While watching the claws disassemble the building across the street, I thought it would make a good Vine. While opening the Vine app and dismissing a dialog about finding friends - because when you whip out your phone to capture a moment, you really need to be distracted from your objective by the option to find friends - the thing I had hoped to capture, happened. The claw ripped off a great sheet of copper-hued glass that slanted over the entrance. Had to make a split-second decision: try to get some video, or stop RIGHT NOW and watch what happened? Memorialize or experience? I went with the latter, so I don’t have any footage.

Sorry, posterity.

But then the claw started tugging on a pillar, a corner of the building. Bricks pattered down; chunks of junk fell into the courtyard. I thought: there’s no way he’s taking down the rest of the floors today. Seems like it’s almost time for the whistle to blow and the operator to slide down the dino tail. Just in case, I braced the phone against the window. So:

Big Crash from James Lileks on Vimeo.

At dinner I opened the ketchup bottle and a jot of tomato ichor flew out and landed on my new sweater. Daughter laughed; I grumbled, and daubed it off. Huge wet spot on the front of my sweater. Remember that.

I went to the Package Store, as they don’t call them around here, to see if there was anything I wanted on sale. I’d dropped daughter off at confirmation, had 75 minutes to fill, and decided to shop for next week’s groceries, since the weekend has the Postcard show on Saturday and a concert to MC on Sunday. Hit Target, hit Traders Joe, hit Cub Foods - and brother, that was a wise decision, because the sausage patties I have for breakfast, normally eight for $1.49, were on sale for 88 cents. That’s eight cents per divot. EIGHT. CENTS. Then I nipped into the Package Store, as no one calls it but I remember from a nearby liquor store in Fargo called “Polar Package” that had a statue of a white bear on the roof, and one of my uncles worked there, and my mother disapproved of the existence of the place completely for some reason - anyway, I didn’t find any of the items I wished to purchase on sale, so I left.

If there’s one thing that feels peculiar, it’s leaving a liquor store without buying anything. Most people, if they go to get a particular brand of wine, will get something else if they don’t find it. If you want, say, Maker’s Mark at the price point you expect - $24.99 - and it’s $28.99, you may downshift to something lesser, because really you just came to buy brown sauce. But I was looking for a sale on Maker’s Mark, which they’d had a week ago. It had expired. So I left. Walked past the register, nodded to the clerk.

On the way into the store I had zipped up my jacket because there was a huge wet spot on the front of my sweater, and it looked like the bottom tip of my sternum had been sweating. Given the voluminous contours of the jacket, the fact it was zipped up, and the fact that I was walking out of the Package Store quickly because I had to pick up daughter in 10 minutes, I completely understand the clerk’s reaction when the other clerk said:


What would you do?

I whipped around, assumed an almost Spider-man crouch, looked left and right, and bolted for the door and ran to my car.

A moment’s entertainment for the other customers; a moment’s confusion for the new clerk. years ago the clerk who'd made the accusation of theft had a boyfriend who interviewed me for a paper he was doing for college, something about newspapers and the internet. This was her way of having fun. I was ten blocks down then road before I remembered the connection, and wondered if they were still together. Not the sort of thing you can ask, I suppose.

Funny thing is I did steal a bottle. $28.99 is just ridicuous.


Today in Bioshock Infinite - and again, you don’t have to play the game or care about the game to find this interesting, because it’s more about the art form and the way you react. I’m in a bad part of town, and come across some people breaking into a vending machine to get something to eat. There’s a tear in the neighborhood, one of those shimming rifts your companion can manipulate to travel elsewhere or pulls things out of the parallel dimension. (That’s another issue. Later on that.) There was a bag of money; I took it. Whereupon all the people breaking into the vending machine attacked me. After brief mayhem and melee I was the only one standing, and I cursed myself for taking the money.

Earlier in the level I’d come across coins here and there, usually scattered around a drunk or someone passed out, and I left them there. A few coins wouldn’t make a difference to my purse. But a bag of money, that’s different, so I grabbed it. And then everyone was dead. When I turned back to look at the rift, I saw what laid on the other side:


I quit the game right there, because I didn’t want to play as the guy who just did that.

You can be better, you can be worse, you can be different. The best games let you make your own choices and live by the consequences. The games that let you drive giant robots and have rocket-gun battles speak to your inner 12-year-old, I suppose, but that’s where you’re different. The games that let you be a worse person because the moral framework of the story is busted and encourages sociopathy for lulz, well, no.

