Alley, downtown Mpls 011302
01. 21. 02
For six dollars I got the Mission: Impossible soundtrack, and yea, it contains riches untold: the main theme, for example, not only goes on beyond what you heard on the TV show, it contains a smokin’ hot clavichord solo complete with a gen-u-wine mistake, a bit of fumble-fingered frackery that the producers left in to prove this was one! hot! session! The song titles are amusing - “Jim on the Move” conjures up notions of Peter Graves lumbering across the floor of a singles bar, his incandescent white-headedness making all the chicks squint. There are the obligatory Love Themes with Mantovani strings and Mauriat piano and bongos bongos everywhere. I love this stuff. Will anyone be grooving to the “Alias” soundtrack in 2032? Well, not knowing what it is, I can’t say, other than to suggest not.

Just walked past the TiVo - it’s recording “Alias” for my brother-in-law. I would like to watch it, but I already feel behind the curve. You never had this problem in TV of my youth; shows were tight discrete units. You could blow off Jim Phelps’ head in one episode and he’d sport a fresh noggin the next week. And every “Mission: Impossible” had the same bottom of the hour cliffhanger: Peter Lupus (who changed his name from Penis Degenerative-Connective-Tissue Syndrome) would be caught doing something, usually by a soldier in one of those fictional Latin American nations - El Cristobal, San Fictionale, or an Eastern Bloc nation like the Fakeoslovak Republic or Falsovania. Stop! the soldier would say. Commercial. When they came back the soldier would say “oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else,” and Peter would go right on doing what he was doing. He had exactly three lines of dialogue in the entire series.

I suppose I could go into a wheezy screed about the lack of memorable TV themes these days, but I wouldn’t know what I was talking about. I don’t watch much network TV. Most of the themes I do know are children’s shows or cartoons (I can whistle both Dexter’s Lab theme songs, thank you) and the last real TV theme to which I paid attention was “Enterprise,” which whips me into a homocidal froth. Most of the highly regarded themes from the 70s TV shows - the era in which my brain was reformatted and zeroed out nightly by sitcom nitwitlessness - are remembered more for their longevity than anything else. They may prod a nostaglic tear from a middle-aged man’s eye, but mostly they stink. I hated then, and hate now, that “All in the Family” theme; the “Mary Tyler Moore” show theme - written by Sonny Curtis, one of the surviving Crickets - suffers from wretched lyrics. (Side note: not many people know this outside of Minneapolis, but plans are afoot to erect a statue of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat on the Nicollet Mall; however, some have noted that the makeup of Minneapolis has changed since 67, and believe that she should be accompanied by Ester Rolle and Pat Morita.) Themes were better in the early 60s, I believe, because they were scored for different ensembles - brass and woodwinds instead of that godawful trio of guitars, strings and flutes that ruined music in the late 60s and early 70s. Then came the 80s, when everything was scored by Mike Post. (On WHAT PLANET is the theme from Hill Street Blues a theme for a police show?) Then I stopped paying attention because everything went to hell. Hey! You kids! Get off my yard! I’ve told you before! Now git!

My brother-in-law is French, and we had an interesting conversation on le monde de frog tonight. Usually I tell him that his culture is a creaking socialist wreck, and he responds that mine is an irresponsible unilateral cowboy acting like it’s Saturday night in the whorehouse, and then I ask him why he thinks that’s a bad thing. Tonight he was a bit more critical of his homeland, and the pernicious effect of confiscating half of one’s paycheck to fund an unending array of social programs. His wife chimed in and noted that people’s attitude towards the government is grounded in scorn and contempt - i.e., if they’re going to take all my money, fine, then I’m going to screw them any chance I get.

So as people exploit the programs, the programs become more expensive, requiring - all together now - more tax revenue. Add to this a cultural distrust towards those who actually do get their heads above the heaving grey sea of mandatory egalitarianism, and you have a culture that penalizes and stifles innovation and entrepenurial activity when it’s coming and going. I wish I’d said it at the time: it’s odd that the very word “entrepeneur” is French. It’s like speaking of Israel’s supporters as Freundenjuden.


