NOVEMBER 1999 Part 3
It’s Monday night, the night that has meant COLUMN for the last nine years. And it means column tonight, and since I’m half way done with a dispirited effort - what’s in the news? Nothing. Robert Reich endorses Bradley! Oh, that’s a big story. This was announced in the news as though FDR had clawed his way out of the the grave and endorsed Dollar Bill. Be assured that millions of men did not pour from the factory gates, waving their spanners and cheering the news; no wavering moderate put down his newspaper with a resolute expression and thought “if Reich’s for Bradley, that’s enough it for me.” Robert Reich is irrelevant. In any other year, the headline “Reich Endorses Bradley” would have the news value of “Canadian Typewriter Ribbon Production Declines Slightly.” So I’m not going there. If I still lived in DC, this would be a topic for a brief afternoon conversation, or perhaps post-work drink conversation. This sort of thing matters in DC, but even there it doesn’t matter much. A Reich endorsement is to DC what a Zsa Zsa Gabor arrest is to Hollywood. Just something to talk about. Gossip.

Not that we talked about these things much when I was in DC; most post-work bar time expositions were centered on the standard triumvirate of work, sex, and pop art - movies, music, books, etc. Of all the things I miss about DC - and the list grows as the years pass - I might just miss those post-work drinks the most, because I’d never done that before and haven’t done it since. There was a bar downstairs in the bureau. At a certain hour - six, usually - one of the members of the office fraternity would indicate it was time to adjourn, either by cocking an eyebrow or simply pointing down. They poured stern drinks. There was usually a crowd - loud, back-slappy lawyers or happy hack journalists from other bureaus. At those times 2000 Penn - the big multi-purpose office/shopping complex where I worked - was a manageable microcosm of DC, and I liked it there. I felt at home in that building. I knew where everything was. My friends were there. I miss it -

But only because it’s over, and only because all the things that made that particular time miserable are over as well. I’m free to look back and make my peace with that time, enjoy particular recollections, but I keep running up against the fact that it was the most protracted period of dispossession I have ever experienced, with occasional glories; like a fireworks display at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

Today sped by with no particular events to commemorate its passing - warmer than it should be, fifteen degrees higher. The tree on the boulevard still has half its leaves, although they’re utterly dead - pages in a lost language. I went to work and did some work and walked around downtown; made supper and napped. The house has its winter rhythms now; when Jasper comes home from his evening walk, he wants to play inside, not outside. Night falls fast and hard and no one comments on it anymore. Driving home afterwork consists of bobbing and weaving in a river of red taillights; when you pass a car and look at the driver, you see a black silhouette. A cigarette coal. No more. We have the meter of winter but not the text, the rhyme but not the words. It’s as if we’ve all decided that winter won’t come, after all. As if winter lost our address.

Not so.

Back to work. More, of course, tomorrow.

11-17-99 Ordinary day, as I usually say. Fifteen degrees warmer than normal, which is now ordinary. I had Bold Turkey Manwiches for lunch. I had Bold Turkey Manwiches for supper last night, but since there was much left over, well, let’s eat the leftovers and be frugal. Save those pennies for the house remodelling. Went to work and stared with a dumb glazed expression at the screen for three hours, as usual. Did all the things I do to work up some inspiration - went to the library, read some magazines, walked around, had a cup of coffee, checked the web every 10 minutes (My new prediction: Warhol was wrong. In the future, everyone will be Mahir for 15 minutes.) (Mahir is about to make our newspaper, which is a sure sign his trajectory has peaked.) Talked to Crazy Andy, my old friend the Uke Mortgage Broker, and hung up feeling as though someone had fired a Gatling Gun straight into my ear . . . and then the column just flowed out, intact. I looked at it, and I saw that it was Good - or at least it Did Not Suck, which is the guiding rule - and I went home.

Had Bold Turkey Manwiches for supper. Sara came home early; she did not work out tonight, since the flu and/or cold, or a new variant, has fastened its claws on her. As usual this will result in no symptons beyond weariness - she gets a scratchy throat, sleeps, and fights it off. I’d expect no less of someone who kickboxes three times a week. We all napped, except the dog, who sat on the steps and belched. Small, discrete, measured dog belches. Last time he gets Bold Turkey Manwiches.

“The Shining” was on TV the other night, which is to say it was censored, cropped, and chopped up by ads for Rockin’ Power Love CD compilations. It still managed to be effective. I don’t think I’ve seen the movie in 15 years, and I only caught the last half hour, which is unfair to myself and the film. I do remember that I was completely Kubrickated when I saw it the first time - those revolutionary Steadicam shots, the weird crashing Bartok music (and the speaker-blowing music from Walter Wendy), the enigmatic ending. Was Jack Nicholson always at the hotel? Had he been there since ‘21? Was that his granddad in the picture? Why was the man in the bear suit giving lap nookie to the fellow in the tux? Wasn’t the bartender also Alex’s social worker in “Clockwork Orange?” Watch out, Scatman Crothers! And, the biggest question of all: why did it require going to a mountain resort and spending time in evil isolation to make him take an axe to Shelley Duvall? I’d have been tempted on day two of the marriage.

