Email should be working now. Apologies for any bumped letters. I was caught in a death spiral; my help-desk tickets about my bad password required a password for me to see the answer. But I’m not getting “disk full” errors anymore, and email sent to myself now works. Fingers crossed.
I really hadn’t intended to go deep & heavy into Family Issues this week; I think yesterday’s episode was an example of having nothing current to say because I hadn’t left the house. I will leave the house tomorrow. I will go more than 14 blocks outside my usual radius. Go to the office, get another assignment, breath that rare office air, print off some old columns. (Part of the great archiving project, as mentioned, involves getting a hard copy of everything – before the Iranian EMP destroys all computers and microfiche readers! – and that means scrolling, scrolling, over the fiche I go.) Anyway, no deep weighty furrowed-brow ruminations over wraiths of drifting pipe-smoke today.
And what was today? The same in nice thick slices, which is just the way I like it. At one point I was doing three things at once, with different machines slaving away translating magnetic tape into bits. The old Diner tapes are a great disappointment, since the tape speed is wrong - I sound like a chipmunk who’s hyperventilated into a bag of helium. (Speaking of which: new Halloween Diner on Friday.) I found an old 8MM tape of a trip I made to Dinkytown (a neighborhood by the U of M) with the Giant Swede in 1999, after the house where I’d lived had been knocked down but before the enormous apartment building was constructed on the site; after Gray’s Campus Drug was closed but before they turned the space into a chic restaurant. I stuck the camera up to the window, and got this:
The lights were on; no idea why. You’re looking at a room where BOB DYLAN HIMSELF once tread; when he lived in Dinkytown I’m sure he stopped here for smokes or pencils or a cherry Coke at the fountain. This was where I bought my Barclays and my fountain pen refills. Ah, Dinkytown. When I moved there in 1978 it was a true neighborhood. It had a drug store, a cobbler, a florist’s, a pastry shop, a movie theater, bars and restaurants, a grocery store – with four aisles! – and a hardware store, all condensed in four brick blocks. I have no idea why it died. They didn’t built a Meglo-Mart six blocks up the street. Everything they sold people needed. Perhaps there was a slight but fatal demographic shift, as the neighborhood homes turned from single-family to multiple occupancy – students don’t need as much hardware as home owners, after all. They just need a phone to call the guy who owns the place (and is totally ripping them off, man, I mean, look at this crooked mirror) Whatever the reason, Dinkytown’s old retail mix evaporated, replaced by copy shops and hemp-clothiers and other merchants aimed straight at the college demographic. I think that’s what I liked about it, then: it felt grown up. It was a grown-up place that smiled upon its youthful penurious scholar demographic. Boot camp for the outside world, almost. Now there’s a permeable membrane at the edge of town – permeable but opaque - that stands between student life and the Real World. I miss it.
But only because I know there’s no chance I’ll ever be 21 and dateless again, sitting outside at the Burger King tables on a summer night having coffee, trying to convince someone to come over for all-night Risk. Once was enough.
Picked up Gnat from school. She’d made a book, a paen to the seasons. Illustrated, no less. On the way home she read it to me, then she read it again in the voice of a teacher in the future explaining this artifact to her students.
Class, this is a book from olden times by Natalie Lileks. She wrote it with something called a pencil. It is called “The Seasons.” Chapter one. (She read the entire text aloud in a pedagogical voice.) Any questions?
I raised my hand. Did she write any other books?
Oh, yes. She wrote one other book with chapters. She wrote it her entire life but she died before she could finish the first chapter so it will always be a mystery. It was called “The Greatest Picnic Ever.”
I’ve heard of it.
Oh yes. It is a very good book. It took her a long time. Back in ancient times they put their books on something called paper. They had to use machines to make their books, and they had to hold them in their hands. Today we have robots. They didn’t have robots then. They didn’t even have hovercars. But they had geniuses who could invent hovercars so people could have them in the future. And that’s why we have hovercars today.
Because of the geniuses of the past?
Yes. (Stage whisper: but they’re still in the future.) Yes, that is correct.
The hovercar mystique: it reaches across generations. Everyone wants their hovercars!
After homework I took a quick nap, made spaghetti, and listened to Hugh Hewitt interview Andrew Sullivan. Interesting. Interesting in the sense of watching your foot get sawed off while it’s completely numb. I’d heard Mr. Sullivan on the Dennis Prager show, and the conversation had a different tone; more respectful and less adversarial. When Prager disagrees, he does so with broad philosophical strokes that accentuate and clarify the nature of the disagreement. The guest is accorded however much rope he needs to fashion the noose. Hugh Hewitt is a detail man. Obligatory disclaimer, I consider HH my friend, think he’s a decent man, disagree with him on a few items, take issue with the matter of a colleague of mine, etc. But I know his style. He always starts with simple questions, which drives the suspicious guests nuts – what’s he up to? – and he’ll often frame a complex issue to fit his desired response and give the guest a binary choice. If some people believe X is true and your article exhibited X, might not those people believe you believe in X, and if that’s the case, is it wrong to infer that you also believe Y, which is a natural corollary of X? The correct response, as demonstrated by my colleague the other day, is to us the exact terms of the question in your response. If A = B and B is a subset of D, yes, I can see how some people might think E= MC2. If the conversation is genial and relaxed, and the guest doesn’t think the devious Inquisitional Judas-jackal interrogator is leading him over tiger traps and mine fields, it makes for an insightful conversation.
This was not that.
I actually ordered Andrew’s book after the Prager interview, and I still look forward to reading it, but oy: he sold no copies on the Hewitt show. At every turn the chance to show contempt for the host trumped the desire to convince to the audience, and that made it 90 minutes of bone-saw grinding. It was so pointlessly confrontational that I fantasized having a conversation in the same style about an utterly innocuous subject – and lo, behold, the show’s producer, the tireless Generalissimo, called me up just to ask what I
thought of the interview. I said “let’s do a bit. Let’s say Hugh asks me about the weather, and I respond in a similar fashion.” So we went on the air and replayed the interview, except we were talking about wind and snow. I should note that my little aside about “please buy my book” wasn’t fair, because Mr. Sullivan didn’t say anything like that. It was an inaccurate caricature, and just as I think Hugh is a decent fellow, I think Andrew is a decent fellow as well, disagreements to the contrary. On the other hand, I'd never heard him operate with the assumption of bad faith as he did today. It was startling at first, then amusing, then annoying, and eventually dull.
No link to the interview is available at press time, although Hugh's site - which isn't busy, no, not at all - should have it eventually, along with my labored parody. You can't understand with latter without the former, so if you're not willing to invest two hours don't bother. But it reminded me of Christopher Hitchens' interviews on the Hewitt show. Hitch can give Hugh a backhand slap in the face without spilling his drink, and Hugh usually laughs and bores in, or saves it for another day. Hitch is still a good guest, because when he’s nasty, it’s a clean shot – cruel, disinterested, amusing, nothing personal, and you were saying? I used to think that was an English trait, but as with so many, many things, I was mistaken.
New Quirk and new Money, although the latter is a bit of a retread; the new stuff is coming soon.
And please buy my book!