Happened again: I’m in the same parking lot with, of course, the same baby; a car comes racing through slantwise, and shoots around my vehicle. If I’d started walking a few seconds earlier, Bog knows what would have happened. This time I yell at the jerks to slow down. (It’s not age that turns men into Mr. Wilson; it’s the overwhelming obligation to keep your child safe.) The car parks down the aisle, so I plan on having a few words with the driver when I encounter them.

They were, of course, two big boys in their 20s, big sloshy vats of testosterone, and as they get out I said Hey: You almost hit my baby back there. Don’t race through the middle of parking lots. You can’t see where you’re going.

Sorry, says the driver, in a voice that says “whatever, pops.”

And then he talks to his friend in Russian. His friend looks at me and replies in Russian, and they’re smirking.

I glared at them and muttered the Russian word for uncultured lowlife.

They stopped talking.

It’s handy to know how to identifiy any tongue, an then call someone an arse in that language. If they think you know what they’re saying, it just strips them buck nagoy. In retrospect, I should have gone with filthy buttocks, but I only know that slovo in Uke - and while it’s probably close in Russian, I didn’t want to be imprecise.

This is probably where Tintin books come in handy: pick up the translation for the language in which you wish to insult people, memorize all the Captain’s curses, and you’re set. Granted, you’re probably calling them bilious blue blistering barnacles, but it’ll give them pause.
. .
We were at an Indian restaurant the other day, when a couple came in and sat by the window. The fellow wore clogs with six inch heels, and a tanktop with spaghetti straps, as if he’d been possessed by the spirit of a junior high school girl from 1974. The female part of the equation was dressed in a comparable abomination: a halter-top with alternating brown, orange and cream stripes. Add lank-yet-wavy hair with a severe center part, ugly sandals and hip-hugger bellbottoms. All she needed was a bottle of Boone’s Farm and a bronze one-hitter and she’d be Miss Kegger, 1974. Then I realized something else: hey, that dame is actually a fella. Now, I have a perpetual Indignation Generator that spins like an industrial gyroscope at all times, but this isn’t one of those things that bothers me. Fine; whatever floats your boat, nowt as queer as., etc. But what’s the point of reorienting your gender identity if you’re just as style-deprived as you were before?

The more I thought of it, the more it seemed to sum up this interminable 70s revival I mention now and then - it’s not only as bad as before, it’s not even genuinely bad. It’s ersatz bad. We’re in trouble when even cross-dressers lack snap, friends. And that includes Madonna: she’s on the cover of “Entertainment Weekly” in a kilt.. And a vinyl jacket with an early-80s style Needless Zipper. And a sleeve made some sheer material. And what appears to be a bandage on the other arm, perhaps to keep a 3rd degree burn nice and moisty. She looks horrible. Great shape, but horrible - a straw-haired shrieking harridan.

Must - resist - desire - to - issue - rant -

I’ll say this for Entertainment Weekly (“Overclocking my Indignation Generator since 1992”) - it gave a good review to the repeats of Crime Story. Granted, it got a B+, one of those inexplicably nuanced ratings that must satisfy the reviewer’s sense of critical integrity in ways we cannot glimpse. I’m always amused when they review a movie a second time, for the tape or DVD version, and remind us of their original review. The DVD review will say it’s “an underappreciated story of quiet dignity and great serenity, a tale that the small screen allows to breathe. A-

"What we said then: '...an interminable, incomprehensible dog of a movie that won’t come when you call, because it’s dead. F.'”

Need - to - harp - on - Madonna - story - surging -

Every - muscle - straining - to - resist

Nothing to report for today, because it’s a day of duty - I work at home on Mondays, and since this means chloroforming the baby and locking the dog in the garage, there are no heartwarming tales. I did spend an hour this morning on technical support over some email issues, and here’s the hilarious account of that:

(non hiliarious portions omitted)

(end of story)

Yes, I can’t even glean a tale there - I posed my problem, and was met with the correct answer, promptly. I even played with Gnat while waiting for the technician.

I’m sorry. My heart just isn’t in this tonight. We have company - one person today, four more thursday - and I’m operating on 5.5 hours of sleep. And I have a column to finish tonight, and I’m behind, and it’s 90 minutes to bedtime. It’s either another short bleat or a loooong rant about why Madonna bugs the hell out of me these days.

Show of hands: Madonna rant?

I thought so.
.. ..
- still - fighting - need - to - write - Madonna - rant -

- must - assume - classic - Lorne Greene - pose - of - defiance

I give up. Okay. It’s like this. I don’t know where I’m going with this; I haven’t thought this out at all. I’m writing this while I’m printing a series of pictures for Gnat’s first birthday party. So . . . let’s see where it goes.