The portion I saw contained one of Stanley’s nicest touches - fast lateral pans when Jack swung the axe at a door. The camera seemed carried along by the motion of the axe, and encouraging it at the same time. Relentless. Of course, this was instantly spoiled by the creepy, and now famous comic relief - Wendy? I’m home. Heeeere’s Johnny! Perhaps that was the birth of the quip-ready maniac, and we didn’t know it.

The book is better, but it’s so different that you can’t compare the two. Unfortunately, I don’t think of the book when I see The Shining now. I think of a Simpsons Halloween special. In fact when I was clicking last night and saw Shelley drag Jack across the kitchen floor, I thought: ahh, the Shinning.

Sara pointed out tonight that everything I was wearing had holes in it. And she was correct. The sweatshirt, a Winter Carnival 1990 edition, has frayed cuffs; my sweatpants are nearly gone at the knees, and my socks had but three blue strands interposed between the heel and the cold hard floor. Are we poor? she asked. I replied that these things were comfortable. But I bought you those nice new comfortable sweats, she said. I replied that I didn’t want to ruin them - when in truth they had not yet been broken in. I did not have the heart to tell her I was wearing boxers from 1986, which are holier than Joan of Arc’s fingerbone. I do not wear these items to be contrary - I just want to save the others for the day when this outfit dissolves into a pile of feathery black lint. And it’s comfortable.

But I’d never wear it outside the house. I won’t even answer the door in this garb - I’ll put on street clothes. I’m always astonished when I see people wearing sweat pants in public. It all goes back to the first fellow who left the house without a hat; it’s all been downhill since there. But I’m not perfect; today I wore a tie with jeans, an egalitarian affectation that should usually be avoided. But the tie fit the shirt, and I rarely get the chance to wear the tie. I stood in front of the mirror, tut-tutted my laziness, then said: to hell with it. And thus does civilization crumble just a little more.

11-18-99 Bought a new phone today to replace the much-reviled Microsoft Phone. It will be a pleasure to have a phone that doesn’t need to be synced to the base everytime I reboot the PC, but I’ll miss Voice-Announced Caller ID. Even though the voice mispronounced most of the names, it was still a nifty feature, and even though you had to be within hearing range to learn who was calling - as opposed to looking at a readout - it will be missed. I will not, however, miss the sound of my wife picking up the phone, discovering it doesn’t work, and uttering an oath one might usually associate with a Cockney sailor.

I asked the clerk for some phone advice, and surprise, surprise, he recommended the most expensive phone in the shop. It had the most powerful transmission base available on the market today. I can practically take this thing to Fargo and make calls, from the sound of it. He did not realize the real selling point of the device: absence of features. Yes, it had an answering machine, and call waiting built in, but that’s it. It did not have 14 personal mailboxes, or branching caller options, or 750-number memory, or any of the other things people never use. It was just a good phone that did a few things. I bought it. We are now waiting while the battery charges. It should be working tomorrow. Goodbye, Microsoft Phone.

I think they sold seven of those things. Maybe nine.

God bless C-SPAN. The other night I paused on CSPAN and watched Nixon’s Checker speech, which was shown in its entirety. A cogent lesson on how TV changed everything, and how everything was changed by TV: never before had so many people seen such a prolonged oration of political expiation. But the demands of TV would eventually make long speeches unworkable. Nixon was all wrong for TV; you could see it even then. When I closed my eyes and listened, it was an acceptable performance; when I looked at the picture, I didn’t trust him. He smiled at the wrong times, as though some random GRIN chemical had been squirted out from a misbehaving gland. He missed a few transitions from one camera to the other, and was constantly looking back and forth to see where the red light was. (This might have been the origin of his supposed shiftiness - instead of being evasive, he was just trying to figure out which camera was hot.) Pat Nixon made an appearance, sitting on a sofa like a waxwork doll.

I’ve never shared the Boomer obsession with Nixon. He leaves me cold. I feel a certain obligation to explore his life and presidency, just to know more than I do, but his long clammy shadow always makes me turn away.

I dreamed last night that I bought an iBook, and I didn’t really like it. I was angry I’d bought one that had a black and white screen, instead of waiting for the color version. Also, the keyboard bothered me. This afternoon I was at the computer store, and was slightly startled to note that the iBook has a color screen: dreams have a peculiar effect on your beliefs and convictions. Then I tried once more to convince myself the keyboard didn’t bother me. I know I’ll buy one - I just can’t see myself on another road trip with one of those Wintel bricks on the hotel desk. It never feels right; there’s never anything fun on the hard drive. But I’ll have to pack a mouse now. Touchpads aren’t good for playing Quake.

