MARCH 1997 Part 4
I cheated on an important relationship today, and I feel guilty; I know I will be caught. This can't go on. For one thing, I can't keep both women happy; it's too expensive. And it all leaves me feeling so . . . so clean.

Clean, as in "shampooed." My regular barberette, B., was out today, and in her stead, to my astonishment, was last year's stylist, M. - a cheerful young woman who had vanished off the earth, last seen heading for Yellowstone. Now here she was again, back, pregnant and engaged. Things happen.

We had a good talk - that's one of the main reasons I go to her. I can't stand awkward conversation while I'm getting my hair cut. I can't read, because I'm blind without my glasses, and I feel stupid just sitting there. Good conversation is crucial. I don't need Deep Serious Talk about the issues of the day - in fact, given how animated I get on certain subjects, it's good we don't talk politics, or I'd get a scissor-point in the eyeball. It's enough to talk movies and catch up on what happened since the last time we did the Delilah - Samson thing.

Since M. left I've patronized a stylist that's just as good, and different - earnest and merry where M. is arch and ironic. I can't choose. I can't stick with M., because then B. will stare hot daggers at me when I come in. And vice versa. I told M. that I would have to alternate between the two of them, for fairness' sake. And I wanted to add, after all, you left me.

She agreed. I feel very French.


Did TV tonight, Almanac. I love everything about television except watching it; making it is far more fun than watching it can ever be. I love getting miked up, taking my place on the blue X on the floor, and reading the TelePrompter. It really is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. Repeating memorized copy to the blank cow-eye of the camera is unnerving; you're staring into a mirror that does not throw back a reflection. But the TelePrompter makes any solo performance a duet. It's hard to fear the camera when it obviously wants to be helpful.

Right before going on tonight I learned tonight that the average audience of the show is 50,000. I've gotten the cold sweats thinking of speaking to a crowd of 200, but 50,000 viewers means nothing. It's completely abstract. Working in a studio is like putting on a play with no audience and no seats, where the fourth wall is made of concrete. You can imagine that people are watching, but you can't prove it at the time.


Cold day, miserable - no sun after noon, a north wind full of the dank dead breath of evaporated snow. Not so much the second day of spring but the penultimate day of winter. The dogs are happy, though. the retreating snow reveals petrified fermented dung of the Fall Epoch. Every dog is an archeologist this time of year.

No one said a word, but there it was: a lunar eclipse. Earlier in the evening when I went outside to let Jasper void his bladder the moon was a half-eaten rind, two horns pointing down at the earth, and it was incredibly bright. An hour later Jasper came upstairs and flipped on his back, which either means he felt compelled to acknowledge my alpha position in the pack, or he had to pee again. I erred on the safe side and we went outside. This time the moon had been reduced to a dribble of quicksilver on the edge of a pale gray plate. Eclipse! I called Sara to come and see, and we stood outside waiting for it to do something. I've checked every ten minutes, but I think it's one of those partial eclipses that loses its nerve. It's still a beautiful sight, and it makes up for the fact that I can't find that damn Hale-Bopp anywhere. I wish I knew more about the heavens - I know Orion and a few other constellations, but there's so much more to know. Or is there? Most of it is just names - what name belongs to that bright point, what number is attached to that smear of galaxies.

I've never met anyone well-schooled in astronomy who was blase about the stars just because they knew the names. But this may be one of those disciplines where the ignorant and the wise are equal. You can theorize about super-string construction, nested-bubble theories, quantum physics and the rest of the man-made prophecies, but eventually all any of us can do is look up and gape. We won't know anything until we get there.


Again, the theatah. This fine bright afternoon was spent in a theater so small that anything other than a one-person show would violate the fire code. It was "Bus Stop," by William Inge, one of those indestructible plays that would be entertaining even if the junior high puts it on, and forces the varsity basketball players to play all the roles. In this case, however, every detail of the performance was exemplary, and I enjoyed it. The audience was less accomplished - the man behind me was on the verge of a tubercular eruption, producing thick rattling coughs that sounded like someone trying to suck a milkshake through a thick piece of steak.


