Note to Nintendo: either make lots more Wiis or shut up about them. Please. My child wants one, and it looks like there’s no chance on this planet, or any parallel versions of it I might access through some sort of quantum portal, that I will get one. I could order one from one of Amazon’s Preferred Hoarders, but I will be switched and hoss-whipped down Lyndale Avenue before I pay some one $200 dollars over the sticker price. At least you could rename it. It’s not the Wii. It’s the Themm. Wii don’t have one.
Also, since my child has made this request of Santa, you will probably destroy her faith in his powers.
Look, I’ll even take one from the Chinese factory where they make everything out of Lead, including the marzipan and the dog food. Just send a Wii to James Lileks, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av.. Minneapolis MN, 55488, and I will send you a check for the entire amount plus shipping and ten dollars for you to buy a nice dessert on us. Thank you.
Progress is a herky-jerky march, and it’s not always clear which way we’re heading. I tend to believe it all could be much, much worse, and I still have faith in the future, mostly because I am loath to abandon Youthful Optimism and settle into gouty disapproval. I do know that things are certainly cooler than ever. Things are just cool. When I first started doing the MYS concerts, I was writing on an iMac, calling up the baby internet on a 640X480 screen; last night I was looking over my script backstage, and I realized that I was introducing an opera about which I knew nothing. So I called up wikipedia on the iPhone, got some details a minute before I was supposed to go on stage, and added them to the remarks. And it felt cool.
Anyway. If there’s one conviction that afflicts the keenest mind as it ages, it’s the belief that Things Were Better Then, and Things Are Horrible Now, usually because no one has learned the lessons of your own generation and insisted on experiencing the world for themselves. (Frank Rich provided a neat example of this a few days ago, when he diagnosed Americans as “clinically depressed” and unable to capture the glories of his demographic, which Took It To the Streets, Man. And blew up a few buildings while they were at it, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking into a farmer’s coop, stealing his chickens, setting fire to the coop and running off with the eggs, all of which you later misplaced because you were high.)
I’m so used to being lectured by sour Boomers I’ve come to think of them all as the Gratingest Generation, but it was nice to see Keillor write about how things were worse, then. Unfortunately I have no idea what he intends this column to say, unless it is a form of humor so dry it makes the bread found in a Mummy’s tomb look like a sponge in a bucket of milk. If I get the point, Life was scarier in the old days, partly because of Nixon. So he must be talking about the late sixties, early seventies.
You children missed out on Richard Nixon: He was Halloween personified. An unctuous creepy figure who had not a shred of the genuine in him and yet, say what you will about him, Richard Nixon was never in favor of torture. He never strutted on a stage and said, "If I knew that America was in imminent danger of being attacked by a million rabid fruit bats and that one particular horrible evil person was in possession of secret info about that attack, I would not hesitate for one moment to drive red-hot needles under that person's fingernails" - that sort of thing did not pass for political discourse back in Nixon's day. But times have changed.
In Keillor’s world, a major terrorist attack is analogous to a plague of bats. Fine. At least it's official: for the Gratingest Generation ( a term I will now drop, lest it, well, grate) the Current Occupant is worse than Nixon, which lends a terrible immediacy to their current lives, and also brings back the heady days when the entire world, from the Smothers Brothers to Doonesbury, was on their side.
Next in the parade of horrors:
Back then, when newspapers were printed on paper, or what we now call "treeware," they were full of heinous stuff, a cold-blooded killer and his girlfriend Carol cruised through Nebraska murdering innocent people and you just knew he'd fry for it and he did, but long afterward you saw him lurking in the shadows behind the gas station, smoking a Lucky.
Back then, newspapers were not only printed on paper, they had editors who would say “You need a period after ‘stuff.’
Since Charlie Starkweather plied his trade in 1959, we’re not in Nixonland anymore. In any case, he’s wrong about papers of the 50s. I’ve read hundreds ofStar and Tribune front pages from the fifties, and the news was usually sober: Russ Nix Berlin Talks, that sort of thing. Garish bloody news was rare in the local papers – when it happened, it happened, but it didn’t seem to happen very much. Mostly you had pictures of brave dogs and girls collecting dimes for polio – well, against polio, to be accurate – and lots of filler packed with moral fiber.
The mob was around, gangsters with pinky rings and Tommy Guns, and they'd just as soon shoot you as look at you. There were cougars, old sick cougars with nothing to lose that lay in the low limbs of trees over the sidewalk and waited for a small person to pass
So now we’re in the 20s. Also Africa. Also the land into which a columnist may venture only if he has a substantial preexisting national reputation.
On the radio, Dad and Mom and Buddy and Sis huddled in the deserted barn where they'd sought shelter (fools!) when their car broke down while taking a shortcut (idiots!) and you heard the psychopath walking slowly across the gravel. He was a mouth-breather. He was excited. He lusted for blood. This was terrifying because radio, as you know, does not give off light. It was pure darkness.