At the computer store I saw a new game, Omicron; it has been Highly Anticipated as the Next Wave, and indeed the advance stories I read made it sound quite interesting. You jump from character to character in a Strange, Totally Immersive World. But on the box I saw the dreaded word - puzzles - and I saw a picture of some sort of Tekkenesque combat, and I put it back. If “puzzles” means what I think it does, no thanks. It’s like reading a novel and having to stop and figure out a Rubik’s cube, instead of carrying on the story. No more key-card hunts, thank you. I wish I could find a good game developer and write a game for actual adults - less a game, really, than an ongoing story, the sort of thing you could play daily for a year.

I just took a break to iron tomorrow’s work clothes, during which the entire game just dropped into my head. Including the revenue model.

My God: it’s brilliant.

It’s fargin’ BRILLIANT. Now all I need are the developers and the seed money. Ah, but where to begin? Damn: I hate this. I hate when I get an idea so good it’s just painful to realize it’ll probably go nowhere.

Unless anyone out there knows some people who know some people. . . wait a minute. I know some people who know some people. Time to make some calls.

Not now, of course. It’s midnight. Time to upload and relax, and plan for tomorrow’s Diner show. Domani~

11-19-99 One AM. Column done, Almanac monologue written, Diner show in the can. A productive day. So why am I doing this? Decompression, I suppose; this doesn’t count for anything. No money changes hands for this. It does not have the expectation one would hang on a product of The Major Media. While the overriding rule of Major Media efforts is ironclad - Suck Not - here I am free to blather and drone. About what? Why, the weather, of course. It was sixty one today, according to the TCF bank thermometer. Why banks feel compelled to tell us the temperature, I don’t know. I can understand why they tell us the time, because time is money. (Although the penalties for being overdrawn on time are eventually much, much steeper.) I suppose they figure that as long as they’re giving us the time, might as well make room for time’s common-law spouse, the temp. Anyway, it was sixty-fargin’-one today, which is about sixty degrees above the record low. Tomorrow they - the great unseen robed & priestly meteorological They - are calling for snow and scattered clamminess, but no one believes them. I told myself that this was it, this was the end, this was the last day. And I’ve been saying that since September.

Wrote half the column, walked downtown, bought a computer mag, walked back to the office and got stoned. It’s been a long time since I got stoned in the middle of the day. I never liked to do that, even in my misspent freshman days; it made the rest of the day a schmozzled crawl over a field of sponges. But today on the way back to the office I passed two morons smoking a joint the size of a rolled-up Sunday Times, and I couldn’t help but inhale a tad. That’s the difference between now and way-back-then; when you’ve work to do and a position to maintain, you don’t open your nostrils as wide as storm drains and inhale sharply, just in case. For the next hour I kept checking for signs of Stonedness, and I was convinced I’d gotten the fabled contact high. But it turned out to be too much coffee. Weed had the same effect on me that liquor had on Churchill, which is to say, the opposite of what was intended. It never made me a happy flesh-pillow. In fact it gave me tachycardia, which is why I said to hell with it. If all I want is a racing pulse, I can drink coffee and run up the stairs with cinder blocks.

Went home, had a great & festive dog homecoming, ate something or other, then met with the remodelers. Everything looks great. They had 3d models that looked like Diablo levels. I kept expecting horned demons to jump from the mudroom closet and cast fiery spells. We played and played and played with the details, because computers let you do that. If they’d had computers in the age of Versailles, they’d never have built anything, because no one could have made a final decision; there would always be one more detail in one more room. We’re meeting again on Saturday. The juggernaut rolls on.

Drove to KSTP, did a few minutes with the evening show host. It’s fun. It’s fun to sit home, working, listening to a show one night and then be on it the next. It just is. Believe not anyone who speaks different. Then I did the Diner with Jeremy. The first segment blew chunks, and I knew it; we broke the rule and recut it, but not until we’d come up with a plot for the show. Jeremy suggested a Birds parody, with Thanksgiving turkeys in place of the Hitchcock gulls, and that was all we needed. As usual, I got to 20 percent of my material, and I felt like a blithering idiot afterwards, but there was some fine, fine stuff done tonight. When we redid the first segment, we were both pistol-hot, and we did an historical free-association that I’d happily include in the Diner pantheon. Minor calamity at the end of the show - audio problems meant I couldn’t hear myself at all, so I had to do without headphones, without access to any of the sound effects. Which stunk. But I keep reminding myself: it doesn’t have to be brilliant, as long as itdoesn’t suck. As long as it’s not lazy. As long as I never ever sit back and assume it will be good. I would be content to have as my epitaph “Mostly, It Didn’t Suck.” But I leave that judgment to others.

