MAY 1999 Part 2
Tonight while flipping through the cable channels my wife and I had the classic Male-Female war: on channel 17 she saw horses, and on channel 18 I saw Spock.

“Horses!” she said.

“Spock,” I whinnied.

We watched horses. It was “Far and Away,” a movie we’d seen years ago in DC. I pointed this out, but she correctly noted I’d seen the Star Trek episode a hundred times. Yes, yes, but which one was it? I flipped back to see Scotty attempting to cut through the door to engineering. “Day of the Dove!” I said, and flipped back to horses. But they were in commercial, so I flipped to Trek; Uhuru was attempting to block a ship-wide broadcast of a drunken song. “Correction,” I said. “Naked Time,” I said. “That’s Lt. O’Reilly singing. Spock cries in this one.”

No good. Back to horses.

This morning I awoke at 4:25 AM, convinced I should find pen and paper and write it down. It had come to me in a dream: the perfect Flash animation. A tiny smiling red-haired German girl-gnome had appeared in a doorway, face shining, and mentally imparted a vision: Letters traveling ‘round and ‘round a circle. It was . . . brilliant. I got up, made some notes, staggered back to bed.

This morning I found a Post-It square on my desk. It said: RABBIT FOOT.

Huh? Oh, right: that was something I scrawled before I went to bed. I’d been watching a Hawaii 5-0, and someone had given McGarrett a rabbit’s foot for good luck. It made me think how no one seemed to carry severed pied de lapin anymore, and how odd it was that once you could walk into the Ben Franklin and buy not just a chopped-off rabbit’s foot, but one died a specific color. Next to the rabbit’s foot note was another Post-It:

FRIEDA, it said, and there was a circle.

That was all I had left from the brilliant dream. The name of the German gnome, and a circle.

Interesting day. Felt like crap on an elephant’s foot for most of the morning; perhaps a hangover from last night’s inexplicably grim mood. I was so bleary and disinterested this morning that when Jasper wanted to spend five minutes staring down a chipmunk, I let him. We just stood there in the woods, looking at a chipmunk. Finally I threw a stone in the chipmunk’s direction, thinking it would scare him off and end the stalemate; the chipmunk didn’t move. Well, I thought, I tried; if you get eaten now, it’s because you’re stupid. Eventually he ran away, the dog made a futile leap into the brush, and the drama came to its usual conclusion. Drove to work, and spent half an hour looking for a parking place; there was a Twins game at the Dome, so all the parking spaces were taken. Hungry, with a roiling gut and a pressing bladder: not a good mood for endless driving around the same ten blocks.

The bad mood lifted in the afternoon, and I banged out a column. Took the afternoon walk, listening to an interview with the governor on the radio. One of the more regrettable performances of his short tenure. It’s obvious now that the very qualities people liked - he’s not a politician! - are the very qualities that serve him ill as the state’s leader; when dealing with people with whom he disagrees, he is blunt and contemptuous. His bluff & gruff persona is unleavened by self-deprecation, and he seems dispositionally unable to understand that the character of his administration so far runs counter to the desires of most of the people who voted for him.
But you can’t argue with the man, because he rolls out the Rhetorical Baffler - a convoluted question that cannot be answered, and stuns the interlocutor. It’s the damndest thing. The last thing I would have expected Jesse Ventura to do is appoint statists to limit urban growth, encourage top-heavy apparatchnik-laden state control of education, and oppose across the board tax cuts. But there you are.

Art Bell is back on the radio. I’ve come to a conclusion about Art after a few nights: he is either a liar or a credulous idiot. Perhaps both. It was fun at first; I enjoyed the UFO talk. But he skulks around the nighttime air cheerleading for the apocalypse; he offers no solutions, no hopes, only fear, freeze-dried food and prostate pills. I’ve crossed that line where a host becomes an adversary instead of a companion. The most I ever engendered while I was on the radio was deep, committed indifference; I think that people who didn’t like the show endured it like a tepid bowl of soup. There was nothing there to hate. Too bad: people listen to hosts they hate, just to get righteously furious. I know I do. The odd thing about Art Bell, however, is that he’s so utterly ordinary, so run-of-the-mill; there’s not a jot of originality to the man aside from his choice of subject matter. He’s not funny; he’s not wise or insightful. He’s just there, one long dark teaser for the end times punctuated with ABBA bumper music.

He’s also a millionaire by now: more proof I’m in the wrong business.

Still raining. I’m going to play a demo of Kingpin now, and be a criminal brute; then popcorn, then bed. If last night, and the night before, and the night before THAT is any indication, I should strike myself hard on the head before heading to bed; lately I’ve laid awake for half an hour, listening to house sounds and cursing the depth of my evening nap. No longer watching Hawaii 5-0 before sleep; perhaps that’s the problem. Last night I tuned in, noted that McGarrett was being framed for murder; I was reasonably certain he would beat the rap. Ended up watching a documentary on Stevie Ray Vaughn. I hate the blues - same three chords, same three complaints (life’s hard, my woman left me, I’m drunk.) But Mr. Vaughn was . . . elemental. He was like a screen window through which some wild flaming wind blew through, and I could listen to him play for hours. He could play the same three notes for a day and make them all sound different.

