October week four
Chickachickachickachicka: there are sprinklers running up and down the block, a calm and familiar sound I haven’t heard in a while. This afternoon I caught the smell of lawn-mower exhaust and grass, one of my favorite perfumes. There’s nothing like a warm afternoon in late October to make you feel grateful and content. Even the early sunset seemed apt, a long slow exhalation.

It was a brilliant Sunday, warm and sunny. We all went back to the old neighborhood to carve pumpkins, sitting in the middle of the blocked-off street scooping gourd guts and plunging knives into the visages of helpless plant life. Gnat wandered around in her costume: a unicorn suit I bought her at Baby Gap. Little gold hooves, a gold horn, ears, and a fluffy tail. It would make Hitler say awwww. When I put it on her and let her walk around the house, she scared the bejaysus out of Jasper: he sniffed, looked at me, sniffed again, barked once, and backed away. It was almost as if his long dormant suspicion had come true: I knew it! I knew you weren’t one of them, you’re one of us, you usurper! Pretender!

Little unnerves a dog like a tail with no aroma beneath.

The following is said with full knowledge that I am blessed to have complaints this minor, especially ones that arise from the ownership of nice things; nor are the following remarks meant to compare at all to any actual hardship faced by people who know true weariness and dismay. That said:

Saturday morning began two hours earlier than usual; wife handed me baby and bade me to take care of her while wife went back to sleep. Downstairs I check the clock: 6:55 AM. It was then, at that moment, that I really regretted staying up late to watch movies. Five hours of sleep would not see me through the day, I feared. I laid on the floor watching Looneym Tunes while Gnat played - which, if you have to get up at 6:55 on a Saturday morning, is the best possible way to spend it.

I was relieved from active duty at 8:30. I prepared to go upstairs and resume sleeping, but the phone rang: the delivery men would be bringing by the armoire for Ostentasia, the shamefully large TV which has sat naked and exposed in the living room since we moved in.

“Is the unit going to go on the ground floor?” the deliveryman asked. I said that it was, but that the ground floor was 17 steps up from the street.

“Seventeen.” Pause. I could tell his Saturday morning had just become infinately more annoying than mine. “So, is that a four person job, or two?”

Well, if they used guys my size, it’d be a sixteen man job. I said I couldn’t say, not knowing the variety of person they had.

He said they’d be by in 20 minutes. So, no nap, since Jasper would bark his head off when they came. They arrived. The armoire is a plain wooden thing, a gigantic maple monolith; I expect to find Amish monkeys prancing around it waving bones. It was also not the unit we ordered, since it lacked the “knock-out” back. Since Ostentasia is not a normal-sized TV, we had to get an armoire whose back could be removed. The guys promised to have customer service call, and left - with the TV in another room, useless. I went up to bed.

The phone rang. Customer service. They said they’d send someone by from the shop to cut out the back. Great. Thank you. Good night. Back upstairs. Ring. It was Ed from the shop. He’d be there in 20 minutes.

There’s nothing like prompt efficient service to really screw up your day.

Ed said we should exchange the back of the unit instead of having him cut it. He really didn’t want to cut it at all. “You’re sure,” he kept saying. “I can do it, but I just want to be sure. You’re sure.”

“I don’t know why I wouldn’t be,” I said, a bit exasperated.

“Just want to be sure.”

At this point my wife entered. “Do we want him to cut the back?” I said.

“Why wouldn’t we?” she asked.

“Just want to be sure you want me to do it,” Ed said. Eventually it came out that he’d though he was there to cut a pre-scored knock-out backpiece. Hacking through the back with no guidelines was not expected, and might not be as nice as we wanted. I could see where this was going. The fatal seed of doubt had been planted.

I finally got a ration of shut-eye, then set to work on job two: the deliverymen had also brought a small TV stand for the family room, replacing the Target stand that had served us well for seven years. I’d had Ed drill an hole in the back so I could put componants in the lower storage area as well as the top. Into this hole I had to thread the following:

Three power cords
Three sets of speaker wires
VRC-to-amplifier RCA cords
Tuner to VRC RCA cords
TiVo to amplifier cords
Amplifier to TV video output
VCR coax to TV video output
Coax from satellite to TiVo

One hour later, I was in tears. Or close to it. The amplifier is also the DVD player, and that introduced a new level of contrusion into the arrangement. And to my amusement, I noted that the top shelf on which two componants were to go was tall enough to accept both - if I tucked them under an overhanging cornice. Well. This meant holding one up with one hand and sliding the other in, wadding thick fists of cords in the back.

Didn’t work. The remote-control eye was now blocked. Everything would have to go in the bottom area.

Which meant I had to disconnect everything and rethread all the cords.

This I did. (Three words, forty minutes.) Finally everything was stacked, sorted and ready to go into the shelf. I had, of course, measured everything before I bought the unit, so I knew it would fit.

I had not accounted for the plugs in the back, which added 1 1/2 inches.

The doors would not close. Unless I knocked out the back panel. Which Ed would have done if I’d asked. Which I hadn’t.