It’s 1:22 AM and I am going to . . . the sofa. I have earned the right to be entertained by someone else tonight. Meaning, it’s time to put the clown costume on Jasper and make him juggle. He hates it, but he’s so cute when he has five balls going and gets that frantic look. Have a good weekend.

11-22-99 Crap, crap, junk. Crappe, as the French might say. Junque. I bought a big whomping home design program tonight so I could reconstruct the architect’s plans for Lileks Manor, and desuburbanify the details. They came over yesterday for another two-hour consultation, and some of their ideas were good; some gave me hives. This renovation has to respect the lines of the house; it cannot look like some flabby modern carbuncle hanging off the butt of the original construction. I want the rooms to flow, yes, but I do not want them to dribble. I want openness, but I want closedness, too. There’s not a line in this house, a beam, an arch, that doesn’t serve some sort of structural purpose. This must carry over to the new part. So I went to CompUSA (“Where your receipt is double-checked on the way out for no apparent reason”) and purchased Broderbund’s 5-CD home design kit. It handles landscapes, it does 3d designs with walkthroughs, and it has a special feature that lets you slap all these Real Actual products into the design, so you can get see what you want for materials, colors, etc. They think you’ll actually buy the products they’ve included, but of course they were all smoking rocks of crack the size of prize-winning gourds when they believed that. Oh, yes: please let me launch my web browser and buy this lamp RIGHT NOW.

Well, it doesn’t work. I rebuilt the drawings from the plans they left behind, and after watching them futz with their 3D home-design software, I knew how this thing worked. Huzzah: built the whole house without once looking at the manual. I thought things were getting peculiar when I couldn’t save files under different names without getting odd error messages - “the file name house. is not a valid file name.” Well, no kidding. That’s why I’m saving it as I saved and saved and saved, only to discover it made multiple copies, none of which have distinct names. That’s a nifty trick.

After I finished the house, I went into the interior design function. I played around with it for half an hour, and got a warning: I haven’t saved in 30 minutes! Please Save! Why, I thought? In case the program crashed?

Well, okay. I hit save, only to discover that the program had frozen. In other words, the feature that told me to save lest the program crash had crashed the program.
Reboot. Try again. I decided to load the 3D map I’d made, and sprinkle furniture everywhere. Illegal instruction, crash. Tried again. Illegal instruction. Crap. Junque. Back it goes, with extreme prejudice.

Went to an Indian restaurant in Uptown last night, the one Bette Midler visited when she was in town! Big deal! Death to celebrities, I say. I don’t know how she found the food, but I had a vindaloo devoid of character. No flavor whatsoever. Sara had a biriyani whose flavors were so subtle, so nuanced, so delicate, that they were completely undetectable. At least the garlic bread contained 37 cloves per slice, so there was something to enjoy. Afterwards we walked around Uptown, then went home, talking about the remodeling. Watched the X-Files season opener Pt. 2 - at one point in Scully’s apartment I hit pause, and said “there - those windows. That’s what I’m talking about for the back entry way.” Not to say the show wasn’t suspenseful or enjoyable; it was. But those were good windows, and we’re both in a mood to notice those things.

I enjoyed the episode - the Temptation of Mulder, really. And as usual I think I know a little more than I did before, although about WHAT, I have no idea. It had CSM in it, and I always like him. I like him too much, in fact; he no longer says VILLANY to me. The only villain was That Bitch Diana, and I love to hiss at her - but more for her $cientology than her character. At the end I thought there was an actual kiss, but Sara made me rewind the tape. Lips to forehead. Oh, well.

Then we stayed up two more hours discussing the remodeling. It’s fun, really. It’s fun now. It’ll be hell eventually.

I’m still not certain why we’re doing this . . . right, right. Because we can. Tax write-offs. More room.

While the remodelers were discussing the plan, I heard “Bolero” on the radio in the next room, and for 17 minutes I tapped my fingers in the Bolero beat. Then an amazing piece of music came on, and I went to the kitchen and turned up the Bose - “That’s Vertigo,” I thought, and indeed it was. The Scene d’Amour, byHerrman. An lovely piece of music, almost Mahlerian, if Gus had written for movies. (Some would say he did without knowing it.) I bought it this afternoon, and I’m listening to it now. It’s music to be a desperately unhappy middle-aged acrophobic Jimmy Stewart by.

Well, on to the web to visit the Broderbund home page, and see if I can find any answers. I doubt it.

The next cut on this Hitch disc is the main theme for “Psycho.” Here it comes . . . ah. That’s my mood to a T.