The final installment of my blow-the-tax-cut-on-silk-spats-and-caviar began at 8:30 this morning, when two nice fellows in tuxedos and top hats arrived to help me burn the money I haven’t been able to spend. Jolly good fun. One of them had a diamond-tipped cane, and when we were done lighting cigars with actual money (one had Salmon Chase on it; never seen one of those) we went down to the liquor store, waited for customers who were buying unpopular low-priced beer, then hit them in the shins while shouting “get a horse!” Didn’t really apply, but in general one should have a horse; it’s good for the haunches, and if you’re vacationing in Merrie Olde and you’re called upon to join a hunt, you won’t be sore the next day. They also help to tone the shins.

Well, no. But today marked the end of the tax-cut spending orgy. I’ve spent more than my taxes were reduced, but these improvements were spurred by the tax cut. I just plain felt flush, and that led to this mad spasm of extravagance – fixing a roof, repairing the garage, shoring up the storage room, and replacing windows that were installed during the Woodrow Wilson administration. It’s called “consumer confidence.” It’s a force-multiplier.

Today the workmen came to swap out old windows for new ones. The old windows hailed from 1915. They didn’t open. They tilted out an inch. Push them any farther, and they fell off their hinges and dropped to the ground below. I think people feared breezes back then. The breeze brought maladies – a reasonable belief in the days when buzzy piles of horse manure dotted the streets. Stay inside, dear, and pack your nostrils with camphor and asbestos. That will keep you hale. One room – a porch off the master bedroom - was simply too drafty to be used in the winter. Gnat’s room also had leaky windows; we had to turn the heat way up, and because of the peculiar configuration of the house’s plumbing this meant overheating other areas of the house. No more: it’ll be sealed drum-tight now, along with the dining room window – another heat-bleeder from 1915. Thank you, reduced tax rates! I thank you, my family thanks you, my energy bill thanks you, and quite possibly the two workmen, the salesperson, the warehouse guys and the people who maintain the fleet of trucks for the company thank you.

You know, I’m not wealthy like Al Franken or Michael Moore; I can’t go somewhere to give a speech and pocket 30 grand. I don’t begrudge them their success, but I do wish they would stop going purple because I get a tax cut and can afford to fix my daughter’s windows without dipping too far into savings. Okay? Deal?

Round NINE with the DirecTV folks. The installer came. Remember, I’d asked for someone who sorta kinda knew what he was doing this time, and the dispatcher had assured me I would be sent King Tech himself. Six-foot six! Alabaster smile, Superman spitcurl, able to bound onto roofs with a single jump, etc.

My service window is 9 to 12. He gets to the house around 12:30. A lanky kid. Looks about twenty. He asks what the problem is. What to say? By now my story is so long and complex I have three choices:

Start at the beginning with the Garden of Eden, the apple, original sin, and how the snake convinced Eve to upgrade from the grape to the apple at a reduced price with a service commitment

Describe the devices and request that they all work, please. I shall be in a study contemplating a bust of Keats looking as though he is contemplating a bust of Homer. Please leave by the tradesman’s door when have finished.

Give him the abridged version, which was this: Service Call number seven attempted to set up the HD TiVo so it could get signals from the off-air antennae, and -

He’s peering at me. Actually peering. “Did you say HD TiVo? High-def? Because they don’t make those.”

Says the senior technician.

“Uh – yes, that’s what it is.”

“Is that what they told you it was when they sold it to you? Someone might have been giving you a line.”

Despair. I walk him into the next room. Point to the receiver.

“Well I’ll be darned,” he says. “I didn’t think they had those yet.”

For some reason I begin to suspect that Service Call Number Nine is going to turn into Service Call Number Ten.

Turns out he needed a multiplexer. “That’s what everyone says,” I replied. “Everyone talks about the multiplexer but no one does anything about it.” He goes to get one – not in the truck, of course. No, you wouldn’t bring a multiplexer to a job where the customer had noted, six times, to the dispatcher about problems with distributing the signal around the house. This is another thing I’ve learned about the installation business: the people who pretend to listen to your problems are playing Minesweeper on their computers. They send all the installers out cold, with general hints: customer having problem with signal. It’s like writing “patient ill” on every hospital admission form. Eh, why get specific. The doctor will figure it out.

He drives somewhere to get the multiplexer. He gets out the big drill last scene in “Body Double” and goes right through the bricks, puts in another line, and attaches the big ugly multiplexer to the side of the house. Hooks everything up.

Two hours later, nothing worked.

He needed a splitter.

He didn’t have a splitter.

He said he’d be back tomorrow, for Service Call Number Ten. Said he’d be back at eleven. He showed up at 12:30 – bad traffic! – and two hours later, everything worked.

So I owed to myself to TiVo ten hours of high-quality HiDef programming and watch it all whether I liked it or not.
They’ll tell you that TiVo’d HD is as good as regular HD. It’s not. It’s slightly worse, but it’s still pretty good. What you lose in quality you make up for with convenience. I probably wouldn’t carve out an hour to watch a documentary on the burned scrolls retrieved from Pompeii, but I will watch it over the course of three nights. Bottom line gleaned from the Pompeii doc: it’s amazing what they’re doing with computers these days.

Okay, that’s not fair. Pompeii and Herculaneum have always fascinated me. I stood on a street corner in the latter town, years ago, and you could imagine it all alive again, full of people going about their day, children skipping, finely-coiffed matrons yelling at the slaves, gouty men scowling about money or politics, young men racing their carriages too fast and splashing people on the sidewalks. There was a fragment of a political endorsement preserved on one wall, something about the butcher’s union supporting Flavius Flav or some such Roman notable.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine ourselves as Druids or Tartars or Visigoths, but I think we can easily imagine ourselves as Romans. Yes, they were brutal. Everyone was brutal. But they had law, written history, and architecture. They built roads, and the roads remain. Which is why we remember Robert Moses, and not the names of the people who protested his freeways.

(obligatory nod to all the people who can reel off the names of the people who protested his freeways.)

Hmm. I’m watching the New York City newscast: subway bomb in Times Square. Nothing major – one cop sent to the hospital with burns, major for him, but nothing that shrieks TERRORIST ATTACK. Unless it’s another test. The next phase of the suitcase tests.

There I go again: paranoia. Suspicion is the sign of an unbalanced mind. I know, I know: we shouldn’t leap to conclusions, but it’s interesting how suspicion itself is now a conclusion. As though we’re wrong to wonder if the bad guys might be up to something.

Bad guys! How droll, how 11/91, how amusingly Manichean. Have a nuance smoothie, man. Oceania is not at war with Eurasia. Oceania has never been at war with Eurasia.

And on that curdled note! Have a fine safe day. New Fence for your amusement or castigation. More, or less, tomorrow.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks