I was standing in line at Target - and you might ask, when aren’t I standing in line at Target? Well, I haven’t made a run in three weeks. My wife is still at home, and that’s upset the Precious Routine. But we were down to the emergency bar of soap - either very old Lava or a very fresh brick - and so off I went with Gnat. Got the usual supplies; had a Sam’s Club moment when I realized yes, I do want the 22-lb tub of Beneful dog food. (Jasper’s favorite, as far as I can tell.) Headed to the check out. It’s about five PM; each line has three customers, and each customer’s cart was loaded to the crow’s nest. There were 26 check-out stands. Six were open. And I recollected the Instapundit’s remarks a few months ago about just such a Target moment: too many customers, not enough clerks. I thought back to the items I hadn’t bought because the shelves hadn’t been stocked - rare for Target, very rare. I remembered that the yellow curbs outside needed a lick of paint. And I was reminded that there’s nothing as stupid as brand loyalty.

Open up a competitor with a cooler color scheme, a comparable pricing structure and a promise to open up another line as soon as the customers start to stack up, and I’ll abandon Target in a second. Yes, I know: after all they’ve done for me, I treat them like this? Well, that only goes so far; you don’t shop at Ernest Coli’s flyblown Meat Shoppe because he only started selling you blue meat last year. Nine years of good meat - doesn’t that count for something? Not if I’ve barked every brisket into the American Standard for the last year, no.

It was the first time I thought: Target can be beat. Either they remake themselves as the v. 2004 IKEA of soap and socks, or someone else will. They’ve had some stupid missteps over the last year or so - the Todd Oldham lines, the inexplicable & tentative foray into Oriental cuisine, the horrid Phillipe Stark line of urine-hued crap. Maybe the hype's overblown; maybe they’re running on rep.

What would the competitor look like? Well, you’d notice the difference the moment you entered the store, because the carts would be different colors, and they would be new colors you didn’t see anywhere else. No Target Red or Wal-Mart Blue - you’re in the store; no need to reinforce brand identity here. You’re presented with four rows of shopping carts; you choose the hue. The design of the storefront: retro California shopping mall. Rectangular stone of varying shapes, metal poles, a fountain, and a name in script that screams Amusingly Ironic. Let’s say the store is called, oh, Samuel’s. The bags just have a big S. If people don’t know what it means, they’ll be intrigued. If they know what it means, they’ll approve. The retro-theme is carried throughout the store; the clerks all have white shirts and black bow ties and short hair. They sell parakeets in the back. Oh, no one buys them, but they add something. People just like to see parakeets now and then.

For all its kitschy faux-50s facades, it’s strictly modern underneath. There’s a headset jack in the shopping cart. Six channels. The cafe - which has a big aquarium filled with goldfish - is WiFi equipped, and branded like a mini foodcourt. Hebrew National Hot Dogs, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a local pizzeria for local color, and some really old-style coffee name for kicks: BUTTER-NUT. Or MAXWELL HOUSE. (If Pabst can be chic with Manhattan trucker-cap enthusiasts, this could work too.)

I would give up Target in a second for a place like that, because it would have a personality of its own. Target, it seems, thinks it can rent the personalities of others, graft their cache on its own indistinct identity. It’s worked so far, but if Samuel’s comes to my town, I’m there.

And when I read the credit card statement and realize that Samuel’s is actually named after Sam Walton, I’ll feel that horrible feeling in my stomach you get when you’ve gone over to the Dark Side. But I’ll be fine. That’s the good thing about the Dark Side.

Eventually, your eyes adjust.

I’ve finished editing my best family movie ever. That would be the good news. The bad news is that it’s the July movie. I’m behind. I look forward to the August movie, which has the inevitable Fair Midway sequence - this time I shot it at dusk, and by the time I strip out the audio, slo-mo the lot and set it to Harry James, it’ll be a tearjerker. But July worked because I finally got the knack for shooting 16:9, for composing shots with the next shot in mind. And it works because I learned something from Woody Allen: the most banal scene can be unbearably poignant if you add some Jackie Gleason schmaltz.

Admitting that I like Jackie Gleason schmaltz is, I think, declaring open season on my variegated musical tastes. As I’ve noted, I like some of everything, except for bluegrass, or “Hillbilly Techno.” I’m not saying it’s bad; I’m not saying it isn’t a necessary element in the story of American indigenous music. It just doesn’t do anything for me. If it does something for you, I’m glad. Oh: and that kind of clarinety jazz Woody Allen plays? Same thing.

But Gleason schmaltz is in a class by itself. Echoey strings, heart-on-sleeve horn work, soaked-in-sugar arrangements. Middlebrow, maudlin, meritricious music - why, you can’t listen to it without imagining someone in 1961 sobbing over lost love, drunk on sugary booze, a long-necked pink ceramic cat on the shelf across the room, next to the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. If you wanted to parody this sort of music, you would come up with the exact same thing you were attempting to ridicule.

But man, when it works, it works. Last year I set the Fourth of July celebration movie to “Ring of Fire” by The Man in Black. This year, for amusement, I was going to set it to the Social Distortion cover of the same song, but I was scrolling through my immense assortment of ultra-lounge stuff, and I came across a tune called “Tenderly” by the Gleason orchestra. Bingo. The movie starts with it, ends with it, quotes it now and then. There’s music from Gary Numan (Gnat riding the coin-operated cars in the mall) Paul Whiteman Orchestra (Singing in the Rain, for the scenes outside with the Hello Kitty umbrella and the little frog-faced rainboots) and a big scene of the pastoral family reunion set to a Mark Knopfler tune from “Princess Bride.” But it keeps returning to the schmaltz.

Because we all come back to the schmaltz. If we’re lucky. If you live long enough eventually this crap starts to sound good - the same factor makes those latter Sinatra odes to lost youth & right-sized prostates sound heroically melancholic. It’s September music . You don't have to spend all your time in September to appreciate it, but when your September rolls around, it fits.

Which is why I used it for the July movie -

<slapping forehead>

Well, no. All these movies I make are aimed at the future. I watch them, we watch them, they go back on the shelf, and they’re seldom seen again. But when I do pull one out from time to time, it’s painful - partly because they suck - but partly because I got it right sometimes, and matched the image with the music in a fashion designed to stab the tearducts of Future Me, sitting in the September Arms Retirement Castle in 2037, licking a denatured Butternut java-patch and trying to remember what took the place of the Samuels' on Xerxes Av after it closed.

Back to fine-tuning the movie. I said I’d finished it, yes. But I didn’t say I was done.
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