it rings!


Sorry about yesterday; I’ve no idea what happened. I usually upload the page before I go to bed, and in last night’s case that was 1:30 AM. I sent the file, called up the page, and got bupkis – actually, just a directory listing. Hmm. Well. I sent it again; nothing. Third try was the charm, and when I called up the page, there it was, another broadsheet nailed to the staple-studded tree of the internet. I went to bed with that Batman feeling: my work here is done. Later in the afternoon I opened my mailbox to much wailing and lamentation, and discovered that the page had somehow evaporated.

The canny souls among you figured out how to access the archive page, and good on you, as the dinkum Aussie blokes sy. They will punished with a retread of the Bleat they read yesterday, alas. But for the good of all I will try to add something more today, besides all the nifty new motels I have in the Colorado section.

I got a lot done today – well, no, I didn’t. Just seems like it. Wrote one column, filed two, went to the office to move the stuff on my desk around, in case anyone comes by and wonders if I still live there anymore. I do, but I cannot bear to work on that computer. It’s not just the Windows. I can take Windows. It’s the Windows 95 interface. (This is my wallpaper, incidentally – Roast Beef faces Trouble-Man and No-No in the afterlife, from the hell of brilliant Achewood strip.) I collected some packages (thanks! Emails to follow) and chatted with friends. A fellow needs that once or twice a week. Went to the morgue to look for more ACME fodder; the most depressing folder was NEW YORK, SUBWAYS. It summed up the decline of urban civilization quite succinctly – all these well-dressed people, heads down in postures of submission, ugly squiggles blaring from the walls around them. You could smell the fried urine. Naturally, there was a publicity shot for a PBS documentary about the art of the subway car “artists,” complete with a grinning vandal standing in the train yard in front of some incomprehensible mess. The photos also show the decline of newspaper photography – the drop-off in quality in the 60s and 70s is remarkable. The pictures have no sense of composition, no purpose, no beauty. It doesn’t help that the city looks exhausted and filthy, but there was a clarity to the old shots that’s utterly absent in the LBJ – Reagan years. There is no sun; there is only grey diffused light. It’s as if the clouds didn’t part until Rudy Time.

Of course, the photopaper is cheaper, which accounts for the effect. The old pictures sent to newspapers were printed on excellent stock, and they’re as sharp today as they were in 1943. The wire-service stuff was electronically transmitted and printed on some sort of thermal paper that looks worse every year. The entire era may end up recalled by these pictures, all of which looked soaked in smog and rubbed in the juices that drained from heaped trashbags.

New York had better press agents in the old days. Feininger, Abbott – they had the eyes and the tools. Even the slums had shabby dignity. But I’m rambling.

I left the newspaper office to go home to write more columns. Damned perverse, that. Picked up Gnat from school, and she was extra goofy; went to the grocery store to get the usual bladders of milk and Frosty Paws and bagels. Made supper and started to work on the next batch of columns – it is three-column Monday, so I’m off.

Here’s yesterday’s entry. The Motel link is at the bottom. The Diner Podcast will be up in Mp3 form tomorrow, and the Screedblog returns tomorrow afternoon.

It’s been like that here, you know: sleety and dark. (this refers to the picture at the top of the page, which was relevant when I wrote this - me) Needling rain. Not usual for January, and it exacts a certain price. You think it’s the end of March, but it’s not even close. Which is good, I suppose; I have great plans for the next few months, and intend to enjoy them in the usual fashion, with the same daily routines, rationed vices, end-of-the-day rewards. On the other hand, we all know the snow will come back, and it won’t come alone. It’s not the depths of winter that really take their toll; it’s winter’s dull, mulish belief that it deserves one more chance to get it right, and hence repeats the same idea again and again through April. This is what tries the audience’s patience: the snowstorm after tax day, the flurries in April’s waning moments, the single rude flake on a May morning.

Saturday I had the afternoon to myself; ran exciting errands. Went to Sam’s Club to buy spirits, since they have very low prices on my favorite bourbon. (Marker’s Mark, one liter, a double sawbuck.) But they don’t take plastic unless it’s their own branded Visa or the Discovery card, and I have neither. (The Discovery card, in my brand-infected brain, is a pathetic also-ran card, the Chevy Nova of credit cards) They do, however, take checks. As I walked across the lot to the store, I realized I’d forgotten my checkbook. Not surprising; I never carry the checkbook any more, except for trips to Sam’s Club. I checked my pockets. Nope. Well, this was a pointless trip. Then I noticed the police car.
I would now have to turn around and go back to my car after noticing the squad car, and leave. Well, that’s not suspicious; people turn around all the time after seeing the police, and it doesn’t mean anything. So I went back to the car, backed up, headed for the exit. Of course the squad car followed, four or five lengths back. I turned right; it turned left. Whew. Drove a few more blocks, paused at the light – hello, here’s a policecar heading up the service road. It stopped – backed up in the middle of the road, turned around, and went the other direction. I saw two more cars in the next ten blocks. Something was happening, and all my nervousness was for naught. Good thing, because I had like six bricks of hash under the front seat.