Except for the glow of the dial, of course. Actually, radio in the 50s was rather tame; the violent stuff, the gory stuff, came in the thirties. Gangbusters, Lights Out. Maybe he's talking about the 30s. Maybe it's all wrapped up into the Katamari Damacy one finds between one's ears after a certain amount of time on earth; I know the feeling. But what exactly is he saying? “Life as dark back in the day,” he notes, being an an old-school G-Keil from around the way, and apparently he believes that everyone else in his generation grew up with similar morbid dread. Possibly. I had plenty when I was growing up as well - why, Revelations said the Bear and the Eagle would destroy each other, according to "The Late Great Planet Earth," famine and resource depletion and overpopulation were right around the corner; the new Ice Age would bring a return of Wooly Mammoths to Fargo, and depending on which miserable dystopian sci-fi Chuck Heston movie was playing that week, the planet would either be overrun by corporate cannibals, monkeys, or pasty zombies in hoods. And we had Nixon too, pal. Here's the odd thing: most of my compatriots and contemporaries - guys who came along in the shadow of the ur-boomers - look fore and aft with more pleasure than the founding boomers. Maybe they expected less, and got more; maybe we were sold so much gloom we checked the aftermarket for optimism. Maybe we watched too much Star Trek. I don't know. I do know that there's a certain swath of American culture - well-educated, well-off, well-situated, well-read, well-spoken - who seem to think we live in mud up to our nostrils. They can't look back except to praise the Brave Few who made the unimaginable artistic and intellectual bounty of the late 60s possible (coff); they can't look at the present without cursing the Perfidious Cabal that makes the foolish electorate go to Wal-Mart on Monday and War on Tuesday, and can't look forward without bewailing the ineradicable damage wrought by whatever the New York Times is fretting about today. They're the champions of Man, but give them a minute and they'll quote Mencken and grin about the booboisie. Well, the booboisie of the 20s had lots of kids, and they were the ones who volunteered to kick Hitler. Someone did something right.
The column ends:
And now I have missed out on Halloween, the only chance to open my evil beak and screech at people - brrrraaawwwwwkkkk - and now we're on to Gratitude for Nature's Bounty and then it's Gloria In Excelsis Deo and it's non-stop Praise & Adoration from now right on through the end of the year.
That raven had something to say to you. He was going to croak, "Nevermore." A prophetic message. Interpret it any way you like. Brrrraaawwwwwkkk.
It is probably unwise for columnists to say they wish to open their beak and say BRAAAWWWKKKK and you should interpret it as you please, because the reader might do exactly that. As the page notes:
ATTENTION EDITORS: This column ends with the word "Brrrraaawwwwwkkk." If the column you see below concludes any other way, you have received an incomplete version.
Or not. Quoth the raven: whatever.
Don't know why I went off on that tangent, but it felt good. Back to promoting the new book! Here's a sample of what you'll get in Gastroanomolies - these aren't excerpts, so you're not spoiling anything. Today: Cooking with Inordinately Lurid Sauce. (Note to the dim: the stereotypes of Italians are not intended seriously. They are an exaggeration of an extrapolation of an idiot's thoughts.) (Hey, there's a sig for the Bleat.)
The quote marks indicate that you will not actually be cooking Italian, but will be doing so in an ironic simulacrum of actual Italian cooking. Which is fine by you, because you’re a Presbyterian, not some mackeral-snapping Popish ethnic person who has to use their hands all the time when they talk. Honest, it’s a wonder they can cook without getting sauce all over the walls. They’re so hot-blooded.
Here we see Mama Stereatipa making her morning pot of thick, chunky Undefined Italian Fluid. You could make this, of course – but first you should go to the grocery store:
That’s about how much you’ll be needing for this:
You’d better eat it, young lady; Mama was up all night kneading and rolling the spackle. As you may note, there’s a lot of sauce about. That’s okay; Mama, she buys-a the bulk. Which is why she has plenty sauce for such family favorites as Italian Pizza:
None of that Croatian or Peruvian Pizza here! Mama, why is this dish different than the last one? Because it’s-a round instead of the flat, and it’s – come se dice? – shallow. You eat! It’s a good for you!
If the kids tire of this sort of pizza – a distinct possibility, since they normally don’t like to eat it with a spoon – you can always give them Macaroni and Cheese:
Placed in a darkened room, it also doubles as a night light.
Well, la familia is all tucked in and digesting properly; Mama stays up just a little late to pour six gallons of sauce over the cinnamon rolls for breakfast:
Then it’s back to work making supper: her specialty. Congealed Blood Loaf with Spackle-topping!
Mama, how is this different from the pizza and the family dinner? The family dinner dish was-a white; this one, she is a clear. It’s a miracle!
Mama, it tastes like owies.
You eat! Growing boy, he needs the tomato in his diet. Look at me. I drink ten cans a day, and I can tear apart alley cats with-a my bare hands.
(Note to anyone who wishes to complain about the dialect: I have a mostly Italian wife. Don't bother.)
New Funnies - two pages! (New match yesterday, if you missed it. Hit the links on the left. I slave to make those rollovers; the least you could do is use them.) See you at buzz.mn – and for the love of all that is good and holy, buy the book so you, too can Braaaawwwwkkkk.
Sorry; had lasagna for supper. Too much rich sauce.