|SEPTEMBER 1999 Part 1|
|Okay: its another egg-timer Bleat. I have 17 minutes to write this. At the end of 17 minutes it will be midnight; then comes a walk with the dog through the mysteries of the forest, an upload session, and another attack on the mail. Which ispiled past the rafters: Sunday this site was named the site of the day by Project Sightings, and that led to ten tons of mail. I am not complaining: this happy batch of amateur bilge n swill ought not to be included in the august company of the sites they usually chose, but I made the cut. Who-hoo!
Just saved this Bleat, and named it 090199.
How did that happen? September is always the END of summer, the cutoff. Three eroded syllables that symbolize the low worn mountains that mark the border between summer and winter. Doesnt matter if school starts the third week of the month, as it did in college; the very word SEPTEMBER conjures up ancient memories of stiff pants, new pencils, hard chairs, worn books. School. Back to school. Back to duty, back to work, back to the routine the adults overlay on the childs sprawling world.
Hah, I say. Hah! Im now of the opinion - a pathetic, desperate opinion - that summer really doesnt end until the 21st, the technical end of summer. For heavens sake, it was 80 plus today; its warm out there now, and tomorrow looks fine; no reason to think summer has ended just because August handed the baton to a runner dressed in brown. So I will not unveil the Fall makeover of this site until October, because fall is simply not on my radar. Not at all.
Who am I kidding.
The leaves from the big doomed tree in the back have already carpeted the lawn; the sun is starting to drop like a water balloon released from a 50th floor window . . .
In time, sure. But today is not September 1. Its August 32. Or, better yet: July 63rd. If today was called June 84th, everyone would feel as though the summer was still a going concern. Hey, everyone! Happy May 101! Merry April 143th!
I made those dates up. If you want to check them against the actual calendar, go ahead.
Two minutes to twelve. Whats the rush? Well: work to do, as usual. A column for the Saturday tech section needs buffing, and Ive been working on a very, very large addition to the Gallery 3.0: the decline of Western Civ as proved by the Gospels of JellO. This thing isnt going to write itself. I just cant stare at this tottering stack of cookbooks and make them assemble websites on their own.
Plus, as I mentioned, the dog needs a walk. And I need time in the woods. Not that today was bad; far from it. I went to the government center to get tabs for my wifes plates; they gave me a number.
Number now served:
So I decided to run errands. Deposited money in the bank, mailed bills, got some sundries, sped back through the skyways to the gov center, and as I rounded the corner, the man said on the PA system:
Just realized its March 195. Brrr. Maybe I should put on a sweater.
Still August, as far as Im concerned. I refuse to relinquish even the nomenclature of summer. Humid day, warm night; outside the window the troubadour crickets are in full voice - well, full leg -and the season feels eternal.
What exactly does it mean to be smart? This months issue of a local magazine has their list of the Smartest Minnesotans, and perusing the compilation I noted a few people who, by any rational assessment, are as stupid as a slumped sack of cement. Perhaps the editors tossed these names into the mix to inspire conversation, or perhaps theyre identifying some variety of smart Ive not yet grasped.
But its a good question: what is smart? I think they mean two things: innate intelligence, and application of the same. There are plenty of smart people who are flat-out ignorant because they never applied themselves, many learned people who are naifs and morons outside of their speciality. As the great philosopher Jet Varhar put it: most men live on the brink of ignorance, propped up by a certain esoteric knowledge that sets them apart from the others. But: is the generalist smarter than the person who sets their mind to one thing, and understands the one thing better than the generalist understands his interests?
Now: is this a rarefied experience open to a select few? Obviously not; the New Yorker is a general circulation magazine. Less so than Entertainment Weekly, obviously (a magazine whose cultural allusions are increasingly lost on me - and when I do get them, its not because Im familiar with the source material, but with another allusion) but still pitched at the Generally Smart reader. Add to this my other daily and weekly reading habits, and I feel Im well versed in what one should know: the rudiments, plus a few extra fillips. Steak, plus dessert, and something about the homeland of the chef. But the sum total of all this reading and absorbing doesnt add up to Smart - to me, its just the basic system requirements for being a conscious citizen. You ought to know about art, so you can judge the art that will come tomorrow. You ought to know about economics, so the business page does not look like a Farsi anagram. You ought to know about history, so the foreign news makes sense, has a context. I mean, I read a piece today about structural problems in Chinese banking, how the nations growth rate was imperiled by sick banks, how Shanghai office vacancy rates were an astonishing 70 percent, and my brain called up two pieces Id read on the Communist Partys propaganda campaign to ensure a 7 percent growth rate, and another piece on the fabulous architecture of the speculativeoffice district in Shanghai. Click, click, click.