Scan while the scanner is hot, I say. Tonight I slapped a back of mimeos on the HP and fed a few dozen megs into the machinery. It’s a fine life: rain pattering on the window, a cold sharp Summit sweating on the desk, Mischke on the radio, and every single graphic element working exactly as desired. No second-guessing, just cheerful assembly-line construction. End result: the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots 2.0. Then I’m DONE with this site.

Except for the Gallery of Regrettable Food 3.0.

Really.

Maybe. A friend a work today let it slip that he owns dozens of old recipe pamphlets. Well, we all know where THAT will lead.

The Orphanage, I thought, was finished & done, and I hadn’t thought of it for a long time. It had its moment, it lead to a radio interview, it garnered e-mail: end of story. But this month I’ve returned to one of my old pastimes: scrolling through the microfilm of the ancient newspapers, looking for laughably bad ads. Found one today for a Seat Cover Carnival, hosted by an auto supply store. Plenty of circus clip art, with ringmasters pointing proudly at plaid plastic car seat covers. Clowns. Balloons. They had all these trigger words that indicated happiness and gaiety, even though they all knew damn well no one went to Seat Cover Carnival expecting elephants and tightrope walkers. It was just a phrase that said Prices Will Be Incrementally Lower For the Duration of This Arbitrarily Named Event.

Today’s paper had a big, big story on a fellow who’s renovated an old firehouse for a cabaret theater. The performances aren’t necessarily of professional quality, but aren’t necessarily amateurish - people get up and do their schtick, be it singing or bebop finger-popping poetry or Tearfully Dramatic Personal Stories, or whatever. A local theater expert, and Lord knows the city is teeming with them, noted approvingly that the theater gives the “marginalized” voices a place to declaim. Fine. I’ve no problem with that. But the next page of the paper had a review of a small theater’s new series of playlets; according to the review, one began with two naked men having vigorous sex, after which one snored off to sleep and the other sat awake, sullenly declaiming everything that was wrong with their love lives. Fine. I’ve no problem with that. I won’t go see it, but only because other people’s sex lives bore me. It may be premature for me to quote Dotty Parker, but she had a point: “As I grow old and older / and totter towards the tomb / I find that I care less and less / who sleeps with whom.” Point is: when the big paper in town devotes the front page of its Variety section to a glowing account of an HIV-positive dancer’s new cabaret, and puts the piece next to the review I’ve described above, how exactly are these voices “marginalized?” There isn’t a single media organ in town that would ignore this fellow’s cabaret, or, if they gave it a bad review, base their opinion on some old thundering moral judgments. If a major media reviewer said “I don’t want to see a play with two guys knocking boots” he’d lose his job.

Marginalized?

It’s an interesting thing to watch. The margin is becoming the center, even though the margin has no center, but is simply a space on the fringe of the center. All points in the margin are equally valid, as long as they have the proper attitude towards the center, namely, an amused sniff at bourgeois banality.

It’s a posture that’s only about a hundred years old. Yawn.

I was thinking of this while listening to a tiresome discussion on the radio about a book designated as the Common Text at a local Catholic university. All the students have to read A Book each semester, and the school had chosen a poetic novel about a man taking care of his lover, who’s expiring of AIDS. The host made a vain attempt to suggest that students ought to read the classics. Many of the callers took the predictable line about having homosexuality shoved down their throats - well, turn your head and spit, lovey, and get on with life. Then someone called to defend the book as a teaching tool, a means to get people to understand & have affinity for the “gay lifestyle,” which by her definition included plenty of random, anonymous sex. Hmm. For a moment I thought this was clumsy satire, a subversive attempt to paint all gays as 24/7 glory-hole piledrivers, but no: she was serious.

Should a Bible-toting flamebreather accuse gays of having constant, random anonymous sex, he’s a homophobe. Should a gay author celebrate some lost Xanadu of bathhouse culture, he’s a brave marginalized voice. Sorry. I don’t buy it. I don’t care who you are, but if you can number your monthly sexual partners in the high dozens, something’s wrong. Knock it off. Use the other head.

But already the issue has veered away from literary criticism - start with a novel about two people, and you quickly end up debating how many sexual partners someone should have, and whether there is a cultural prediliction towards promiscuity, etc. Which brings me to my final point: there’s a good reason that some people are marginalized: they can’t shut up about their sex lives. It’s really not as interesting as they think, any more than an old man’s digestive history would make for compelling theater.