Some people have a long-standing historical aversion to Madonna, who, in their eyes, has managed to embody every annoying trend in the past 20 years without a stupendous endowment of talent. I don’t see that. Longevity is a talent in its own right, and if she’s been thin in the vocal department, she’s compensated with an ear for popular material.

I remember exactly where I first heard her: in a narrow record store that smelled of beer and pee, on Hennepin Av. next to Brady’s Pub. They’d put up a big poster from the first album: she looked like a female Billy Idol, with bruised eyes, a full pout, a brace of rubber bracelets and a head full of shocked hair peaked like a clever merangue. They were playing “Holiday” on the speakers. General consensus in the store: prefab one-hit flavor of the week.

Even though I was a staunch devotee of skinny-tie nervous jangle-bands that played guitars and foreswore synthesized sweeteners, and ended albums with tendentuous anti-Thatcher dirges, I didn’t hate this stuff. I’ve always liked good pop, whatever the source, and this was good pop. But more than that, it seemed to be the soundtrack for a life that was much more fun than mine, being enjoyed by people much less smart than myself who would never really count me in. That’s what it felt like. And, of course, I was correct; duh.

As quaint & silly as that early 80s look now looks, it had the virtue of being new - it launched thift-store chic into the mainstream, which at the time was choked with Quiana and Izod. It was cheerful and naughty, and before Madonna edited herself down into a cyborg of sinew, she had a certain ripe quality that made the “Material Girl” video work as Marilyn Monroe parody and dead-on summation of every sorority girl’s ambition. Neat trick. The 80s will probably end up being as misunderstood as the 50s, but those of us who were there at the time knew how to read this stuff.

Now she just seems charmless, harsh and unnecessary. (“The summer’s Must-See Tour” the EW cover screams - of course, this is the same magazine that called A.I. “the movie everyone is talking about.”) The EW article starts with two pictures: the front of her shirt, which says MOTHER, and the back, which says F*CKER. (I’m not being coy - the shirt has a star instead of an A.) Get it? Why, she’s confounding our expectations once again, playing with our notions of gender and roles! On one hand, the idea is about seven years old, and goes back to that tiresome song by what’s her name - you know, I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a hatter, I’m a glover, whatever. But I’m surprised that no one points out how obvious and labored this supposed dichotomy really is - I know, I know, we’re supposed to cogitate on the Roles we’re all handed by The Culture, and marvel that she’s able to make a Brave Transgressive Statement that forces us to think: why, a woman can be a mother, and a f*cker! Thank you, Madonna!

Of course, no one in the audience thinks that at all, except for critics. And there’s the problem: critics for major publications are usually the ones with tenure; they don’t send the new guy out to cover Madonna. They send the grizzled vet who has to come up with new excuses why a grown individual should pay attention to children’s music, and the excuse is usually to find some sort of philisophical nonsense in the performer. Madonna is an aging rock critic’s dream.

Reasons she annoys me:

1. She’s always “reinventing” herself. This is lauded as the sign of a real artist, because . . . well, it just is. But why? David Bowie is famous for “reinventing” himself, right up to the point where he reinvented himself out of the public eye entirely; he had two incarnations that yielded some interesting stuff - the laughable glam schtick (you really don’t need to paint sparkly zigzags on your face to sing, or appreciate, “Major Tom”) and the Thin White Duke incarnation, in which he proved that he looked good on MTV and could lend credibility to some steamy cryptic songs.

Fine; good; I like David Bowie. Good for him. But most artists don’t “reinvent” themselves every year; they either find what they’re good at, and perfect it, or they enjoy a stylistic anabasis that goes where the muse takes them. Whereas Madonna, I suspect, puts a finger to the wind, decides that it’s been exactly 17 years since the Urban Cowboy fad, and decides to adopt a Western attire for her next image. And she expects that all the right people will follow, or applaud her, or at least talk about her. There’s nothing that roots the artist to the image here, which makes point two even wierder:

2. The images in the 90s were just . . . smelly. She put out a book of photos called “Sex” that was one of the most unsexy things I’d ever seen. I had the pleasure of reviewing it at the time, and while the review is long gone, I can sum it up: ewwwww. Madonna in the lap of some gouty German. Madonna licking a shoe. Madonna at a urinal; oh, you naughty girl! Madonna having sport with a pooch: hope he’s fixed! Madonna getting pawed by Vanilla Ice, whose personal fame clock read 14:59:59 at the time. Madonna at an S&M club. You wanted a bath and a tetanus shot when it was over.

The music got equally murky, too. To quote from the EW article about this era: “Think of it as music for S&M clubs - shrouded, cool, and more than a little over the heads of the mainstream.” Ah, the poor beknighted mainstream, scratching their heads, wondering why that nice girl from New Jersey wants to go an’ get herself all whipped up.

