A wall to wall day, Thursday. Read headlines, wrote a piece, finished a column, did an interview with two reporters who just got back from Haiti, then – as I was gearing up to fine-tune the column and put it in The System, NEWS HAPPENED. I heard some chatter at the desk called Patina; I inquired; fire. Damn. The video team editor asked if I knew the neighborhood.

I said it was my neighborhood.


This was the greatest little gift shop in the neighborhood, the place where you went to get that one unusual unique thing for a gift. Everyone here goes there. Everyone got a last-minute gift, a Christmas ornament, a Dad-thing for Father’s Day, a necklace for a spouse. The block has two other restaurants that gave the intersection a wonderful urban brio, and everything was gathered in the arms of a 1920s brick building constructed to house shops for weary workers who stumbled off the trolley and shopped for necessities before they headed home. Patina was once a drug store, and if you had any sense of urban archeology you could see the circles in the ancient linoleum where the stools were bolted. Once you know where the stools were, you know where the counter was; once you have that in your mind, the rest follows swiftly. The chrome-trimmed soda fountain, the big red Coke dispenser, the fan up on a shelf clattering back and forth, the phone booth in the back with its heavy receiver and dial (it fought your finger just a bit, rolled back at its own pace), the REXALL orange in the signs over the aisles, the cardboard displays for creams and combs and cigarettes, the slam of the screen door on a summer afternoon. You could stand in the door today and see the building across the street that held down the south side since 1919; the gas station on the other corner, the building where the butcher ran his trade.

I stood outside and watched the pressed tin roof fall.

Ran into a comrade who’d come to watch, and we greeted each other with a single curse, because that was all you needed to say.

But I had to interview people, and that meant Vulture Mode. I hate Vulture Mode. I am a bad reporter, because I hate to ask people obvious questions. I know it’s part of the package, a necessary part; goes without saying this rips out the heart of the neighborhood, but you need someone to say it for you. I found the owner of one of the restaurants, standing on the sidewalk, tears in his eyes, and I asked if he’d speak on camera because I had to ask. He was very kind and said he needed to absorb this and think about it, and, bad reporter that I am, I said no problem I’m sorry to bother you you have your deepest sympathies and I’m sorry to bother you. Bad instincts, I know – sometimes people need to talk in these situations, but there’s no way I’m going to pretend I’m fulfilling a civic duty by letting them get it out. No, you prize those moments because it’s killer stuff. If he had talked, because a mike was in his face and he felt it was his duty to talk, and I’d gotten that evanescent high that comes when you nab the right moment for the story, I would have felt great about the day’s work. I wouldn’t be sitting here now feeling like a vulture. I would be feeling great about doing a good job. And would I be wrong?

Agonizing about such junior-level things is revealing, I know. Whatever.

So. The block is gone. The good news is that it was architecturally undistinguished, and I’ve no doubt they’ll rebuild. It will all be back. I predict Patina will anchor the corner next Christmas.

The floors won’t creak the same way, though. Fire eats history for lunch.

One minute of video I shot on the sly, with hasty music. Damned Garageband cut the first chord out, and I didn’t notice until I’d crunched and uploaded. Well, a man can only do SO MUCH. ;)

After the fire I picked up Child and Friend at orchestra practice, and they’d heard. Everyone had heard that Patina burned. They were sad and somewhat unmoored: “It’s weird to think that it’s gone,” Natalie said. “It’s been there my whole life.”

“Every Christmas stocking,” I said, “had something from Patina.” She fell silent, as if learning Santa’s workshop had burned. I suppose it had, really.

Afterwards: a parent-teacher conference (boffo reading / writing, math could be better) and a radio interview and an evening of homework, piano practice, and other delights. (This, and all the links below, were written while I was taking small breaks from fatherly duties, so excuse the quality.) At one point while working she came into my room to show me all the tunes she’d loaded on her iPod, and I said: later? Okay? I’m trying to -

Then I realized that she wanted to share her music with me, and I would be absolute A#1 idiot not to start this exchange on a good note. So we listened. I like her taste. But I had to reset the max volume settings on the iPod. “WHY?” Because you’ll go deef, that’s why. “You listen to loud music.” Yes, because I am deef.

Jeez Dad.”

Jeez Daughter.”

Then I put her to bed and wrote this.

Today: the World’s Fair section begins, with a minor entry. Sorry, but it’s the only piece I had in the pipeline that was written. Go HERE.

Comic Sins concludes the 40s comic ads, HERE.

100 Mysteries! “Inner Sanctum.”

The Column.


72 Responses to The Fire. And more

  1. RJ says:

    @Al Federber “I’m just not that broken up.”

    Much like my reaction if I learned you would not post here again.

  2. grs says:

    ” . . . at a cost of zero dollars.”

    Ignorance is bliss.

  3. and I thought today would degrade into schoolkid bon mots about vibrators.

    Come on everyone:

    I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,
    Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves.
    I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,
    I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

  4. John Lennon would want all the Bleatniks of the world to live as one.

  5. madCanada says:

    hey! Those firefighters look tax-funded to me. Cooties! Commies!

