On Friday I drove into Uptown – a neighborhood named, presumably, for its southerly location to Downtown (what on earth possessed me to think that was an original observation) – to find some cigars. I failed, but I spent some time in the large and rambling bookstore. It had been a car dealership in the 20s, back when such businesses were cheek-to-jowl with butchers and cafes. I found a book called “Persian Fire,” an account of the first major conflict between East and West: the clash between the Persian empire and the Greeks. It’s ancient history, and relevant as tomorrow’s paper – indeed, I had to drive up Xerxes avenue to get to the store. When I started reading the book that afternoon I felt a great warm sense of relief: it wasn’t me, after all. The fact that four books in a row had failed to grab me did not mean I had somehow come down with some mental equivalent of restless leg syndrome. This one was sharp and amusing and vivid from the start, and the account of the rise of the Persian empire was instantly engrossing.

I can now say with complete confidence that I know slightly more about Zoroastrianism than before.

So there’s that.

Well, there’s more. Apparently Darius, the Persian King of Kings, hit upon the notion of using religion as a rallying point when warring against other states. Previously everyone had a rather relaxed attitude towards other cultures’ gods – hey, you worship snakes? Cool. Personally, we do goats – but Darius, who’s used Zoroastrian ideas to legitmize and consolidate his rule, decided to paint the enemy as the infidel. A crafty move.

Appears to have caught on, too.

Friday night I joined the Giant Swede, the Crazy Uke, Long Suffering Jay Larson, and Shock Jock Hugh Hewitt for a meal at a fine fish restaurant downtown. This was the good part of downtown. Actually, it’s mostly good, except for one hot dense block of Milling Youts and a few spots here and there where you don’t want to be at closing time, but as the Swede put it as we wheeled into MURDER ZONE ONE: I’ve been coming here for 51 years without fear, and I’m not changing for anyone.  En route to the restaurant we passed through the shopping area of a hotel, and I spied a small art gallery. It specialized in 1940s classic cheesecake and 60s-70s sci-fi paperback covers by the peerless Berkey, whose work sparked my imagination every time I hit the paperback rack at the Ben Franklin. (I can't see these pictures without hearing the squeak of those old revolving racks.) But these were not reproductions. These were originals.

They had three Earl Morans and two Zoe Mozerts, neither of which are my particular favorite. But they had one Gil Elvgren.  The real thing. Oil on canvas. Bigger than I’d expected. If you looked at it from an angle you could see where he’d really reworked the hair and the head – that wouldn’t have reproduced on the calendars, but if you took it home for your family room you’d have to light it with care.

It cost $100,000. Just so you know. Just in case Gramps left you one and you sold it at a garage sale.

The dinner was grand fun, and after we closed the restaurant we went back to Jasperwood and continued the conversation outside until 2 AM or so. Many large cigars were consumed, and I made a deal to sell the Diner to a large upcoming media conglomerate.

(Sorry, just wanted to give one of the participants a minor stroke.)

Saturday morning was punishment for Friday night, but I roused myself to go downtown and shoot some pictures for the upcoming makeover of the Minneapolis site. I passed the Sexton building, an old office building recently gutted and turned into condos. It had been a charmingly tumbledown dump for years, occupied by artists of varying sorts. Great for photography studios. The ground floor retail had a Thai restaurant, a bookstore, and a magic store, which reinforced the building’s overall 40s feel.  A magic store! Every kid wants to go to a magic store. Every kid wants to learn the strange and thrilling arts of presti – prestidigi – of magic, wherein you can pull quarters from people’s ears and pull scarves from the noses ff bunnies, or something like that. On the other hand, once you learn these tricks, the magic leaves the world. You wonder how many kids paused at the threshold of the magic store, unwilling to let go. Of course, some kids march right in: they see the world in two camps, the fooled and the foolers, and they’d rather be up on the ways of the latter.

Anyway. I noted that the ground floor retail was all gone, the storefronts replaced with new glass; perhaps some interesting little fusion restaurant – Finn / Mex, or Belgian / Korean – would go in these spots. No. Dig it: the ground floor stores were turned into condos.

Stand back. Think about this for a minute.

Where do you live? A house? I’m guessing there’s an interval of grass between you and the street. An apartment? Same deal, plus the insulation of height. And if you apartment building is somehow hard up against the street itself, there’s a bit of brick ‘twixt you and the teeming masses.

Not at Fishbowl Manor:


Let us set aside the traffic noise, for a moment. You could never open the drapes. Ever. The giant plate-glass windows look right into the kitchen. Anyone walking past can look right in, so you can’t sit at your kitchen table and have a cup of morning coffee in your underwear. I cannot think of a situation in which you’d open your drapes, frankly.  

What if you preferred to walk around the house naked as the day you were born? And likewise smeared with blood and lubricants? If you didn’t close your drapes – for that matter if you just didn’t buy any – could people complain? Even if you get around the matter of literal nakedness, there’s the matter of psychic nudity; living so close to the sidewalk with only glass between you and the thronging masses would feel like living in a department store window. No, it would be worse: store windows are set up a foot, so you have to look up and marvel; these units place you at the same elevation of the street, denying you any sort of mental distance between your space and public space. I cannot imagine who would want to live there. Gaze below - you're already looking in someone's kitchen.

A few links:

The building above has a website, of course, but don't be confused: it's for the second phase of the project, a graceless addition that will squat next to the original Sexton. Don't get me wrong - I'm glad they're building these things. The more people downtown, the better. Old buildings saved from the executioner's ball, huzzah; parking lots filled with new construction, hoorah. I'm sure the condo boom will end in tears, but before it's finished it will have saved Washington Avenue and added at least one leviathan (sound warning) to the skyline, and if they can convert reservations to sales, this ginormous slab (sound warning) will bring life to the south end of the Mall. But if I had to choose, I'd go to the Cobalt. The Zenith is looking good, but the Cobalt has a Lund's grocery store downstairs. Those words alone must have added 40K to the price of a Cobalt unit.

I could spend all day on new condo websites. They make me feel young, somehow.

Someone this dumb has no business regulating mud, let alone the internet. Seriously. It’s like listening to a stone describe how it thinks a watch works. (Via Reynolds' Wrap.) With the right publicity, "someone sent me an internet" might be the new cliche. On the internets.

I’m tempted. You don’t know how much I’m tempted. Do not click on this link unless the word “Mellotron”  - the Gandolf-shaped bong of keyboards- has a deep and emotional resonance. Really, I want it. But I can't justify it.


Now I'm off to write two columns and watch my latest Netfarginflicks TfarginV show everyone else has been fargin' watchign for fargin' years, Dead Fargin' Wood. New Quirk, new Match, and a reminder: there's a Fourth of July Diner. A masterpiece of audio editing! Well, no, but I am proud of the loud last half; it took some experimenting to make full-fledged stereo songs sound like they were coming out of an AM radio outside at night by the highway. Use the link below for the nifty art-enhanced version. Subscribers will get it automatically via iTunes if the bandwidth's blown. Go here for the MP3 version. (It still had enough bandwidth when I checked last checked.) See you on the Fourth!