OCTOBER 1999 Part 4
There I was in my grey shirt and grey tie, gray pants, gray socks, driving my gray car,strapped in place by a gray seatbelt under a sky the color of . . . slate. Light charcoal. Okay, gray. I was playing a new CD (the color of the cover art was gray) and enjoying the wistful irony of the vocals . . . or was it ironic wistfulness? Well, it had a beat and you could shift to it. A strong wind had rolled into town in the last hour; I could feel it put a shoulder to the side of my car. The wind bullied the trees, tore handfuls of leaves from the branches with bright merry malice like an illiterate ripping pages from old books he can’t read. It was one of those times where you just enjoy shifting and driving and weaving and speeding, and as I slid around a slowpoke sedan and shot through a sheaf of leaves I thought:

I’m in a car commercial!

And that spoiled the moment entirely.

It’s not an unusual reaction. There are many times when your enjoyment of a situation is predicated on how well it stacks up against the movies, or TV. We all know how things should be ideally, because we’ve seen it a thousand times on the tube or the screen. To this day I can’t drive at night down rain-slicked streets without hearing the Miami Vice theme. There’s the buried memory of Sonny Crockett, slumped behind the wheel, unshaven, smoking a Lucky, haunted eyes looking out at the empty glamour of a dead and lovely city . . . but this doesn’t really apply when one is going to the store for skim milk.
Is this a bad thing? Well, yes. It has a way of elevating experience into a realm of ersatz glory, and ensures that even the most transcendent moment is measured against a standard both unattainable and unauthentic. On the other hand, I enjoyed being in a car commercial. And it was the best kind of car commercial: no voice overs, no fine print, no warning that this was a professional driver on a closed track.
Then A BALL BOUNCES INTO THE STREET
Slam on the brakes -
- everyone slams on the brakes -
And we’re no longer in a car commercial. We’re in a brake-shoes or tire commercial.
If the streets had been wet, I might have skidded. And I can imagine the newspaper story:
James Lileks was playing out a scene from a Miami Vice episode when was tragedy struck. Bystanders say he was either pitched into a tire commercial or an insurance commercial, as a ball from a Public Safety Announcement commercial bounced into the street, followed by a child from the Nickelodeon network. Lileks slammed on the brakes, but was unable to stop, resulting in the first 15 minutes of a tearjerking Lifetime network movie.


Today was the last day of the next to the last day of fall. Seventy-something degrees; wonderful. I took a walk downtown between calumnizing sessions, and wandered through the produce stalls and flower merchants. Sat on the edge of a planter for a while, looking up at the new Piper tower until I had almost convinced myself it could be worse. Went to the record store looking for Combustible Edison - they didn’t have any, to my surprise. Went to the comic book store and bought an issue of Reid Fleming, World’s Toughest Milkman. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the drawing style - it’s a late 70s style I associate with Bill Griffith. I just loved the cover, which featured the Tough Milkman kicking his delivery truck in the air, shouting PIECE O’ JUNK. It’s not a bad comic; not great - it has imaginative moments that make you wonder why the rest of the book isn’t as good as it could be. But it is what it is, I suppose.

Came home; ate; took a delicious 20 minute nap. Up - coffee - talked with the Dark Chef about the Halloween Diner. I’m really looking forward to this. Did the BBC, which was less than fun - all the usual people had gone to the pub for a meeting, it seems, leaving in place a crew who’d never heard me and had no idea what my little bit was about. The phone screener didn’t know what I did. The host - a fine & able presenter, mind you - had no idea what the bit was about. So I babbled. Just - babbled. Oh well. Then back to the machinery.

Sorry about this frames extraganza here; I’m experimenting with some things, and will duly drop them as people complain. I’m in one of those moods where I want things Clean, and this is what I’m working with. Will I work on it this weekend to the detriment of all else?

Hell, no.

Hmm - just remembered: tomorrow is a big life-changing day with big, big news en route. Big news. Very, very big news.

Then again, maybe not. I’ve been through this before; I know that deadlines are rarely deadlines; maybes always mean no and yes sometimes means maybe. I dearly hope I can explain it all on Monday.

Stay tuned.

10-25-99
One of One of the more endearing
and ongoing subplots of Dragnet concerned Col. Potter’s attempts to provide Joe Friday with sexual partners. Friday was a notorious loner; one episode I’ll never forget showed us a brief glimpse into his off-duty life. He went to the laundromat for cigarettes. (He managed to shoot someone, too. But the punk deserved it.) I caught the end of a Dragnet tonight, where Col. Potter maneuvered Joe into taking a ride home from a secretary at the Parker center. When she came into the office, an insinuating saxophone played; in Dragnet, unmarried women below the age of 40 are always accompanied by insinuating saxophone music. She walked out with Joe. End of the episode: DUM DA DUM DUM. And for a second, I thought I would see:

The pickup you have just seen is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

On Thursday July 12, a pass was made in a red sedan. In a minute, the results of that pass.