Just kidding! It was stuffed in the car seat. Just kidding! But I have that Alfred Hitchcock gene that goes aquiver when I see the police in the rear view mirror. Never know when you got a ticket and some idiot took it off your car and threw it away, and it turned into a warrant, and now you’re going downtown. At least I’ve watched enough COPS to know that I should hit the dome light if it’s dark out, put my hands in the 10-23 position, and respond promptly to all requests.

Off to the Mall for a haircut. Thought I’d catch a break by showing up at five, but malls have their own time patterns on weekends, dictated by the waiting time at the restaurants and the start times of the popular movies. There were two people ahead of me, both male, both 20s, both slumping sacks staring at their cell phones, pushing buttons. Both looked like they’d had a haircut the day before. One chair was occupied by a young woman whose head was full of foil – if anyone had driven through the parking lot with a strong magnet she would have flown into the wall – and an US magazine in her lap. She was either reading about How Jen is Coping, an issue which seems to be of major interest for people who not only couldn’t find Canada on a map but would regard the map itself as some sort of abstract design, or reading about how Jessica is Getting On With Her Life. In the other chair was a fellow whose hair seemed more elaborate than the $13.95 price tag covered – thin on the sides, big and curly and bushy on top, lots of mousse. He stared at the mirror with the expression usually found in astronauts attempting a manual docking procedure. When he was done he walked around and checked his head in every mirror, as though one of them had been set on SuperSecretTruthVision and would show the manifold deficiencies of the stylist’s work. Satisfied, he left, and all the clerks made fun of him for five minutes.

I was still down the list, so I wandered over to the adjacent sneaker store. It’s like the library for illiterates. I wear sneakers, and as you might expect they are predictably retro. (Which looking for the link I discovered that you can build your own Chuck Taylors at the converse website. Warning: flash navigation, non-standard window size.) I understand the satisfaction you get from a new pair of sneakers, but for heaven’s sake, they’re just shoes; if they say anything about you, it’s that “I have few objectives in life beyond getting rich by some indistinct means, a goal to which I have applied myself not a whit, but by God I came here to get shoes which will impress my moronic peers, and I will not leave until I have found the right combination of puffy tongues, embedded LEDs, and cocky sexual disregard.”

The two guy-heaps were next, and the stylists picked and snipped for fifteen minutes while the guys stared straight ahead, doing their best impersonations of television sets in motel rooms that have not been occupied for a year or two. I have no idea what the stylists did, since the guys looked the same when they were done. As I stood there watching the tableau, the Mall Muzak system served up “I’m Not in Love,” by 10cc. (Godley and Crème, actually.) It reminded me of early high school, and trying to convince someone that the song was actually about someone who was in love, and was trying to deny. So he puts her picture on the wall to cover a stain? C’mon. (Not just any stain, but a stain “that’s lying there,” to quote the lyrics.) It would be years until I stumbled across the rest of the Godley and Crème catalog, and put the song in the context of the rest of their overblown prog-rock work, with its sobbing vocals and heartless center. (Some great music, though; boys could write a hook, if only to show how they were above such things.) (I had the same argument about “The Things We Do For Love,” which was no doubt intended as a cloying parody of pop music.)

But it really brought back, to my horror, was 1975. Standing in the mall with the same smells – the stylist’s sprays, the warm sugar from the Dairy Queen, the tang of high-schooler’s cologne, the indoor-smell of radiators and warm people in wet coats, the smell of dispenser-soap on my own hands. Nothing had changed. Mind you, I wasn’t thinking of this mall in ’75, but the mall back in Fargo. Everyone has a prototype mall; that was mine, and it took only one song playing quietly overhead to bring it back. But things had changed; I looked down the corridor, and realized, with a start, that it had been a dead end a decade ago. The mall built a new theater and restaurant wing. This hallway used to end in a Taco Bell on the right, a few stores down the way, a Northwest Orient ticket counter around the corner. It was a backwater, always deserted. There was a door that led outside and I remembered that there was sun outside the last time I stepped through it. Strong bright sun, June sun, that sort of soak-it-up-there’s-more-on-the-way sun you get when summer has finally announced itself.

Then it was my turn. I almost asked the stylist if she remembered when the hallway was a dead end, but thought better of it. Yes or no, there’s really nowhere you can go after that.

Drove home. Two squad cars outside an apartment building. The conclusion to the afternoon’s story, perhaps. Fixed myself leftover pizza, walked the dog in the rain, waited for the rest of the family to come home. Worked on this and that – I wasn’t happy with the design of the ACME pages, as much as I loved the yellowed-tape-over-old-paper effect; there was just something slapdash about the look of the page. So I changed it – now the pieces of paper appear to fold down from the back of the photo, as they do with the actual pictures. I’ll be updating this site every Wednesday for a while, and the new menu below reflects the changes. As for the podcasts, you can still download them – just right-click, I think, on the right of the progress bar on the podcast’s page. I’m still working out the bugs. As ever, thank you for your patience & patronage.

New Matchbook. Tomorrow: “The Cell,” Jake (or Elwood) floating in the Great Staircase, Luca floating in a piscine community, and more. See you then.


c. 2005 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."