|Theres nothing as loud as a phone at five AM. We were both awake before the first ring stopped; it was followed by a wet raw silence waiting for the serrating scrape of another ring. I noted the time. Who -
Sara was closest to the phone; she took the call. Hrro.
Hello? Who is this?
I dont - who?
Pierre? Theres no Pierre here.
Wrong number. Back to sleep . . . except I couldnt. Mind was completely awake now, spinning and whirring over a dozen different things. It was hot. Too hot. Jasper snorted at the edge of the bed, that long gripy dog-sneer through the snout theyve perfected to demonstrate irritation. Started to sleep . . . then the dishwasher, which Id set on a four-hour delay when I went to bed, started up. I could hear the chiming of the dishes banging together. Downstairs. But it was a nice rhythms; one could sleep to it . . .
Ring. This time I took it. There was a strange presence on the other end, a negative presence, a sense of a large hollow space. Hello? I said, and I heard my voice echo. There was no reply.
Amrhgk? said the voice on the other end.
Elday, said the voice. Mrytk.
You have the wrong number, I said.
I hung up.
This was spooky - obviously someone calling from an other country, given the character of the connection and the fact that he couldnt speak a jot of English, but I had no idea what language he was speaking. It didnt sound human. If it was Arabic or Indochinese or African maybe theyd get French . . . I laid on my back, listening to the dishes chime, thinking, Cest nest pas le numbre vous . . . voudrez? Desirez? Which was it?
I fell asleep. At least I must have, because the phone woke me again. I picked it up. No one. The same sensation of a great empty space, as though Id been blindfolded and led into a cathedral. You couldnt see the space, but youd know it was there . . . or rather wasnt. Hello, I finally said. Again, the echo.
Silence. Then: Blofhgs . . . eeghs.
Dont call, I said. You have the wrong number. Dont call here again.
Dont call because I know youre really a ghost, or a devil, or at any rate something dead thats calling, maybe me in the future, warning me of something, maybe someone from the past who thinks their words are perfectly understandable but now to their horror realizes that they have lost not only life but any means of communicating with life, and -
I hung up. Unplugged all the phones, upstairs and down. Went back to sleep, or rather tried to . . . the dishwasher had stopped.
And then the birds began.
But Sunday had a few perfect moments:
1. Firing up the lawn mower. Its not spring until the first mow. Last year I went to the local gas station, traded my old gas for new, and felt like an idiot for doing it. The guy at the gas station certainly thought I was an idiot. Old gas was perfectly fine gas, by his rights. This year I took the old gas, poured it in the tank, pushed the primer twice, gripped the chain on the old faithful Murray and gave it a yank -
First try. Murray roared to live and commenced acuttin. I thought: didnt I just do this? Wasnt I cutting the lawn just a few weeks ago? Didnt I take down the screens just the other day? Where the hell is the time going? This will be my seventh summer at Lileks Manor: seven. Ive now stayed here longer than anywhere else, aside from Fargo. And what do I have to show for it? Okay, okay, dont panic, tote it up: two books, 750 published newspaper columns, misc. essays, and of course the web site. And a few dog tricks. Not a total wash. Not yet. Relax. Mowww.
So I mowed in peace, then showered, shaved and shed the yard duds for the monkey suit, which leads to accomplishment #2:
2. Took a bow on the stage of Orchestra Hall. Always wanted to do that. Tonight was my, what, sixth? job emceeing the Minnesota Youth Symphony concert. Full house tonight. Its now an easy gig, and much fun; its a pleasure. Tonights concert included a performance by Tom Hegg, who wrote the modern classic A Cup of Christmas Tea; wed never met, but hit it off and had a capital time. At the end when the conductors were heading out on stage, they motioned for me to join the procession, so I got to stand on the edge of the stage, grin, and bow to the crowd. Id never been on stage for the curtain call. Its . . . impressive. You actually feel the applause and the cheers and the roars of good will. It resonates right in the diaphragm. Its absolutely electrifying. Its good to get a laugh from the audience; I like that. But its nothing like the applause. Whew.
