This day was not appreciatively different from yesterday, and it was a long mopey drag. Tuesday is the worst day of the week, but there was something else, besides Daughter’s imminent departure, and that’s the feeling of being all out of juice. When your job and self-definition is based on coming up with new stuff all the time, or different ways to spin the old stuff, it’s disheartening. What’s worse - the idea that you’ve only a handful of good years left, if that, before Bad News comes along, or the idea that you’ve a handful plus a few, and it’s the same damned thing over and over again?

Cheery start to the morn! Sorry. The morning actually started well, with a theatrical storm that dumped buckets and cracked the sky, and morning storms are the best. There’s not enough of them. There aren’t enough thunderstorms, period. It’s the most defining aspect of summer for me, and stir something deep - the rolling approach, the gathering of fundamental forces, the hammerblows, the smell of the air when it’s done. It takes you back to the endless summers of childhood, and makes you realize how many buried memories are accessible by the slightest interrogation.

Then to work. Had a meeting about an upcoming project at work which will be fun, but it will be over fast and replaced by something else, another deadline. The worst part about working at a paper is the constant churn, the endlessly gaping maw demanding sustenance, but the great thing about working at a paper? We make something completely new every day.

Well, something completely new, plus Garfield. That’s never new. We still run Peanuts, for heaven’s sake. Dagwood is still colliding with the mailman.

If you want to imagine the future, Winston, imagine a sandwich-and-nap enthusiast smashing into a mail carrier. Forever.

and while I had lunch I read a piece about a photographer who snaps the remainders of a particular time in the American landscape that gets no respect, just as Googie and the other jet-age styles were discounted and disassembled. It’s not that the aesthetic is always great, but it’s far out of fashion, unlikely to come back except as a poorly-employed signifier for a particular era in a TV show or movie. Iit gives you a pang if you remember when it was new, and stood for what you perceived as your time. Things are different now! And I’m young and in the forefront of . . . of stuff! You know, music and graphic arts and clothing and other things that make this period so awesome and distinct from the totally different era that came before it!

It’s a lot to get out of a shopping mall fountain or a Taco Bell booth, but believe me, it’s there.

The problem with nostalgia is the way you burnish and polish the past, until you’ve a curio that bears little resemblance to your actual experience. The question isn’t whether things were somehow Better when there were post-modern geometric patterns at Taco Bell; the question is whyin the NAME OF GOD you would even begin think things were better. Because they weren’t, and I know it. Some things were, but there was an underlying dread of an existential sort that today’s climate-emergency hyperbole can’t touch.

Let me put it this way: we were, at any time, a few hours away from a series of mistakes or overreactions which would result in the destruction of our civilization.

If that didn’t happen, we would all get SEX CANCER.

On the other hand, glass blocks made a comeback in architecture, and that was cool.

Anyway, back to the big project at work. It’s about a fantastic, enormous image that contains an astonishing amount of detail about life a hundred years ago. It’s rich and vital, with signage and movie posters and great old buildings, and while it is recognizable to me as my home, I have no nostalgia for it. The era seems sooty and stiff and burdened at every turn with conventions. Soiled collars and woolen underwear, BO and bad teeth-breath.

It’s the last embers of the 19th century. In twenty years nearly everything about the place in the photo would be familiar to us today, right down to the tropes in the movies and comics and magazines. But you can’t understand the early days of the things you recognize if you don’t know the composition of the soil from which they sprung, and that's why studying eras for which you have no great fellow-feeling is important.

Then your weary old alter-self kicks in. What does it matter that any of this is noted and remembered and annotated, if it seems that no one is interested in the lessons - or uses the past as a box from which they can pull anything that confirms their beliefs about the present?

Example. From a description of the book of 80s and 90s photos, which has the spot-on title "I Dreamed It was Better Than It Was":

This book is simultaneously an ode to the shopping malls, cultural centers and physical structures that Phil grew up around and also a critique of the fact that some of our most precious memories are so deeply rooted in commerce - that we have more feelings associated with a store, than we sometimes do our fellow man.

Because we’re now all about making sure everyone knows we disapproveof capitalism, which deformed our good & pure natures into the hellscape we inhabit now, amirite?

The Buzzfeed title for the piece is typical for the site: “15 Surreal Portraits Of A Slowly Fading American Dream.”

First of all, they’re not surreal. There are no clocks marching around on giant chopsticks while an elephant melts on a barren tree branch. Second, they have to get that shot at “the American Dream” in there and make sure everyone knows it’s Fading, because the creed of Miserabilism demands that you remind everyone at every possible opportunity that no one can get a house with a picket fence and have two kids and a yard anymore. and also you shouldn’t get a house and have more than one kid and definitely not a yard because there are all bad for the planet, not that it matters, because climate change is real and unstoppable, and species will collapse and everything will be over.

But also be nostalgic for malls because we went there when we were kids. But also hate them.

Oh it’s so confusing, when you think about it.

Best not to think too much, then. Enough to be against the Bad Thing and in favor of the Good Thing and regard the past like a book you can pick up and put down when you wish. I mean, cool story and all that, but what does it have to do with me?





It’s 1893.

They still put out the paper the next day, because that’s what you do.

We don't call it the Great Fire because everyone's forgotten it.

Fire bugs! Those bastards.

Yeah, of all the places you don’t want to see flames, it’s the lumber yard. Never starts in a quarry, does it?

I know, stupid observation.

We have detailed files:

It broke out on a hot, windy, Sunday afternoon in a dry summer that had seen no rain fall for a month before the blaze. Boys smoking set fire to the two-story, frame plant of the Lenhart Wagon Works on the west side of Nicollet Island, south of present East Hennepin Avenue. The first alarm from Box 132 at 1:35 PM drew Engines 11-3-2-12, Ladder 2-1, Chemical 3, 1st Assistant Chief and Chief of Department.

Send all available sketch artists!

The map:


It’s different now.

I'd say very few people who live, work, eat, drink, and pray around here have any idea what happened. Pity; on any summer night you could stand outside and imagine the noise, the smoke, the glow, the cries.

  t was tough to keep this up for inch after inch . . .
  . . . , but whoever wrote this was good.

Study of the displaced:

Bad as it was, the paper had to go on, and that meant selling ads. Sometimes you could make the ads look like actual news stories! Advertisers loved that.

  What is this, Frida Kahlo’s Digestible Biscuits?

The aftermath of the fire, if you're wondering, was a redoubled committment to safety and sprinklers and hydrants and pumps and . . .

Not really. They crossed their fingers and rebuilt and hoped it didn't happen again.

That'll do; a better day awaits. See you around.



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