A weekend of gluttony: Friday night at Ruth’s Chris’ Steak’s House’s, where you can hear the steak sizzling as it comes across the room. Well, if everyone falls silent, maybe; that’s got to be one damn loud steak to drown out a room of conversation and clinking cutlery. I had the meat. Oh, they gave it a fancy name, but that’s what it comes down to in these places. “I’ll have the meat.” Sunday afternoon I dined at that Scottish restaurant, McDonald’s, and had one of my usual arguments with the clerk: I asked for medium fries. She said they had small and large. I point to the board: Small, Large, Extra Large. The one in the middle, I said. She stared at me with complete incomprehension. Large, I said, deciding that today’s lesson was falling on deaf ears. She found the appropriate pictogram on the keyboard, and announced that my bill was $4.80. I said that couldn’t be right; I pointed to the various items I’d ordered, adding them up on the fly - which seemed to strike her as some sort of witchcraft. She had no idea what I was talking about. A shift leader was summoned. He was a cheerful fellow skilled in customer placation, and you knew he would have about ten McDonald’s by the time he was 40. He found the error: she’d rung up the fries twice. A void had to be made. A void! Mais non! Sacre Bleu! The manager now steamed over, fire spitting from his eyes.

Always read back the order to the customer, he hissed at the clerk, and now my sympathies shifted quickly to the cowering clerk. Maybe she did, I said, and I just didn’t hear. My fault. It’s not a big deal. The manager didn’t even look at me; he just performed the Voiding of the Ticket, and that was that. When I got my meal it had two medium, which is to say large, fries, and it was in a bag. I’d said “for here.” I didn’t want to press the issue. I pumped some cups of ketchup, went outside, and dropped one on my leg. As I wiped it off, yellowjackets gathered: mmm, shinmeat AND condiments.

The Giant Swede soon came out with a bag of cookies. “I thought you ordered an apple pie,” he said.

“They didn’t have any made yet, so they gave me the cookies by way of apology,” he said. “They’re going to bring me the pie when it’s done.”

Wow: table service. Of course, they didn’t bring it. He stopped at the counter on the way out to see if he could get one, or get his money back, and the shift leader - horrified, chagrined - gave him two.

So . . . we got much more than we wanted, for free, with apologies. And we’ll never go there again.

Sunday we had dinner with friends from the Minnesota Youth Symphony. We met at Sydney’s, a local chain that also has an outlet in Scottsdale. Good food, although as far as I know everything except the Mardi Gras chicken is wretched, since that’s all I ever have. Sara and I were first. I checked in, and the hostess - one of two dozen cheerful blonde teens running the place - bade us to wait at the bar. I looked balefully at the empty restaurant, wondering why we couldn’t just sit, but that’s against the rules. The party must be fully assembled before it is stowed and secured. The bar had junk from previous tenants. Not much - crumbs, a crumpled placemat, a bottle of olive oil and a smear of extra virgin bread-dip. The bartender asked what we wanted, and my wife asked if someone could clean this up. “He’ll be along,” the bartender said cryptically, and she returned to having a conversation with four other employees at the end of the bar. For the next ten minutes we watched as Zero customers entered, and the five o’clock crew got the all-important weekend socializing out of the way. No one came for the olive oil. It began to assume outsize dimensions, rising like the pyramid of Giza over the bar. Finally I waved down a manager and said, kindly, “I understand that we can’t be seated, but if you’re going to require us to sit at the bar . . .” and I gestured at the shame, the horror, the FILTH before us.

The manager got it, right away. Bingo: we were out of the bar and in proper seats. “Shift change,” she muttered. I sympathized. She comped the appetizers.

The rest of the party aassembled, and the meal went without incident until the food was served: Manny’s linguine was overdone. My Mardi Gras chicken fettucini was overdone. We sent them back, and, like good Minnesotans, apologized as we did so. The manager returned to express shame, and ritually disembowled herself in the aisle. Well, no. But as she left, I said to Manny: that little episode just got us free dessert.

Which, of course, it did. Sunday did not rival the famous evening at Aquavit where the Giant Swede found a chard of glass in his drink - they comped everything, gave us free parking, made our mortgage payments. But it was close.