Come back, Ed. Come back.


Went to a mall this afternoon. Encountered Snooty DeMince, a clerk at an upscale food store where I’d purchased our coffee machine. It’s a lousy coffee maker - it cannot make anything less than a full pot, for example. Not that I ever make less than a full pot - what’s the point? Extra coffee is never a problem.  Insufficient coffee is. But my wife sometimes drinks coffee in increments smaller than a pot, so she’ll put in two cups - only to watch absolutely no coffee drip into the flask. It soaks into the scant grounds; most goes up in a choking haze of steam. This is not a coffee maker that produces steam. It is a steam maker that can be used to produce coffee.

I explained this to Mr. DeMince, whose response was, and I quote, “oh.” It reminded me of the last time I’d been to this store, and either this chap or his French twin Simpre had given me the high-hat: I’d been looking around for a new spatula, explaining how the last one I’d bought here was poorly designed. I showed him how it fell on the floor every time if any part of the handle was hanging over the edge of the counter. “Well, I just don’t put it so it’s hanging over the edge,” he said. The customer’s always wrong at Billy Sonoma, folks.

Then over to the Gap to play This Is How Stupid We Think You Are: orange and green boxer shorts: $12.50. Identically styled ones in different, i.e., untrendy, colors: $1.99. They were right next to each other, like a test: is it worth an extra $10.51 to have the hue du jour hugging your new potatoes? Apparently so.

All the while Gnat was behaving reasonably well. I took her to the Eye Pokery - actually, a store that sells reproductions of old ads and gas station stuff. It has a million things on long hooks, a quarter of which are right at the eye level for a kid in a stroller. I checked out the Zippos, since I’m always on the watch for a good addition to the collection. They had the usual ones - sports, cars, beer, Jim Beam. Friends, if you have a Zippo devoted to your favorite hard liquor, I think you have a problem. Then I spied a knockout: it has a moderne crest in which sits a classic Zippo, its flame made of red enamel. It was more expensive than any of them . . . and it had been marked down to 16 bucks because its lack of a beer or Green Bay Packers tie in reduced its value.


This morning’s paper had a ridiculous gigantic headline: Rumsfeld Denies Air War Stalled. The message one gets, of course, is that the Air War has “Stalled.” It’s like a headline that read “Rumsfeld Denies Bush Dead.” The news is not always the denial, folks. Often times the news is - dare I say it - what actually happened. That headline made me dismiss the story and move along.

Enjoyed, as usual, the noontime briefing, if only to see the idiocy of the White House press corps on full display. One fellow from CBS radio asked perhaps the most colossally stupid question of the day:

“There are stories coming out that companies are using this emergency as a cover, if you will, for laying people off. Will there be hearings to investigate if this is actually going on?”

If I was that reporter’s boss, I would have fired him the moment he returned to the offic for manifest incompetance. Anyone who thinks it is the place of the government to investigate such a thing has been in the Beltway far too long - and anyone who wastes his single question asking whether a Republican administration is going to call for hearings on the matter is either flinging his own well-ground axe or misinformed as to the administration’s priorities. The next question was from a woman asking about the new anti-terrorist bill, and isn’t this racial profiling?

What answer did she expect, exactly? Yes, it is. Next? Or perhaps no, it’s not. Next? There was of course the daily question about whether the Northern Alliance’s perpetual grumbling - never apparently sinks in to the reporters that there might be a reason the NA isn’t getting everything they want, and that the reason might not be aired today on live TV.

It’s the best improvisational comedy show on TV.


I’m listening to music again. It was only a few days ago that I realized I’d stopped. Well, not entirely: I have some WW2 propaganda CDs in the vehicle, and they provided some tepid comfort post 9/11. A few notes on those tunes:

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Think back to the blaring Bette Midler cover - a hopping tune, but Bette got to sing with herself, with the advantages of multiple takes; the Andrews Sisters did it all in one take, with harmony that was wonderfully effortless. The Sisters are remembered for their squeaky-clean apple-pie (from the tree under which one is not to sit with anyone else but all three of them) image, but I wonder how true that is. The main singer has a little Southern-sultry cute voice that hints at all sorts of things, and she does this odd little bit in the middle of her solo. There’s this line: “he can’t blow a note unless a bass and guitar’s playing with him.” She over-enunciates the line in a parody of an upper-class prissy accent, then completely blows out “with him” like a burlesque belter, mixing up two different vocal idioms in five seconds. At least I think that’s what’s going on - it makes you realize that the things to which pop culture refers do not always survive. We’re left with the reference, not the thing to which it refers. Hence the necessity of Granddads to explain these things, or they’re lost.

Although I won’t know what to say when, in 2030, Gnat asks me what the hell Steve Miller meant by “I speak of the pompitous of love.”

“American Patrol,” by Phil Spitalny’s Hour of Charm All Girl Orchestra. Unbelievably bad. You didn’t know there were lyrics, eh? Well, imagine them sung by fifty spinsters with one snare drum and piano. It’s not even bad-good. It’s just bad. It sounds like a bunch of Helen Hokinson women Doing Their Part.