Said farewells, went out - humid spring air, ready to rain. Got in the car and hit the highway just as Hot Rod Lincoln came on the radio. So I drove fast and passed everyone, and was grinning like a fool by the time I got home.
Long day. Good day.
Walked outside this morning and smelled the sweetest scent Id sniffed since summer. Maybe since last spring. Its not flowers; its not the warm breeze, not the trillions of chlorophyll atoms shooting from every pore of every tree; its not the way she looks, or the color of her hair -
Sorry. Its not any of these things, its all of them, at once. I swear just a few days ago the trees were mostly bare, and now theyre entirely green. Some years it seems as if Ive missed the transition; you get busy, get preoccupied, then you look up and spring has already turned to summer. Not this year. I paid close attention. I watched the buds. I took the camera in the woods a few days ago, and I got proof: sticks and twigs. So apparently it happened overnight. I havent missed a thing.
|"See No Evil," "Friction" Television; "The Price of Love" remix CD, New Order, "PDQ Bach on the Air," Peter Schickele
Ah, what else to report? Nothing more than that, really. Wrote some stuff. Went to a company meeting convened by the overlords, and learned some interesting things about the companys state, its plans. . . and as the boss talked I looked past him out the window at the pure blue sky, and wished the window was open. Its just like third grade. Its all third grade. Theres always someone teaching a lesson; theres always a transparent pane between you and the beckoning finger of a spring breeze; theres always a hard cheap chair jabbing you in the small of the back, a clock on the wall, a handwaving suckup who keeps everyone inside because he wants to ask teacher a question.
Hows the web side of the operation doing? I asked.
Im glad you asked, said the boss, and he elucidated.
Well, I really wanted to know.
I actually saw someone pass a note during the speech. Median age in that room was 40, and were still passing notes. I slipped out early with a buddy, and when we hit the hallway we danced like the Jets in West Side Story. (His description.) Free!
Spring. Its enough to make you weep. Its so damn good.
In more and more weblogs, I've noticed, the authors are noting what theyre listening to - that day, that moment, in general. Is this a feature I should add? I think. Im almost relieved when I roll the mouse over the titles of the songs, and they dont link. Whew: its just errant information.
Isnt it all errant information?
For some reason, I have been feeling as though the Bleat plows an old furrow, and Im planting a crop no longer in demand. Online journals: thats SOOO last century. Weblogs are the next new thing. Journals are like watching someone bowl. Pick up the ball, assume the stance, move, toss the tale, listen to it roll down the maple lane, hope for a strike at the end. While you sleep the machinery resets the pins and the ball appears again. Whereas the weblog is . . . what? Foosball. Pool. Ricochets and bankshots, tangents. Synchronicity and serendipidity. Why, the very lack of a narrative makes the story all the more authentic. Right?
Probably. Of course, if I intended the Bleat to be authentic above all, I would include a punishing amount of pointless detail. Its amusing how much I dont say in this little forum. But if I keep at this long enough I know Ill say everything I need to say. I just wont ever link you to an interesting essay on the demise of innerspring mattresses, or a penetrating essay linking Quentin Tarantino to Pink Floyd. (There is no link. Unless you consider that QT used Stuck in the Middle With You in Reservoir Dogs, and Gerry Rafferty, half of Stealers Wheel, had success with Baker Street, which featured the saxophone of Raphael Ravenscroft, who played on The Final Cut by Pink Floyd.)
Anyway. Tonights music: Im MP3izing the soundtrack for Local Hero, one of my favorite soundtracks; its one of those pieces of music that always makes me feel like a better person for liking it and listening to it. Appeals to a mans better self. (Theres only one song Ive skipped; its the one by Gerry Rafferty.) Also ripping the Cal soundtrack, another piece of perfection from Mark Knopfler.
When I finish ripping the CDs, I have my choice of stacks - the SELL stack or the KEEP stack. Its interesting to see what isnt going to stay around. Cheap Trick Dream Police - farewell. (Dont laugh. The first three songs are a perfectly fine late 70s soundtrack for throwing up Pabst in the park.) The Best of Naked Eyes, which is almost like saying Flock of Seagulls: the Hits! But both groups have something to recommend them; each brushed up against an obscure genius. Flock had a tune produced by the peculiar and overly talented Bill Nelson, and Naked Eyes had a tune produced by Tony Mansfield, the man behind a group called New Music. One of the great lost albums of the early days of techno, my friends.