Then, after the commercial, we’d see the secretary, looking wan and guilty.

Brenda Johnson was convicted of one count of suggesting an act of oral sodomy. Oral sodomy is punishable by no less than 180 days in a state facility.
And the type would read:

BRENDA JOHNSON. CURRENTLY WISHING SHE’D NEVER HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT JERK.

I watched the credits, and noted that Dragnet had one fellow who’s job was “color coordination.” That’s the definition of an easy job: color coordinator on Dragnet.

Still fall, but it’s late fall. Crisp sharp air, leaves everywhere but on the trees - although a few down the block still hold most of their leaves, and are almost completely turned. The block has paced itself well. The gigantic maple at the corner, the four-story monster whose annual performance is the equivalent of an Andrew Lloyd Webber score, is now completely bare. But the grass is bright green. The grass is always green, really. Even in the winter when you dig down in the snow you’ll find patches of green. It’s like digging through ash to find the roofs of Pompeii - you feel as though you’ve discovered a buried civilization.

Watched “The Blair Witch Project” on Saturday night. I’m glad we didn’t see it when it ran in theaters; I can just imagine the waves of disappointment rolling over the audience. This is the scariest movie of the decade? THIS? I remember first hearing about the film as the unexpected hit of an independent film festival, and I knew exactly what it was - a dollar-ninety-eight movie that stood out among the usual tender coming-of-age stories and Tarantino wannabee films. No way it could live up to the hype. The only way to enjoy the film was to expect nothing, and just let it unspool. It was creepy, eventually, then creepier . . .spooky not because you feared seeing something, but because you feared what you would not see. The last five minutes were the most unsettling thing I’ve seen in years, and the last image of the film - a reference to one line spoken by a minor character at the beginning of the film - was just perfect. The end of hope, the end of pity, unexplained but following some horrid imperative. I had nightmares about it; I’m going to watch it again tonight.


Sunday was warm and bright. I sat outside and read the French Revolution book. The King is dead; now we’re into the Terror. I’m only 80 pages away from Robespierre getting his head lopped off, and I can’t wait. Miserable bastard. Until I read this book I hadn’t really thought much of J.L. David’s radicalism - you have to understand Marat and his politics to get the full impact of his portrait of the dead “hero” Marat. But David was the court painter for the totalitarians of his day, a fact I find depressing; he was one of my favorite painters. I was first introduced to him by Sir Kenneth Clark’s “Civilisation” series. But in revisiting the text of that show - which I just happen to have handy - I discover that Sir Clark was either a fool or a dissembler. In a preface to his discussion of David’s “Death of Marat,” he says “no one has ever explained, in historical terms, the September Massacres, and perhaps in the end the old-fashioned explanation is correct, that it was a kind of communal sadism.” Well, they were explained, all right, but no one wanted to learn the lessons or draw the necessary conclusions. They were ordered by men who wanted to kill their enemies to make sure there was less trouble at home as the country fought a war. Their “enemies” consisted of priests, thieves, businessmen, lunatics, hacked to death for their political impurities. In the name of the state ideology they gloried in murder, and you can draw a direct line from them to Lenin and Hitler.

Went to KSTP to cut promos for the Halloween Diner radio show . I can’t wait; I’m really looking forward to this. But that’s next week. Now I have to upload ten tons of stuff - I discovered that when I restored the site on the new host, I uploaded versions I’d been redesigning - so the Mpls / long gone / hotel site is a hideous mess.Well, I cleaned it all up and retooled the site, adding some new material, too. Fun? No. Neither was yesterday’s hugely boring assembly of the 1999 Bleat Archive. But these things must be done.

Actually, no, they don’t need to be done at all.

But these things must be done!

10-26-99

WHEEEEEEEE-HAH!

WHEEEEEEEE-HAHAHAHAHHA!

HAHAHAHAHAH!

Hoorah!

Let’s break out the bubbly and the blink tag!

WHEEEEEE-HAH!


I’ll explain tomorrow.

Sorry, sorry, sorry, but I just can’t jump the gun. This is all mostly a done deal sort of thing, and while it’s not perfect or everything I would want, it’s damn close to being damn fine, and it does manage to fulfill the last of my resolutions for the 20th century.
We now pause for a moment of heel-clicking.
I’ll tell you what it isn’t: I am not changing jobs; I am not leaving town; this does not relate to progeny. There is bad news related, however, but it’s overshadowed by the good. WHEEEE oh, okay, that’s enough.
Then again, I may say no.


Went to meet the Crazy Uke today for a mortgage. I need a lot of money for this addition. I mean, a lot of money. At one point we were running numbers, and he pointed to a figure, and looked up and grinned - and the grin said it all, took us right back twenty years to days of cigarettes and poverty, sitting in a ripped brown booth at the Valli at 2 AM arguing over hot coffee and the congealed ruins of a late-night breakfast. The sum to which he pointed was an amount of money that would have seemed a theoretical impossibility back then.
Yet here he was, the man with the hands on the levers, about to bestow;
Here I was, the man whose situation indicated he was worthy of basking in this shower of silver.
Of course, it’s all play money, in one sense. As long as you keep giving them small amounts of play money on schedule, the larger amount is meaningless. When you stop giving them play money, then you learn that you owe the real currency - time, fear, love, work, heartache, confusion . . . all of which can be redefined as varying sums of play money. But the real price is the personal toll. That’s the gold standard. Or rather: in the absence of a true gold standard, that’s the gold standard.

The process began with a credit check, which I dread. I always expect that red lights will flash, and there will be a line on the report that says EXPEL and my chair will fly through the ceiling. There will be a parachute, of course, but upon landing I will have to pay a usage and repacking fee. In cash. But my credit was somehow exemplary. I can get the money to rebuild Lileks Manor according to our specifications, right down to the two details I demand: the five-nozzle glass block shower, and the massive Star Trek DVD Viewing Center. (And the kitchen.) Things will probably commence in late January, and with great relief I realize that there’s now no reason to complete the basement project: It’ll all be a construction zone. Who-hoo! No longer will I have to retool the basement as a lair for my PCs.

Of course, if I buy the G4, that means repainting the upstairs studio in a graphite color scheme, and that means new shelves . . . a new desk . . .

It never ends.

Lovely day: not hot; nothing is hot anymore. But if you overdress in the morning you have the illusion of heat. Sixty seven degrees, with a third of the trees in full fall mufti; the only real sign of fall’s stern verdict is the fistful of sticks where the hostas used to be. Sara cleaned those out on Sunday. They’d become a soupy heap of dead leaves, the picture of decrepit defeat; now it’s just black stone pierced by straw stalks, waiting for the blanket of winter. But snow is two weeks off. Maybe three. Driving home today I popped the sunroof and turned up the music, reveling in the day’s news - the mortgage would come through, and other thing was finally going to happen . . . if I wanted this version of the thing to happen
. . .
I can talk myself into it or out of it. If they come through with one detail tomorrow I will happily say Yea; if not, I may say yea with less enthusiasm, unless they also say -

Enough. We’ll know tomorrow. And if all goes as planned, will I have a special web page to explain WHAT THE HELL I’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT?

But of course. But of course. With rollover buttons!

10-27-99
Robespierre is DEAD!
I had to stay up until 2:45 AM to make sure, but he’s DEAD. Details to follow.

It is slightly disappointing at the end of a day to tote up the duties, errands, minor strifes and bits of busywork, and think: none of this commotion meant anything, really. A hectic half-hour spent fixing the fax software! A grim knuckle-biting episode of e-mail problems that prevented the syndicated column from arriving intact in the Newhouse computers! Phone tag with the remodelers! Rushing home from the office - to rush off to a dinner! Sound and fury signifying zip, nulla, niente, nada, rien, goose-egg, that Arabian invented concept of Zero.

Well, not entirely zero; I did get a column out today. The first piece of mail I read at work was a forwarded letter from a visitor to the Strib web site, and it was a bitchy bit of bile. “I have never been impressed with the intellectual content of Lileks’ ramblings,” it said, but my Post Office piece “took his ramblings to a new low.” It ended with a curious line: “By the way, did he ever learn what ‘avionics’ meant?” This was a reference to a piece where I misused the word. That was about a year and a half ago. Now, I’ll accept blame for misusing the word; I felt stupid about it. But the very fact that the fellow remembers this after all this time indicates he’s one of those humorless fellows with an anus cinched so tight he has not moved his bowels since the Truman administration, and things have consequently backed up into his cerebellum. The next few letters were from Post Office employees or their spouses, complaining about my piece on the Post Office. Some were nice; some were pointed; some were frothy tumblers of spew. I’ve no doubt that anyone who works for the Post Office probably has a tale to tell about a stupid colleague, but let anyone from the outside tell the tale, and it’s hate speech.

