And now we begin a weekend of despair and loneliness and pizza: wife and child leave Friday for a few days. I’m neck deep in a book and a book proposal, so I’m staying. This might be the weekend I tackle the great Thank You project, too. I have high hopes. As long as I don’t get that horrible empty sense of Aching Loss I usually get after two days, it’ll be fine. On the other hand, that mood usually sends me driving into strange parts of the city, taking pictures and shooing movies. More raw stuff to process, I suppose.

So it’s busy around here at present – everyone’s getting ready, and I’m handling the technical aspects. Printing out tickets, charging up Gnat’s cheapo DVD player for the plane. I bought her some stuff for the flight – a book of My Little Pony activities, fresh crayons, and a few treats. She has been requesting a small can of Pringles for a long time, because they’re So Cute. I understand – as a kid, I had an inordinate fascination with the single-serv Kellogg cereal boxes. My first recollection: lined up on a display rack in the Hi-10 Diner in Detroit Lakes. (I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’d give anything to go back to that place – it was a 60s diner in every sense, from the undulating counter to the space-age light fixtures. The older I get, the more Jetsonesque it becomes in my mind. I should stop now before the waitresses all look like Rosie.) After a day on the water we’d stop in before heading home. Burgers and fries, of course; burgers and fries. But those boxes beckoned. Oh for the day when we could have breakfast here.

Later in life – high school, to be exact – I spent every other weekend on the road for speech & debate, and ate at many diners and Holiday Inns. When you ordered cereal, you got the box. In a bowl. This defeated the purpose of the box, as you may know; the box was actually something called the Kel-Bowl-Pac, and you could slice it open as though performing a heart-lung extraction, pour in the milk – at this point the heart-lung operation metaphor is no longer viable – and eat from the box. Also good on camping trips. Modern life at its finest. So I understand the elemental appeal of packaging.

On the other hand, they’re Pringles, which are made out of post-consumer paper and soybean dust, so I always said no. What a hard arse, eh? Well, I always knew I’d get them someday, for a day-camp lunch or a plane trip. Make it all the more special when she opens up the bag of treats I put in her carry-on.

They’ll call tomorrow night, and all will be well. Once I know they’re safe and on the ground I’ll order the pizza – the one no one lets me get anymore – give Jasper a long walk, watch a loud movie with the headphones off, and stay up until the birds chirp.

Until then, I’ll hit refresh on every 2 minutes.

So nothing much to say; another day like yesterday. Worse, in some ways; I misunderstood what my agent said last week, so the next book deal is still in flux. (Don’t ask. Long story.) Argh. Mrgh. I finished the Diner this afternoon, but not to my satisfaction – it’s rather talky and silly, I suppose, but for a certain portion of the audience it may yield an occasional strained smile. (Do ask. Short story, told below.) A working day, but all in all a winner. Learned something interesting in the paper: Brian Setzer, rocker nonpariel and walking embodiment of mid-20th century geetar sensibilities, lives in Minneapolis now. There’s a chance I could run into him in the grocery store. I wouldn’t know what to say, except for Thanks, and Thanks again, and that Gershwin quote you slipped into a song a few albums back made my day, and can you please just hold this pick in your hand for a second so I can frame it? Thanks. Also, sign my child’s arm. Here’s a tattoo needle. I’ll hold her down. She’ll thank me later.

The newspaper also had a story about an old lady who got her GED at age 92. Good for grannie! What made it remarkable, I suppose, was the fact that she’s in stir. The big house. She filled a neighbor full of lead a few years ago, because he’d stopped paying attention to her. She’s all smiles in the photos; big grin, lots of pride. But am I a bad person for not caring in the slightest? This isn’t really one of those turned-her-life-around stories, because I think she’s somewhat daft, and there isn’t much left to reorient. The idea that someone gets a GED in jail isn’t particularly newsworthy, either. I know, I know: human interest. But to be frank, there are some humans in whom I have little interest. Criminals, for example. Fictional criminals are interesting. Actual criminals are banal and stupid and depressing. I’m not talking about the rare odd quirky fellow who can spin a tale, who ran a grift on the Oklahoma circuit until his partner – Channise, helluva con artist, that one – doubled around and snaked him on the take-down. You’ll always find a few interesting people in prison. You’ll always find some lost souls who deserve mercy or pity. You’ll always find a good guy who went bad. But most are boring sociopaths or narcissists who took the easy way out every time, and don’t much care for other folk. They lack empathy or remorse, although they know enough to fake it when required. And they usually hurt someone. I have no trouble with people who spend their lives working with prisoners, giving them another chance, but are there elements of Uplift to be found in the non-neighbor-shooting community? Elements not yet described? It’s possible. Then again, I did read the entire piece. If only to figure out why I was reading it.

Then I put down the paper and picked up the Rake. The cover story concerns a fellow who was sent back to Cambodia after his prison term expired. He had lived his entire life in the United States, but his parents weren’t citizens, so off he went to Cambodia after he was released. Said an advocate: “It’s not right to send people to a country they do not call home without giving them the opportunity to argue for a second chance and to show what they’ve done to turn their lives around.” The bolded part was bolded in the pull quote.

Second chance? Well, the fellow “faced previous offenses as a juvenile,” which are not described. That’s a few chances right there. He was eventually convicted of participating in FIVE ARMED BANK ROBBERIES.

Whose fault is this?

Of course, the United States’ fault. Said an advocate: “Should people be deported when the U. S. has been involved in creating the conditions that led to their becoming refugees? After all, Cambodian refugees would not have become refugees but for U. S. policy. And yet, the U. S. is not being held accountable for any of its own actions.”

The mind, she reels.

I’m not saying papers shouldn’t do these stories; of course not. I’m just saying that my appetite is rather small for the plight of someone who got send to Cambodia because he broke into bank lobbies with guys who waved guns around. I’m sure it sucks. So maybe don’t rob banks.

Grim hard heartless me.  Back to work; I have a piece to do tonight before I sleep. Oh, right – the Diner. Well. It’s called “The Art Frahm Code.” If that name means nothing to you, start here. If it does, you’ll enjoy the foreshadowing, such as it is. A classic example of having an idea without thinking it out; it’s a miracle all the things I made up on the spot could be tied together at the end. The link below goes to the iTunes version (no iTunes required, although I encourage subscribing, if only to improve my standings) and has illustrations at critical junctures. The MP3 version is here. Both will probably be unavailable by noon, if I continue to blow 125GB per episode. If you can get through, enjoy! And I’ll see you Monday.




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