Gnat has begun to wake a little earlier than usual, by which I mean she is standing in crib wide staring awake calling out our names at FOUR O’CLOCK in the bloody morning. This simply cannot be encouraged, but there is no reasoning with a 17 month old; you can’t explain that it is the dead of the night, and we cannot go downstairs because there are no good cartoons on, and Mommy and Daddy must sleep because they are already convincing simulacra of the zombies from Night of the Living Dead, and nothing is more injurious your career than thrusting your arms through the door of the meeting room and moaning BRAINS, BRAINS. (It raises people’s expectations that you have some, and then there's the unspoken expectation that you've brought enough for everyone to share.) So we let her go, and eventually she stops. This morning she tried a new tack: DADDY! DADDY! It was like being pierced in the heart for an hour straight, and it guaranteed fitful guilty sleep.

Everyone was grouchy, sniffling, and awake by seven. This morning I was certain I was coming down with something, so fevered did I feel. I have a horrible fear of getting pneunomia again, and suffering that miserable series of shakes and consumptive conflagrations. Checked the thermometer on the wall: 80. Ah. Well. Obviously I am in a worried state, a nervous twitchy doom’s a’comin’ maw phase, and I don’t know why. Sunday I was out and about with my friend the Giant Swede, and I was morosely declaiming on the Futility of All Things, how horrible it would be if I succumbed to some sort of bronchial grippe and Gnat had no dad; he explained, quite reasonably, that she is at the stage where kids bounce back, and my wife is at the stage where she could surely find another father for Gnat, and if I was so worried about this, well, this would be the optimal time to go. Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

He had a point.

We were at the Taco Bell - I say that without apologies, because it’s all we have here in the way of fast pseudo-Mexican; as much as I crave & appreciate true Mexican food, sometimes you just want a fargin’ taco. The cashier, one of those pasty white Jabba the Butt things who has crawled out of the moist environment of his mother’s basement to seek his way in the world, spoke in odd Emo-Phillips tones and moved with strange distracted gestures, like Zero Mostel picking his way through a mine field. “It’s bizarre when my ear is plugged up,” he said to me. “It throws my whole balance off.” He put my change in my hand. “I think I have the cold or the flu.” I looked at the change, in my hand, the hand I would be using for eating. I went to the table where the Giant Swede was already tucking into his meal; I repeated the conversation I’d just had, swore once for emphasis and went to the bathroom to wash my hands. Six seconds later the GS came through the door to do the same, cursing. It’s a wonder the entire nation isn’t laid up with hepatitis.

The manager of this particular Taco Bell rules by decibel - he is constantly declaiming comments and commands to his cashiers, the customers in the drive-through, the kitchen staff. Every customer hears his running dialogue, and it gives us the impression that the man is A) stuck in Hell itself, and B) verbally wrangling a herd of wild beasts who must be beaten every second or they will leap for his throat and kill him. But he was born for this job, alas. There is a certain kind of personality that finds great satisfaction in ruling the shire of Taco Bell #9324, or Blockbuster #945, or whatever farflung & forgotten outpost of the Empire they happen to command. These guys are good for whipping slump-willed slackerboys and ether-brained young women into a crew that can push the right buttons and figure out which end of the bag opens up, but they are not attractive personalities. Today, for example, I stopped at a video store to see if they had Xbox games. They did. I also sailed past the new DVD rack, and as usual they had 643 copies of six movies, none of which I wanted to see.

I left empty-handed, whereupon the manager - a blunt and disconcerting middle-aged fellow I had seen before, and whose contemptuous brand of summary justice made customers feel guilty just for shopping there - said “find what you’re looking for?”

Well, no, hence my exit without a purchase in my hand. “No,” I said. “Just looking for a broader selection of new release DVDs.”

Whereupon he just gave me this blank look that said: I hate you. I hate you. You have no idea. You’d bitch if you didn’t get a copy of The Mummy Returns the day after it’s released, and you’d hold the disk up against a band saw so you could get a refund after you’d had it three weeks, and you have no idea what it’s like to dust the endless rows of VHS shit we have to carry in the odd chance someone comes in and tries to impress a new girlfriend by suggesting a Werner Herzog night, and you have NO! CLUE! what it’s like to explain to a customer that an ATM card is not sufficient documentation to walk out with a $50 Playstation game, and I’m FORTY ONE YEARS OLD WEARING THE SAME GODDAMN UNIFORM AS A HIGH-SCHOOL DROPOUT. Iiiiiiiiii HATE.


