|AUGUST 1999 Part 2|
|Saturday was a strange, unfriendly day. The skies clouded over, but it wasnt a solid unmovable lid of gray - it was like being an ant under the boots of a marching army, with the clouds moving along at a set pace all day. Sun! Then clouds. Sun! Hot; steamy. Take off the shirt . . . clouds. Brrr. Aroundsix it rained, a sudden and violent burst that gave no sign or signal; it was as if the clouds just threw up. It was over in a minute. Sun! Hot, sticky . . . clouds. Cool. All day. All night. Sunday began just as inauspiciously, but by one the sun was strong, and its been a perfect day.
Cut the lawn, which I like to do. I like the smell of gas and grass; I like visiting parts of my lawn Id never otherwise step upon. Set out the sprinkler, my newfangled sprinkler with a special timer: you can set it for time or amount of water, and then it shuts off. Of course, this just means that water sprays out of the faucet on the side of the house, since it doesnt actually turn the water off. So I never use that function. But today I turned it on, and: nothing. I saw a thin spray shooting from the connector, so I shut off the water, walked over, tightened it, walked back, turned on the water, and: nothing. Repeat. Finally I discovered that the timer on the sprinkler was set to OFF. And I cursed myself: why did I buy a sprinkler that had an OFF button? Who needs an OFF button on a sprinkler?
Sat on the front steps, watching the sprinkler bless the lawn with a practiced motions of a preoccupied priest. Watched the usual parade - dogs and joggers, bike riders, people just taking the air. Hey! Thats my air! Give it back! A few spandexed power-walkers. Everything looked green and perfect; the planes overhead caught the sun, running like a finger of mercury along their silvered hulls. I just love this place.
Went indoors to do chores. Put up two pictures my wife bought at the Uptown Art Festival; ones a pastel chalk sketch of a stone bridge in fall, the other a photo of a sun-bleached adobe staircase taken somewhere in adobe-land. Then I got out the power drill and hrr-hrrrred a few plant hangers in the porch. Ill have to post some pictures of that place - this year might be Saras best year yet. Its like living in the rain forest. Sad to think they wont last -
- but thats months away. Three months. Although today I noticed the lawn is spattered with leaves. In just a few weeks all the green will start to look exhausted, like some ones whos held a smile too long.
Rented, and saw, Pleasantville. Peculiar movie - two movies, really, one of which was irritating and pompous, the other breezy and amusing. Modern kids go back into a black and white 50s sitcom; fine premise, and they got the look of the old shows just right. Black and white and a million shades in between. (When color finally worked its way into this world it actually looked garish and cheap, like a bad singing voice spoiling the perfection of a silent movie.) But then the movie became a political allegory, at which point it degenerated into a smug and simplistic tirade against the Bad Old Past, the boring stifling world of conformity that enlightened souls so considerately tore apart. The 50s are a convenient whipping boy, seen through modern eyes, but the movies always seem like their beating a horse because its not a Jeep.
Pleasantville began with a horrible picture of modern life - parents who dont care about their kids, kids raised by TV, sexually transmitted diseases rampant - and then tries to convince us that promiscuity and extra-marital affairs are good, because theyre honest. The very world the main characters lived in was a direct result of the world they made when they went back in the past.
The most telling moment, for me, was when the mayor, a big evil authority figure, finally lost his control and yelled - at which point he too turned into color. Repression of ones emotions is unnatural, hence inauthentic. Let it all hang out, baby. Criminey. And after that, everyone files outside to find that the entire world is in color; its supposed to be an oooh-aahh moment. But now the little town looks utterly ordinary. At this point the movie has stumbled over its own metaphors - since we all live in the world of color, the world of black and white looks beautiful. Color looks like Paradise, Lost. (The postlapsarian message was played out elsewhere in the film, where a girl gives the hero . . . an apple. In the garden. Okay, got it.)