Lost except for a scratchy, wheezy copy in my basement. I will finish the CDs by Friday, and then comes the real work: digitizing the records of My Misspent Youth. Im really looking forward to this - I have a Saturday night by myself at the house coming up, six hours of visiting these old songs. I must make sure to close the curtains lest anyone on the street see me dancing. Dont want to ruin anyone elses evening.
Watched L. A. Confidential. Saw it on day one in the theater, but as usual the experience was less than optimal - talky audience, full bladder, the nagging fear that the movie would be Slack, all the things that usually ruin movies I really, really want to see. I tend to enjoy them at home the second time. Headphones, a good drink, undivided attention. I was even more impressed the second time. Given the number of characters and the quantity of plot, the films confidence and clarity is just amazing. (My only quibble - and its small - is the choice of James Cromwell for Dudley; thats not the Dud I envisioned.) But I was surprised to find that the movie ended in a completely different fashion than I remembered. No, Im not spoiling anything here - well, no, I am. Well, no, Im not, if I put it like this: At the end of the movie two people are saying good bye. Ones in a car and the others standing outside the car. As the car drives off, one character holds a hand up against the window, and the other character in the car does the same, and their hands are pressed together against the glass until the car picks up speed and goes away.
Thats what I remembered. And thats not what happens. At all. On the contrary. So I went back to the book; thats how the book ends. I must have read the book again after seeing the movie, and the books ending replaced the movie ending. But even after I read the book again, I still dont see James Cromwell as Dudley.
Cromwell wasnt cheerful enough. Dudley was a man of great bonhomie. Thats what made his malevolence all the creepier. Anyone whos read the Ellroy LA series knows this - whenever Dudley enters the picture, all bluff Oirish bluster and well-me-boyo charm, your blood runs cold.
Sat on the porch after supper and finished The Intruder, by Pete Blauner. Third book Ive read by him. Not the best. Still worth the time. I recommend his work - Slow Motion Riot and Man of the Hour are fine dense New Yorknovels; The Intruder is a spare example of his work, more contemplative. Its the sort of book you put down and think: this would make a lousy movie, because the camera could never capture the interior lives of the characters. And then you realize thats what made it such an engrossing read. If Blauner keeps this up, hes going to be an American Balzac. As much as I love Tom Wolfe, Blauner does this much better. Wolfes books are the product of research. Blauner just keeps his eyes open on the way home every night.
Its a column night; back to work.
Im now down to five pieces of nicotine gum a day. According to the Master Plan in the nicorette box, I should be down to none by now. Screw it. I like my gum. A friend at work says he chewed the stuff for two and a half years. Why n
ot? Beats smoking. And heres my nasty little secret: at the end of the evening, sometimes I sit outside and chew a piece reeeeeally quickly: whee! Bzzzzz.
|Bedrock Jigs, Blarney Rubble; Louie Louie: A Tribute featuring The The, Talk Talk, Was (Not Was), Lulu, and Others; Mopin, Dreamin, Combin My Hair, Chris Isaak; F*ck Gravity: a Compilation, featuring Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, Lynyrd Skynryd, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ricky Nelson, Glenn Miller
Living on the edge, I am.
Now if I can just stop mainlining heroin. Its after a meal that you really want to shoot up, you know. And the media images! Theyre everywhere. You watch those old movies, everyones shooting up. Saw an old Bogie film the other night; hes tying off Bacalls arm, slapping the vein, giving her the spike. Its quite romantic.
Went to the burbs at twilight. I love going to the burbs on a spring evening, just as the sun has set and the parking lot lights cast a warm glow over the empty sea of fresh black asphalt. There arent many cars, hardly any patrons. The clerks can be extra cheery, since the end of the shift is right around the corner. Went to Organized Living, a store for those who dont feel like shopping at Chaotic Death; asked the clerk for some boxes to hold postcards. She took me to an aisle of boxes. Five colors. Dozens of sizes. The shelf was ten feet tall and twenty feet long. God, I love America.
