OCTOBER 1999 Part 2
Big news today. Big, big, large big news. But first, this announcement:

I give up. No more. I’m shutting down lileks.com for good at the end of the year. No more updates and no more projects and no more scanning and worrying about type faces and type sizes on different browsers. No more fretting over browser resolutions, web-safe palettes; no more configuring, no more scanning, preparing, writing, arranging, dialing, enduring, redialing, uploading, reconnecting, uploading again. No more e-mail errors, no more unable to connect to server, no more busy signals, dropped connections, hours on hold to tech support. No more! NO - MORE.

FACTUS EST.

God ALMIGHTY this is the most gruesome, miserable, unsatisfying hobby a man could have. It’s like building a model train set and having the trains REFUSE to go because the little model engineers are ON STRIKE. Every FREE FARGIN’ HOUR this week has been spent dealing with technical contrusions, and I’m just sick of it. I can call in to my local ISP, but it thinks lileks.com is the old version on its servers. Why? I have no idea. It gives me Monday’s index page and does not recognize updates. Why? I have no idea. I dial in via AOL, and it calls up today’s page. Providing I can get into AOL, of course; I’m getting a rapid-busy since 10 PM. Why? I have no idea. Mail is a different matter - the password I used last night when accessing the mail server through AOL does not work today when I access the server through my local ISP. Why? I have no idea.

And I don’t care. I hit the wall and the wall won.

Am I serious? Nes. Yo.

And now, the news:

It was 78 degrees today. Let us pause and repeat: Seventy-eight. A mere two degrees shy of 80 on the seventh of October. Not that unusual, really; we’ve seen warmer temps, later. But today -

Just went outside. At eleven:15 PM, it’s shirtlessly warm out. Practically humid. This calls for a walk into the creek with the ever-willing Jasper Dog, and soon we’re off. To continue -

Weather like this has an odd effect in the first half of October. The air has the aroma and character of late spring, or early solid summer. It’s a scent not sniffed for weeks. Not unfamiliar. But it was something we’d given up for lost, a sign of a season that had surely fled. To smell that perfume again so close to the end of summer was almost cruel; it’s like having a lover who dumped you call up four weeks later and express mild reservations. It’s delicious and it’s painful, but the swell of your heart crowds out your reservations.

It is now 11:30 PM. I am on hold with tech support. i’m writing this with the Intermittently Useful Microsoft Phone cradled in my neck, meaning, I’m looking at the computer screen at an odd

It is now 12:02 AM. Just got off with tech support. Got a tech who dropped the last two syllables of every word, underenunciated, and had the microphone tilted up towards her eyebrow. She was impatient with my constant stated requests to repeat herself, even though I delivered every line in clear crisp Broadcaster Standard. She never had to ask me to repeat myself. It took me five times to figure out that Ahgo inna neskay meant “I’m going into Netscape.”

Ah channit inyoy adminpay = I changed it in your admin page.

Thadressis mayduh lyluhcullah ettywuh ettywuh - The address is mail.lileks:8181

She assured me that the change was immediate, but that I might wannacleamacash. I replied that I always cleamacash when I was havn prolms wimmamail. I’m used to southern accents. I do not need to reboot the Universal Translator when I hear an Alanna Joja axxen. But this was ridiculous.

Like I said: it’s done. Over. No more. Finis.

Last night while uploading to this STUPID POINTLESS SITE I happened upon a VH-1 documentary on Fleetwood Mac. They’re a group that holds nearly nil interest to me, but I am a big fond fan of Lindsay Buckingham; I think he’s, well, fabulous. Cold precise guitar, chilly production, anguished vocals, classic song structures - ma kinna sier. (My kind of singer.) Fleetwood Mac’s success was largely due to his production skills; he gave cohesion to Stevie Nicks’ gassy swirls, made McVie’s wistful laments sound wry, pure and wise. He made the pedestrian drumming a featured player by shoving it up in the mix, and he buried his own leads just enough that you wished they were louder. I had my wireless headphones on at the time, and went downstairs to the box that held the old unloved CDs. Found “Tango in the Night.” Also found a Nile Rodgers disc, and “Love Over Gold” by Dire Straits. Set them aside.


