up and jamming a spike loaded with liquefied talk-show host into their veins.

Anyway! Bilious mutterings aside, I’m in a grand mood, and part of that’s due to the letters I’ve gotten today. They agree, they disagree, they chasten, they offer an attaboy – what’s common is the civility and decency of 99% of my mail lately. If I biatch about the griefers, it’s my error; I should be doing a nifty jig over the vast majority of Bleat & Diner patrons, who are a jack-dandy lot. So thanks!

Back on Monday with more lumpy twaddle & hepped-up oratorios. Have a fine weekend.



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