Next: the computer store. (Of course, the Organized Living store used to be the computer store - Computer City, to be exact. But they were killed dead by Comp USA, which is where I went next.) I bought Toast 4.0 for the Mac, since its good for cleaning up old scratchy records and transferring them to CDs. Also bought Quake2. Yes, Ive played it already. Yes, I played all the expansion packs. But I just want a good mayhem game on my iMac, and it was cheap. Checked out, walked across the parking lot to Circuit City. The smell of flowers was thick in the air - the gardens of the adjoining office buildings have sprouted, and the lot smelled like a greenhouse. At Circuit City I bought some headphones, two DVDs (Galaxy Quest and Pee Wees Big Adventure. Its action packed!) and a patch cord. Back to the car. Back on the freeway. Home at 74.5 MPH.
It took 50 minutes. If Id had to rely on mass transit - say, a bus, or the LRT - it would have taken twice that much time. And if Id taken the LRT, Id have gotten home and remembered that Id forgotten to take the movie back to the video store. Since I had my car, I just got back in and drove over. If Id been relying on the trolley, it would have been a 25 minute walk or a late fee.
Now. Would I like to take the train to work? I would indeed. I would love to stroll to the station on a spring morning, and read the paper as we slid along a maglev rail. But I wouldnt take it in the winter, because I wouldnt want to walk 12 blocks to the station. I wouldnt take it tomorrow, because I have to get groceries when I get back from work. I wouldnt take it Thursday, because I have to drop the car off at the corner station and walk home that day. I wouldnt take it Friday if I had Almanac to do, and if Id agreed to fill in for Jason Lewis on Friday, I wouldnt take it, because it would be a pain to get to the station, and then get home to make dinner.
Other than that, Im a big supporter of light rail.
For everyone else, of course.
Id feel differently if I lived in a far-flung burb. Commuter rail across the rivers, deep into the exurbs - that makes sense. Its one of the things that keeps me from moving out. And it wouldnt have to be a massive rail system - even a dedicated express bus lane would be fine.
Its odd - everyones touting our new stunted featherbedded hideously expensive and generally STUPID light-rail line as a benefit to the city - but if they really built a light rail line that made the commute easier, I wonder how many people would say At Last! and bolt for the burbs. For the big new house on the big broad lot.
With no trees.
But with closets and outlets and walls big enough for the TV to show movies . . . .
With no trees. And no creek. And no sidewalks.
But with a garage big enough to hold both our cars so I dont have to flip a coin when the hail comes . . .
With no trees and no creek and no sidewalks . . .
And no airplane noise.
Ah, whats the point. Im here and thats fine. But the house shrinks a little every year. Theres just something odd about feeling compelled to digitize your music because youll feel less cramped once you toss 50 CDs.
I want a house where I can have enough shelf space for all my books. I dont care if I never read any of them again, theyre old comrades and I like to have them around. There. I said it. And my maps. I want a wall big enough to display my 6-part original maps of Minneapolis. Am I wrong?
Of course I am. Once I find a larger house I will be one of the Bad People who fled the city and left it to ROT, just so I could sit in a big gimcracky shack-on-steriods and admire my spoils, my Things, my Stuff, my heaps of booty. Well. Well see.
I do love it here; I really do. As noted: I will not leave unless I can find a place where theres water and trees at the end of the block. And I dont mean a ficus in a pot by someones swimming pool.
At suppertime there was a knock at the door - Jasper, as usual, went bezoomy, and barked his gulliver off, knocking his rookers on the glass so his nails went skickity skickity skickity on the door. The deliveryman - a bolshy veck in a cal-colored outfit, the very height of UPS fashion - took a step back. Thats quite a guard dog, he says, wary like.
I viddied the box hed given me.
It was addressed to Jasper.
Its for him, I said, and the driver just nodded. Sure it is.
But it was. It was a package from the Georges, and contained a few cookbooks for the GoRF, some matches for the
collection, and Jaspers rope, which had been left behind when Jasper stayed over last month. Jasper grabbed it and pranced away, happy to see his vonny droog once more.
|Let's just say Elvis is King. Or was, before he decided he wanted to be Pat.