One of the dinner guests had a nifty little fact: he’s the creator of a beloved stuffed bear, Peef, and he sees it on the set of “Everyone Loves Raymond.” What a hoot that would be. In fact, what a hoot the entire weekend was. It’s tales like this that give you something to talk about before the appetizers arrive.

After which, of course, the appetizers will have to go back.
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Having described my meaterrific weekend, I now feel it’s necessary to describe today’s menu, if only to allay the fears & dispute the recriminations of those who were horrified by my weekend diet. I had a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys for breakfast. These are knockoffs of Lucky Charms, the cereal equivalent of a fake Rolex sold on a New York streetcorner. Less Marshmallow than Lucky Charms, but half the price. They were irrigated with a cup of fat-free milk. Total breakfast fat: Zero.
This is normal. I don’t eat doughnuts, waffles, eggs, bacon, McMuffins, or the rest, except for a once-a-month weekend splurge.

Lunch: a chicken breast coated in Cajun Magic seasoning, a handful of Terra brand low-fat potato chips, a banana, a box of raisins, a Rice Crispee bar. Total fat: 9 grams. Saturated fats: 3.

Supper: a lean pork chop coated with Roto-Roast Hickory-Molasses seasoning, potatoes with onions, a salad with light dressing, a Sara Lee cheesecake bar one square inch in diameter. Total fat: 30 grams. Total daily intake: 40 grams, or two-thirds the recommended intake. I may go higher tomorrow; I may go lower. Thursday is always grilled fish night, because Friday is pizza. I keep track of these things so I can indulge in a fast-food meal on the weekend.

In short: I want to have a healthy, strong heart, so it can carry the nightly injection of heroin to every capillary, fast.

I did get the all-clear from the ticker doc today; they hadn’t called back with the results of my test, so I figured either A) I was okay, or B) there was just no point in making my last days miserable - let me live with my illusions intact, until I was walking up the stairs and ka BANG the old pump just blew up like a balloon that drifted into a pin factory. The nurse went through the checklist - “right ventricle, fine, right aeorta, fine,” which of course led me to believe that she was leading up to “Left ventricle, necrotic” - otherwise, why not just give me the all-clear and the thumbs up? Turns out there was some minor noise, but it’s nothing. Everyone has this sort of noise, it seems -

And speaking of that, there’s an odd sound coming from the utility pole outside. It screeches. It screeches like a raccoon who got his tail caught in a modem. It’s the damndest sound, and I’ve no idea what it is - the pole carries everything, so I can’t narrow it down. But sure enough the pole screams like the damned bouncing around in the Tabasco Sitz-Bath of Hell


and I don’t know what it means. I hate to call the phone company and tell them that their poles are talking to me. Jasper heard it too - his gigantic ears - the family DEW - unfurled and whirled around to fix the location, and then he just stared, unblinking, at the pole. Perhaps it’s all accumulated conversation. Perhaps it’s just misheard syllables, excess conjunctions, random words that didn’t get transmitted. They build up from time to time. You need to call the phono-rooter man; he’ll shimmy up and run a snake through the cable, suck all the words into a gigantic tank and dispose of them for you.

I guess they sell them to C-SPAN, and they get a nice recycling credit to boot.

Now I’m going to go downstairs and have a lard smoothie. Hey: pizza night’s four days away. I can afford it.
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Our newspaper is running a series of excerpts of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, “Fury.” It’s a mediocre piece of fiction, lazily conceived and ineptly rendered, but it will be given great acclaim: it’s about “the excesses of American culture,” a theme which always gets the penitential class line up to be flogged by their betters. I read the excerpt in the New Yorker first, and it was the usual tiresome slam. Americans, it seems, are given to ostentatious displays of wealth in boom times. No! Yes, it’s so. Well, not Americans, so much as New Yorkers. Well, not just New Yorkers. Rich New Yorkers. Well, not just rich New Yorkers. Nouveau riche New Yorkers. And this one small demographic slice, which has been status-mad and trend addled since the days of New Amsterdam, is somehow meant to symbolize the entirely of the American experience. There’s nothing Rushdie says that hasn’t been said before, far better, with much greater understanding of the culture, but when someone from another country deigns to live among us and tell us to our face how “excessive” we are, we line up and present our backsides for kicking.