Then again: so what?
Ill tell you what. All knowledge is cumulative; all facts are just like Lego pieces. The goal of ones intellectual life ought to be to fit those pieces together, and never mind the eventual shape of the structure. The people who build flat high walls and perfect parapets out of the pieces are starting with an idea, and fitting the world to shape their beliefs. If you get a messy assemblage whose design is apparent only to you, its a sign youre letting facts impose the order as much as you impose order on the facts. You will not, however, make your mark in the thinking circles. You will, however, find great amusement & interest in nearly everything.
It is September. Yes, I know: duh. Obvious to all. But August lingered longand late, and just three nights ago I was walking through the woods with Jasper Dog, wearing shorts and an open shirt (me, not Jasper) basking in the warm breath of a summer night.
TECHNOLOGY FAILS ME
The cable wen out last night around nine oclock. When it had not returned by ten, I called the cable company. The recorded message said they were experiencing an outage in South Minneapolis; if I had a problem not related to this outage, press 1.
I knew there was an outage; I wanted to know when it would be fixed. So I pressed 1. Did I want English or Spanish? I pressed English, feeling the usual surge of irritation: whenever I go to Mexico I practice on my Spanish and learn as much as I can, because it would be rude to impose my cultures standards on theirs. Never seems to work the other way around, though. Whenever I hear the language option its another reminder that there are many fellow citizens with whom I cannot have a substantial conversation, because they have no command of the common tongue. Depressing. Waded through more submenus until I got an actual person. I apologized for asking this question, but was there a time-frame on the repairs?
There was not. Fine. Im sure my bill will be adjusted accordingly.
Went inside to see if I could get the DVD player to work. Last week I watched a movie: Snake Eyes. Brian DePalma, Nick Cage. I had low low expectations, and enjoyed it. Loaded with the obligatory Hitchcock homages; filmed in lovely black and white. I remember thinking it was brave to make a B&W movie nowadays - no wonder the film hadnt done too well.
Sat down a few nights later to watch From the Earth to the Moon, the 10-hour serial on the space mission. It, too, was in lovely black and white. Hey: wait a minute. I rejiggered the cables - switched from the S-video input to the RCA jacks, and voila: color.
So Snake Eyes wasnt in color after all.
I felt like a large, throbbing moron.
Well, now I wanted to watch more of Earth to Moon, but I couldnt get the DVD drive to work. At all. Id turn it on; it turned itself on. Turn it on; it turned itself off. The faceplate never lit up. Thats it: back to the shop.
Went upstairs to write, figuring Id watch TV when the cable returned. Ten minutes into a piece, the fuses blew when the AC unit overloaded the circuits again. Back downstairs, flip fuse, decided to read a nice, low-tech book. Its called Biohazard - got it out of the free stack at the Strib. An account of the Soviet biological weapon program. Merry reading. I wonder how many people who showed up in St. Paul to cheer Gorbachev would have been as enthusiastic if they knew hed signed off on 5-year $1 billion program to weaponize smallpox and Marburg.
Most of them, probably. After all, the US was doing the same thing, right?
Well, no. But thats irrelevant. I know just where this argument usually leads - Vietnam, napalm, Agent Orange, Dresden, smallpox blankets given to Indians, and eventually all standards for judging civilized behavior vanish; you cant condemn a modern-day governments attempt to make a weapon out of AIDS because the conquistadors behaved poorly.
One should always be wary of anyone who excuses a great evil by pointing out lesser evils done by others.
Decided to make a phone call; picked up the Microsoft Phone and hit the Voice Command button.
Voice commands, said the phone, are offline because of a power interruption.
To sum up: the cable went down, the DVD player was broken, the AC blew the fuses and the phone went offline.
Everything there worked just fine.
At 1:30 the cable returned, and later I watched some sci-fi TV from 1952. Cheesy stuff, complete with spooky organ music, bad sets, harsh lighting and Burgess Meredith doing his elfin nutcase schtick. Bed.
END of Today's Bleat. If you read more, you'll spoil tomorrow's little moment of meaningless web demi-entertainment. Up to you.
But Im getting ahead of myself.
Itll have to go to repair, said the clerk, and he said this as though it was a warning of some sort. I might want to change my mind once I learned REPAIR was involved.
You cant open it here?
Ill ask, he said. He went away. He asked. He came back. No, it would have to go to repair.
Fine, I said, still calm, helpful, and patient. I never want to give these guys the chance to think Im a jerk. I will not add to the general misery of their day unless it is absolutely necessary. As long as I get the disc back. Its not mine.