Sorry. I know that made little sense. I just finished the annual reread of A Clockwork Orange. I have to give a lecture on the book at Barnes & Noble next week, so I figured Id best brush up on it. Im amazed at how violent it is - even though the language serves to insulate the reader from the hideous acts, its still a messy tale with a brutal, if charming hero. And of course theres the nadsat dialect, which takes some getting used to. The latter editions book dont have a glossary, either. I picked a fine book for my little discussion group. I should have about five people in attendance.
Im on the porch, tapping away at the iBook in the last few minutes of a glorious day. Sunset and warm enough for shorts. Heaven. Im drinking a crisp James Page Pale Ale (The only beer made with Four Open Vowel Sounds!) and Im ignoring the dog. He got a good long walk. We threw the rope for a while. And now it is time for the dog to be quiet.
Hes sitting on the steps, looking at me, with his rope between his paws.
Tonights big contribution to the SRP (The Stuff Reduction Program, the ongoing attempt to digitize everything, dispose of most unnecessary items and pare my life down to a rack of 50 CDs and one computer) was the digitizing of the Elvis Costello Collection. It was sad, really. I transferred all of the first seven albums. Then began the cherrypicking. Half of this album . . . eh, better skip the bonus tracks . . . then just two cuts from this piece of krep, then - ahhh, most of Blood and Chocolate . . . then just a song from this one, and two from Brutal Youth, and none from that ghastly Wendy James album. . .
Ill never understand it. The best songwriter of my generation, and like Prince (the other genius of his era, although I like him less than Costello) he just got dense and pretentious. I should have known it was over with Trust, which just had CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION PRODUCT screaming from every measure. Same with Squeeze, for that matter; they too sailed from the port of Melody and wandered the Sargasso bogs for years, turning out hours of mid-tempo yawners. And Chris Isaak let me down, too. Everyone let me down eventually.
Well, thats the way of the world. Talent burns out and mediocrity endures. Ringo Starr will be the last surviving Beatle; count on it. Hell live to be 95.
Is tonight the season finale for Voyager? Couldnt tell from the previews, and frankly I dont really care. Kes Returns! This is about as exciting a prospect as learning that Joe Piscopo will reprise his role as the Outrageous Okona, or whatever he was named. I havent been as hard on Vger as others, since I remembered how everyone hated DS9, gave up on it early and hence missed the best Trek of them all. But Vger has missed so many opportunities to grow up. They still act as if theyre just around the corner instead of a billion billion miles away.
Anyway. Now to go inside and work some more. But I go with regret. This means little to people in milder climes, places where its always blue and never less than green - but to sit on the porch this late, in shorts, and feel comfy this early in the year is like a pardon from the governor for a crime you didnt commit, such as the crime of writing really long sentences with mixed metaphors. But perfect it is.
Sitting on the front steps instead of the back porch. Dusk. The sprinklers are out; a few neighbors are chatting across the street; the children are making a few last cartwheels before theyre sentenced to bed. Darcy just stopped and asked why Jasper lets me talk to neighbors, but wont let my wife talk to neighbors. Because Im the boss, I said, knowing A) it was true, and B) it is surely the only area in my life I can say that about. Everything else REEKS of cooperation and submission. Not with my dog! I rule! When he wants to get his belly scratched, he only gets two minutes worth. Then I stop - because thats how I want it.
I love dogs, and I enjoy cigars, so why didnt I buy the Cigar Aficionado magazine that has a cover story about dogs? Because Kevin Bacon was on the cover. That was enough.
Anyway. Evening. Listening to the sprinklers. The neighbors sprinkler, an old veteran of a dozen summers, is set to salaam before some unseen potentate - it rises up slowly, never enough to show disrespect, then prostrates itself again. My sprinkler is set on Vacillation - a little to the left, a little to the right, back and forth, like someone unable to choose between two pastries. This sprinkler shuts itself off after an hour, or two, or three. Very clever feature, I thought, although it didnt occur to me at the time that the water wouldnt shut off. On the contrary. The water would keep fountaining out the spigot, and finding nowhere to do it would burst from the slightest seam and soak the sidewalk, which is exactly what its done.