I can see his point, but I still wish they had a bigger selection.


Watched, for the seventh time in as many days, Richard Scarry’s Best ABC Video Ever. (It being his only one, it has a clear claim to the field.) The first Richard Scarry video we owned was described in this space at length - I posited some disturbing speculations about Bananas Gorilla, a half-wit adult simian who wanders Busytown and hangs around with children waving, and then consuming, phallic symbols. Well. This video is even worse. For one thing, it has a different narrator, and he sounds like Maxwell Smart; I see him reading the entire script into his shoe. As the video begins, Bananas Gorilla is trying to score some bananas, but he has no luck - the bakery has no banana bread, and the ice cream shop has no banana-flavored ice cream. Disturbing? Not at all. But Bananas speaks in complete sentences in the voice of George Burns, which leads one to wonder why he’s a butt-scratching moron in subsequent videos, capable only of grunting “Bananas!” Apparently he suffered a great blow to the head between videos; no other explanation makes sense. I am afraid to visit earlier videos, lest I find him wearing a jacket with patches at the elbow, arguing with Stephen Hawkins about the composition of dark matter.

It’s an ABC video, so all of the animal children of Busytown are tell a story based on their letter. A quarter of the children’s stories involve Bananas Gorilla, suggesting he occupies a deep & troubling role in the children’s lives. The tales have a semblance of a plot - B is for Bananas, who is thwarted in his search for same, and robs an M-is-for-Mail truck of its banana shipment. The police officer dog gives chase. (“Go get him!” the narrator shouts in the timeless timbre of the lynch-mob organizer.) Towards the end of the alphabet the children’s impromptu narrative has Bananas trapped in a T- is-for -tent. This can only mean the children wish to remove this shambling, smelly pervert from Busytown society, or at least wall him off from the carefree thoughts of their young happy minds. All of Busytown wordless agrees that Bananas must be shunned! (Z is for Zeitgeist.) He is caught by the police dog and taken away, with the narrator smugly approving of his capture and removal. But the last kid telling the story - in deep denial, or perhaps some sort of twisted identification with his oppressor - reveals that the bananas Bananas stole were actually addressed to him. He’s innocent. This information is relayed to the police, who by now have Bananas in a holding cell and have beaten him senseless. (Well, no. That’s in Richard Scarry’s Best Successful Interrogation Ever, and Richard Scarry’s Best Civil Rights Lawsuit Ever.)

All ends well, but this glimpse into the Busytown psyche bothers me. And that little Huckle is a brown-noser non pareil, too.

Beats the Teletubbies.

Ordinary day; little to report. Finished one column, wrote another, and did not check email - which means I really dread opening the box tonight, for a tsunami is no doubt ready to swamp my evening. After dinner our financial consultant - i.e., my wife’s cousin - came over tonight to set up Gnat’s college fund. I refuse to fund this thing on the presumption she will go to Harvard. I don’t know why she has to go to Harvard. At the rate public education is bending to the zephyrs of political correctness, I’ve no desire to pay $100,000 for her to come home on break, show off her skull studs and tongue tattoos, and lecture me on the historical atrocities of the gynophobic oligarchs - especially when I can buy a dose of daddy-dissing theory at the local University for a fifth of the cost. Nevertheless, I will fund her future as well as I can, barring the passage of the Income Confiscation Act of 2017.

Which I expect to happen. I was reading in my paper today about a Minnesota Congressthing who wants to halt the forthcoming changes in the estate tax to fund the usual raft of programs, and I had to stuff cotton in my ears to keep the blood from shooting across the room. They always make it sound as though they’re shaving a few mil off the corpse of some dead plutocrat whose belly swells like Boss Tweed in a Nast cartoon, and whose carcass will spew gold coins if they just make the right incision. They are either stupid - no surprise - or lying, which is also not a stunner.

Coming from a family with a small business, I know exactly what I’m talking about. I always enjoy the arguments presented in favor of liquidating our business:

1. It prevents the formation of economic aristocracies. Yes, like the Kennedys and Rockefellers, pertinent examples of which sit in Washington and devise new ways to relieve me of my property. They’re correct, of course; all tremble at the mighty Lileks Empire, which someday might grow to TWO convenience stores and grind the meek timid midnight milk-seeker beneath our pitiless heel.