We filled out forms. Many forms. A manager was consulted; instructions were given. After ten minutes the computer spat out a sticker. He taped half to the DVD player, handed me the other half, all the while moving with tentative, uncertain moments, as if one wrong move would send him to REPAIR.
Okay, yall set, he said.
Keep in mind that I had walked in with a defective DVD player, requested an exchange as per my rights, and had kindly requested the removal of my disc from the broken unit. At this point in the transaction I had no disc, no replacement player, and a $400 charge on my Amex card. We were not all set.
Actually, were not. I want to exchange this unit. I pointed towards the EXCHANGE policy, posted three feet away.
The clerk stared at the DVD player, and I could hear the panic boiling in his head - repair an item AND exchange it? Why - such a thing has never been done. It goes against the rules of God, man and Circuit City. Its like having your cake and eating it too - ILLOGICAL ILLOGICAL ILLOGICAL
He got a manager, and explained the situation: he wants a repair on an item and he wants an exchange? Whats the code for that?
We learned there was no code. There was no sticker. There was no keystroke sequence that would placate the mainframe. We had to treat the repair and the exchange as completely separate transactions. It was a long shot, but it just might work.
After much frowning at the screen and an additional 15 minutes, a new DVD player was set before me.
Okay, yall set.
I waited for the magic words: Sorry. Or our apologies, hope this one works. Or Thank you for giving us another chance, we appreciate it.
And lets say my experience is multiplied by a thousand, and all those folks refuse to shop there again; the store gets closed down. Will it hurt the guy who pissed me off? Of course not; hell be waving a barcode wand at a stack of Scotch tape at Office Depot by then. No, itll hurt the guys who stayed at the store and learned the trade, knew what they were doing, got promoted and saw customer service as the key to success.
In short, if I blame the store for that one guy, I hurt the very people who are the opposite of that one guy.
Cool, said the clerk, who had the requisite goatee, brush-cut, freckles and surfer-dude posture. Want lens cleaner for 99? Regularly six bucks.
I said that I did, and he gave me a red bottle. I noticed they had blue bottles; could I have one of those? No - thats not on sale.
Whats the difference?
None, he said, shrugging. Cept blue is the new color and the red one is like old.
I gave him a dead level expression, and pushed the red bottle across the counter.
I dont know if I can take the public humiliation of being seen with an unfashionable color of lens cleaner, I said.
He laughed, and it was an interesting laugh: very gratifying for both of us. He ripped the receipt off the printer and slapped it on the counter. Need your John Hancock on the dotted line, he said.
I was tempted to say hed get my Button Gwinnet, but that line never works. Instead I said I hadnt heard anyone request my John Hancock for a long time, and certainly not someone under 25.
I stayed away in history class, he said.
My faith in humanity was now completely restored.
So why blow it by visiting the Gap? I went instead to the Banana Republic, which is the Gap with fewer colors and better fabrics. I found an iridescent shirt and a few other items. Took them up to the register.
Hello, the clerk chirped. Did we find everything today?
Never give a smart answer to that one. Never give a true answer. Just say yes.
And do we have a Banana Republic card?
No, I said.
Did we know we can get 10 percent off todays purchases?
We did not, I said, but we dont want one.
Have to ask! he chirped again.
We understand, I said. I handed over my debit card. One card. Makes things easier. Especially if we have multiple personalities, I suppose.
END of Today's Bleat. If you read more, you'll spoil tomorrow's little moment of meaningless web demi-entertainment. Up to you.
ADVENTURES IN CAPITALISM, CON'T
Went to Walgreens. Parked between two cars in a narrow spot, thinking: Im going to end up with a dinged door. I just know it. Bought stupid soap. My wife bought a ten-pack of Walgreens-brand soap, and I cant stand the stuff - smells like cheap knock-off talcum powder and cheap store-brand baby oil. When I perspire, it makes for a cloying scent I cannot stand. Makes me wonder why the inexpensive stuff smells lousy - perhaps so we can easily identify lower-class people. If youre middle or upper, you get to smell nice; if youre in the lower economic brackets, you have to smell this way. Its an incentive to better ones self, perhaps. I mean, theres no difference between this soap and some other expensive brands, other than the marketing image attached to the high-end soap. But its as if theyre saying if you cant pay for the stuff with the good ad campaign, were going to punish you with an identifiable odor.
I wonder if its for sale. Probably not. I have to have one, though. Someday, somewhere, I will own a Predicta. I dont care if it works, although that would be nice; I just want to have one.