|APRIL 1999 Part 2|
|They want me to recycle? Okay: here you go, boys. ELEVEN bags tonight. Plus a stack of flattened cardboard. Two weeks worth of three newspapers! Clanking yeasty beer bottles, translucent plastic milk jugs like stiff empty pupae cases. Crimped cans, nude tin. All yours.
I dare them to cite me for excessive recycling material. I just dare them.
Everything I read in the media today consisted of observations about the media. I read an issue of Pulse! magazine, a local free weekly; it's an amusing journal, because it is, week in and week out, a masterpiece of hazy reasoning and bad writing. (I only pick it up for the cartoon by Chris Monroe, a Minnesota illustrator who has a a wicked wit and a tremulous, spindly drawing style.) The entire issue of Pulse! concerned TV, and the Pernicious Effect Of. According to the lead piece, we are all dupes and morons, uncritical buffoons who gape at the idiot box to assuage our own blurry empty souls, incapable of distinguishing between TV reality and actual real reality. This was a novel concept in, oh, 1952.
Pick up the New Yorker, read a review of a new play by Christopher Durang; it's about - surprise! - the deleterious effect of tabloid TV on the national soul. Real au courant stuff - why, it has Menendez Brothers references. The point of the play seemed to be that we're all groundlings huffing hardy-har-har as we dance in the bilge-stream that flows from the rotten mouth of popular culture. Mind you, the reviewer isn't that sort of person, and the people who read the review aren't that kind of people, and the audience that attends the play CERTAINLY aren't that kind of people, but they are sure there are people like that out there somewhere.
Finally, I was flipping through Newsweek, which still shows up unwanted and unbidden at Lileks Manor, and I read a piece about a new piece-o-crap animated show called "Family Guy." I can tell from the previews that this show bites, and bites large, and will tumble down the capacious chute of cancellation within a year. The Newsweek article - more of a preview than a review - declared the evil baby Stewie "the next breakout character of the season." Well, sez you, buddy. Just watch as I remain firmly unmoved by Stewie.
Just watch as I not watch Futurama, which was also touted in the piece. I finally saw an episode, the second aired. It was awful. Maybe two semi-grins through the whole thing. It was a bad Simpsons episode performed entirely by understudies.
We met in the lobby, went up to the big buffet. Beef! BEEF! Over beef sandwiches we discussed the station, and Dave told me of the plans & conjectures he has for RJ's Conoco. (Given the competitive nature of the West Fargo market, I am not at liberty to discuss them.) Then we went to the conventional hall to see the machinery and franchises and geegaws available to Today's Gas Station Operator. Wonderful stuff. A few years ago, before the new station was built, we looked at pumps, and I learned much from listening to the industry reps. Today we looked at Mobil's new Mobilpass pump, just for amusement; the station has no intention of switching to Mobil. But they have this nifty system whereby you wave your keychain at the pump, and it reads a chip in your keychain, transmits the information to a computer, and bills your credit card. When you wave the keychain, the classic Mobil Pegasus lights up: extremely cool.
In the old days, it was all cash; in the old days, Texaco supplied a machine for making credit card imprints, and I used to play with its sliding levers. The carbon receipts had a peculiar character, like sullen gloomy brothers of mimeo sheets. Every transaction had a two-part conclusion - the definitive chunk-SHUNK of the imprint machine, and the thin personal scratch of the purchaser's signature. Now you wave and fill and go. It's better, easier; hell, I prefer to use my debit card at the pump, saving myself a trek into the station.
But . . . no, no but. It's a small psychological blow against isolation and loneliness. Really. You're in the middle of nowhere; you need gas; you're unhappy and alone, forsaken and forgotten. You pull up to a 1960s pump in a grimy station, listen to it chime and clank and gurgle out your gas. You pay and go, and as the station recedes in your rear-view mirror, it becomes another metaphor for another empty necessity, a rote empty gesture. Why, the five-dollar bill you left behind already smells more like the oil-fingered man who took it than it does of you.