2. It’s a way of giving back to the society that made the formation of the estate possible. My father has paid income taxes, Social Security taxes, state taxes, county taxes, unemployment taxes, license taxes, exise taxes, and capital gains taxes; obviously, this parasite must be squeezed once more just to even the score. I would note that my father’s three and a half years in WW2, during which he was paid about a buck fifty, would seem to redress that whole debt-to-society thing, but I am clearly thinking with my heart, not my head.

3. It’s economic justice. Yes, it’s always fair to benefit Theoretical Citizen A by requiring a company to liquidate assets and fire Actual Citizens B, C and D.

4. Smart companies plan for this sort of thing! Please. First of all, you can “plan” by having special life-insurance policies set up to handle what you hope will be the final bill in 20 years, but A) that’s money that could go into the business, and B) things change. Tax laws change, businesses thrive, cities grow, neighborhoods change, land that once was cheap industrial property ten miles from town is now residential with 10X value. The people who love estate taxes usually abhor sprawl - well, many a family has looked at their estate tax bill, looked at the family farmland that now sits on the edge of town, and said screw it - sell it to the highest bidding developer and put up McMansions.

Bloody goniffs.

There’s no self-interest at work here - I don’t want a dime of my parents’ estate. Just want the family business to survive, that’s all. If you please, guv’nor. I got me cap in hand. If you could just flog us lightly, we’d be ever in your debt.

Well, didn’t expect to go off ranting in that direction, but there you have it. If anyone can tell me how disassembling our family business will solve this brutal, crippling Depression we’re in today, you know the email.

Why, yes, I did used to be an AM radio talk show host; why do you ask?


Wake. Wet face. Lather. Shave. Slice a divot from face, bleed all over. Take shower, hoping clot will form. Suffer inevitable disappointment when it does not. Cut small bandage with wife’s peculiar little curved blade scissors, used for God knows what; put bandage on face. View results in mirror. Remind self that as a married middle-aged man, no one cares if you look dorky; indeed, it is expected. Go entire day without anyone asking you what happened, even though there is a stupid square of beige plastic a quarter inch from your mouth. At day’s end, remove bandage.

Next morning: wake. Wet face. Lather. Shave. Forget everything that happened the previous day. Reopen wound. Watch, stunned, as the pristine white lather runs as red as the gutter in a Hormel slaughterhouse.

Repeat for the rest of your life, probably.

Well, I was tired this morning; that was my excuse. Stayed up too late playing Halo (best game ever; end of story) and woke too early to take Gnat while my wife went off to court, or the operating theater, or the bank, or whatever the hell it is she does. (Court, I think.) Little did I know it would be an eleven-hour shift with only a 50-minute nap. I did what work I could until she got bored of her toys and alphabet book. She’s got A and B down so far; whenever anyone on TV sings the Alphabet song she lights up like a Lynnyrd Skynnyrd fan hearing the first notes of “Sweet Home Alabama.” The other day I thought: why did it never occur to me that the Alphabet Song employs the same melody as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”? Did I always know it and just forget it, or have I just realized this now? I mentioned it to my wife, and she had the same reaction.

Because we’re both tired and stupidly tired and tired, and stupid.

In fact I don’t know why I’m awake now, given that I was ready to hit the table at 1:30 this afternoon. Made a pot of coffee, which is dangerous - when you’ve errands to run later in the afternoon, you may find yourself in need of the facilities, and while I remember all my New York bathroom skils - i.e., how to go using only your elbows, knees and feet - having a squirming baby in your arm complicates matters.

We went on our errands. Gnat behaved well. On the way back home she fell asleep just six blocks from the house, and I thought great! I can make supper and clean the house undisturbed. As I pulled in the driveway she woke up and sat up and threw up a gout of Strawberry Yo-J. Up from the ground came the bubblin’ crude. Ah, criminey. Got her out, hosed her down, changed her clothes, and put her down for a nap. Five minutes of screaming, then silence. Ah. Great. Went outside to grill the sausage for the supper, and as I was lighting the grill I saw the UPS truck outside . . . in the back of my head I remembered the little email that said “Your order #03484239840923u504253242 has shipped!” and I thought of Jasper’s hysterical reaction to deliverymen - and in slo-mo I lunged for the gate, no doubt shouting NOOOOOO but too late: doorbell, dog bark, baby wail. I turned off the grill, resigned to another meal of pan-warmed sausage, and went inside to get Gnat.