Again, the hate mail. The Star Wars piece ran in a Florida paper today, so I'm getting more angry missives from the Virgin Troll brigade. One of them has designed his hate mail to look like the opening credits of the movie - yellow letters on a black background. He thinks I should change my name to Lie Licks, and he believes this to be a rapier-thrust to the pith of my ego. When I was online investigating a Piggly Wiggly web site he was taunting me with Instant Messages. "u afraid to t alk? whats the matter, yoda hit you with his cane????" Pathetic.

Watched "The Longest Day" Saturday - with commercial interruptions, it is almost as long as the event it describes. This was the colorized version, and it had all the usual flaws - whenever there's a close-up of a mouth, for example, the character's teeth are in black and white. Everyone was very tan; all the colorizers must live in Los Angeles. One color was almost completely absent from the movie: red. A little splotch on a bandaged wound here, a scratch on a (tan) face there. The beach, however, was devoid of red. For that matter, devoid of guts, severed limbs, headless torsos, and the rest of the usual battle debris. Of course, no one was ever blown up in the movie, or had their head shot off. When people were shot they grabbed their stomach as though suffering a painful interlude of wind, and they crumpled to the ground with the expression of someone passing a kidney stone. No one was ever knocked unconscious by a boot flying through the air with a foot inside trailing tatters of clothing.

Still, it's a hell of a movie. I feel patriotic when I watch it, as though sitting through four hours of a war film is the least I can do to salute people who went through four years of the real thing.

Just checked the moon - it's bigger. Either I missed the total eclipse, or it got stalled at the end. Perhaps it thought better of it. The ancient Chinese myths said that a dragon ate the moon - but how does that explain its reappearance? Perhaps the dragon is bulemic. Maybe the moon is suicidal, because it has poor self-esteem from hanging around the glamorous, popular earth

If I was the moon, I'd feel bad. We never write. We never call. And we certainly don't come for a visit anymore.

Just passed by the TV where the Oscars are playing; someone was singing a thank-you fugue that was longer than the credits of the movie for which he won the award. He was thanking the focus-puller on the second unit when I left.

Earlier, that daft pianist played - David Hasselhoff, I want to call him. David Helfgott, the fellow whose life was portrayed in "Shine." He is clearly mad. When he played "Flight of the Bumblebee" - a piece that is essentially scales with a plot - his mouth worked in constant comment, as though he was channeling the spirit of an auctioneer. It's nice that he's feeling better and has realized his dream of playing before audiences, but I get the sense that the audience's applause is directed at the audience members themselves - a loud ovation to reaffirm to themselves what good and decent people they are.

It's somewhat ironic - Hollywood, after all, convinced us all that the mentally ill are just rebels, difficult people, no more or less sane than the rest of us, sanity being a socially constructed invention. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - a great movie - probably did more damage to the mentally ill than all the lobotomies and shock treatments combined. Why, those interesting characters, locked up and fed sleepy pills by Nurse Ratchet - they're so lovable and colorful! Let them out of the asylum. Of course they'll come back once a week for their medicine - only a crazy person would do otherwise.

I love the movies, but the Oscars I find unendurable: a greater collection of vaporous, smug ninnies you'll never find. Drop a bomb on the building - say, a few reels of "Striptease" - and you'd boost the collective IQ of mankind by half a point. I also find it unusual that nearly everyone in Hollywood describes the place as a sinkhole of venality, selfishness, crudity, anti-intellectualism and the triumph of crass commerce - and yet it is populated entirely by liberals who are convinced that if Republicans ruled, the world would be a sinkhole of venality, selfishness, crudity, anti-intellectualism and the triumph of crass commerce. Which it probably would, but it would be a damn sight more honest about it all.

Just went downstairs to watch a little more. The Best Picture went to "The English Patient," and the Oscar was received by the producer: Saul Zaentz. Previously known as the manager for Creedence Clearwater Revival, I believe - CCR refugee John Fogerty wrote a bitter tune about being screwed by his manager, and it was called "Zaentz Can't Dance." He had to retitle it to avoid legal complications. I'm pretty sure it's the same guy. There's probably a smoking broken TV in the Fogerty household tonight, with a show protruding from the busted tube.


Today's grocery store moment: I bought Buttery Burst, a new variety of microwave popcorn. Buttery Burst sounds like what happens if you shove a stick of dynamite down Dom DeLuise's throat. It's the Lite version, meaning, extra greasy but not overly so. It's not just Butter Flavored, though - it's Extra Butter Flavored. But Lite. It's a very conflicted piece of snack food.

