Like most people, my early childhood memories are sharp – and few. I remember my father on all fours growling like a bear, chasing me up the stairs in a house we rented in Fargo; I remember going down a different set of steps a year later when we lived at the farm, and the happiness I felt to be up and awake and heading for a hearty farm breakfast. I remember where I was when JFK was shot: under the table in the dining room, playing with a car. I was five. My mother told me to be quiet, and I heard something in her voice I’d never heard before. I’m sure there are a few more. But most of the memories from the early years are indistinct. I do remember the kitchen radio, the Northwest Orient (gongggggg) commercials, and the man who came on the radio every day and spoke in a commanding voice. He was on our side, I gathered. He was concerned, he was optimistic, he warned, he told jokes, he paused: Page Two.
Roll the tape forward forty years and change. I went downstairs to make Gnat’s lunch. I hadn’t changed the radio from the morning show I listen to (Bob Davis) and the old man was on.
“We’re we supposed to be dead from West Nile virus by now?” he said.
Hello. I stopped. He went on, and the words seemed rather familiar. For a moment I thought I had a plagiarism suit, because his words were identical to Wednesday's Quirk.
“So said columnist James Lileks,” Paul Harvey said.
I had three thoughts at the same time:
1. He pronounced it correctly.
2. This is a great day.
3. He reads Fark.
Or rather someone on his research staff reads Fark. It linked to a Quirk a few days ago (First response in the forum: “Well, that was a waste of my time.”) I doubt PH or his people read my work; it’s likely they trawl the internets for peculiar news that fits the “Here’s a straaange” category. I think that’s the likeliest possibility, anyway.
Paul Harvey is, at most, one degree removed from Fark. If only they knew.
Anyway, it was a hoot. And it made me feel guilty for all the times we played with his “Rest of the Story” stories at the station. The RotS came on at the end of my drive-time show back in the late 80s, and we would, ah, attenuate his famous pauses. All you have to do is hit a button, and 1.5 seconds of carefully calibrated dead-air – the master’s signature – would be an agonizing six seconds. They never caught us. Eventually, we quit. In radio, that’s the definition of bad karma.
You don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mast off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t move Paul from noon to the one PM slot no matter how many times the consultant insists that people want the network news feed at the top of the hour.
The Best Summer Ever rolls on; today we took Jasper to the vet for a rabies shot, which he bore well. The doctor had never treated him before, and was amused by his vocalizations. (Jasper is a very talkative dog; he has quite a range, too.) The next item on the agenda was Gnat’s dentist check-up, but we had time to stow Jasper at home and head to the Mall. We made a vow: no stepping on any floor tiles that weren’t grey. White was the ocean; green was poison. (If you know Southdale: we made our way from Penney’s to Crate and Barrel successfully, although we had to use some benches along the way.) It pains me to think that might be the one moment she remembers from her first six years. On the other hand, it was a good one.
You never know which one they’ll remember. Keeps you on your toes.
I bought a shirt at Eddie Bauer – half price, luridly floral. At Crate and Barrel I embarked on the Glassware Consolidation Project of 06, prompted by my wife’s annoyance at the jumble of tumblers we have in the cupboard. At the Apple Store I got DVDs for the family movies, and a drum program for all the craptilicious music I’m going to make after I get the collection of retro synth patches for Garageband. We hopped back in the Element and got a car wash at Mister Carwash, where I signed for the delightfully named Unlimited Wash Club. (On the Giant Swede’s suggestion. He takes his Swedish torpedo there frequently.) (I apologize for introducing the phrase “Swedish Torpedo” into the lexicon of euphemisms. But in this case, it’s a Saab.)
I used to get my car washed at the Octopus. It hasn’t been the Octopus in, oh, 15 years. But it was once: a purple smiling beast revolving on a pole, presumably stuck up his rectum, brushes and buckets in all his tentacles. The slogan: “Many Hands to Serve You!” But it was replaced by “Regal” car wash, which had no monarchical attributes whatsoever. I always went on a weekend. The OctoGal is on University Avenue by the U of M, and that’s a working road – commuters, semis, students. Weekends it’s dead. For as long as I’ve been here, washing my car meant sitting in that loud garage, watching cars roll off the ancient machinery, looking out the window at the old familiar sights – including the old grain elevators to the east, rising like ruins from a previous civilization. The last time I went they left bugs all over the grill.