It reminded me of a line in a movie review in our local alt weekly. The reviewer was lauding “Ghost World,” a movie based on a Daniel Clowes comic book. I’ll probably see it some day, even though Clowes makes me impatient - were I in my mid20s and alienated, I’d regard it as the gospel, but you can’t stay alienated for long in my position. The dog needs walking, and the baby needs mush. I try to pencil in some existential despair for the evening, but I rarely get around to it. Sometimes you’re just too busy connecting with your world and enjoying life to realize how empty it is - theoretically speaking, of course. Damndest thing. The reviewer noted that the title refered to the ghostly inhabitants of the mall, the damned souls who drift through “the Starblockbarnesandnoble monoculture,” and which I point I just barked BULLSHIT. This might not be the reviewer's opinion - could just be a brisk summation of the movie's attitude, so I don't want to tar him with it. Because it’s such a tiresome riff: everyone is shallow and superficial except the cynical clever people who hang out in comic book shops and independent record stores; people who actually enjoy being among the quick, and have achieved a certain level of comfort & happiness are traitors to . . . to . . . to something; they’re certainly collaborators in the Big Plot to Make Everyone Eat Genetically Modified Tomatoes. I understand this thinking, having been 22 once myself; it’s the constant war of the clever vs. the beautiful, with the former being secretly and desperately afraid that the latter is not only happy, but cultured and clever and well-balanced to boot. Which would just be so unfair.

Let’s look at the Galleria, a shopping center I visit once a week or so. Prior to Starbucks, the only coffee you could get was at this local chain that specialized in “flavored” coffees too hideous to sniff, let alone drink. Now there’s a Starbucks, and it’s a damn good cup of joe. And every afternoon the joint is full of people reading books, talking, perusing the paper - in short, coffeehouse culture thrives in a little burb plot, where before there was just Amaretto Surprise Roast in styrofoam cups. Next door is Barnes and Noble, and to say it pushes a “monoculture” is just tripe. The other day I needed some Cuban music and some French depression-era accordian music: they had it. I needed a history book - whoa, five miles of history books. A basement full of fiction. Rows of Gay & Lesbian lit, which prior to the store’s arrival did not exist in this suburb, let alone this shopping center. Every magazine in the fargin’ world, practically.

Monoculture? Give it a rest. Yes, Blockbuster and all the other chains have their annoying aspects. No, they probably won’t stock uncut versions of “Baise Moi.” But. Prior to the arrival of the video chain in my neighborhood there was an old beat-up theater that played third-string movies on a scratchy screen. Now there’s a store with a Foreign shelf as long as the Action shelf, and it’s got all the stern tormented unwatchable stuff that spells Art. They had a dozen copies of a movie I’d never heard of, concerning a French pyrotechnical expert in the pre-Rev court. A dozen copies! Monoculture? I’ll give you your monoculture: an attitude that accepts only Rusdie’s view on America, a snooty sniff of disdain w/ rolled eyeballs over the excess of zeal, of spirit, of enthusiasm, of opportunity we have here. And I always feel like a moron defending this joint - say “Man! I love America,” and there’ll always be someone to yawn and remark “Yes, as do the Klan.”

I ran into this on an internet discussion board I read - the subject was the moon landing, and how new revelations showed that JFK pushed the program to beat the Rooskies. No! Really? This was news to some, I guess. In a small discussion about why the USSR didn’t get there, I noted that they had trouble with their big boosters, and I was happy they didn’t get there first - I was glad that the hammer and sickle wasn’t planted on the moon above us.

How very 1957, lileks, one fellow sniffed.

This is one of the things that mystified me when I was a good little statist back in college; I couldn’t understand why anti-communism was held in such disdain. It was as if it was the automatic sign of a cretin, an unsophisticate, a McCarthyite. I couldn’t figure out why we held rallies for El Salvador but said nothing when the hammer came down on Solidarity. To this day I’m astonished by people who think that the two systems are more or less mirrors of the other.