On the way to work this morning, listened to “Big Love.” Great tune. Just a great song. All Buckingham. On the way home this evening, I played “Telegraph Road” from the Straits album. (I used to practice daily to that song, learning the leads and the licks.) Realized again that Knopfler trumps Buckingham, period. Buckingham read the guitar like an alphabet, and wrote brilliant prose; Knopfler read the frets as if they were undiscovered fractions. He has a riff that kicks off the guitar intro of “Telegraph Road” that’s nigh unduplicatible; it sounds like smoke turning to flesh and evaporating into fog and dark fire - then he bangs a minor key note that casts into doubt everything he just did.
This marvelous aesthetic moment concluded when I pulled into the liquor store parking lot playing FM-radio staple “Industrial Disease” at full volume. Now I was just another aging head-banger.

But a few blocks before I’d driven over the highway bridge, looked down on the roads leading into and away from the towers of downtown Oz. “Six lanes of traffic,” Knopfler sang, “Three lanes moving slow.”

Damned if that wasn’t just what I saw. But this time I heard it.

Home. Supper. Walked Jasper Dog in the fading light. Came home, sat on the porch with a cup of coffee, feet up, reading the French Revolution book, just like early September. Just like late August

Perfect.

Then I turned on the computers, and . . .you know the rest.

Is this the Bleat finale? The end of the site? We’ll see. I’m not tired of the Bleat; I’m just tired of the pointless botheration. On the other hand, I did scan 17 MB of additional material for the Gallery 3.0 tonight.

Just in case.

As for why I get my old web site when I call up my local ISP, I can only quote my new host’s tech support:

Aynno, thastrain.

Aynno either, and I agree; it is strange. Strain, too.

It’s 12:30 AM. I can try to upload this, or head into the creek with Jasper.

Not even close, that one. Not even close.

See you Monday. Probably. Maybe. Possibly. Perhaps.

On an autumn afternoon I walked out of the house to see three neighbors sittingon the lawn, smoking cigars and sharing a Summit Ale. Maggie, the next-door dog, was sitting in a patch of sunlight, her golden coat making her look like something the fallen leaves had conspired to assemble. It was warm - seventy, seventy two. I was on my way to fetch supper, but wandered over to sit and talk. We discussed this; that; other things - Maggie came over with lowered head and wagging tail; she knows I’m always good for a good petting and scratching. Life in the city: perfect, pure, serene, and damn manly! Stogies and beer and laughter, a fine Girard autumn day.

A car came up the street: Thumpa THUMPA thumpa THUMPA. A young man come to call on one of the neighbor’s daughters. He saw the quartet on the steps, and turned down the stereo. Did a U-turn - carefully, now - and parked.
A police car followed. “That’s for my son,” said Jerry.

“Really.”

“He was held up at a McDonald’s. They’re coming to get the report.”

“Knife? Gun? Strong-arm?”

“Strong-arm. Took his pager.”

The police car floated past, did a U-turn. By now the kid in the car had gotten out and was rummaging through his trunk. The police car parked right behind him.
“He’s going to freak when he turns around,” Bob said. Bob was the father of the daughter the young man was here to fetch.

We waited. Watched. The young man straightened, closed the hood, turned around -

Even from across the street we could see him twitch. It was a full-body twitch, too - almost imperceptible and almost akin to a full-body shudder. He just - twitched, from head to toe.

And we all burst out laughing. Ah, the privileges of adulthood. The opportunities to laugh heartily at younguns are so few; this was so perfect it had be savored and shared, and as I rocked back on the soft green laugh, guffawing, I thought: I’m old now. I really am.

But the laughter was sufficient compensation.

Jerry got up to meet the police. I talked with Mark about house renovations. The young man approached unsteadily. A few minutes later the girls came out of the house, dressed in black finery; their father snapped pictures, and off they went. I imagine each fellow thought something different - regret, amusement, or terror, depending on whether they were your daughters.

