Friday night or Saturday Morning - call it what you like - I wrote myself a note around 2 AM:
Mayor -> Ipad
Nat - novel
I think I know what I mean.
Friday night I watched “Absence of Malice,” and was surprised to find it’s something of a cultural hinge. The Government is evil, of course - post-Watergate, you got a lot of that. The evil government guy was Bob Balaban, playing his usual smart, remote, asexual, unsympathetic Dork of Malice. (Side note: his family ran the most elaborate and gorgeous movie palaces in Chicago.) But the newspaper, which of course was on the side of all that was Right and Good, is the bad guy here, for the simple reason that they went after Paul Newman. And we can’t have that.
It’s the opposite of “All the President’s Men,” and when you see the obligatory middle-aged rumpled editor full of wise sage advice for the young reporter, all of a sudden you see a guy who isn’t some wise sage elder, but something of a hack, blinded by the settled power of his institution. What you have is two large organizations with utter confidence in their righteousness convening on an innocent man. Was that the first time the movies went after the Crusading Reporter?
It’s a movie you can listen to; works well if you’re blind. I was busy cleaning up the kitchen for a half-hour or so, and listened on headphones. Had one of those late night spells where I can’t sit still, so don’t bother. It had been a grand day - banged out two pieces for the paper in the morning, interviewed the Mayor for my video show in the morn.
And there’s a tale.
Mayor -> Ipad
I disagree with our mayor on a lot of things, but I like him, and I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a good politician, but never strikes me as a politician first, and I know he loves this city. As I said, we have disagreements. But I love this town and he loves this town and we both get that about the other.
So I had him in to discuss the stadium - not the funding, but the larger issue of what it means for the city. He got caught up in City Council meetings in the morning, which pushed back the interview, meaning I’d miss my daughter’s model rocket blastoff. Damn. Cat’s in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon. Augh. But I’d told her it was 50-50, Friday being tough. He shows up at the paper - where he used to work, BTW - and we go upstairs, mike up, sit there while they focus and get level checks. He says his wife is a big fan - and then his wife calls.
“Tell her you’ll never guess who you’re sitting with,” I joke.
“You’ll never guess who I’m sitting with,” he says to the phone.
I gesture: give it to me.
“Hi,” I say. “Give me some really embarrassing story I can drop in the middle of this to throw him off his game.”
“There’s nothing!” she says. “He’s just so squeaky clean.”
Meanwhile I’m making a face of shock and astonishment.
Hand him back the phone. We do the bit. It’s smooth and easy and fun, and at the end I get to cut him off and say we’ll talk about that later, because it’s my show. Pipe down, Mayor Boy. Mwahahaha
I walk him out of the building, thanks, see you later. Back up to the studio.
“Is this yours?” says Shari the videographer. She holds out an iPad.
It’s the Mayor’s.
So what do I do? Well, this is Minneapolis. I take the iPad and I walk back to City Hall to give it to him, of course.
Along the way it strikes me: whoa Nelly in any big city market this would be a fricken’ bonanza, right here. But it’s not even a question that I will give the Mayor his iPad back.
So I meet him outside the building and we have a brief colloquy about stadium funding and agree on the fact that it’s better here than elsewhere; he’s making a point about the funding structure as he’s signing some papers an aide has produced. See you later; have a great weekend.
Nat - novel
Around eleven PM on Friday night my daughter comes into my study, and she’s holding the Green Ball. This means we go in the master bedroom and kick it around and talk. I don’t know when this started, or why or how, but we do this on weekends, and it’s often a chance for her to get stuff off her chest, usually about her novel. She’s 35,000 words in. She wants to make it an ebook, which we will do. We’re talking about characters and attributes: she has an innkeeper with three daughters, each with different personalities. The sad and difficult one has a reason for being sad and difficult.
“Do you know anyone who’s ever one emotion?” I asked. She said no. She didn’t. We agreed that people can be characterized by a particular emotion - sad, cheerful, optimistic, serious - but that’s not all they are. “Now think of (name of a friend who’s generally difficult). Is she that way because of one thing that happened to her years ago?”
“No. She’s just that way.”
“Exactly. And (friend who’s always cheerful). Is that because of something really great that happened years ago?”
“I seeee,” she said. She kicked the ball.
“If you’re just stopping at this inn for one scene it doesn’t matter why one daughter is happy and the other is sad because she lost her mom and the other is serious and artistic. You don’t need to give reasons. Is the difficult one the one with the scar? It is? Make her the happy one.”
I had to admit that there was a character in “Graveyard Special” who’s defined by a characteristic - automatic contradiction of almost everything people say - but it’s based on a real person, and that’s what he was like back then. Sort of. I amplified it for comic effect, but it’s not far off the mark. “It’s not what you say about the characters that makes an impression, it’s what they say about things other than themselves.”
Whoa! A maxim. No, too sloppy to be a maxim.
Then she wanted to show me something: the words of her arch-rival.
What, the girl in the role-playing game? Earlier in the day she had described at great length the problems the online role-playing game was having with a newcomer: she was shoving her character into the front of the action, assuming familiarity with everyone, criticizing the Admin (“Really?” I said. “Seriously,” daughter said, and in that two-word exchange was the joy of our relationship: she knew I knew what it meant for a newbie to take on the Admin in a colab. It would be like me showing my dad the Spider-Man comic book where Doc Ock is wooing Aunt May, and he said “does she know he was almost responsible for her not getting her medicine in issue 23?”)
No, it wasn’t that girl. It was the text of a book written by a 13-year old and she GOT IT PUBLISHED and it was soooo . . . it’s about swords and birds and quests.
“Read this,” she said with disgust. I read it out loud, adding commentary along the way.
This is a normal Friday night at any writer’s house. Discussing character motivations then drizzling snark on more successful competitors. But as ever, I have to end with the lesson: What’s the difference between her and you?
“She finished the book.”
“And she sold it.”
“There you go.”
She wrote until midnight, then went to sleep.