Just got a call from my Dad, the octogenarian oilman. Conoco is pulling out of the Dakotas. He’s been with Conoco for a quarter of a century. It was different when Texaco left North Dakota -  he’d been with them since the first load of heating oil he delivered in his first Lileks Oil truck. Losing that brand was hard. But Conoco’s been good to the business, and it’s a venerable brand. I love this ad, very much:



Poor cow. That seems to be an inordinate amount of branding iron. It's not like it needs to be seen from the air, you know. Texaco had similar roots, but always went upscale in the ads:


Stop here! Your butt will not become diseased! Registration ensures it!

Now what? The options for our station: BP and Tesoro. When people talk about Big Oil, Tesoro never comes up, but it will; it’s a classic Texas oil company. I asked my dad why Conoco was pulling out, and he speculated that they wanted to concentrate on some new markets ripe for rebranding. He’d read in his trade journals about Citgo stations (he called them Cities Service, because he’s old-school) putting tarps over their signs to hide the brand, “because of Chavez. No one wants to be associated with him.” He thinks Conoco will make a pitch.

The Citgo brand has an interesting history – it passed to Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum, then to the parent company of 7-11.  The name of its New York HQ has changed as well; it’s now the American International Building. It’s one of the last skyscrapers from the Jazz Age, and the details are incredible. If you have thirty bucks waiting to be spent on a gorgeously illustrated account of the building’s construction, and how three other skyscrapers competed to win the World’s Tallest crown in the wan dawn of the Depression, this book’s for you.

Incidentally, if you have the bandwidth and like old New York photos: oy. I have half of those in various books, but the other half I'd never seen.

An update on the various mechanical contrusions:

1. The TiVo is still with us. A tech came last Saturday; the temps were in the low single digits, and if the propect of getting waaay up on the roof – the high, slippery roof – did not please him, he didn’t show it. He futzed around the back of the unit, tested signal strength, and said “well, this shouldn’t work.”

“Good,” I said, confused, “because it’s not. I mean –“

“I unplugged the line to the dish. There shouldn’t be a signal.”

We both stared at a lovely picture of some fish.

“But there it is,” he said.

There it was. He plugged stuff in again, and we ran some tests. Eventually everything worked. He had no good idea why. But he did replace the barrels, don’t you know. “I didn’t know my barrels were bad,” I said. “They’re silver,” he said, holding up the old barrels. “You need copper for HD. The old ones didn’t have enough capacity.”

“So all those extra bits were getting trapped on the other side,” I said. “They must have built up and clogged the signal. Should I get a vacuum cleaner?”

He believed me for half a second, if only because it probably squared with his opinion of most people’s knowledge of such things. He didn’t charge me for the call or the Anyway, it works, and I don’t have to give up  my beloved TiVo remote.

2. The TiVo remote broke last night.

3. The fridge is another issue. It’s loud, but not inordinately loud. It used to be dead silent, even when running; now it snores all the time. Again, I called for help. Since I pay the local utility company a certain amount for unlimited service calls, I have no problem calling them for a fridge that’s slightly noisier than usual. I have the same arrangement with the cable company. No co-pays. I’d prefer a lower rate with the option to put pre-tax dollars into a repair account, but that’s another issue.

The repairman showed up Monday morning, a grizzled leprechaun named Mike. He took my word that the unit was noisier than usual. I explained the old rattly sound it made when the compressor shut off, and he explained this was normal. Maybe it was a fan issue.

I agreed that it could be a fan issue. He pulled the fridge out of its cove and looked behind. I apologized for the dust, and he said that was fine – in fact, he got nervous when there wasn’t any. I think I knew what he meant: the absence of dust would indicate an anal-retentive homeowner with serious control issues, the sort of person likely to micromanage the job. He vacuumed some dust, peered at the motors, checked the temps.

“So you’re the writer,” he said. I said that I was. His daughter was in journalism school, and wondered if I had any advice. I said she should get out of journalism school. She should write for the school paper, study English lit and computer programming.

To his dismay, Mike could find nothing wrong. And I knew Mike was the sort of fellow who would not be pleased unless there was something wrong and he could fix it. We stood in silence listening to the fridge.

“It’s just too loud,” I said. “Trust me. I’ve been sitting here working for five years, and I know how it should sound. Plus, there’s a strange metal scratching sound.”

“I didn’t hear that,” he said.

“Well, it’s not making it now.”

He nodded. He believed me. Not his place to disbelieve me. If I said there was a metal scratching sound, then there was a metal scratching sound.

“I’d hate to replace it just because it’s a few decibels louder,” I said.

“I’d let it be.”

“But it’s driving me nuts.”

“It’s your call.”

“Is this a good fridge? How long should it last?”

“The Gennies are good,” he said. I filed that one away: General Electric = Gennies. Love it. “But the all get their compressors from the same place nowadays. They make them in Brazil. They’re not as good. Most companies give you a year warranty, and that’s it. One year. And they all use Brazillian compressors.” He scowled at the fridge. There had been no resolution. He was used to resolutions.

“How about LG?”

“I wouldn’t get one,” he said. “They’re new, and they’re Korean, and so we don’t have all the parts yet. I’d get a Kenmore or a Whirlpool.”

“Not a Frigidaire?”

He winced, slightly. So much for that venerable brand. I noted that the Kenmores and Whirlpools were well-priced, but not as attractively styled. At least as I remembered.

“Well, they’re behind in that. I don’t know why, but they are.”

Then I heard it: the metal scratching.