3. The EW article quotes one of her choreographers, one of the “young turks” who agreed with her decision not to give her audience “a solid gold hit parade” - meaning, songs they know and like. God forbid. The choreographer issued this deathless remark: “She was completely like, ‘I just wanna f--- everything up.’ A very punk attitude.” The choreographer is 23. This means he was a blastocyst when punk actually happened. No one with “a punk attitude” has a choreographer, son.

4. Her personal life. Oh, I don’t care if she’s nuzzling with Sean or Sandra or the fifth shiek of Qatar, but this business of having children and discarding the fathers is, depending on my mood, pathetic, stupid, or contemptable. Children need fathers. It’s bad enough when the fathers leave of their own accord. Madonna, one suspects, sends them away, because they clash with the decor. She has a new little baby; she’s going to be on tour for two months. Who’s taking care of little Rocco?

Not a word about that in the EW piece: we learn more about the dancers in her show than the baby.
5. The printer’s out of ink, and I’m going to bed. There: that’s my Madonna rant. She bugs me. And I still turn the radio up when a few of her songs come up.
.. ..
The day appears to have evaporated, and I’ve nothing to show for it. I hate Wednesdays. Nothing needs to be produced, so nothing usually gets produced. I don’t feel as if I’ve earned my keep if I don’t make something. I’ve spent much of the last few days’ free time choking a novel idea to death, something that needs to be done every now and then. I get an idea, and I turn it over and around and let it keep me awake when I’m trying to sleep. As much as I’d like to write another novel, I’m not going to spend half a year on something unsellable; I don’t want to write something that tries to be a popular genre novel, because it wouldn’t be convincing. The idea grew until it seemed to mesh perfectly with a novel I nailgunned in the head three years ago - man, that was a miserable experience. The book was called “The Merlin Wind,” and involved a phenomenon that kept moving a particular location, and everyone in it, back through time at regular intervals. The people who lived in that spot knew what was happening, and took advantage of it, and had developed an interesting culture. But as with any time-travel story, it becomes a logistical nightmare. I hate temporal mechanics.

The idea I had the other night was simple & beguiling, at least to me: a fellow is in his car, stuck in traffic, listening to Mahler’s First symphony, and instead of going to the fourth movement, the radio plays the “Blumine” movement, which Mahler removed. The fellow thinks nothing of it, and is surprised when the announcer doesn’t mention the inclusion, but thinks nothing of it. A few days later he goes to Tower to buy the First - he didn’t have it on CD - and discovers 15 recordings, all of which have the Blumine movement. It’s one subtle detail, but it’s wrong. It’s just wrong, and he knows it. He starts paying attention from then on, and starts to notice that many details are off. But what’s wrong to him seems right to the reader, so we get confused in a swirl of alternate realities -

then he wakes up naked and hairless in a pod, covered with goo, with thick black cords attached to his spine!

Well, it wasn’t exactly the Matrix, but it threatened to go there, and I didn’t want to follow.

I know which novel I should write. The Fargo novel. It’s just waiting for me, and it’s the only thing I’ll really be able to do with any conviction. One of these days; soon.

On a related note: saw “The Time Machine” on TCM the other night. One of those movies you love as a child, and had best avoid as an adult. I give it credit for one terrifying image: the Moorlock Sphinx still gives me the creeps; it looks brutal, arrogant, human but not-human. Not a harbinger of good news. I was amused when I realized that our hero had gone to the year 800,000 and deduced that the entire planet was hosed, based on what he saw - well, maybe just England had Moorlocks and Elois, eh? Maybe everyone else lived in perfect cities with silvery towers. Maybe England in 800,000 was a penal colony for supermodels.

The movie also contained a large brackish draught of Sebastian Cabot, playing a bluff John Bull who simply couldn’t believe A WORD of this time-travel stuff. Rot! Tommyrot and poppycock! Nonsense, old boy! And of course he considered himself a close friend of Mr. Wells. You’re obviously lying to us, old thing, or you’ve taken a berth on the HMS Bedlam. Andd I note that you’re bleeding heavily, too. Ah well, I must be off; see you for dinner next week.

Speaking of England: got a catalog for PBS videos today. About half of the catalog consists of videos about, or set in, 19th century England. Would someone explain why PBS, whose demographic is mostly liberal, spends half its time worshipping an imperialist monarchy? Hmmm? And then there’s this priceless description of a show that sounds absolutely gruesome:

Take a Letter Mr. Jones
“It’s a topsy-turvy world: he’s the lowly secretary and she’s in charge. John Inman stars as a guy Friday to a high-powered executive Rula Lenska. Can his alibis and face-saving schems protect his boss from the ruthless world of British business? Tune in and ‘Take a Letter Mr. Jones.’