The sausage was sun-dried tomato & garlic chicken sausage, and it tasted like f($%#in’ bologna.

In the morning I answered 6 % of my email, and began a new life-draining project. Long-time Bleat readers may recall the famous Stuff Reduction Project, where I winnowed & sorted my possessions into labeled boxes. Never get the chance to do it after Gnat arrived, so I carpe diemed that mutha. Now something that will take the entire year: Project Hard Copy. I’m going to print out & bind everything I’ve written in the last 8 years. (Prior to that the pieces were either published in book form, or exist on my drive as incomplete pieces I finished the next day at the office, or they suck.) This means translating everything from MacWrite - oh, stop it, it’s a perfectly good word processor. It gives you a completely blank document with no button clutter, no bounding boxes - just the naked daunting tundra of the empty page. Anyway. From MacWrite into Apple Works, just so I can continue my run of locking my work behind little-used proprietary software few other programs can read.

There’s a lot of pieces to translate and edit. From 94 to 97, I wrote 100 columns a year; post 97, the number jumped to 250 a year. That means a 1300 columns - Holy Crow, thirteen hundred columns! - plus hundreds of Bleats and assorted aborted novels. I’m also going to take advantage of Apple’s iPhoto feature that prints your pictures on acid-free paper; good thing too, since that acid-drenched paper I’ve been using hurts the hands. At year’s end I will have a series of books that will sit on the shelf next to the published ones. I don’t want my newspaper stuff to vanish into the ether, or be locked up in microfilm, or rest undisturbed at the bottom of some ancient legacy mainframe like trilobite dandruff.

Anyway, that’s my day, and it was long and wearying and I am dead tired and cranky as a hemmorroidal goat passing a tin can, in no mood to write or answer mail. Apologies for that, especially to the people who send wonderful long letters - I read them all, and my inability to respond in kind is a constant source of shame.


Today: Screedish fact-finding on a Dutch thespian; blogrolling hits the print world; the false Mr. Noodles

Okay, I’m better now. The dank snarly mood of the last few days - which was leavened occasionally by bleak depression - seems to have lifted, and I’m back to my usual state of contented delusionality. (Deludedness? Deludidability? The dictionary’s downstairs. Maybe I’ll check it when I go down for another ice cold James Page Pale Ale, the beer that makes drinkers of ordinary American swill pause, stare at the can, and realize that they have been drinking tepid monkey-pee for 20 years - no, make that diluted tepid monkey pee. ) I could use my spel-chequer, but as constant readers have no doubt realised, I don’t hav one. I havn’t had a spell-cheker for yeers - two, maybe mor. At some point I transferred this archaic word processor (not just MacWrite, but MacWrite Pro) to a computer and forgot to include the spell-checker dictionary. The original program disks are floppies buried deep in the basement, which means they might as well be pictographs on Egyptian funeral papyrii. So I err left and right. This will change when I’m completely changed over to OS X, where I have a spell-checker that is - to use the two words people use to describe all good computer programs - robust and elegant. (The only adjective necessary for reviewing video game graphics is “stunning,” in case you’re curious.)

Today I put batteries in Gnat’s Sesame Street Kitchen Playset. Her Nana picked it up at a garage sale, and the batteries had long run dry. As I installed new batteries I realized this was a stupid thing to do, since it guaranteed more bleepin’ bleeping, and I try to keep the pointless electronic chatter in the house to a minimum. It’s a small piece with a little stove and a sink, and buttons with Gove, Eem, and Dutdut (Grover, Elmo, and Big Bird, or Big Duck as she has named him, bravely recontextualizing his identity to bring out the polymorphous transspecies essence that simultaneously comments on and stays apart from the corporatist branding paradigm whose capitalistic imperatives underscore, yet slyly invalidate, the tortured dichotomy of a public television system wholly dependant on both the market and the government, and can I have my grant now? Please?)