“There,” I said. “Hear that? Like a thin wire scratching on a blackboard.”

He got down on his knees and put his ear up to the bottom vent. Many repairman pass this way, two, maybe three day. “I don’t hear anything,” he said.

“I can hear it.”

“Maybe my ears aren’t so good.”

“Trust me. It’s there. It’s like ice cracking.”

He gave me a very kind look that suggested it might, indeed, be ice cracking. “But it’s not,” I said. “Besides, it’s a new sound. Like I said, I’m with this machine all day. I know it.”

He could respect that. But there was nothing he could do. We shook hands and parted.

Two mechanical problems, two irresolute endings. Such is life.

Thursday night was Chuck E. Cheese’s night. Much fun. Gnat fell in love with a Virtual Reality helmet game – the screen is five inches from your face. You defend an African base against alien ships. Ripped from today’s headlines! She got pretty good, too. Now it’s almost bathtime, so I’ll have to wind this up . . . hmm.

Just noted this story on Drudge. Chinese soothsayers predict turmoil in the Year of the Pig. Jeez, don’t go out too far on that limb, fellas. I like the fact that they’re “Soothsayers” – it’s a charming old term. You there, with the long beard! Say some sooth. But the article, from AFP, quotes some feng shui “experts,” but doesn’t attribute the following:

The Chinese calendar moves in 60-year cycles, meaning the world will experience in the new year events similar to those that took place in 1947.

Well, if AFP says so, I guess. It goes on:

In that turbulent year, the Cold War began in earnest when then US president Truman declared his anti-communist doctrine and the Soviet Union rejected a US plan for atomic weapons control, sparking the nuclear arms race .

That year saw the same elemental arrangement with yin fire dominant in the Year of the Pig.

Yes, the Cold War began – in earnest – with Truman’s declaration of his anti-communist doctrine. It didn’t begin with the events that led him to declare it, of course. Stuff was just happening with no discernible pattern, then Truman had to go off half-cocked and declare something, and hey presto, the Cold War began.

What did Truman say? If they’re referring to the Truman Doctrine speech, it was mostly about Greece. He said:

When forces of liberation entered Greece they found that the retreating Germans had destroyed virtually all the railways, roads, port facilities, communications, and merchant marine. More than a thousand villages had been burned. Eighty-five per cent of the children were tubercular. Livestock, poultry, and draft animals had almost disappeared. Inflation had wiped out practically all savings.

As a result of these tragic conditions, a militant minority, exploiting human want and misery, was able to create political chaos which, until now, has made economic recovery impossible.

Quagmire city, natch.

The Greek Government is unable to cope with the situation. The Greek army is small and poorly equipped. It needs supplies and equipment if it is to restore the authority of the government throughout Greek territory. Greece must have assistance if it is to become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.

Truman requested a surge in foreign aid - $400 million to Greece and Turkey, which was no small amount in ’47. Then he expanded the mandate. It’s worth recalling:

The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes . . .

The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria . . .

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

And that, according to the AFP news service, began the Cold War. Notes the article from which I took the quotes:

The sanction of aid to Greece and Turkey by a Republican Congress indicated the beginning of a long and enduring bipartisan cold war foreign policy.

Once upon a time.

It’s always 1937; it’s always 1947. You wonder if some day things will strike oldtimers as just like 2007. Probably not in a good sense. Even in the boom years – you know, most of the 80s, most of the 90s, most of the last few years – people are always harking back to the 1920s, because that was a boom too, and it didn’t last. It all ended in tears and breadlines and brokers launching themselves out of skyscraper windows, ergo, beware.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the seventies and got a cold-coffee colonic of bad news every day, but I’m almost instantly disinterested in those who insist that breadlines are right around the corner.

When I was in high school we weren’t supposed to have any oil left by now. Instead, they’re building a new pipeline to feed the Twin Cities – 165,000 barrels per day. As the Strib story put it today: “The pipeline has been the target of fierce complaints from private landowners in its planned path and from environmentalists who say the grown of renewable energy sources eventually will render it unnecessary.”

I agree completely. And since we’ll probably cure cancer in 30 years, I see no point to build hospitals today to treat people in ten years. Criminey joseph.

And with those banalities I close the week.  Correction: I close the week with a Diner. This one begins a multi-part series, an obvious allegory to the sale of the Strib, sort of. This story began a month ago, and will go through April; I have no idea what exactly will happen, but I do know it will have a deeply satisfying conclusion for old old Diner fans, and a pretty nifty punchline. The set up for the latter begins this week; see if you can spot it.

If you’ve never listened to a Diner, fine; not everyone’s taste, of course. But I should perhaps describe what it is. It’s 30 minutes of remarks and old peculiar music set in an old roadside café. That’s all. It’s not meant to be anything other than that. If this is your first one, I should explain about the 9-foot tall Pillsbury Doughboy Terminator Robot From the Future. Apparently I sent it back to prevent the sale, but I have no idea what it’s supposed to do. It’s just been standing outside the Diner for a few weeks. There’s also an annoying fly in the Diner, which may or may not have anything to do with the aforementioned 9-foot tall Pillsbury Doughboy Terminator Robot From the Future.

Mostly it’s an excuse to string music together. And now it’s in streaming format! Traditional iTunes version is here; MP3 version is here. Enjoy, and I’ll see you Monday.

(Note: streaming version may not be available until Friday morning; it takes them awhile to process the file. Ditto the other versions, since Friday is the day the bandwidth allotment resets.)