But it is a small complaint; Im just happy to be watering again. Rain would be good. Thunderstorms would be better. But its only the first week of May. The high should be 65. Thats todays low.
Many barks in the distance - yips vs woofs, neither of which is Jaspers. I hope they get back from the walk soon; its been an hour.
plink: Streetlights. They never make a sound when they come on. Too bad. There should be a small sound - a bell, a flute note that lingers for a while, a plucked string, or something just inside the range of hearing, something that makes you feel it as much as hear it, something in the air that says good evening, friend.
Ah, heres the wife and dog. And Jasper is barking. Loudly. He isnt a constant barker by any means, but he barks when we play, and he barks when a certain dog goes by in the evening. (Raina.) But I fear his barking upsets the new neighbors, who, I believe, go to bed early. Sunset early. I mean, its 8:53 and their house is now as dark as the tomb. Well, I still hew to dorm rules - in my mind one should be silent after ten, or after midnight on Saturday. Prior to that one cannot complain. When I was doing the nighttime radio show I needed my early evening nap, and most of the neighborhood kids were playing outside, and playing LOUDLY with much wailing and shrieking and screaming. I could only ask them not to do it outside my window. Couldnt ask the kids next door to be quiet. It was my obligation to get a noisy fan or some other bit of white-noise equipment, which is what I did.
Still, I wince when he barks now. So Id better go inside and play.
Back on the back porch. As I went out the side porch door to turn off the sprinkler, I stumbled over a clump of vegetation that hadnt been there a day before. Its astonishing, the growth thats taken place over the last week. A little water, a little sun: bang. Spring is like a capital-gains tax cut. A heavy stifling hand has been removed, and everything explodes.
What else to say about today? No real I LOVE YOU problems, except for some annoyances at work. There was an announcement around 1:30 that the AP wires were down, perhaps due to the virus, and I felt a cold chill. APs down? Thats not good. Thats one of those end-of-the-world details (which, oddly enough, never happens in end-of-the-world movies or books.) But I wrote the column with great speed, buoyed by the sun and the desire to be out in it.
Now, after ten, its quiet. Shhhh. Jasper is sitting inside, by the door, looking at me to make sure I dont go anywhere. The backyard lights look nice, and theyd better - I spent Saturday afternoon cannibalizing the entire system, harvesting good bulbs from bad lamps, winnowing 15 down to seven. I removed the lights from the now entirely-overgrown pathway, which I put in several years ago. Laid down some weedblock at the time: hah. Theres no such thing as weedblock. Oh, I could have poured ten gallons of that nuclear soil-poison they sell, but I didnt want to do that, and besides it wouldnt have worked. Within a few years Id have had some mad scraggly spurge thrusted its gnarled & evil tendrils up through the soil. Now, I have 14 percent rocks, 20 percent slate stepping-plates, and 66 percent creeping charlie.
I was ripping up the charlie on Saturday, as I took out the lights; the radio was playing a long, long story on Vietnam. I kept waiting for someone to mention Charlie in the Vietnamese context while I yanked out Charlie in the backyard context. Didnt happen. Instead I heard an hour of miserable tales from people stuck in a Communist backwater. I kept thinking of Twee, the Vietnamese doctor we had as a house guest a few months ago. Theres no question shes worse off because the North won. Theres no question her patients are worse off. I wonder if all the people protesting the war and lauding Uncle Ho would have been so sure of themselves had they seen, 25 years hence, a bright and compassionate doctor who cant afford gauze.
Today was the anniversary of Kent State, and I ground my teeth as I listened to an old protester describe how the wounds will never heal.Perhaps not, and one can surely understand why. It just seems unseemly to lavish regret on the death of four, when 1.4 million died as a result of Uncle Hos ambitions.
But, as Uncle Joe said - one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. And he was smiling when he said it, you can bet.
Hey, hey, Ho, Joe: Collectivism's got to go!
Ahem: its a lovely summer night. Time to power down and breathe deep. The weekend awaits, and the weatherman says 90. Ninety! After three miserably cold springs, this is just the ticket. Yardwork, sweat, green knees and the tart benediction of lemonade. Finally. At last.