As I have mentioned before, I do not mind Elmo. I think he’s actually cute - although of course if I had no idea what Elmo was, and he turned up in the basement, I would beat him with a shoe. Every Elmo show follows the same strict sequence. There's always a segment with Mr. Noodles, a befuddled and much put-upon man in baggy clothes. I first met Mr. Noodles during the bout of pneumonia, and for some reason he was a comfort, perhaps because he seemed to be sweating as much as I was. Then - inexplicably - he was replaced with another Mr. Noodles, who looked nothing at all like the Real Mr. Noodles. It would be like replacing Mr. Greenjeans with a short fat guy. This really bothered me; it was one of those Dick York - Dick Sargent swapouts that required an explanation. And sure enough: eventually I saw an Elmo episode in which both Mr. Noodles appeared side by side. You could tell they were different because one had a bandaid on his forehead; then they grappled forever in an energy corridor between two universes. But what of Mr. Noodles? I asked myself. What of Mr. Noodles?

Sorry. Sorry. Old bad reference to an old bad Trek show. Haven't done one of those in a Gene L. Coon's age, and I apologize. Anyway. This little sequence was meant to pass the mantle of Noodlehood from the original to the successor. Well, the successor sucks. He has none of the flustered dignity of the original, and I regard him the same way I regard the current season of the X-Files. Sssssss! Thou art a foul pretender! Then I saw the credits: the new Noodles is actually Bill Irwin, who’s no small slouch in the theater world. I imagine he’s doing this for free. Good for him, then. But he’s still the Un-Noodles.

Really - honestly - I do think adult thoughts during the day. I read a batch of Enron articles; I thundered POPPYCOCK! at some editorials and shouted Hear Hear at others, and I almost finished an article on cloning before Gnat called me over to play at her Sesame Street Kitchen Set. (Remember?) We played with the newly vocal toy, pushed all the buttons, explored all the sounds. When she pushed the faucet by the sink, it made a whooshing sound; she put a cup under the spout and pretended to drink. Then she pushed it again, and pretended to drink from the spout itself. Eighteen months, and she understands the concept of fiction.

Speaking of video games, Halo - oh, who cares. I’m sorry. There’s nothing more boring than listening to someone describe a game they’re playing, unless it’s someone describing a TV show you haven’t seen. I’ve never understood why people do this. I support concealed-carry cattle-prod laws that would allow anyone to ram a twitchy-stick into the solar plexus of someone who starts imparting the details of last night’s "ER." Oh it was incredible this guy came in and he was like bleeding all over and the doctors are like, what’s up with this, and GAAAAAA! GAAAAAAA!

Having said that, here’s something about a game you haven’t played and a movie you haven’t seen: last night’s half-hour of Halo involved a firefight in an impractically large alien installation, following a small round airborne robot who spoke in the blithe learned tones of . . . of . . . of someone. And then it hit me: V.I.N.C.E.N.T. They had modelled this robot after the R2D2 ripoff in “The Black Hole,” that fabulous failure Disney made in the wake of Star Wars / Star Trek. Or maybe not, and there’s the problem: I’m getting to the age where I have so many references buried in my head that my archetypal template is different from the reality on which I impose it. For all I know these 20-something game designers never saw the Black Hole, but based the robot on someone else’s work that DID refer to V.I.N.C.E.N.T., and thus does the Mobius strip of crap connect. I mean, in ten years from now a reference to swing music will be intended to remind us of Brian Setzer, not Louis Prima.

Those who forget the past, if I can coin a phrase, are doomed to forget the past.

Okay. Some business: I’ve finished one Bleatshirt design, but I want to polish it before it goes up. Next week. Also, read the Backfence - Friday’s column has an appearance by blogger & journalist Tim Blair, who you should read if you don’t already. Finally: the Screed today has an amusing payoff, I hope. It’s mostly stuff scraped off the floor of various inert websites, but it’s interesting what you find out when you chop up a theater review and feed the parts to Google.

Prediction: in the future, people will proclaim their web popularity by the number of Os their Google search yields. “I’ve been a 12-Oh since 2000, sweetie” will be THE bitchy putdown of 03, mark my elegant words. Have a stunning and robust weekend, and may you be able, like my new X-box driving game, to render complex deformation on the fly.

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