The Gazebo, the waterfall, a small evil cigar, and a brand new libation to sample. It’s “Silver,” the sub-premium vodka in the bottle that looks like it should cost more than it does – but it obviously didn’t, which ought to tell you something. It has been triple-filtered, but through what? Charcoal? Particle board? A compacted mass of desiccated cats, I suspect. Say, there’s a market opportunity: vodka triple-filtered through the corpse of Lenin. Put him to use, for heaven’s sake. There’s enough formaldehyde in that mummy to really give a drink some kick.
Tonight I solved many problems. Tonight I reached a conclusion: never underestimate JC Penneys. You walk by the store for years, never buying anything, never expecting to buy anything. You went in once for ties, and the patterns all said the same thing: if you deserved better, you could afford more. So deal. But when I was looking for clip-on sunglasses the other day, one of the clerks at the big department store – eight floors, but no room for a box of clip-on sunglasses – suggested Penneys. So I drove there tonight, listening to Hugh talk to Jonah Goldberg. One of the departing editorial page editors had throw a hammer at Jonah on the way out, which was just lame – but it explains that large gaily-colored paper-mache model of Mr. G hanging in the editorial office. Life-sized, which was remarkable; Jonah occupies a lot of Life. They called it the Joñata, and would beat it with nerf bats on the days they had to run a conservative column. I guess it helped, somehow.
Anyway. I went back to the Optical department, wondering who would go to Penneys for glasses, anyway. The mall is full of stand-alone places with more selection and low prices. It’s like going to Penneys for a ham. There’ll be one guy back in Hams, filling out paperwork, neatening up the display, looking like he’s been moving Butcher’s Choice™ Bone-in Honey-Mustard Ham-like Logs since 9 AM, and you wonder if he’d sold anything ham-related for months. But obviously someone buys hams at Penneys, or they would have closed it down and used the space for something else, like bras. That’s all I remember about the Penneys in Fargo – a bra department the size of Monaco, acres and acres of beige and lace, aimed right at the Comfortable Rural Matron Market. To a young man on the cusp of adolescence, there is something deeply unnerving about the sight of thousands of gigantic-capacity Old Lady Bras. If you were David, and intended to take down Goliath with a watermelon, and had misplaced your sling, though, this would be the place.
Bottom line, Penneys had clip-ons.
Went to the office; the carpet has been removed to reveal a trough in the floor, which carries the blood down to a drain. They were thinking ahead when they renovated back in the 90s. Everyone exists in one of two states: before your Talk, and after your Talk. Having never been through one of these, I can’t say whether it’s standard downsizing or a complete upending of the Etch-a-Sketch, but it seems like the latter. This appears to be an effort to remake the newsroom from the ground up, reconstitute it into something new. Melting down one bell to cast another. So you can quote me on that: they seem to be rethinking the Etch-a-Sketch Bell Model.
As long as I’m on the subject, I’d like to make one last remark about my situation at the paper. It has to do with the Quirk column. Was it my favorite medium, he said, using the irritating device of posing a question in order to defuse criticism? No. Plain flat no. I much preferred the longer form of the Backfence, even though I rarely got to write the entire thing. (That’s another story.) I obviously prefer the longer form, where I can meander on without a topic for 700 words before seizing on Giant Matron Bazooms. (Not literally.) But that’s what they gave me, and I was happy to take it. For someone as gassy as me, a 300-word limit was a good lesson, and most days I did my best to nail the column in exactly 300 words. This had the effect of compressing things way down, cutting off riffs and digressions, and forcing me to loop back to the thesis too quickly. But I did my best every day, and I never dashed it off. I never felt like I wasn’t writing in my own voice – I was trying to do slapstick in a phone booth, which is tough. But it can be done. For everyone who enjoyed the column, I thank you – and for those who preferred other iterations, I understand. I still look at it as a great opportunity; I mean, I wrote, what, 600 of those things?
But. The web - a place, as Criswell so presciently noted, where we will all spend our future lives in the future – has a different feel, and should it come to pass that I end up writing five 300 word pieces a day somewhere, the Quirk training will be useful.
Also useless, because on the Web, there is no news hole. There are no space restrictions. This changes how you write. The fear is gone. Say you write a nifty little piece about something, and it’s consumer-friendly and newsy-you-can-usey. Let’s say the pages for the day came back tight, because the news hole has shrunk, because an advertiser dropped out or newsprint prices jumped. Let’s say they already cut Dear Abby down so hard it reads like a telegram. They have to take .67 inches out of your piece. What goes? The amusing, irrelevant remark. I’m not saying that happened to me – I can’t read my own stuff EVER, as you know, so I assume that it was usually printed intact, but I know that sometimes the X-acto knife was applied. (A virtual knife, of course. Although in the old days, dad gummit [spits toward spittoon, hits it] we actually edited our pre-print galleys at the Minnesota Daily with a blade, carving out the copy to tighten up the pages. And we liked it, consarn it, and later we would go down to the saloon for a sasperilla and conduct long, deep conversations through the medium of semaphore flags) But after enough years in the business, at least the business as it stands today, you learn to anticipate the diminished space, and you write accordingly.
But that was then. For the next phase, think Dr. Emmett Brown at the end of “Back to the Future.”
News hole? Where we’re going we don’t need news holes.
And this concludes my week of long, self-involved mewling. I’m taking tomorrow off, because I’m beat and have obligations, and since I also have a big Sunday obligation there will be no Monday Bleat. We resume regular programming on Tuesday.
Here’s the Diner. Flash version below; iTunes version here.
It’s been an astonishing week, and I end it with more energy & hope than I’ve had in years. Thank you again, and have a grand weekend.