People are just too sensitive. Unfortunately, I’m one of them.

So I wrote the column about the responses. I have no idea what I said, really, since my mind was on THE BIG NEWS.

And that’s what makes today different: THE BIG NEWS.
I’m leaving Minneapolis and shutting down the web site to join a mission in Tibet.

No, not really.

I sold a book. That’s all. Happens every day to someone; it’s happened to me four times before - five, if you count the Myst novels - and now it’s happened again.

This is good news. It’s fargin’ GREAT news, really. Book tour! Page-A-Day calendars! Mugs! Mousepads!
Had one of those Curious Life moments today while dealing with the balky computers. I was cursing and ranting - and then the radio started ranting back at me in my voice. The promo we cut on Sunday played around noon, and I froze - even when I was on the radio nightly, I rarely heard my voice, and I never heard my promos in the afternoon.

I sat down and laughed and felt immensely pleased with everything.

Anyway: Robespierre. I couldn’t sleep last night, thanks to a midday nap, so I stayed up and tried to finish the French Revolution book, waiting for the Incorruptible to be hauled off to the guillotine and have his scrawny head lopped off. Learned many pet phrases for the Guillotine, or being guillotined: “Shaking the hot hand.” “Looking through the republican window.” Or my favorite: “Getting a shave from the national razor.”
This book could go on forever - the Revolution leads to Empire which leads to Restoration which leads to Revolution, and so forth - but it ends with the death of the architects of the Terror. Magnificent book. “Citizens,” by Simon Schama. This book was published in 1990 - and now, nine years later, he has a new book out about Rembrandt, which I will read and review. In two months I’ll have read what took him 20 years to do.

Off to upload and then to do . . . nothing. Will I now let this web site go to seed, since it has achieved its purpose?

Absolutely not.

10-28-99
I’m in the market
for a big TV. A television as wide as Alec Baldwin’s ego. I went to Circuit City today to investigate the possibilities, and wandered along the aisles, fending off salesmen. “Just looking,” I said, which is a rather obvious thing to say in the TV department, like “just smelling” in the cologne counter of a department store. They had a display that pitted ordinary TVs against HDTVs against some new highfalutin’ standard I’ve never seen before. The middle option, plain old HDTV, looked fantastic - the picture was wide and crisp, hyper-realistic. To its left, the superHDTV, some pixel-packed screen that made mere reality look like a peat bog perceived by a near-sighted man staring through mud-smeared gauze. To the right, plain old TV, which just looked awful. Unfortunately, the super-cool groovy neat-o TVs were playing an episode of Barney. Granted, it’s full of saturated colors, but if you’re going to get the TV geeks to shell out eight grand, ixnay on the Arneybay.
Plain old HDTV was four grand. Problem: no one is broadcasting in HDTV yet. So I could buy the HDTV model and consider it my Last TV (at least for a decade) or spend half as much on a comparable-sized CRT and grind my teeth when digital TV comes in.
There are worse dilemmas to have.

Of course, I bought nothing. Then I went to CompUSA to not buy an iMac. They only had the tangerine model, and I don’t want the tangerine model. In fact I am not sure I want the iMac at all. I have no use for one, although that’s the least of my worries. I just . . . am not in love with it.

“Do you have this in blue?” I asked the clerk.

“Nope.” He patted the tangerine display model. “Color of orange juice. Gets you up in the morning!”

“I don’t know.”
“It’s like a Dreamsicle!”

“It looks like a jaundiced pumpkin.”

“Bright as the sun as she rises.”

He said all of this with jaunty unconcern and a bright smile, and his message was clear: he hated this fargin’ color, too.

I didn’t buy one. I drove up France to Uptown - haven’t been there in months, months - and checked to see if FirstTech had a blue iMac. They had no iMacs. While I wandered around looking at the merchandise I saw one woman buy a 400G4, and an almost-elderly woman dither over an iMac. “Is it Internet ready?” she said.

The clerk said it was, although you had to sign up for a service. And then he said something astonishing: “Anyone who tells you that a computer is Internet ready, or that you can just plug it in and go - well, run away from those guys as fast as you can. Any computer is going to require a few steps to get on the Internet. But this one is about the easiest you can find.”

Honesty! Refreshing. The woman then asked if it would be a problem to switch from Windows - she’d had four lessons on running Windows, and didn’t want to squander the knowledge. She had that tremulous sense of doubt and uncertainty you find in some older people when it comes to computers, but: give them large thumbs-up for trying. Computers are strange, balky, needlessly complex devices. They confound people who grew up with Star Trek. People who are seventy and buying their first computer deserve our awe and support.