I got supper, came home. Ate from a bag. Walked Jasper into the woods, marveling at the palette of fall; nearly every tree has turned the corner, and those that haven’t look out of place. It’s the genius of fall to make the change in seasons appear to be a new burst of inspiration, an improvement on green. What was the color of promise six months ago now looks like the hue of some reactionary claque of foot-dragging obstructionists. Root-dragging, if you like.


Sara was off watching a professional women’s football game. (Really. One of the players was a co-worker.) I had much work to do, and spent the night in front of the machinery, writing. I had much to do. And I did none of it. My fingers felt like marionettes with the strings snipped.

She came home, and we had a nice night at home: leave it at that.

Sunday: almost as lovely as Saturday. I put up the storm windows - never an easy job, and it gets worse every year. The bushes grow, the trunks thicken, and each season it’s harder to plant the ladder. Read for a while on the porch, then, taking a neighbor’s lead, washed my car. Buffed every curve, cleaned every inch of the interior. Read some more - in shorts! On the porch! - of the French Revolution book. Five-hundred & 32 pages into its 870 pg bulk. I love this book so much I can remember where I was when I read it. Started it at the Starbucks at Galleria; read a big chunk on a warm September night at Caribou Coffee at Leisure Lane; spent hours reading it at the cabin in Wisconsin, sitting on the deck with the trees howling. And I remember what I read in those places, too. Perhaps the combination of place and time will fuse the facts to my head; I would hate to finish the book and have the information evaporate over the course of time. None of what I have learned is crucial to my immediate life . . . but it’s such an extraordinary story, and such a valuable lesson, that I hope it sticks to whatever neurons drink it in.

Sara went to the airport to see an old friend; I drove up 35W to get dinner, so she’d have a meal waiting when she got home. Went to the Indian Happy Chef Cafe in the burbs. The traffic on south 35W was thick and immobile - dispirited Vikes fans slumping home after another loss - so I decided to wait out the traffic and have my meal there. The music in the cafe was the usual Indian sitar ragas; to my ears, it sounds like a hyperactive centipede chasing its tail. Read about the French Revolution while Indian music made its manic tinny circles in the background. Vindaloo: muy caliente, c’est bon. Home at sunset.

Now it’s back to the Aunt Jenny Project. This weekend I’ve added five books to the Gallery of Regrettable Food 3.0, and no, they’re not posted yet: wait. March 2000. The Aunt Jenny Project is large; 1.3 MB, 55 pictures, and it’s almost a short story. Then to the mail, which has piled up even though mail was hosed for much of last week. Thanks to all who’ve reported various errors in this site (including the inexplicable IE white-text problem; don’t know how THAT happened) - I’ll fix everything eventually. But when it’s 70 on a weekend afternoon in early middle October, it would be criminal to sit inside and type. This might have been the last perfect weekend.

But I keep saying that, don’t I.

One more? Fine if it doesn’t happen. If it does, though: I’ll make no more requests. I’m satisfied. Fall has done its duty.

The ragman came today. Not really a ragman; that term describes the itinerant peddlers who shambled up to your stoop, rasped out a cry for RAGS and were repaid with cast-off fabrics. The fellow who came was a Detritus Removal Specialist. A freelance trash hauler. An independent trashman. A ragman.

Two and a half years ago I finished rehabbing the upstairs, and took a big dead roll of gray carpet to the basement, where it slumbered for months. Then came the rains of spring; the basement flooded, and the carpet was soaked. It needed to be removed, but I could no more haul its heavy sodden mass upstairs than I could deadlift Paul Prud’homme up the Washington Monument, so I called a trash hauler. All the big names said they wouldn’t go in the basement. They’d pick it up if I got it outside. I found the smallest ad in the Yellow Pages. They said they’d go in the basement.

A strange man showed up - tall, hunched, Lurch-like in his spooky mien; his face was laced with hideous scars, his eyes deep and private. The sort of fellow you see in cheap chainsaw killer-thriller movies, lumbering across the field to carve your kith and kin into wet sundered meat. He spoke little but went right to work, hauling the carpet up to the bright light of an April afternoon. I paid him and he left.

This afternoon, waiting for the ragman to show up again, I thought: did I call the same company? After all, I’d called the company with the smallest ad . . . the only company that said they’d go in the basement. Would I get the same strange man?

After three a truck pulled into the alley. The driver leaned out of the window, gave me a crooked grin. Is this th’ place? It was. He parked and got out. He had six, seven inches on me, thin lank hair, a quasi-Quasimodo hunch. Different guy.

“I think I came here once before,” he said, opening the gate of his truck.

I looked at him again - scars, deep scars, pockmarks, big boots.

This was the same fellow. This was the ragman of yore. He looked like Billy Bob Thornton in “A Simple Plan.”

How had I built him into this sullen silent Golem?

“Those Vikes didn’t do so well,” he said as he hauled the first load from the basement. I agreed that they did not. “My brother has season tickets. He said they didn’t look too good.”
“They don’t have the fire,” I said.

He brought up a few loads of plywood.

“You reading about Y2K?” he said, noting the novel I had on the porch table. “I saw this documentary about it on TV the other night? Guy said we had to have a month of water on hand. A month.”

“I think we’ll be okay,” I said. “It won’t be as bad as the guys who are trying to sell you books and tapes say it will be. But a few things might not work.”

“A month of water,” he said, shaking his head. He hauled the paneling out to his truck.

Jasper had been barking throughout the event - he normally loves all comers, but he was alarmed by the ragman. He wasn’t reading my posture - or was he? Reading some chemical scent I was throwing off? Some aroma of uncomfortableness I exude whenever I have to hire someone to do something I ought to be able to do myself? I placated the mutt by playing Frisbee, but when I was having a detailed conversation with Ragman Thornton, Jasper started barking his head off.

“Do you want to go to your kennel?” I said in my sternest voice.

Jasper looked away instantly; laid his ears flat and sat down. I thought of the New York Times article I’d read that afternoon about whether animals are capable of “thought,” or whether they are, as Descartes believed, mere automatons. Ridiculous: if Jasper was just a machine, he would have marched off to his kennel upon hearing the word. But he combined context, a noun, and a questioning-conditional inflection, and he knew exactly what I meant: shut up, or else.

“What did one nut say to the other nut?” said the ragman as he hauled out the last of the plywood.

I paused, grasping for the punchline.

“Help me, I’m assaulted?”

“No.” He grinned. “‘Why are we hanging when it was Slim who did the shootin’?’”

I stared at him, uncomprehending, until I made the transition from Nut nut to Testicle nut. And then I laughed, just because, well, he’d told a joke.

“It’s an oldie,” he said. “Heard it today, though. It’s the kind of joke you tell when you can’t think of another one.”

He’d never be the guy who had all the good jokes, or the new ones; he’d never be the guy who had a million of ‘em, ready to be rolled off with brutal precision. But if a moment called for something, he had a few in reserve.

“You work for the paper,” he said as he hauled a file cabinet up the stairs. “I remember that.”

“Better than me,” I said. “Sometimes I have to say which paper I work for and I get halfway through the name of my previous paper - uh, I’m with the Pioneer . . . Tribune.”
“My brother reads the paper.” He had two empty file drawers in each hand. I used to keep my clips in those drawers. “He’s the one with the season tickets to the Vikings.”

Ah, the brother. Office job, probably. A good job, if he can buy season tickets. A paper-reading brain-using brother who isn’t busting his ass throwing junk in the back of a rusty truck, picking finishing nails from the heels of his workboots.

On the other hand, he was probably stuck in an office somewhere. We were standing on the grass on a sunny October afternoon.

I went inside to get the checkbook. I heard some barks outside. When I came out with the check the ragman was throwing the frisbee to Jasper.