Of course, should someone write a graphic play about their problem with their spastic colon, not many people would be interested. Which would make them marginalized.

There’s your definition of marginalized: bad artists so focused on the flexing of their individual sphincters they cannot find a means to connect their particular experience to the general human condition. They ought to study great artists like Michelangelo, DaVinci, Wilde, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland, James Whale. Every man-jack of the bunch was gay and their art is central to Western Civ - perhaps because in their time, the marginal wasn’t celebrated. Maybe if Truman Capote had been writing today, “In Cold Blood” would have been about his sexual encounters with one of the killers. It would also have been a lesser book than the one he wrote. Look: sometimes the marginal is marginal for a damn good reason. In the past, if you wanted maximum attention, you spoke to the crowd - or at least nodded acknowledgment of the great milling disparate center.

</screed>

The dross and flotsam of the media world all ends up in a sorry pile at the Strib, a giveaway shelf where people dump their castoff items. The stuff flows into the paper every day by the ton; it's all cheerful and pathetic, pleading for a mention. Once I did a search for my name on Yahoo, the sort of thing you do when you're new to the web, and I found an column by some guy in some small town paper who wrote about cleaning out his desk and throwing away stuff. He threw out one of my books, correctly noting that he would never give it another look, and wished to divest himself of this useless tome. I understood.

Anyway, the other day I picked up a CD single from some woman: Wing and a Prayer, was the name of the song. It had three remix versions, which heartened me; I expected some good thumping club-mixes that would make for good Friday 5 PM driving-home music. I popped it in on the way to work this morning. Dreadful. The original song was mealy flutey drivel, and the subsequent iterations were even gassier than the original. Since I rescued it from the giveaway pile, though, I can't put it back. That seems to be the rule. We all know that the stuff in the pile is bad, but once you take it you're absolving everyone else of the obligation of finding out How Bad it really is. To put it back when you know it's Extra Bad would be wrong. It will probably slide under the car seat and hide there for a few months.

Rain.

Rain. And: rain. Everyone's mood is damp and churlish. We all want sun. Lord, this stinks. Ah, but it's good for the crops! Screw the crops. I'll go hungry. I'll eat Spam for a month. Fair trade.

Let's see: today. Well, rain. And a column, eventually. That about covers it. Spent the night cleaning up the old Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots; I went back to look at it the other day and was horrified I let something that bland out on the web, so I redid the site, tightened up the pages and added alt tags. All part of the attempt to fix everything before the enthusiasm completely leaves me. Not that it will, any time soon; given the bazillion people who've tromped through the Gallery - and I thank you all - I'm not about to let the site ossify & die, but as I've said, after the Fargo site goes up and I finish the summer's additions to the Mpls site, that's it: I have no idea where to take this thing next. Frankly, I need a new hobby. It's good to have a new hobby. It's frustrating to want a new hobby and not know what it should be.

Most of hobbies consist of Looking and Thinking. I mean, architecture is a hobby, but I don't practice it; I just look at it, form opinions of varying skill and accuracy, and file them away. At least with stamp collecting you can take the book out every so often and look at the stamps. I don't lean back in a chair on a rainy night and recall previous architectural judgments. Photography is always an option, but that requires equipment, and that means getting deep into geeky particulars. I don't want to be one of those guys hanging around usenet groups debating the virtues of various lens manufacturers.

Maybe architectural photography. Me and Julius Knipl.

The local free weekly has started carrying the Knipl strip (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer), which is just peachy with me. They added a bunch of comics, most of which stink, but Knipl is one of the best. It takes place in an imaginary New York of the 40s and 50s, in lower Manhattan and the outer boroughs, in a land composed almost entirely of middle-aged single failed men. It's like Death of a Salesman, The Comic Strip. Grim as it is, it's the main bright spot in the weekly, which is the usual well-written, smart, engaged, progressive parade of reasons why life in general and this city in particular are irretrievably evil.

I never know what these writers want. Well, I do: a city where no one makes more than anyone else, the primary industries are Transgressive Theater and Paradigm-Challenging Music, and everyone shuffles from coffeehouse to cabaret in buses or small crappy cars, then goes to their day job handing out grants. Let's build a barter economy built around nose-ring parlors and howling goateed poetry-slam participants.

What they'll never say is that they need they need the people who didn't screw up their lives, because they pay all the taxes. So we'll let them stay. But they'd better shut up.

As should I, because I feel an inordinately cranky spiel coming on. Back to work; the weekend is ahead, and we're promised an interval of sun on Saturday. Not just sun: humidity, followed by a good banging crackling storm. I'll take it. I want thunder and I want lightning and I'll happily stand in the porch and toast the storm. Enough of this drizzly wimpy Portland weather: give me that old fashioned Plains-style destruction, rolling in like an army, beating the hell out of a drowsing world. Can't wait.

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