I had to examine the fat content, of course, since my goal this summer is to have articulated abdominal muscles that will not be seen by anyone except at the beach, where I will be judged as a shallow preening narcissist because I have articulated abdominal muscles. The fat content is 4 grams. But wait! When popped, each serving contains one gram.

Why tell me the fat content of unpopped popcorn? Who takes the slab out of the cellophane shroud and chews it raw? It's like printing DANGER! CHOKING HAZARD on the side of a turkey, with fine print that says the turkey constitutes no hazard if I cut it into bite-sized pieces and chew it before swallowing.

I'd give it a pass - in fact, I'd give everything a pass, from the Oscars on down - if it hadn't snowed four inches today. We were doing so well. The backyard glacier had retreated; half the lawn was visible. And now everything is buried again. I almost wish one of the jets that flies low overhead would crash. The rubbish would be awful. But the fire would dispel the drifts quite nicely.

Radio to do tomorrow, so most of today is spent worrying about my voice. I have an earache that sends a small red pang when I speak. Given the rather significant role speaking plays in talk radio, this may be a problem. My wife believes my earache is all in my head. I really can't disagree.

I'm subbing on a show that owns the 2-5 PM AM slot around here, and it's a show I listen to every day. Which makes filling in rather peculiar - most of the time I'm listening to the program as I go about my day - then once every seven weeks I'm on the other side of the mike, and it's all up to me. It's like being a Seinfeld fan and having to be Jerry once a year. Everything's familiar - the apartment, Kramer, Elaine, George - but now everyone is looking at me and waiting for my next line.

The key to a good show: massive overpreparation. I have to assume that no one will call. I have to believe that for three hours, I will be yammering to an audience that has no interest in my subject matter, and cannot change the channel because they are confined to a bed, and the radio is on the dresser. I used to draw up a list of topics, with a sublist of filler material (Such as a Reuters story called "The Philippines bans public vomiting!"). I'd just wing it, and hit the fillers when the show dragged. Now I plot the show out segment by segment. Topic A from 2:06 -2:20, Topic From 2:34-2:40. It never works that way - some odd random catches fire, and the lines light up. Last time, for heaven's sake, I spent an hour talking about old Chicken Man radio shows, until someone called in with vintage sound clips. You cannot plan that sort of thing. TV is fun, but radio is better: for all the preparation, it's still improvisational theater. Doesn't mean I'm good; it just means I enjoy it.


Today's grocery store discovery: Kraft's Thick 'n' Spicy Slow Simmered Hickory Bacon Barbecue Sauce. (It's called Thick 'n' Spicy to warn off those people who like their sauce Watery 'n' Tepid.) I'm not sure why I bought this product - surely not for the Hickory, which is, after all, wood. I don't buy Birch-flavored popsicles or Elm-scented banana bread. By Hickory, of course, they mean the clouds of carbon exhaust you get when you burn hickory. But CARBON-DUSTED PIG FLESH won't move the merchandise. "Hickory bacon" will.

The ingredient list has the usual opening nods to water and sugar, and then the real details follow: the sauce contained not only Bacon (pork, water, sodium erythorbate) but Bacon Fat, (aka MSG) and then Bacon Bits. Three kinds of bacon, each of which consisted of Bacon.

Next, the wonders of modern chemistry. Enter the wraiths: Smoke Flavor. (also known as "soot.") Imitation Hickory Smoke Flavor. (The flavor of the smoke of incinerated Imitation Hickory, perhaps.) Finally, the great mystery: Natural Flavor.

That's all it says: Natural Flavor. Natural what? Flavor of what? The natural flavor of imitation hickory smoke? I have to call the company and ask; I'm dying to know. I mean, the flavor of urine is a natural flavor. I'll report the details as I learn them.

Wish me luck today. There are few failures as conspicuous as those that are disseminated by a 50,000 watt radio station.

I blew it twice. I'm rusty. Time was, back in my old radio days, I could speak right up to the top of the hour and fall silent at the exact second the network news kicked in, but I blew it twice today. It's a mark of pride to end the show precisely at the little cricket-chirp that precedes the news. Three more chances to get it right tomorrow.