No more! Wave the wand, and the air erupts with invisible servants. An antennae mounted above the pump interrogates your keys, gleans your ID, communicates with your financial depository, grants permission. This small windblown station is no longer a grimy oasis, but a bright electric node in a vast organism, a place that can call home quicker than you, nail your name to a time and a place and a date. It's all one big network and you're never alone.
I love it. Also, I can't stand it.
There's something to be said for being completely alone.
We also looked at carwashes. They had fewer sociological implications, but they still reflected the mood & needs of the day: reclamation technology has advanced to the point where it only takes 10 - 12 gallons of water to wash a car. Elaborate filtration systems make it possible to hose down the car without spending 60 gallons. Of course, you can't have a touchless closed-cycle system. Nossir. I love these conversations; even though I have no personal stake in the company other than the hope that my father's company continues & grows, it is necessary for me to know these things, speak the lingo, know what's involved. For most of my childhood I was ignorant of what my Dad did; during my petulant adolescence, I admired it and his labors - I wasn't so stupid that I couldn't see the scope of his accomplishment, but it wasn't for me, and I hated getting oily. Now it all seems more substantial than anything I do. Probably because it is. People do not need a newspaper column, but they do need gas. And a wash.
Driving away from the convention I noticed that the old HoJo had been sold to another chain; they'd painted the office-chapel white, but the old orange skin was showing in places.
Then I drove to Southdale to pick up some things. Did not buy a Jungle Gym or a dog with a music box in its belly.
Okay: basic price of a top-of-the-line wash with undercoating, foam, hot-air blowers: $5.00.
Cost to the station: fifty cents.
Just heard the TV downstairs notch up a few degrees in volume. My wife is attempting to compensate for the tinkly strains coming out of my Mac, as I play a record she hates. Well, no, hate is too strong a word. Lets just say she does not comprehend it. I cant blame her; I would have rolled my eyes at this dreck a year ago, but it has slid under my skin like a fiberglas sliver.
I suppose I find it fascinating because it was the background music of my childhood, and the sound of this vapid bouncy go-go pop brings long-gone memories to the front of the brain, recalls the Lost Years of youth that exist in a few blurry tableaus. If I close my eyes and think where I was when this music was commonplace, I can see my Fargo home in sharp detail - the typeface of the daily paper, the wallpaper and curtains, the bright oranges and browns on the TV game show sets, the ultra-groovy fonts in the comic book ads for Saturday morning cartoons on ABC, the whole look & feel of the age du merde that was the late 60s and early 70s.
In fact, lately I can't get that image out of my mind. The more I work on this upcoming Fargo web site - futzing and honing old postcards from 1911, 1920 - the more I think of limitless Saturdays in 1972. The broad private promise of the day stretching ahead. A walk downtown with my friend Peter. Stopping at Quality Bakery (turquoise storefront, big swirling script letters) for a donut, then down to the library, then Dirty Ernie's paperback bookstore on South 8th to find some treasure, then back home. Supper, no piano practice, a bike ride around town, listening to KQWB. (It was a sundowner station, and signed off at sunset with a vocoder barking the call letters in a flat robotic voice.) Alfred Hitchcock, the local Monster Movie, bed at the deliciously permissive hour of 12:30. In the background, from the radios of passing cars, embedded in the commercials on TV, floating in the malls, the exact same sort of music that's on this CD. Probably the same damn tunes.
When the general cultural ethos worships the unraveling of social norms, it usually fails to establish & defend a norm to replace what it destroys. It happens with every revolution; you start by tearing down the law of the king, and you end up destroying the notion of law, period. Eventually, the defense of the notion of law is seen as counter-revolutionary. So Rolling Stone starts its existance by celebrating Lennon, and ends up putting on its cover a man who spent his visitation day with his daughter recording a song about killing her mother.
To protest this would be close-minded. Why, that would just give fuel to Parent's Music Resource Center, which would lead directly to fascism.
Cold day; cloudy. Walked dog and wrote column and talked to England on the radio; downloaded some fonts which require a complete overhaul of the Fargo site - a job to which I now return.