No, Im not reading too much into it, and no, it wasnt a bad movie; many nice scenes and clever touches. But it ignored its own lessons and conclusions, and just wasnt as deep as it thought it was. In the latter hours of the movie (it felt about four hours long) one of the aggravated citizens puts a sign in his store window: NO COLOREDS. At this point I felt free to critique the movie as a political & cultural allegory, but I realized that they had made an awful mistake: they were equating the right of 50s teens to have sex with the effort of blacks to break down government-sanctioned laws that deprived them of their constitutional rights. Uh-uh. Not analogous. Not even close.
The movie was set in 1958, according to the calendar. Well, I have a newspaper from 1958 right here - August 9, 1958. My mom saved it, because it was the day she spent in the hospital forcing out a squalling rutabaga named James Robert. I used to call my mom at 8:27 AM to thank her; cant do that anymore, of course. But I will anyway. Just dont have to use the phone anymore. I am out of my mind. Thats what it said on the front page of the newspapers web site today. Upper left-hand corner; it linked to an archive of my columns. James Lileks is Out of His Mind, it said. Thats me!A Wild And Cah-razy guy! Just a looooose cannon. Who knows what hell do next? Right below it said Aug. 9, which of course is the day of Nixonian departure, secondary Japanese irradiation and my own appearance as a wet mad rutabaga.
Sorry about yesterday - if you couldnt get to the site in the morning, it wasnt my fault. A quick call to my ISP fixed matters, but no explanation was tendered. An act of God, I guess. Which is to say, God assumed human form for the first time in 2000 years, appeared in the room where the servers are kept, made some changes to the directories, then went to lunch.
Cloudy day, and cool; intermittent rain. Walked Jasper this morning in a miserable drizzle that eventually turned into a morose downpour - sullen skies and heavy petulant raindrops, slapping the creek with idle bored malice. Went to work, did things, allowed myself a birthday hamburger. With cheese, even. Watched with distress as the chef busied himself with other customers, leaving my burger to burn. By the time I got it to my desk it still had the seared aroma of abused beef. Damn tasty nevertheless.
Went to Home Depot to buy a door. Its an odd purchase, not one you make all the time. Hello, where is the door aisle? Thank you. And there they were, dozens of styles. The clerk was helpful, although he instantly shifted into Door Jargon. Thats the six plate, he said, pointing to a door with - count em - six beveled variations in its topography. It seemed a bit much.
Have any two plates? I said. He looked at me as though I requesting some rare Persian vase not seen in these parts since before the War. As if he was considering letting me into the back room, where a man of taste and discernment might secure a two-plate . . . for a price.
But no. Youd have to call to the factory, he said in a tone of wary uncertainty. Itd take some time.
I bought the six plate. Actually, I just bought an Estimate, for $35; in a week, an Estimator will appear and measure the space, then disappear for another month. Eventually someone will put in the door. Ive been through this with Home Depot before. The last Estimator they sent was nine feet tall and had 7 fingers. Everything he measured turned out wrong, but then again he was a big fellow. An inch to him was a millimeter to us.
Back in the car. Cloudy, drizzly, dank, autumnal. Just didnt feel festive. Went to the computer store for supplies; ran into the sister of a high-school classmate, and advised her on monitors for Macs. I turned on all the dark Macs, arranged the icons and gave the hard drives names. I always do that. CompUSA bastards couldnt care less. Went to Circuit City and bought myself a present: a wireless headphone. It sends signals through walls! Now I can sit outside on the porch and listen to TV. Which I have no intention of doing. Actually, I can walk to the kitchen and make popcorn without having the extension cord on the headphones snap off, whip around the room and crack a pane in the window.
Which I almost did last night. Made popcorn while I watched the last MST3K. Very sad. No: Bittersweet. It ended just right - a small Mary Tyler Moore reference, a few short scenes to tie it up, then a final shot that just made you weep. I have only the X-Files now. Ive been careless in my TV viewing; Ive accumulated no new shows. All I can hope is that some cable channel starts running Homicide, so I can give that show the attention I always meant to give it. Id start watching St. Elsewhere, but it reminds me too much of working at the Valli. Its so very 80s - the music, the hairstyles, the fonts on the credits. One of these days Im going to give serious attention to the 80s again - right now, theyre an agreeable blur, carefully sorted and selected to reflect well on myself and the times, but I should get out all the old journals and marinate myself in the truth.