Otherwise, it was fun. Not the most necessary bit of radio ever committed, but fun. If only I could do the second hour as my first hour. By the second hour I am completely loose, and generally having such a blast that I hate to take commercial breaks. The first hour is always a series of rapid hand-cranks to get the engine turning - you toss out topics until something catches, and the phone lines flicker. I was lucky today. The first topic I tossed out (getting fired) kept the show going for three straight hours. There's nothing better than coming back into the studio after getting a cup of coffee, and seeing all five lines blinking. It's the same feeling you get when you throw a party at the last minute and people actually show up.

Radio is the most gratifying of all media: the feedback is instant, the product ephemeral and hence not likely to embarrass you in a few years, and it's intimate. Or so I say today. Last night my performance anxiety dream consisted of having teeth pulled.

"Is it painful?" I asked the nurse in my dream.

"Yes," she said. "It is."

Today reminded me again that no, it isn't.

Watched boxing last night before going to bed. I'm not sure why I think this will make me sleepy. Wincing does not make me sleepy. Saw the typical standard fight between the fading old rooster and the up-and-coming brawler; the old fighter was but a year younger than myself, so I naturally wanted him to conquer the brash untutored slugger, defeat him with experience and guile. Or course, in boxing, "guile" is a rather broad concept. "Guile" means taking a southpaw stance when you really intend to bash in your opponent's nose with your right hand. It's not exactly Machiavellian. The old boxer got a lucky break when his opponent's eye puffed up: that was his cue to pound his fist into the eye until the opponent was unable to see, and hence vulnerable to getting an leather-clad anvil slammed into the side of his noggin.

This is called "the sweet science."

If actual science worked this way, Newton would have discovered gravity by dropping lab assistants on their head. It is, however, somewhat refreshing to hear the announcer say "he's going to hit that eye until it swells shut" and know that this is not a metaphor. Sports analogies abound in public discourse - metaphors of strategy and violent combat that are usually used to describe the machinations of policy wonks, money men and ectomorphic politicians. At least in boxing when someone says that "he's going in for the kill!" they're actually speaking the truth.

There's also the interesting matter of contextual testicle punching. By which I mean: on America's Funniest Home Videos, getting punched in the testicles is the cue for universal glee. Show the audience a tape of some guy getting his orbs liquefied by a fastball, or some schlump getting whacked in the ovoid duo by a small child, and the audience howls. In boxing, if one fighter drives a fist into the groinal region of the other, there are boos and serious consequences. Yet in both cases, money is at stake.

What's sad is that the purse for America's Funniest Home Videos is generally larger than most boxing matches.

Thursday night I finally spotted Hale-Bopp. The day the comet gets the worst possible publicity, I see it. I feel bad for Mr. Hale and Mr. Bopp - unlike Haley's comet, which has been around enough times so that it has all the metaphysical overtones of a U.S. Postal truck, this comet's maiden appearance gets linked to the mass suicide of some HTML programmers. The first thing I thought of upon learning of their vocation was "Masada of the Geeks" - and now I learn that the Higher Source cult refers to Masada in their web site.

Well, at least they weren't like the Aum cult in Japan, poisoning the innocents; they were introverts. But they did have the Scary Leader, Mr. Doe. Saw a picture of him on TV today - alarmingly charismatic eyes, a warm comforting presence with a certain electrical immediacy. He looked like Aleister Crowley as an old pediatrician.

Late thought: what's the difference between Higher Source, which believed in salvation through extra-terrestrial, and Scientology? Simple: tax-exempt status. And a dress code.

Did the radio show again today on t he big AM 1500. Didn't flub the top of the hour legal-ID once, and I felt proud. That's not the greatest accomplishment a man can claim for a day, but it will do. I hadn't intended to talk much about the suicide on the show today - what's to say? Bad move, guys. Next time, get pictures of the spaceship before you take the sleepy sauce. But at three o'clock the KSTP TV cameras showed up at the radio station for Local Reaction, and they are the parent company, so I agreed. (It's TV, and I am a slut for that stuff.) It doesn't make for good footage if the Local Reaction consists of a silent shrug, so I tried to poke an opinion out of the audience. I got a few calls, but generally the audience is too sensible for that topic.

TV changes everything. Usually I slouch in my chair, swing the mike back and forth; the lights are turned down so dim so all the dials and buttons glow like embers in a cave. For TV I had to boost the lighting, sit up straight, and tailor my expressions to match the caller's points. (Mm-hmm! Really. Disapproval. You've got a point.) I was acting like I thought a talk show host should look, and of course visuals are not exactly a crucial part of radio. The cameras left after half an hour, and by then the show was completely derailed, but the rest of the day went fine.

