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MONDAY, AUGUST 13th 2007

I was thinking about apologizing for recommending the Gillette five-blade razor. I gave it happy praise when it was first released, but then it let me down. Daily. It left stubble. I have a heavy beard, but for heaven’s sake, five blades should be able to cut the stubble. But every pass left bristly residue. Some say the first blade is always better than every other blade; you’re hooked on that first smooth shave. By the time your disappointment is complete they’ve introduced a new razor. The man is out to screw you, dude. (Think how different things would seem if The Man was called The Dude; you couldn’t quite take any conspiracy theory seriously.) I don’t like that sort of thinking, but I thought of it every time I used the razor. Every time. On vacation I brought some cheap disposables, and they not only worked better, they were, well, cheap. The five-blade cartridges are hideously dear. What if I shaved once, threw the blade away, and had a fresh one each morning? The earth would weep, of course, but I’d have a smooth cheek. And the earth is always weeping about something.

This morning I gave myself a fresh shave with a fresh disposable blade. I think it hit bone. I’m still bleeding. So nevermind the apology. Not yet.

Professor Bainbridge is unhappy about the existence of Iowa, a state “that at 96.8% white is utterly unrepresentative of the country as a whole” but get super-extra president-picking powers. To buttress his case - made in the spirit of japery, I think - he reprints some remarks from Dave Barry about the amount of hog waste. I’ll admit that you can criticize Iowa for many things – it killed Buddy Holly with its lethal combination of gravity and hard winter ground – and I’ll admit as well that Iowans are to be remonstrated for not inventing a pig that excretes only peonies and cabernet. New Hampshire is also singled out for disdain, being even whiter than Iowa. Of course, you could note that the small size of these ridiculous, unimportant states – neither of which produces “world class wine” – forces candidates to campaign at the macro level, thereby letting people see up close how skilled a liar the politician might be. But he’s right: we ought to let California decide,  right away, and everyone else should fall in line. As he put it: "Joke: What's considered a solid hour's reading in Iowa? The back of a cereal box."

Yes, they're all as dumb as sacks of soybeans. But Iowa is a lovely place, and as gratifying as it feels to micturate all over the central states, they have some good points. Now that the airplanes and the postal service have extended their reach to the inner reaches of the American continent, all manner of books and periodicals are available. The women are frequently seen in the smartest of smocks, and the men in the barber shops discourse on the latest advances in wireless telephony and moustache waxes. To the amazement of many visitors from Cali-fornia, large sections of the urban areas are not characterized by poverty and gang violence, the freeways move at a speed that many fear will bruise the internal organs, and houses of great size and comfort can be had for surprising sums of money. You can live here for  $375,000.

Or, of course, you could move to San Jose, and live here for a little more. And you'd be near cutting-edge technology production, too.

They even have schools in Iowa. University of Iowa! Doesn’t that just sound funny, too? But I spent a couple of summers there, and I’ve always loved it – the river, the broad green campus, the fine library, the compact downtown. You start to think there’s a certain virtue in a place like this, small and sane and content. Still, it’s a terrible shame that Ames, Iowa gets to determine the future of our politics, and when Mike Huckabee rolls on to the presidency over the wishes of our betters in California, we’ll know just who to blame.

Joke: what’s considered a solid hour’s reading in California? Variety magazine.

I was also thinking about apologizing for Friday, but sometimes you have to have a bad, black day and get it all out. Now and then, it’s your birthday. Sheer coincidence! My birthday found me tired worn-out, uninspired, bored, disappointed and feeling so rut-stuck I couldn’t imagine another week like that, let alone another year. Hence the big shrug on Friday. I felt like I should be happier, too, which is the worst; there’s no excuse not to be. I was measuring myself against those guys you see in the community newspaper who’ve chucked it all and opened a ceramics store, some bald guy with a gut and a neat grey beard and a twinkle in his eye, now that he’s doing what he always loved, and he has a website up to sell his pots and it uses that pseudo-Egyptian font you always find on that sort of site. It’s called Papyrus. I hate that font.

Friday was much better. I got a lot done, stayed up late, and ended up on the lawn at 2:40 AM with the camcorder filming the storm as it rolled in. It hit just as I was going to sleep, and the noise was tremendous – wind and shrieking trees and white-noise rain. Jasper dog walked around upstairs whining with worry, but I fell asleep, content.

I had a bit of a recharge on Saturday night – went out to dinner with the Giant Swede and Wesley the Filmmaker at Stella’s Fish Café, a gigantic four-floor restaurant housed in an old dental school in Uptown. We got a table on the roof, and the view let us amble down Memory Lane. As we reminisced and concluded that Uptown had gone downhill, we fondly remembered our own time, when we also concluded that Uptown had gone downhill. It think it was okay for an afternoon in 1986, but after that, the parvenues ruined it.

Well, no. But back then, he said, tiresomely, it had more useful retail, and felt more like a neighborhood. Calhoun Square was packed; now it’s empty, waiting redevelopment. The pet store: gone. The drug store: gone. The corner candy store, the Port Arthur Café with its glutinous Chinese glop and great 40s exterior: gone. The furriers: gone. Why, even the Taco Bell was gone. I’d still live there if I came to town – in the last ten years more apartments have gone up, and Uptown now stretches to Lyndale, as we always knew it would. (Thereby ruining that intersection, which isn’t a good as it was for a half-hour on the morning of June 12, 1987.) All in all it’s better and it’s worse, like most things. I didn’t feel old – just disconnected, I suppose. Those days are long gone and I’ve no desire to revisit them, since any decent honest attempt to recollect the particulars would bring up a slew of frustrations, hopes, thwarted ambitions, neuroses and baseless worries I’ve sent down the Memory Hole. (They’re conveniently located along Memory Lane.)

We watched the storm roll in:


And the rain came, driving us inside. We had a grand dinner in the calamitous main room, then returned to the roof when the rain had passed. Drinks and cigars and boisterousness. Much needed. Then I went home and worked until about 1 AM. The house was quiet when I returned, much to my surprise – Gnat had a sleepover, a birthday sleepover, and I’d expected the screeching to still be bouncing around the house. But all was quiet and the world was fresh from the rain. I posted the Buzz and sat in my room and watched a small documentary on Popeye on the computer. Did you know he helped a Depression-battered nation find its laughing place again? Indeed. Did more than the NRA and WPA put together. Him and Mickey and Betty Boop. A comfort and an inspiration, those three. I did enjoy learning that Popeye’s rough edges had to be removed as he grew popular, and this led to Pappy, who was old-school Popeye after the original item was Mickeyed down. (Same thing happened to Mickey, for that matter.) The early cartoons are weird – human like Popeye, Olive and Bluto living in the same world with those big-eyed dogmen and other creatures that ran around the Fleischer world. And no one ever stands still; they bob around back and forth constantly, because standing still would drain the life right out of the animation. I'm interested in this stuff, but I'm not sure I like it very much.

Well, that’s it for today – off to! See you there.