It’s fascinating to watch non-computer people confront the iMac. Some of them actually pet it. They peer through the plastic at the guts, and even though they don’t know what any of it is, just seeing the wires and circuit boards makes it less mysterious. It doesn’t have anything to hide. They can see that the picture on the screen maybe came out of that wire there, attached to that thingy.

There were a few kids in the store; they were as impressed with the computers as I was impressed with a telephone when I was their age. In between the old lady and the kids were me and the salesman. I rattled off what I wanted. He heard the key phrases that indicated I knew what I was talking about, and promptly shifted to a level of geekspeak that flew exactly 3/4 of an inch over my head. I nodded a lot.

End result of the day: no TV and no computer.

Warm day again - 71! This late in October, that’smiraculous. We’re either paying in advance for next year’s cold spring or being paid late for the cold spring of 99. It all evens out in the end. Tomorrow I write a column and do the Diner, and I’m looking forward to it - although heaven knows what I’ll talk about.
Stay tuned. And if you are bored on Sunday night: AM 1500 9- midnight, am1500.com for the RealAudio signal. Details to follow. It’s now a bonafide tax deduction, after all.

10-28-99
My jaw hurts. Still.
Taped the Halloween Diner tonight with Jeremy the Dark Chef. I have no idea if it makes sense to anyone, but we certainly enjoyed it; at the top-of-the-hour breaks we went outside for fresh air and recapped all the previous hour’s favorite moments until we were doubled over laughing again. I’m not sure this is a good sign - there can be nothing more gruesome than two people sitting around entertaining each other to exclusion of anyone else. Like, say, the audience. But there’s a difference between bar banter and radio talk, and I think we both know enough to keep the listener first and foremost in mind. I almost feel guilty for the whole show: it was too much fun. I ought to pay them.

It felt exactly like the old Diner - me at the counter, Jeremy behind the grill. Within ten minutes we were physically acting out what we were doing, and while the audience of course can’t see it, they can hear whether or not you believe your own schtick. As with some other favorite Diner shows, it was completely unscripted and developed a plotline all on its own - and you never know where exactly the improvisation will go. Anyone who stays the three hours will see Martian invasions, gun battles with a man exiled from Perkins commercials, two guys shivering in the woods amidst exploding pumpkins, and then an attack by - well, I don’t want to give that away. And that was just the framing devices, in between which came the actual conversation. A good show is 25 percent plot and 75 percent banter, and we hit the right mix. There was a few golden segments where we actually stayed on topic the entire time, but elsewhere it was like a string of firecrackers, disorganized and noisy. My objective, however, is keep coming up with something different every 90 seconds or so, so they people who just tune in have something new to latch on to, and the people already listening stay with it because they don’t know where it’s going next. You lose the people who regard it as a rambling mess, but for them there’s the BBC.

My God, it was fun.

Exhausting, too. I just got back - it’s one AM now - and I’m in a familiar state, wired and beat. I remember this from 97. And I remember that this is why I quit the nightly show . . . I still miss it, but I don’t miss being dead beat and jangly every night at 1. It was great fun to hang around the station before the show: again, just like old times, Jason and Jackal and Jeremy and Shadowman, everyone shouting and swearing (Jackal, mostly) and walking and drinking coffee and shouting and swearing (again, Jackal) and doing radio things. Yes, that’s the industry term: radio things.

I am beat.

Well: that’s about it, for the day. The deal was concluded today: The Gallery will be a spring 2001 book, since the fall list for ‘00 is pretty much firmed up. I get input on the look & feel of the book as well, which pleases me greatly. Next step: selling Page-A-Day rights. It’s hilarious: it’s the least writerly aspect of my entire career - writing one-liners for calendars! - and it’s the most lucrative. But I can use the money to subsidize my more high-minded artistic endeavors.

Now I have to come up with some high-minded artistic endeavors.

No. No, I don’t. That’s why I don’t go to Woody Allen movies: strenuous high-mindedness. But I’ve had this high manic tone this week, because of the book sale, compounded with a few other bits of good news of even more significant impact, and I fear the end result has been a mass of silliness. And silliness is not what I aim for.

I just had a five-minute staring at the wall reverie, where the sequence of thoughts went like this: things are so good now, they must surely turn bad, something will happen, I will expire, Sara will be left with the large mortgage from the remodeling, I’d better up my life insurance, because as the commercials say: it’s not for me, it’s for those I leave behind.

It is obviously time to stop thinking. Hell of a week: Happy Halloween.

.