    @ Joe Brodrick

    John Lennon (if not perforated by over-the-counter, no-questions-asked, Atlanta-bought bullets) would probably be sittting in the Dakota right now, reading The Bleat, laughing & smiling, and posting hilarious comments under three different pseudonymns.

  6. madCanada,


  7. Di says:

    @madcanada -
    ” A firefighter friend of mine tells me that 90% of business fires are arson. ”
    I’ve also heard that from firefighters, but not quite such a high percentage. I think restaurant kitchens are more prone due to the nature of what they do. Though, of course, it would make it easier to explain away, wouldn’t it – hot oil, malfunctioning ranges.
    Yeah, when you’re about to go under, in desperation you go for the insurance payoff. And never mind the random charred bodies next door, or injured firemen …

    I hope that wsn’t the case in Mr. Lilek’s cheerful neighborhood.

  8. My thanks to our genial host for what was no doubt major cognitive shift from work to home. I appreciate you tolerance more than I can say Mr. Lileks.

    canajun-eh, I accept your apology in the spirit in which it was offered. I trust it was sincere. I have no intention of pushing any of your own buttons re: Gollum. My remarks in that regard are aimed at one person and one person alone. Not you. Eeyore fits quite well too, and I’ll refer to my least favorite person in that vein if it will not cause conflict with you.

    I sincerely hope and trust that you and I can proceed henceforth with a more more civil level of conversation. I’ll do my best.

    madCanada, I apologize again. This time for inadvertently embroiling you in some heat you did not sign up for. I just don’t deal well with negativity.

  9. madCanada says:

    @ Mark E Hurling

    No apology necessary. Hope the Bleatmaster posts my longer answer to your S.A.D. question.

    Bleatmaster …

    What for you screen me? Me no troll!!!

  10. Stjohnsmythe says:

    James, your description of Patina and the palimpsest within is exquisite. It is timely that the loss of this building coincides with this headline:


    Regardless of the building’s architectural character, losing something from that era causes the echoes of history to fade even further. It is good to know, though, that a replacement will come even though it will most likely be a utilitarian box clad in EIFS to imitate a bygone style.

  11. madCanada says:

    HERE’S a Friday night treat for everyone. Especially you, Lileks! … Video: THE BEAU HUNKS recreate (exactly!) the music of LeRoy Shield. ie. soundtracks for Hal Roach / Laurel & Hardy / Little Rascals … Pure Deco Joy. Hotcha! Dig.


  12. Stjohnsmythe says:

    madCanada: Thank you for the link.

  13. madCanada,

    Gracious as always. I thoroughly enjoy our (albeit indirect) correspondence. Enjoy your weekend. Perhaps we’ll communicate next week.

  14. swschrad says:

    I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

    diet decaf for me, thanks. I brought the ice. no, it’s not from my driveway ;)

    Bleatmaster! What for you screen me? I’m no troll.

    there is a “slow down cowboy” filter on this thing, I don’t know what settings Our Genial Host has on it, but it smells to me like 3 in 2 hours, and then it’s the time-out corner.

    occasionally things disappear if they are posted in chapters with footnotes, also. that is not automatically done. the whole world’s an editor, and, alas, I get paid by the word.

  15. Stewart says:

    I’ll add a voice of condolence to our host on the fire loss to his neighborhood. Fires are such nasty, unforgiving things. Glad it was ‘just stuff’ and no lives lost. And kudos to my fellow Bleatnics for the overall civility here. So glad the Intartubes allow such sharing and, yes, caring, amongst the crowd who congregate here.

    May this winter soon be done and sunshine gently enwarmen us all. I’ll quit mangling the language now; no coffee yet, obviously.

  16. GardenStater says:

    @madCanada: I never heard of the Beau Hunks before, and now I love them! Thanks for passing that one along!

  17. madCanada says:

    The (Amsterdam-based) Beau Hunks are available on iTunes. There’s a Laurel & Hardy collection and a Little Rascals collection.

    The Little Rascals collection may just be the greatest thing ever made available to the world.

  18. Deana says:

    So happy to see the World’s Fair stuff going up, even if it is a bit wonky right now. I’ll be crouched in my house, surrounded by 1939 NYWF tchotchkes, waiting for more.

    Sorry for the loss of the neighborhood store. I always feel a bit guilty when I’m super-bummed about a loss of a building, but it IS a loss, nonetheless.

  19. Lileks fan says:

    (off topic) How about a Bleat app? I’d happily pay to have the only blog I read nicely formatted.

  20. GardenStater says:

    @madCanada: Yes, I’ve now become the greatest Beau Hunks fan in the world. It appears that the Little Rascals CD is out of print. Cheapest price I could find on Amazon was $44. Since my boys are iTunes-savvy, maybe I’ll get them to download some tunes. Great stuff.

  21. harmon says:

    We had a fire like that in our neighborhood several years ago. Burned down the local chain grocery store, which has never been rebuilt. It was out the front door, halfway down the street, duck through the alley from us. Its loss changed our supper and weekend eating dynamics from quasi-European (stop & get supper stuff) to American (plan ahead, stock up every week or two.)

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!