I forget how exhausting the job is - simply being ON for three hours is as draining as a walk around the lake in a high wind.


Speaking of which. Took the walk early today, and had to fight through the crowd of dogs and bikes and peds. Sixty-five degrees today. Pure heaven. Two weeks to ice-out on the lake, and the return of the jostling water.

I ran into an old friend who I haven't seen in a while - obviously a while, since she had a baby on her back. She also had a dog, and my pup Jasper and the dog did the usual booty-sniff. When we left, Jasper got an attack of the Phantom Humps - a bizarre dog phenomenon where he starts to have sex with a dog that is not there. He hunches over and starts thrashing away like a wind-up toy, and the force of his twitching hips makes him chart an irregular path to and fro. Usually it goes away after a dozen thrusts, but this time he couldn't stop. He was channeling the spirit of Elvis at 78 RPMs. He looked at me with an expression of fear or embarrassment: can't shut it off, boss. People were pointing, laughing, peering to see what microscopic dog was beneath him. I had to tickle him to get him to stop.

Afterwards he shook his head vigorously - with his big ears, it makes a sound, whapetywhapetywhapety - and then he sat down and sneezed. Springtime; love is in the air.

Now it turns out that some of the male members of the Higher Source cult took a bolt-cutter to their male members. Some of the guys, including mad-daddy Doe (and wouldn't you hesitate to follow someone whose name sounds like Homer Simpson's expression of self-hatred?) were castrated. You wonder where the line was for these people. It's one level of dementia to believe that a spaceship is coming to get you. It's another to think you should have yourself gelded before the spaceship gets here. What would have warned these people that this was all folly? Well, they were web designers; perhaps that's a clue.

"Member John, I want you to castrate yourself for the aliens and then take this drug-laced sauce so you can shed your human body. But first convert our home page to frames."

John thinks: castration, check. Aliens, check. Kill self, check. But frames? Is he mad? Could he be wrong about everything?

I should talk; I have frames. But I feel bad about them, and most of them will be gone by next month. The archives needs them, but I'll find a way out of that soon as well.


Sad gray afternoon, preceded by a blurry, disquiet morning. I had one of those awful dreams where I've killed someone. This dream occurs two to three times a year. I never dream the actual act, just the hideous dread that results from it. Usually it's a great relief to awake from these dreams - hey, I didn't kill anyone! What better way to start the day? But this episode was so saturated with guilt and foreboding that it gave me the muttering grumbles past noon. I walked Jasper around the lake - no sun, low bruise-hued clouds - and my mood got worse. Until:

Until Jasper stopped, sat, and looked up. I followed his gaze - heard a distant honking, and then saw a perfect V of geese overhead, flying north. We watched them pass until they flew out of sight. Another platoon was right behind, this time spread out in a ragged array, a v grafted onto a V. More honks of encouragement and assent, then they too vanished. Then a lone goose - sick? Lost? Antisocial?

Sliding south overhead in the clouds, big jets aimed at the airport. A fine impromptu ballet.

The bad mood was back by the time I got around the lake.

I was supposed to hear about The Other Opportunity, the Job, by the end of the month. Technically, that's Monday.



Made an appointment with the tax preparer today. H&R Block Premier, or Premium, or something pretentious. I chose them because they were close. I described my situation to the accountant - two incomes, one self-employed, itemization - and asked if it was something plain old H&R Block could do. Did I need Platinum Premier Premium or whatever Service?

She said I could go to regular vanilla H&R Block, but that I should ask for a senior manager - someone with lots of experience. Apparently the front-line accountants get the TILT sign in their eyes when confronted with anything besides the standard 1040EZ. This does not inspire confidence. Oh, you want the competant tax preparer? That will cost extra.


A friend at the WashPost called and left a message on my machine: why were they carrying quarters? (click.) Referring, of course, to the Higher Source folk, who went Hopp-wards with a fiver and two bits in their pocket. I was in a lousy mood, so I could only come up with this: to pay the deposit on their earthly containers. In case the spaceship was an "exact change" route. I'm more interested in the fact that they all wore spotless Nikes as part of their ascension uniform.

Just do it, the boss man said. And so they did.