Well. This account of the battle Stalingrad I’m reading (inspired by a movie I rented at Hollywood Video; I bought the book at B & N and read the first chapter at Starbucks, just to show what a ghostworldly dupe I’ve become) is chockablock with tales of the Red Army’s brutality towards its own men. Which should surprise no one - brutal states treat their people brutally. Ol’ Nikita was famous for using maximum discipline whenever possible, just to keep the quavering Ivans in line; summary executions for political crimes were a normal part of the daily carnage. One of the Soviets’ favorite means of discipline was to kill the families of traitors - and keep in mind that “traitor” was broadly defined. Screw up, and they’d not only strip you and shoot you, but you’d die knowing that the state would kill your wife and your parents, or send them all to die in one of a hundred slave labor camps. Who carried these orders out without a qualm?

Who was premier of the Soviet Union in 1957?

Who was president of the US in 57? Can anyone possibly imagine Eisenhower sending OSS agents to Witchita to shoot a woman in the head because her husband misplaced a box of ammunition?

But that says nothing about America. The fact that New Yorkers in 2000 were IPO-crazed and spent a lot of money on imported marble for expensive kitchen renovations is, however, considered an insight worthy of international dissemination.

Man, I had a bad day today.

Just - wretched.
.. ..
Well. Ahem. All better today. Yes, today was better than yesterday - and today I went to the dentist, which should tell you something about yesterday. This is all part of the massive Personal Upgrade Program, which, like the Stuff Reduction Program, is a multi-pronged effort to improve the foundations of my life. Regrettably, these are open-ended programs. As I learned tonight. For the last few months I’ve been shoving stuff in the studio closet, and as anyone who’s ever moved knows, boxes unpacked after a certain amount of time tend to remain unpacked. So I bought four cheap white-laminate particleboard shelves, spent an evening assembling those cursed bastiches, then moved out the boxes. Ten tons of excess stuff from the previous studio. Oy. Back then I had more shelves, higher shelves, and I didn’t worry that Gnat would pull an item off and shred it for the glee of shredding it. Now I have all this necessary ephemera, and less place to put it, and that meant yet ANOTHER round of personal triage.

I am, however, exhausted, and I really have nothing to say. Zip. Shot it all yesterday; purged the tanks, emptied the spleen, unloaded the overhead compartment. So here’s an architectural diversion to make up for the shortish Bleat: I call it “the old City Hall of Minneapolis,” and it goes something like . . . this.
.. ..

I wish. Actually, I have to go to the Fair tomorrow - 3:15 at the MPR booth, for what will be my third annual appearance. Last year we were still bleary-eyed with the new Gnat experience; this year I should be a tad more coherant. It means I have to bang out a column double-fast, so I can get to the bus lot and head to the fair . . .

Sometimes I am just sick of typing, and this week has been one of those times. Nothing serious - I’m just eager to do other things. Edit the monthly video, play Max Payne, finish the Stalingrad book, watch a movie. Anything but sit here and type.

So . . . why am I sitting here, typing?

Because if I turn around, or otherwise leave this desk, I’ll see the new lamp in the corner. The lamp that matches the desk lamp. The floor lamp that I swear was much taller in the store. The floor lamp that now looks like LaGuardia would have to bend down to turn on.

“I thought it was taller,” I said to my wife, who quite sensibly asked how I could think it was taller; wasn’t I standing right next to it in the store? Yes, but it was next to a sofa. A low sofa. A futon, actually. A futon in a recessed slot in the floor. . . say there, anyone up for some steamed hams? I hate lying on the fly; I much prefer to get my ducks in a row aforehand. There’s no disputing that it just looks wrong. Well, it’ll find a nice home elsewhere in the house, I suppose. It didn’t break the bank.

I bought it from the catalog version of the store, and while they’re delighted to accept mailed returns, they packed the thing in the most frangible variety of styrofoam, filling the room with a thousand easily-inhaled chunks. Besides, they want to know a reason why the item’s returned, and I fear getting a call from a customer service rep:

What do you mean, you thought it was taller? It says the height right in the catalog.

Well, I was reading the catalog while sitting on a stool. A small stool. And - (I hang up the phone and put a pillow over it.)

Anyway. Must - face - lamp now.

Maybe if I just set the type smaller, it’ll look right.

What do you know! It works!