How to prank your child: go on an errand at night. Text her from this store, text her from that store. Text that you’re really in the closet ready to jump out and shout boo. Text that you’re at Target when you’re really pulling into the garage. Text “I’m right behind you” as you come up the stairs as quietly as possible. Wait until you get “yeah sure” in reply and then shout HELLO THERE.

The ringing in my ears from the scream is just starting to diminish.


Let’s test our old bygone culture musical literacy, shall we? When I was driving around tonight I heard part of a “Whistler” radio program - one of the best shows in the genre - and I had to laugh when I heard this. It’s about an actor who’s up for a big part, and may have to kill to keep it. The background music - well, you tell me.



What is it? What's the reference?

Now, this. I’ve been chewing through the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, mostly looking for ads and PSAs, because the programs are just so-so. The acting’s fine. The scripts are almost uniformly mediocre. But.



Play the first few moments. Leave aside the painful Creaking Door, which was there because the show’s director, Hyman Brown, had earlier fame in the Golden Era of radio with “Inner Sanctum,” whose famous open had a creaking door. Leave aside E. G. Marshall trying to do creepy, and no doubt wincing at the crap he was handed to read. Wait through the excerpt at :51 to 1:26.

Listen to the music underneath.

Ask yourself: where have I heard that before? Maybe not that specific piece of music, but that kind of music. Nervous, off-balance, baleful. If it doesn’t seem to fit together, it’s because it was assembled from a collection of music the network had commissioned to use in TV shows.

So ask yourself: where have I heard that stuff before? Because you have. Maybe when you were 14, watching TV, thinking this is the coolest thing ever; maybe last month, when you were flipping through Netflix, thinking, haven't seen that in a while.


The Wall Street Journal had a story today about the failures of its new leader to turn the store around. Hired in October, out today. Over $15 mil in farewell money. I could have failed for half that much. Actually, I might have done better. Streamline everything down to three lines (cheap, marketed as fun!; mid-price, marketed as savvy and durable; high-end, marketed as an affordable indulgence. Sprinkle the high-end with some labels that have name-appeal. Reduce 20% of the merchandise. There.) The article cites one notable failure: they’d have a “Friday” sale twice a month, and customers thought . . . ready? Customers thought it was only on Friday, when it really went all weekend long.



By the way, I use this image IRONICALLY. I made it tonight, so I can A) help acquaint you with a brilliant Mexican trumpet player, and B) note that whenever you call up a Disney cartoon and it has a Leonard Maltin introduction, it usually means he's going to warn us that politically incorrect images are en route, and we should brace ourselves and inform the children.

Anyway. We had Penneys when I was growing up in Fargo. It was downtown, as were all the other stores - Herbst, DeLendrecie’s, and Sears. The first two were local; Sears was Sears, of course, a powerhouse in downtown’s biggest building:



Penneys was in a low-slung pink building by the railroad tracks, and seemed cool to me because it was the most modern. Even at the age of eight or ten, you pick up these things. The signage, the newness, the whole appearance of the store leaned forward, whereas the others were stuck with old stores they’d modernized here and there.

I go to Penneys nowadays, but only because I park outside and walk through to the mall. I’ve bought a few things there - you find something that looks good, the provenance doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway. But every time I shop there I get depressed: it’s come to this. It’s come to Penneys. The clerks are all unfriendly, and spend their time at the registers frowning at the pants they’re folding, and when they do wait on you they hold loud conversations with another clerk all the while. When they hand you the bag you feel like you’ve been given a sack of flaming dog excrement.

Went to the suburbs tonight to buy some plastic envelopes, because my life has been too damned exciting, and I needed to ramp it all down eeeeasy. Stopped at the former Circuit City Plaza, so named for a retailer that’s passed out of memory quite quickly; the store is still vacant. The old CompUSA in the big-box complex is still empty, with the label-scar above the door; ditto for the World Market. A Hockey supply store moved into one of the boxes. Michaels, for all your crafts needs. And Office Depot. When I walked in I smelled that office-supply store smell - plastic. Carpet glue. Depression. Offices give me hives. The sight of a plastic three-tier business card holder made me shudder inside, somehow, since I cannot imagine a situation where I would want to be behind a desk that had one, or on the other side, offered one.

The parking lot was empty. The complex took it hard when the recession bit. Overall the area’s doing okay; vacancies around the Southdale mall are few, but there’s little new, except for a CVS, which came in to destroy Walgreen’s. (I still remember the nice old lady in the line at Walgreen’s, astonished and outraged that CVS was building right next door. They shouldn’t let them do that.) Everything else is the same.

Four years of this, and it’s not getting better. The WSJ today also noted, in a small aside, that traffic through their main hub was down 9% in April. It’s one thing to feel the faint stirrings of a boom cooling off, but this? Like many of you, I look at Europe, and think: this cannot end well. I can imagine civil order breaking down in Greece, riots, political paralysis, and a coup. Is it absurd to imagine Italy splitting? A German co-prosperity sphere with Euro-rule transferred from Brussels to Berlin? Perhaps I’ve been watching too many WW2 documentaries lately, but they have a necessary reminder: things fail. And another: tribalism is bred in the marrow. Everything modern about Europe is transnational - the architecture, the politics, the thin smear of high culture that passes for art, it has a brash modern style divorced from national identities. Divorced from Europe’s sullen husband, History.

People don’t want to be cut off from national identity; the more you suppress it, the nastier it gets when it’s let out of the hole. I think the idea of war in Europe is ridiculous - the question of “over what” is matched only by “with what,” but it just seems as if some Great Shuddering is due.

After that, I’m optimistic. I’m oddly optimistic in the long run. The bigger the bad idea, the more horrid the process of discrediting it - but once it’s done, the lesson has a better chance to stick.


Hey, here’s something fun: today’s Disney titles is the last in the series, because I don’t have any more. The penultimate page has a music video, a genre that leaves me cold: Dixieland. Don’t know why. Bluegrass has the same effect. Maybe it’s the consistency of the tempi and tonality, always going full-blast at the same pitch. But these guys are good, and why they got into a Disney cartoon may open your eyes a bit. It starts here.

Enjoy, and I’ll see you around!

Oh: right. OLD BOOK FREE FOR AMAZON PRIME! $2.99 for all else. Click on the book to go get it. New Novel in a month! Does "Falling Up the Stairs" relate to it? No - but its hero appears in the series to come.







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