It makes me wonder what would have happened if “Grand Theft Auto” had taken a peace officer’s position from the start. You’re a cop, you’re not perfect, your partner is worse, your department is sketchy, but you’re trying to do the right thing. It could have been just as interesting.

At one point we went in the basement of a dive bar, and as we went down the stairs I saw a little boy trying to take an orange on a shelf. He ran under the stairs. You could walk through looking for money or ammo or health and then leave, or you could take note when Elizabeth points to a guitar and says she wishes she knew how to play. Because if you look at the guitar and get closer, well, [F] . That means you can pick it up. So you [F], and you lay down your gun and pick up the guitar and strum, and she starts to sing a song that draws out the hungry boy. She gives him the orange.

Has nothing to do with anything. Has everything to do with everything.

I mention this because video games are probably at the Oz level of belief-suspension right now. In 1939 the effects of the “Wizard of Oz” were mightily impressive, and audiences probably ignored the artifice or questioned the methods by which these things were produced, because the effect of what they were seeing was entrancing, and they wanted to believe. That’s one of the reasons last year’s Oz movie disappointed: everything looked utterly believable and you knew it was all fake. You factored FAKE into every amazing second. All you wanted was to be transported by something so good you never had to worry about thinking FAKE.

In forty years, who knows what games will be? The idea of a flat screen with limited, scripted interaction will seem as stilted as movies with one hand-cranked camera, but just as we admire what Chaplin did in that medium, so I hope they’ll respect the early examples of this genre. (“Pac-man” is the Muybridge Horse; “Doom” is early Lumiere.) A good story transcends its medium, he said, platitudinously, but there are examples of stories that could not exist in any other medium, or at least not have the same effect.

“City Lights,” by Chaplin, is almost appallingly sentimental to modern eyes, but those modern eyes are also welling up at the end - and what he accomplishes in the final shots can’t be done in any other medium. Video games, when they’re played with stereoscopic headsets and motion-detectors that see what your hands are doing, will eventually produce something that is A) as mindlessly violent as the average shoot-‘em-up, and B) something as nuanced and tremulous as the best parts of, well, a Bioshock game. By which I mean: there will be no regeneration. There will be no special powers. There won’t be floating health-indicators over the heads of your enemy, or words that pop up to remind you that [V] delivered a melee chop. You will move through worlds imagined or reconstructed - future cities, 1887 Deadwood, 1937 Berlin - and any act of violence will have consequences. The genre started out with a basic imperative: shoot everything. It will reach its maturity when pulling out your gun is the last thing you want to do



I click on a state and zoom until I find a city that looks like the right size for a downtown. That's all. Once I choose I don't go elsewhere; I have to stick with the choice.

And so we find ourselves in . . .

I don’t mean to pick on these towns, and by no means is the condition of this building or that a sign that the city doesn’t have its charms, its salutary attributes, a sense of strong community, and all the other fine aspects of small-town life. But again, here’s a building that looks like it lost a fight:

The rusticated stone over the windows could mean it’s almost a hundred years old. The corrugated metal on the first floor covers up what once was glass. The indented entrance was probably added in the 30s or after. The brick addition on top is inexplicable. As is the brick podium for the streetlights. The benches and shrubs are nice. Someone’s trying.

On the other hand . . .

The curse of corrugation seems to have hit this place hard. Is there a second and fourth story they’re not telling us about?

Oh dear.

One day that sign’ll come down in a good wind. Probably not today.

Many places willing to loan you money. Such generosity!

A good sandblasting and some tuck pointing might bring that facade back; you can see someone’s pride in doing what they could with a small budget that ruled out anything but brick.

No, you’re not mistaken. These do seem like “Walking Dead” sets. Except even those had someone shuffling around.

Nothing on the second floor! Why do you ask? We don’t have a second floor! You go now!

I’m not trying to find an endless series of small towns with boarded-up second floor windows. It just keeps happening.

Ah! Finally.

The intention and purpose of that facade remodeling is unfathomable.

Ghost Ad:

Uneeda biscuit, the famous Nabisco product. Note that the bottom floor appears to be missing, like dentures that lost the lower plate:

They carved it out. Trucks and cars go there now for repair. Possibly the last thing the original architect ever considered would happen.

Keep on driving, stranger. You just keep on driving down the road.







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