There! Go scurry off on the net and figure that one out.

“Arms for the Love of America.” This one would make Colman McCarthy enlist. Spoken word and chorus. I’m guessing it was recorded early on in the war; it’s an exhoratation to work as hard as possible to kill Nazis. It reminds us that all jobs are now war jobs; a dozen occupations are listed, from factory worker to accountant, and the speaker says “it’s one job now! Arms! More arms! Arms for the love of America!”

The amazing part is the middle - a dialogue between two guys about how much Kraut-slaughtering stuff we’re making. It sets out the premise that they may speak in a foreign tongue over there, but there’s one language those huns-of-bitches understand: the destructive capacity of a mobilized industrial infrastructure. (I’m paraphrasing.) As one speaker describes what we build, the other shouts “we speak it, brother, speak it loud.” They do this six times, then the speaker starts to list off production figures: “Millions of barrels of oil! Millions!” and his comrade says “just a whisper - wait ‘til we shout.” It builds and builds and builds - just a whisper, wait ‘til we shout - until once again the point is made: Arms! More Arms! ARMS FOR THE LOVE OF AMERICA!

The voices are probably actors but they have this unmistakably mid-century American sound: no BS guys from the neighborhood with a little swagger, sure, but none what they don’t earn, see. It’s the voice of the pissed-off working man, and is perhaps the finest example of bombastic propaganda I have.

It also makes you wish for the days when increased production was all it really took. We could spend and build the Nazis to defeat. Not so Al Qaeda. There’s also this line: “They say over here we’ve nothing to fear / but let’s get ready just in case.”

Sigh. Ah, the good old days of WW2.

"Victory Polka," Bing Crosby. Buh-buh-buh-buh-bad.

"Dear Mom." One of many saccharine Army songs, this one is a letter home from a kid in boot camp. It’s scored in that smooth sappy sound we associate with “Auld Lang Syne,” and betrays no recognition of what the letter-writer was up against. Of course, everyone knew, so there was no point in mentioning it. This also hails from the era in which Moms were always about 60, with grey hair in a bun, and she always smiled with her head cocked slightly to the side.

"Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Basic story: all the guys who manned the gun were killed, so the padre stepped in and started shooting people. “Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate! Down went the gunner, and then the gunner’s mate!” The priest is described as the “sky pilot” who puts down the Good Book so he can have both hands free to kill Frtiz.

Was every song on the radio war-related? No. But it must have been a constant theme. The fragmentation of pop music culture means we won’t have this crimson thread running through the daily radio hit parade again.

Digitizing a few other CDs tonight - Brian Setzer’s raucous “Ignition,” and John Barry’s interminable “Moviola.” Given the chance to play his tunes at his preferred tempi, Barry turns every melody into a river of molasses. The only place it really works is “We Have All the Time in the World,” which deserves the sort of Alpine melancholic grandeur he gives it. I also got a couple tunes off the Tropico game CD - bouncy Mexican pop that Gnat like to dance to.

Speaking of Colman McCarthy: I heard an interview with him on the radio the other day, and he managed in the course of an hour to utterly discredit his beliefs simply by stating them over and over and over again without regard to their effect in the real world. His position was unwavering: violence is wrong, regardless of the context. Tthe interviewer put to him the question of whether it was wrong to use violence to stop a man who was shooting up a schoolyard, and McCarthy said that he’d rather go to classrooms and teach children from the start not to use violence. The interviewer missed the obvious point - how do you teach them if they’re dead? - but nailed McCarthy on his deplorable fallacies, i.e., if inaction results in more evil, then inaction abets evil, even if one’s inaction is based on a well-meaning principle. To which McCarthy would quote Martin Luther King and Ghandi, and challenge the interviewer to contradict these saints. Dense as a rock, he was. In this view of the world, it’s wrong to subdue hijackers who want to slam your plane into the Pentagon. You should sit there and provide a good example. In this view of humanity, it is possible to reorient society so 100% of six-plus billion people are non-violent 100% of the time. (The consequences of attaining a 99% success rate aren’t discussed.) This is not reasoned dissent; this is not the sort of pacifism that volunteers to be a medic on the battlefield. This is a blank check for evil. McCarthy may quote King, but if the lynch mob had come for MLK and McCarthy had a shotgun, he would have put it down and shook his his head sadly when they threw the rope over the branch.

When I was in DC I remember how McCarthy - a WashPost columnist - was lionized, given all this respect as a man of great integrity. Hey: if you can’t bring yourself to put a round in Hitler’s brain circa ‘37 because that would add to the cycle of violence, you don’t strike me as someone of integrity. You might as well sign up as a dispatcher for the rail yards at Auschwitz. It struck me then as a sign of the ossified moral incoherance of the Boomers - they could simultaneously praise McCarthy and write reverant bios on old Weathermen, because they saw them as part of the same ethical continuum, with a similar objective: the old society ripped out root and branch, a new age begun.

Utopians scare the hell out of me.

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