Barnard Hughes died last week, I read today. He was the go-guy for crotchety old-guy roles 20 years ago; he brought a certain irascible befuddlement to any part. (See “Lost Boys,” in which he delivered the finest last line of any movie since “Casablanca.”) He had been 70 years old for the last forty years of his life, it seemed. Perhaps he was cast as an old man long before he was old, and it stuck. Died at the age of 91, which meant he spent half a century as a septugenarian. Happens to some guys. Wilford Brimley, for example, got 15 years shaved off his life at some point; he was a middle-aged guy in “The China Syndrome,” and then he was an Old Coot (with a faint note of Old Fart) with nothing in between except an improbable role as a heavy in “The Firm.” If he ever got an Oscar he’d have to split it with his moustache, which does most of the work.
Anyway, goodbye to Mr. Hughes. And Mickey Spillane, an author I thought died long ago. He was not a graceful stylist – he wrote like someone ripping meat with a bent fork – but he exposed everything nasty and cruel in a genre that masked its grue behind wry and cynical turns of phrase. For that I suppose we should be grateful, since truth is always preferable to artifice, no? No. I’m bored by English drawing-room murder mysteries, but I prefer the aspirations and pretensions of Chandler. (The previous sentence was brought to you by an English major. Can you tell?) Spillane’s sons are still at work – Shinder’s bookstore downtown still has a rack of serial novels like The Executioner, but the genre is in decline. You look at the covers, read the summaries, and you hear the unoiled creak of a revolving rack in a bus station. There’s a cheap suitcase at your feet, bound with twine. You’re wearing a hat with a stained band. Seventeen hours to Peoria. A guy you knew in Korea said he might have a job for you. You’ll need something to read between here and there. Hell, it’s all between here and there, when you think about it. You pass on the Hammett. You go for the Spillane. You don’t like the part where the dame gets it, but you don’t exactly skip it, either.
It’s still hot. Less so than yesterday, but still we dream:
That’s a Kool-Aid ad from 1942. Hard to believe that young boys imagined glasses of Kool-Aid appropriately garnished and arrayed by hue. The larger version (196KB) is here, but be warned: it’s just a portion of the ad. The magazine did not fit on the scanner. They made magazines huge in those days; you could prop them up with sticks and sleep under them if the need arose.
It’s odd how a day can resemble its predecessor in every detail but have a different character. There’s no explanation, but today was tinged with funk, and I don’t mean the Ohio Players sense. It wasn’t the news – I’ve internalized the possibility that all the dials will be turned up to 11. It just passed without work on IT, whatever IT is. IT is the thing I need to do to make my peace with the grave. (Warning: grave peace not guaranteed.) IT is the thing that nags me when I go to bed. IT is the thing I see released in the marketplace to genial indifference. If I’m not working on IT I must work on something else, and there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done; my professional life is like a McDonald’s kitchen. Always a bell going off, always a basket that needs to be dunked or hauled up. This afternoon I had an hour without obligation, and decided to rattle off the Diner. Did a a 20-minute monologue for the Diner, and I was on a roll. I hit playback. The mike driver had seized up, and recorded nineteen minutes of stutter. It hung on the words “I quit.” Really. Nineteen minutes: I quit I quit I quit I quit. Never has a computer malfunction been so eloquent or plaintive.
I hate to waste any time, since the day has a crisp & spiffy routine that lets me get things done. I have limited windows of opportunity, since I have to drop off Gnat, get Gnat, feed Gnat, slather Gnat with sunblock (it would be easier just to paint her with something latex) and drop off Gnat, then pick her up again. Lunch was fun, though. She had an idea. About Toontown, of course.
“What if there’s a website by the Cogs?” she said. The Cogs are the bad guys in Toontown; they are defeated by hurling pies at their faces or spraying them with seltzer bottles. (Nice to know the classics endure, however unmoored they may be from their burlesque roots.) “What if there’s a website where the Cogs think that Cog buildings are beautiful, and tell other cogs to defeat Toons who want to ruin their buildings?”
That would be funny, I said. But if the Cogs thought they were doing the right thing, does that mean it would be right?
(Cogitation face.) "No."
"Because it would be wrong to turn the Toontown into Cog buildings."
"Because the Toons have a legitimate historical interest in the land that stretches back thousands of years?"
Right! Okay, she didn’t say that. But we did have a discussion about why thinking something is right doesn’t make it right. All the while we’re eating tacos, and Jasper is sitting in the corner of the kitchen, keen to snap up errant cheese.
I have recently learned that according to Toontown lore, the Cogs were invented by Scrooge McDuck. When will the Scots rise up against this grotesque ethnic slur? (In case you're curious, some screenshots are here.)
On the way back from one of the classes today she spied the Road Runner on a Time-Warner truck, and pointed him out. I sang the entire Road Runner theme song, which impressed her. Then I instructed her on the particulars of his vocabulary: it’s meep meep, not beep beep, kid, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
She loved that. Meep meep. Made her laugh for half an hour. Happy kid. Happy life. Nine hours later she was brushing her teeth and weeping because she had been struck by the conviction that when she was a teenager she wouldn’t want to go to the park with Mommy or snuggle and watch Spongebob.
Well, I said, we’ll have to make sure you don’t grow up. I’ll get the anti-grow-up spray. I went to my studio and got a can of compressed air and gave her a good dousing from a safe distance.
Her expression - thanks, Dad, but I know it’s not real and it won’t help at all – pierced me to the marrow's pith. She was tired, which explains a lot; after all, this morning she was detailing exactly how tall and smart and happy she’ll be when she’s ten. The impossibly distant yet somehow tantalizing close age of Ten.
On the way back from morning class I was nearly killed by a driver who blew through a red light. Pissed me off for fifteen blocks. Like I can die when I have so much to do. Idiot: I just BOUGHT this car. Thinking of it now, though, it made me realize she is my IT, and perhaps the reason I worry about the other nonessential IT projects is because I can get them done. I can see them through. Any IT I start tomorrow I could finish in a year, barring comet / intersection T-boning / Road-Warrior future (meep meep!). It’s all about that; it’s all about her future, and there’s not a damn thing we’ll do tomorrow she’ll remember. And kids wonder sometimes why you hug them so tightly.
Wednesday is now Ancient Commercial Day! Enjoy this incredible 1992 Nike ad based on Busby Berkeley dance routines, featuring Charles Barkely. New Quirk as well, of course. See you tomorrow.