The American version would star Troy McClure.

Also saw Titan A.E., because I’m interested in animation. Love it. Life’s passion. Etc. Hence, I’m interested in watching it die, and note who’s killing it, and how. The movie wasn’t very good at all. The first five minutes had promise, but it was derivative from start to finish, featured wretched comic relief, boring voice work and plot holes whose capacious diameter rivaled George Lucas’ goiter: yes, when the fate of the entire planet is at stake, put the most invaluable piece of machinery in a ring, put that ring on a 8-year old boy’s hand, then put the boy on a ship attempting to fly through massive bombardment, in the hopes that one day he’ll find you and use the ring, even though you haven’t told him for what, or where to find you, and even though he’ll probably have lost the ring years ago because it DIDN’T FIT anymore and he took it off. Argh.

Worst of all, it mixed animation with computer graphics in a way that just reminded you that animation is a dying art. This isn’t a bad thing. I’d love to see someone import the traditional Warner Bros. characters into computers, and let the mayhem commence; right now movies like Toy Story and Bug’s Life are so intent on being realistic that they’re afraid to exaggerate, and they’re probably right - they want us to believe, and that means they have to ape life. No one can get an anvil on the head, be compressed to a fifth thier size, and walk around making accordian noises. Not now. Not yet. But soon.
.. ..
When it’s hot at night you hope for rain; when you hear thunder you smile, and think of the seasonal delicacy to come: fresh rain, a cool breeze, the comforting mutter of thunder rumbling above as you drift off to sleep.

Then you realize it’s just fireworks.

Even though Gnat’s birthday is tomorrow, we had the party on Saturday. More excitement and commotion that child has never seen, but she was a good baby through all of it. Smart, tolerant, and inquisitive: if she can hold on to these characteristics, she’s going to be something indeed. I’m glad a few guests had cameras, since once again I filmed the entire thing, guaranteeing that I will be utterly invisible in all of her home movies, my presence shown only by the editing selections I make when compiling the . .

the . . .

the tapes. . . Sorry. I faded off. A wave of fuzziness & exhaustion just hit. Tsunami, really. We’ve been going nonstop since Friday - had supper at Oceanaire, a seafood restaurant downtown. Done entirely in 40s decor, trading vaguely on some sort of Hemingway vibe, perhaps. Exceptional food. Portions that could feed Lichtenstein. Went home, groaned my way up and down the block while Jasper took his walk; bed. Saturday was all business, what with the little party; mostly I ran errands and stayed out of the womenfolk’s hair. I enjoy being a host, because it gives you something to do - always a glass to fill or remove, a dish to take, a table to wipe. You’re never standing in the kitchen, becalmed, feeling like a hooked piece of Velcro in a room full of silk, waiting for someone to come along and provide the basics for a conversation. It’s fun - you miss the party entirely, of course, but you have your own sort of fete, a parallel party overlaid on the real thing.

Gnat got her first electronic beeping device, this one being a cellphone with Elmo’s maniacal face on the earpiece. She kept stabbing the number 9, and I thought it said DIE! DIE! DIE! in this cheery nutso Itchy & Scratchy voice. She also got her first piece of cake, and she pronounced it Yum. Really: it’s the standard baby approval noise, and it’s been put into daily rotation.

So that was Saturday. At night we just cleaned and had leftovers - we still have houseguests, so we had help - and then everyone went to bed with extreme prejudice. I played “Tropico,” a Cuba simulator. You’re a dictator - benevolent or not - ruling a small island. It has a sandbox mode, and that’s all I want to do - design a little town, let everyone have free elections, pay all my workers well, and live in the palace. I chose Charismatic & Incorruptable as my postive traits, which means I cannot steal from the treasury, and people like to see me when I address the nation. For drawbacks, I configured my leader to be short-tempered and alcoholic. Which means I’m probably hell on the palace staff - and then unbearably, lugubriously nice.

One year.
She's one year old. I watched her play in the ruins of the afternoon, crinkling paper, slapping chubby palms on a box, and you can't help but feel this boundless, hopeless love. I felt as if I’d just launched her from a dock. There she goes. One year, then the next, then the next. Wave bye-bye to daddy, that’s all I ask.

Ungrateful little -

See? Short-tempered. Alcoholic.

Sunday: got up early, tended Gnat for a while, finishing the Motel Postcard site as I did so. (Not up yet.) Grocery shopped for everyone for the next week - how do you cook for a Frenchman, anyway? Lots of goose fat, perhaps. So it’s goose fat tacos tomorrow, then.

Now: I must sleep. Instantly. Here I go. Goodbye.