Had a guest for lunch today: Mike J. Nelson, bearing a small jar of home-roasted coffee. I know what you’re thinking: he roasts his own coffee? Apparently. I had no idea such a thing was possible, but the world is full of such surprises. No doubt there’s a thriving industry to support this hobby. Websites by the thousands. Home-roaster blogs. Do I intend to take it up? Damn straight. Home beer brewing always seemed lame, since you often got weird beers no one really liked to drink - ho, varlet, some cranberry lambic? Home wine-making deprives you of the pleasure of studying interesting labels designed by professionals. Both seem to ignore the fact that beer and wine are already available in large quantities at your local store.

But coffee: that's different.I think I’ll start roasting my own and selling it here. Too bad any name attached to this particular page is a lousy brand name. Bleat Roast. Bleat Blend.

Wait a minute. Wait – a - minute. Several years ago I was working on a parody site for a brand of coffee from the 50s. I must have the ads around here somewhere. Back in a jiff.

Hey, I found it! On the other computer. It's all coming back. I was working on a parody website about a chain of coffee shops that started out in the 30s and perished in the 70s. It was called Smiley’s, after the Institute of Official Cheer’s mascot. . . Holy crow: I cut an ad for the thing, too. That’s right; I was going to do a little 50s style TV ad as well, with a voiceover in the style radio annoucers call "puking." (Guilty secret: radio people love to imitate pukers. It really does feel satistfying in some evil little way.) even storyboarded it out – and you can tell from listening what the visuals would be. First, a grumpy guy in a nightshirt, unshaven, haystack hair. Then he’d have that wha? expression as he faced the camera, reacting to the narrator’s remarks. Then the Smiley mascot appears in a twinkle, followed by some sort of graphic with spinning atoms. Finally, back to the sleepy grouch, who’s now grinnin’ and twitchin’.

The big question, of course, is why I was going to do this.

I had a lot of time before Gnat came along.

Smiley’s apparently had several slogans: “Coffee and Nothing But” in the 30s. They only served coffee; no pies, no doughnuts. Nothing but coffee. And no sugar, either. Cream? Buy a cow, Mac. Then came the 40s slogan, “The Roast That’s the Toast From Coast to Coast,” and finally “There’s a Twitch in Every Sip” from the 50s.

Here's one of the early stores:

Anyway: over lunch at Jasperwood (how elegant that sounds. Reality: deli sandwiches, melon wedges and Boylan Cream Soda) we were talking about Peter DeVries, because of course that’s what two writers do when they sit down for a meal. I say, old thing, did you read Smootley’s monograph on DeVries? Seems he missed the entire idea that our boy Pete was both mocking Cheever and topping him, what? Mike noted one character was a furniture mover, and I remembered another character who was a furniture mover. Why all the furniture movers? We wondered, as Writers often do.

Hours later the New Yorker shows up in my mailbox. Profile: Peter DeVries, who died ten years ago this month. Bio. “Peter’s father hauled ice in the summer and coal in the winter and became a furniture mover.”

Well, there you go, then.

Okay, okay, enough burying the lede. Mike Nelson, of course, played Mike Nelson on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the funniest American television show every made. He lives in my neighborhood, but we’ve never run into each other; after a few emails we made a lunch appointment, and Wednesday he came by for a few hours. The Mike Nelson you saw on the show is, well, Mike Nelson. Smart, clever, gracious (with a soupcon of theatrical peevishness – but only when provoked!) and normal; a good guy. It was a pleasure and a delight to make his acquaintance . . .

But . . . .

Well . . .

Do you know how hard it is NOT to spend the entire conversation asking questions about the show? So I stuck to my evil plan: don’t be a supplicant, don’t be a fanboy, and you’ll have the chance to ask all your questions over several years, two or three queries at a time.

Anyway. The New Yorker also had a review of the new Seattle Public library. I like the interiors and I loathe the exterior. It’s typical post-postmodernism, not a building as much as a thing, a object, as assertion of forms completely divorced from any references to the culture that produced it. They actually make me nostalgic for the International Style. Say what you will about the smothering hand of Beaux-Arts style – go ahead! Say what you will! – at least you could walk into the 42nd street Library in New York and know it was a library. Look around, study the murals and capitals and marble details, the statuary, the classical themes: they might not have known what the future would hold, but they had a map that showed where they’d been.

Heard the Guliani testimony today. It gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Brought it all back. It’s as if that entire day is standing right behind a door, eyes wide and bright; the moment the door cracks open the day shoulders its way out and stands there red and horrid, leering at us. Time solves nothing. At least for me. I get letters from people who roll their eyes and say Give – It – Up, Man but I can’t and I won’t and I don’t want to.

One of the nutball hecklers, apparently, is a woman who blames the Port Authority for building a building that fell down. As it happens I’m reading a brilliant book on the WTC's construction, “City in the Sky.” Highly recommended. A start-to-finish history of the World Trade Center, with much discussion of
the great controversies that attended its birth. Every time they cleared a legal or technical hurdle, they got smacked with another. Imagine that you’re the main man heading the project; ground has been broken, blocks demolished, bonds issued, plans drawn up, steel ordered. And you get the results from the people charged with figuring out how much the building will sway in a big storm.

The top of the building, the study says, will sway forty feet from side to side.

Forty feet.


They found a technical workaround, obviously. At they did it with pens and paper, not with computers. That’s one of the things I find so fascinating about these books on the great skyscrapers: they seem like such low-tech endeavors. And in a sense they are; skyscrapers are, as someone said, the world’s biggest hand-made objects. A
gain, I recommend this book - it's one of the better biographies of a building I've read.

The New Yorker cover has a soldier with a bulls-eye on his back. Yes, that’s our troops: cluelessly facing one direction, unaware that they’re targets. This is a war like no others: our troops are being shot at. A very penetrating insight into war. I myself was unaware that soldiers were often fired upon. I assume that the editors of the magazine are very much opposed to shooting our soldiers in the back.

Hello, it’s another Seymour Hersh article on the prison scandal.

Anything on the Berg slaughter? Alas, no. That was a one-off, it seems, an aberration. Move along, nothing to see. Hersh’s article ends: “’We’re giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Convention. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar.’” Ah. Hereafter the terrorists will be emboldened to saw people’s heads off with dull blades. I’m not going to get into any of that, except to say: 1. the UN Food-for-Oil scandal continues apace. And 2. The first sentence has been handed down in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. A downgrade, a bad-conduct discharge, a year in the pokey.

Questions: is the Oil-for-Food scandal characteristic of the UN, or not? Is the Abu Ghraib scandal characteristic of the US Armed Forces, or not?

Which body acted swiftly to investigate? Which body opened itself to public hearings and condemnations? Which body put the bad guy in the dock, held a trial, and pronounced sentence? Says AP:

Within hours of Sivits’ court-martial, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington that abuse of prisoners in Iraq will be investigated thoroughly up the chain of command, “and that includes me.” ...

Kofi? Your move.

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