Hello, Mister Carwash. It’s not like I’m making a bold new statement here, though; Mister Carwash is around the corner from the remains of the Howard Johnson motel where we stayed when I was eight, and we came down to The Cities to see the new modern marvel of Southdale.
I got a stuffed dog that played “Some Enchanted Evening” when you turned the key.
When I was eight, I mean. At Mister Carwash you get popcorn.
And everyone takes the popcorn. It’s irresistible. You put out fresh popcorn, people come back. The neighborhood hardware store has a popcorn machine, and I’d rather go there, chat with the guys (three generations of the family work the store, I swear) and pay 100% more for a bag of nails, because they have popcorn. At Mister Carwash I watched the door, and everyone who came out to wait for their auto was digging in a bag. Retro-design bag, too. It’s one of those things that requires the old red-and-white striped motif with a gay script logo: POPCORN!
(I must be typing quickly; that’s the first time I’ve ever used “gay” in the archaic sense without thinking.)
Yesterday was just as good. We went downtown, parked behind the Strib; I did some business in the office, Gnat was duly fawned over, and then we took the light-rail to the new library. I would have walked, but I’m not six. The new library is one of the city’s cultural centerpieces – there’s the Walker, which I despise, the Guthrie, which is boring, and the Library, designed by Cesar Pelli’s firm. I have the greatest respect for Pelli. We owe him. He gave us our own RCA building in the form of the Norwest Tower, one of his finest buildings of the 80s. He’s also a gentleman – when he came to Minneapolis to preside over the unveiling of the Norwest design, he took time to have breakfast with a stupid young “architecture critic” from the college paper, and answer all his questions. He was courtly and merry and decent, and declined the opportunity to rip on the Multifoods Tower, where we happened to be having breakfast. He’s not a starchitect, he’s not a Brash Genius, he’s not a Brilliant Rethinker; he’s a classic architect who builds classic buildings.
And his new library bores me to sighs. It’s not bad; the big giant overhang that connects the two wings and ties Nicollet and Hennepin together, supposedly, has its moments. It could be much much worse, believe me: it’s not a showy building, and its façade will age well. (By which I mean it’s not the latest-greatest idea, but a rather timeless and humane arrangement of stone and glass.) Inside it’s nice. It’s airy. It’s open. Here’s the atrium everyone has been raving about:
Eh. Me, I would have gone with a barrel vault, instead of a triangle with the pointy side bearing DOWN on the people below. It narrows at one end, as you can see. It does concentrate the mind, but so does the prospect of hanging. Here’s the interior of the children’s wing:
Because nothing says lazy hours spent reading in a warm cozy library like a wall of concrete. It’s more or less colorless, which seems an odd choice for the kid’s wing; you sense an overall design aesthetic trumped the needs of the specific sites. There’s a reason kids respond to Chuck E. Cheese’s, after all. Color = fun. Acres of blond wood and vertical driveways do not necessarily entice the small mind. But that’s hardly fatal; the library in Fargo was a white slit-windowed bunker, and I loved that place dearly.
I do have an early childhood memory of the Fargo library’s predecessor, though. It was across from the Graver Hotel, where I got my hair cut. A classic temple. Creaky floors, hissing radiators, and that holy old-book smell. It was ever five o’clock on a winter afternoon there; the close humid rooms seemed able to summon snow on their own, just to keep you there, wandering the stacks.
The new library looks out on an empty lot, the buildings of lower Nicollet long razed and never replaced. There’s a parking ramp kitty-corner; it once held a Walgreen’s, a Rocky Rococco and a McDonalds. They left several years ago. Some day a large condo will rise on the empty blocks, and life will return, and if anyone has a sense of history they’ll put a few photos in the lobby: men in suits and walrus mustaches standing by pails of Brined Nails, women in wide giant outfits toting parasols as they shop the smart stores for the latest corset stays. This was once the center of town. Things change.
As we approached the library for the first time in our lives, a man pushed his way out the door: big frame, stout belly, backpack, headphones, sunglasses.
F*CK MILK, said his T-shirt. GOT POT?
New Quirk; new Diner. MP3 version is here, bandwidth permitting. Click below for the art-embedded version, which you can either download or listen to in your browser. A snippet of the Diner was played on the Hewitt show today, which was a hoot. I hope new patrons don’t expect too much. It’s just 30 minutes of whatever it is. This week’s installment was done in one straight session, and the only technical innovation was “faking the other guy’s voice.” Enjoy! Thanks for everything, and I’ll see you Monday.