“Didn’t know if he liked it thrown high or low,” he said.

“As long as it’s thrown, that’s fine for him,” I said.

He took the check and waved goodbye; off to the dump with my stuff, again.

The ragman’s name was Steve.

“I got a hundred holes in me,” Steve said when I warned him about the nails on the trash. Odd how one hole makes some men mean. And a hundred holes make other men kind.

Jasper ran away from home yesterday. Just for a while. I’d left him in the back yard while I did some work inside. Then I heard a Jasperesque bark outside, and it seemed to be coming from down the street. I went outside - no dog! I checked the back gate, the front gate - locked! Panic! He’d apparently entered the neighbor’s yard through the hedges (the fence was removed last spring) and slipped out their side gate, which sometimes opened on its own accord. I ran out front - no dog! I imagined him gamboling in the creek, having a fine time chasing squirrels, trotting along, trotting away, away, until he’d lost his route to home.

JASPER! I yelled. He’s slipped out before, and usually comes bounding home from a neighbor’s yard.

Nothing.

JASPER!

I heard a bark - his bark - in the back yard. Huh? I ran back - no dog. JASPER! Again the bark. It seemed to be coming from the garage. I ran to the garage, imagining him pinned behind a fallen rake: no dog. JASPER!

BARK!

It was coming from behind the fence. I opened the gate, and there he was, tail wagging in confusion and dread: he knew he was in trouble, but he was happy he was home. (Wagging tails are perhaps the most misunderstood bit of canine body language.) He’d probably been there for five minutes, waiting for someone to come. As some fine writer put it: a door is what a dog is always on the wrong side of.

I told him he was bad, and he knew he was bad, and I marched him inside. It’s an odd sort of fury that comes over one - relief and horror and relief and fear and relief and wretched what-ifs and surely-will-be-somedays. All you can do is issue a few stern words and leave it at that.

Cooler day, murky sky. Went to film the destruction of the old Physicians and Surgeons building, and found it already destroyed. Just a few construction vehicles feasting on the rubble. Twisted rebars and shattered bricks. I stood and tried to fix the spot in the P&S stairwell from which I’d taken pictures of the Conservatory across the street. (The Conservatory was knocked down two years ago.) That location may not be inhabitable for another 30 years. If that segment of space is occupied by a thick wall and some pipes, no one will stand there and have the view I had that winter afternoon in 97. Even if they did, the view would be different. The actual physical space remains, but everything else changes. Everytime a building gets knocked down, a numberless amount of views are lost forever. And a new set is created.

I’ll never forget the night in 1980 I stayed in the old Sheraton-Ritz; it was payment for a writing job. Dinner, $100, and a hotel room. Go figure. That night I sat in the window and studied downtown. The skyscrapers, the clock face on City Hall. Seventeen floors up. The Ritz was torn down several years ago, and every time I walk past that empty block I look up and imagine the spot where I sat, suspended above the ground, cradled by steel and glass. Now just another parcel of sky.

This is one of the reasons I love North Dakota. You can stand on the flat ground, face west, and know for sure this view will be here in a hundred years. A hundred thousand.

But there’s no good Indian food nearby, which spoils the moment.

Today I wrote a column. Read a New Republic review of the J.P. Morgan bio I was reading - a rather tiresome review, since the author had the bright idea to pair Morgan with Gates, and review the differences in managerial philosophy. Seems the reviewer thinks that Gates’ pangyrics to the wired future are a little naive. Really? No kidding.

I don’t think the web will change people; they are immutable. The web creates no new desires or human attributes. It simplifies and accelerates and complicates, but it doesn’t reform us. Doesn’t make homo internetus. I screen out the visionaries and the surly critics; they’re both wrong. Nowadays I have TV,telephones, movies, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, books, CDs. Each provides a distinctive service. Combine them all, and what do you get? The Internet! Which is made up of . . . TV, telephones, movies, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, books, CDs.

The wind has come up in the last few minutes; the night is sweeping the pieces off the board. Tomorrow we set them up again and play another round.

.