You know your work is making an impression when a guest shows up to your house for the first time, and he requests immediately to see the Oak Island Water Feature.

Bonus: he’s from England.

But we’ll get to that.

I’m well aware that this page looks like ugly inscrutable nonsense to most people. At least I hope it mystifies most people; while I welcome fellow travelers, I’d hate to think that the majority of my readership consists of middle-aged comic-book geeks.

Middle aged? Was it that long ago?

Well, yes. And no. But that’s a subject for later this week.

Sunday afternoon I was paid a visit by a reporter for the BBC; he’s doing a story on Blogs both American and European, and was kind enough to include this site in his story. True: he showed up and asked to see the OIWF, so I walked him over to the corner of the backyard. En route he deployed a small boom mike: you’re on, lad. So I went from conversational mode to expostulation mode en route to the disaster site, and ended up standing at the edge of the great dig, orating about my trials for the BBC. What an odd life.

We had a two-hour interview, and it was grand fun. (Note to Diner listeners: apparently all the subjects are curious who will play them in the Professional Actor segment.) He was very kind towards the site, and said it was the sort of thing he would love to do – the history, the odd bits, the occasional movie – if only he had time. And of course I would love to travel the globe talking to people if I wasn’t an agoraphobic stick-in-the-mud. You always want what you don’t have, no? There’s that movie, “The Passenger,” recently re-released – Jack Nicholson plays a traveler who comes across a dead doppelganger and assumes his identity, becomes a passenger in the other man’s life. I don’t have that movie. I want it!  No, that’s not my point. So we swapped lives, and I’m off to Gaza. And by “Swapped” I mean I buried him under the Oak Island Water Feature, cackling as I spaded the dirt: you wanted to know about my life? Well, here you go! A real Twilight Zone ending.

No, more like “Night Gallery.” Which is really a pity; if you must have an ironic twist in your life, you hope it’ll be “Twilight Zone” caliber. If your ironic comeuppance seems more like  “Night Gallery,” complete with hokey synth music and watered-down post-Rosemary’s Baby Satanism and a special guest appearance by Fritz Weaver,  you can’t help but be disappointed.

No, that’s not it. Nothing of the sort.  In the end I drove him to the station by the Strib; the train glided up, we shook hands, he peeled off to Tennessee and the Middle East with nothing but a small suitcase and a bag of small AV gear, and I got in the car to drive down University Avenue for the 219,945th time to find a building I’m writing about for Minneapolis / St. Paul magazine. Just as we both would want it.

En route to the station I gave him a brief tour of the lakes, the Hood, and downtown, dropping whatever bit of historical or anecdotal information seemed apt. Why tell the truth, though? Why not just make it all up? That block held the People’s Vomitorium during the Depression. Poor people could eat large meals made of sawdust then throw up from overindulgence; made them feel like Rockefellers. That’s the Metrodome; they built it last year, but now they want to knock it down and build three stadiums, one for the baseball team, one for the football team, one for the college football team.

No, he wouldn’t believe that.

He brought Gnat a coin bank modeled after a British mailbox. She was thrilled. It’s now the mailbox for her three-dime allowance. But she wanted to know why he brought it.

Because he read about you on the Internet, I said.

I’m on the INTERNET? she said. She assumed a diva pose. I’m famous! Just kidding. I’m not really.

Then she went back to coloring a picture of a puppy.

Hardly saw her at all this weekend; she was off on social engagements. Me, I worked. Friday night I watched “The Circus,” a Chaplin movie I hadn’t seen in 15 years. It’s one of my favorites – the scale is small but not cheap or claustrophobic; the sentimentality is restrained; I love the score; the Tramp is not yet some all-holy iconic saint who shames us all, and it’s funny. The DVD includes a lengthy outtake that’s almost a standalone one-reeler, too.

Lately I’m in the mood for Chaplin, partly because I’m also chewing through a documentary on his working methods. It included some stills from earlier works, like this shot from “The Immigrant”:

And what does the close-up reveal?

The old “good luck” symbol. Innocuous then, tumorous now.

Anyway, I called Gnat into the studio to watch the tightrope bit from “The Circus.”  Yay! Charlie Chapter! she said. Telling modern-kid moment: is this real? Did this really happen? Yes, hon. It’s an actual film of someone doing something. It was a long time ago. She had the exact same reaction I had –

gasps and laughter in equal amount. You could show this movie to Voltaire or his footman and they’d have the same reaction. Shown it to a Roman in the 3rd century AD and he’d laugh. But of course you’d have to explain what a movie was before he saw it, so it didn’t freak him out. And the explanation would probably raise his expectations a bit. Ten minutes into the film they’d be thinking, okay, paintings on the wall that move, very clever. Where are we going for pie after this is done?

Or maybe not. Maybe someone from Ancient Rome would be so overwhelmed with joy by a big-screen movie experience he’d would be in a state of eye-rolling ecstasy, demanding more and more. After all, they had pictures; they had plays; it would not be impossible for them to handle the two ideas fused together. Take someone today and plop them in a 3d Sensatorium circa 2089, and they’d probably grasp the basics in an instance. Not entirely analogous, I know, but until the entertainment industry comes up with an bellybutton-plug that makes you have non-linear color-based experience based on audio frequencies only dogs hear, we’re stuck with the basics: characters, story, action. Beginning, middle, end. Hell, a Roman could probably figure out a Tony Scott movie if you let him watch it a few times. Cars = chariots; cops = centurions; heroes are always heroes.


Also finished the third season of “24.” Crackerjack. But on what planet does the Republican candidate for President have the endorsement of the AFL-CIO? (I wish they hadn’t given President Palmer a party affiliation – people could have projected everything they wanted onto his character, for good and bad. I do suspect that a real David Palmer would have been elected, overwhelmingly; as portrayed on the show, he stands outside of party and race, which makes him all the more powerful a symbol of both.

I have no idea if that makes any sense, but it sounds like the sort of thing I could say on cable TV talk show with great conviction; other guests would nod in agreement, then leap in with their own pre-decided talking points.

But I digress. When I said I didn’t see Gnat all weekend, I had meant to discuss what I did on Saturday. While Wife & Child were off on errands and diversions, I slammed together the bones of a site I’ll inaugurate Wednesday. After I’d nailed down the basic graphics I went out to get the mail and have a cigar. There was a mailing from Honda. An announcement of a new feature for a new car with an attractive lease package.

Something stirred.

The desire for a new car.

I finished the work, got in the car – the old car – and drove south. Half an hour later I was in a showroom, feeling that irresistible pull, that fatal need, that glorious shuddery desire that can only end with a few tons of fresh machinery. Note: I want no advice. Additional note: I will not be getting the car I want, since I have to schlep around a child, so don’t send me disappointed emails when I announce my final purchase. Someday I’ll get the hot fast road-eating metal monster, but not yet.

Stay tuned. And thanks for showing up; more to come, and I’ll see you tomorrow.


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