Not tonight. Things to do; column to write. I spent an hour animating a portion of a picture of the old Minnesota Theater - it had a four-story tower that, Im sure, had animated lights. So I tried to recreate them for an upcoming web site. It took 127 frames, and thats just one part. Itll take 700K to do the entire building, and whos going to sit still for that download?
Cable modems cant be ubiquitous fast enough, I say.
Hey: I have birthday cookies downstairs waiting. To hell with drawing in light bulbs in the marquee of a 70- year old building. Im going to go have some sugar.
E plebnista: its not just for Yangs, but for Comms, too.
Well, I do this, and now it's time to do something else: popcorn, a book, and the dog's head on my lap. There are a million crickets outside tonight. Better than a million inside, of course; that gets annoying. You have to brush them off the food and every step brings a sickening crunch -
Let me start again.
From the window I hear innumerable crickets, chirrruping fast, a breathless recitavo that soundsagitated and uneasy. Sometimes the crickets tempo is leisurely, content, almost the gait of a horse trotting home to the barn for oats and soft hay. Tonight their legs are sawing so fast its a wonder they dont catch fire. This speaks of a warm evening, which it is, but perhaps the crickets smell the storm thats coming; Id like to think so. Like performers in an outdoor concert eying the gathering clouds, theyre picking up the tempo just a bit.
I hope its a storm. Thunder, lightning. That would make today a perfect summer day. Bright and warm - I spent the noon hour outside reading, drinking water, swatting skeeters. Wandered into work and wrote most of tomorrows column, even though Ill rip most of it up and start all over again. Took a call from the Minnesota Orchestra, which just wanted to let me know something disturbing: last month I wrote a column about the Minnesota Orchestra being purchased in a hostile takeover by the Cleveland Orchestra. The merged orchestra would be named MinClevOrch, and would lay off all the violas and farm out the second-violin work to third-world orchestras. It was, to say the least, a joke. All the people I quoted were either 19th century classical music critics or classical music publishers. At the end of the segment I said that this was, of course, not true, but that given the wave of takeovers of Minnesota companies, I expected it any day now.
Several dozen people have called the Minnesota Orchestra wondering if its true.
Including a city councilman from Osseo.
The Orchestra spokesman was kind, but concerned, and his voice had a chastening, please-dont-do-that-again tone. (Which guarantees that I will.) Since I got a few calls myself, mostly from kindly old women, I cant unload on these morons in my column without alienating the kindly old women. And I dont want to do that. But really. My God. In a way, its touching; there are still people out there who believe that if something is in the paper, it must be true, even though my column is stuffed with confabulations stem to stern. Well, Sunday I will write a column about Martians landing and incinerating people with their death ray.
I just noticed the fan in my window has started to stir.
And the crickets are quiet.
Here it comes.
Well, Ill post a Bleat anyway, despite yesterdays warning that I might not. Which means Ill probably have an audience of five. But a grateful five.
Star Trek Voyeur, he said, reading the headline on the magazine. He laughed. Man, Id do her.
Its a great magazine, I said. Translation: Im buying it for the articles. BUT I WAS.
Back to the Mall, pick out the flowers. Back to the office, bang out the column. Left at six, having spent the last hour ripping up everything and writing new stuff. As ever, I dont know why I come into work before four; everything gets done in one 80-minute window.
The weekend looks good - Ill be painting the basement ceiling, which means the basement project is lurching towards conclusion. Again. I bought special ceiling paint - thats what it says on the can. Apparently it resists gravity better than normal wall paint. I also have floor paint. Everythings specialized nowadays. At Shinders I saw a magazine devoted entirely to Yo-Yos. But no Black Swimsuit Model Yo-Yo PC Quarterlys.