Low clouds, incessant drizzle, sodden leaves; fall's plain facts repeated for our edification.

         Ordinary day, and hence I’ve nothing much to report. Just did stuff. Cleaned stuff. Printed stuff, wrote stuff, drove to places to return stuff, drove to another place to pick up stuff, went home to put the new stuff where the old stuff was. Stuff-shuffling. In the evening I spent an hour on the phone with the Giant Swede, who was having networking problems – two guys who’ve been using computers since we bought Ti/99s at Target in 1983, and we’re still baffled by this krep. I also wrote the copy for the Money site, since I had neglected to write something to go with the pictures. This is not a rehash of the original site – everything’s rescanned and redesigned and rewritten. Why? Because since I did the original site years ago as a jape, a carefree lark, a bagatelle, I acquired a king-hell collection of old worthless money, Argentina to Zambia. And because the old site reflects design decisions I now regret. I will likewise hate the present site in five years, and have to rescan and upgrade for larger monitors . . . or not. This will be the end of this, I think. In any case, it’s interesting to me; I like to research the names and places on the money, particularly the South American bills. It’s like a parallel world down there – it has everything we have up here except for political stability. Like the United States, the Father of the Country is on the one note, but unlike the US, he died in exile or had his head shot off or led an army in one of the innumerable civil wars, or all three. There’s something to be said for being colonized by the Roast-beefers.

Since I have nothing to add, I’ll talk about stuff you really don’t care about. On the internet the other day I found two Steve Martin albums; one was before he was hugely famous, the second from his SNL period. The first is funny. He’s relaxed and slightly profane and gently surreal. The audience is small and half-bombed and appreciative. The second album is terrifying. He is greeted with a roar so vast you’re convinced he’s playing Shea Stadium, and has the Beatles as his backup band; every nod to his SNL material is greeted with adulatory racket that Jesus couldn’t get if he floated down into the Vatican on Easter Sunday. It’s amazing. And so unfunny. There was a time, and I remember it well, when the use of his catch phrases – we are / I am a wahld en ka-racey guy, or excuuuuuse me – would make everyone laugh, even after the phrases had passed their expiration dates. You could use them ironically, but no one would think you were criticizing the source material. No one said “excuuuuuse me” to simulate the lameness of someone who said “excuuuuse me” and thereby point out that they weren’t the sort of person who’d say “excuuuuuse me,” which is how it works these days. We used the phrase to refer back to a Happier, Simpler time when the phrase was fresh. Ditto the “Wild and Crazy Guy” routine. It was just a perfect thing that spoke volumes about – well, something. About not being that guy. About being the guy who could make fun of that guy. About being dateless on Saturday night which was okay because all the hip people – i.e., your friends -  were in the same boat. But the persona was a dead-end; wasn’t much you could do with it, other than rattle off the catch phrases. Bill Murray, by contrast, had a persona that was infinitely more meta-cool and mocking; we couldn’t imitate him. Murray once said that everyone wants to be Bugs but fears that they’re Daffy. Murray is Bugs.

Which makes Steve Martin our Daffy? He said, wondering how the hell he wrote himself into this particular corner? No; he’s too smart and self-aware. But listening to the album he cut at the peak of his fame, you wonder what he thought of it all. He’s a smart guy; he’s a literate man. His early material is clever. The stuff he trotted out at the height of his arrow-through-the-head EXCUUUUUSE ME wild-and-crazy-King-Tut phase is absolute shite. And the audience inhales it like it’s nitrous oxide. I mean, he gets a nine-minute ovation for mentioning King Tut. He must have known that the rapturous reaction had less to do with the actual material – some of which shoots over the audience’s uncomprehending heads, some of which is just groundling fodder – and more to do with the fact that these people were happy to be in the presence of the guy who says that thing.

Well, it made him sacks of money, and that has its compensations. He did “Pennies From Heaven,” for which I’ll always have some admiration – the choice to do it, not the movie – and “Dead Men Wear Plaid,” which was his “Zelig.” He never tumbled into the dickhead ditch like so many other comics. To this day, we forgive him anything. Everyone in my generation likes Steve Martin, even if he hasn’t really made you laugh in a long time. He did once, and you suspect he could do it again in a second. 

Last night at the Adult Confab we were talking about generators and emergency supplies, and talking to the other dads I learned something interesting. Not surprising, but interesting. No one is prepared for anything. I don’t consider myself well-prepared for Something, but I have some basic stuff, and keep my emergency kits stocked and refreshed. Today I considered erring on the side of paranoia, and buying some iodine tablets in case there’s some nuclear botheration. Chances I’d ever use it? Slight, I think. But if something happened, and I didn’t have a tablet to give my kid, and I could have bought the tablets for a double-sawbuck, I wouldn’t be happy with myself. So I went to Amazon to get some stuff.

The “Customers also bought these items” section is interesting.

Our paper carries a strip called “Heart of the City,” which I initially didn’t like but came to enjoy, now that I have a little girl. It’s one of those strips that suffers from unvarying character models, though; everyone looks the same. (It’s like “9 Chickweed Lane”  - the artist can draw some smokin’ female forms, but he has two basic styles for facial features, and this makes some of the strips incomprehensible unless you’ve been following it for a while, and know that the black-haired woman has a problem with the light-haired woman who is not the medium-blonde woman.) (One of those strips that gets under my skin, but I read it daily.) Anyway, the artist of “Heart” started another strip, which is 180 degrees different from “Heart,” and it’s called “Lio.” I liked it immediately. The style is completely different, which is commendable; it’s like learning that Scott Adams could draw like Winsor McKay if he wished.   

No school tomorrow, so we all get to sleep in a little. Which means I get to stay up later, a little. Better get started, then. New Quirk and New Money! Enjoy, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

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c. 2006 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."