MARCH Part 1
Who-hoo! No work tomorrow! Nothing due! I’m going to get as boiled as a lobster tonight! After all, it’s the 29th of Feb as I write this, and legend has it you can do ANYTHING and you won’t be held accountable. It’s free parking and the beer frame rolled into . . . the free beer parking frame!

Actually, it’s ten after eleven, and the rest of the evening will follow the usual path. Bleat (which is writing), fiction writing (which is writing), Mail (which is writing) and then a merry interlude of uploading. That’s fine. It was a good day, and I’ve no complaints - how can anyone here complain when the temps cracked 60? Everyone’s heart is inflamed with love of spring, the need for green. And it’s really quite silly - most years we still have two months to go before we begin to expect the sightless noggins of tulips to shove through the soil. It was sixty-plus in November. We’ve had three months of winter. For once, one of the four seasons took no more than a fourth of the year. I don’t mind - but the last few years we’ve seen the same damn pattern. Warm winter and cold spring. This is wrong. This screws everything up. I do not approve. But these things are rarely put to a voice vote.

Still haven’t gotten down the details of the weekend. Well - nothing much happened, but we had Twee the Vietnamese Doctor as a guest again. She had gone down to Mayo for a week, then returned to Mpls before heading off to Arizona. On Saturday she called a number she’d been given by relatives elsewhere, and discovered that she had relatives here in Minneapolis. Amazing. And equally amazing was the tale of her relatives’ success: the gentleman who came to pick her up, for example, came here at age 11, a cruel time to experience severe cultural dislocation. He is now a chemical engineer. Speaks perfect English. Wears Polo cologne, khaki pants and tasseled loafers. All around the nation she has relatives - while she was out, I fielded calls from three cities. Some of the relationships were tenuous by American standards - half-brothers of uncle’s third nephew twice-removed by marriage - but everyone knew everyone, and everyone was here.

So why didn’t she defect? I was tempted to ask if she’d like to stay for keeps. She could, after all. But she loves her country, and wants to help. But just imagine the dislocation. On Sunday we went on the Parade of Homes, touring various suburban developments. The houses in the middle range of the Parade were better than anything the ruling elite of her country could afford. I kept peering at this peculiar event through her eyes, wondering if three months in America had inured her to the wealth and comfort available here, wondering what - she - really - thought. She’s a smart woman. She’s been to Cuba and Moscow. She’s been to Paris and a half-dozen American cities. Allright, class: freedom and markets. Any benefits? Discuss.

At the end of the day we were sitting in an airport food court, eating burgers and fries, discussing the houses. My wife, myself, and Twee all agreed that we liked the first house the best. It was the smallest, the coziest. Twee dipped her french fry in the ketchup and said, other houses, so big.

We agreed: so big, too big. Of course, it means something different when we say it. My wife and I could buy that first house. Or the second or third.

Earlier that day Twee had described how white paper was now plentiful in Vietnam. When she was growing up they only had brown paper. Now they have lots of white paper.Her kids blow through it by the ream, she joked. They have no idea how lucky they are.

Kids today!

Well, at this juncture I’m tempted to bring up the War Question, which I won’t. I’m done with thick thoughts for the day. It’s almost midnight; my window is open and a clement breeze is drifting in. I just changed the Skyscraper calendar to March: whoa! It’s Johnson’s Lipstick Building. (More Burgee than Johnson, I’m sure.)

Any month that makes me look at this building for 31 days is my kind of month. I’m looking forward to it already.


Rented a few movies last night - “Ghostbusters,” and “Dark City.” Here’s the happy; here’s the grim. Take your choice. One might wonder why it is necessary to see “Ghostbusters” again at all, given that most of the film is stamped on the nation’s collective consciousness. Well, I had my reasons. I’m doing a piece on Sequels. I remember that the original GB was fun. We laughed, we jumped, we all had a good time. And I remember that the second was leaden, joyless, and noisy - pure product that smothered any spark of spontaneity.

So, after watching the movie again - and sitting through a dull director’s commentary with an insight-to-babble ratio of 1:17 - I am astonished to see how different the film looks after 16 years. It’s slow at times, it wanders, the pacing is off, and the special effects mostly bogus. And it’s still delightful. At the time, it was seen as a Large Commercial Movie, but in the post-Armageddon movie world, where no shot’s held longer than 15 seconds, the work of the 80s looks leisurely, personal, and downright intimate.

I remember the hype surrounding the movie - it came out in the summer of 1984, which will forever go down as one of the worst summers of my life, period, end of story. Everything - sucked. Everything. At the beginning of the summer I saw these fliers nailed to phone poles in my neighborhood - just the logo of the movie, and a date. That was it.

Yes, children, before the Internet, there were phone poles.

Then came the the themesong - a bouncy bit of sepia-synthpop from Ray Parker, and it contains perhaps the silliest line of any song in the mid 80s: “Bustin’ makes me feel good.” Okay. Fine. That’s nice. I'm happy for you. ( I wonder if that was, indeed, the genesis of BUST as a pop-song term. Whether there’s a direct line from strange-O geekariffic Ackeroyd’s “Ghostbuster” term to Busta Rhymes, Alarming Rapper. ) But I still resisted the movie, because it took place in New York, which was that summer the locus of evil . . .then I found myself in New York, during the Summer of StayPuft, with that damn logo everywhere. I had no choice but to see the movie. And I loved it. Haven't seen it since. So I saw it again, and enjoyed it. Tomorrow night I see the sequel, and I am not looking forward to it.

A good day, eventually. Warmish, sunnyish. I had a bad night’s sleep - fitful and worried; it seemed as if I woke every few minutes, like someone breaking the surface of the water to gulp air before heading back down into a murky liqueous medium. Took my daily walk in the woods, went to work, took my daily walk downtown. No snow. Anywhere. Bright skies, grit in the wind.
Home. Worked a little on the 5.0 version of this site. I’ve decided to redesign every page in the Minneapolis section, bring some sort of design consistency to the site. Not a small task. Had a salmon supper. Realized an hour after supper that I had not even thought of having a smoke after supper. It’s been a long time since I allowed myself that treat, in preparation for quitting; now the psychological preparation paid off. And of course I instantly wanted a cigarette. But. Nope. I decided to be contrary - tempt fate! I made a pot of coffee. Savored a nice rich cup of joe. Had another. An hour later, I popped a piece of gum. This is all very amusing to me, since I usually have the willpower of a horny dog in a prosthetic leg showroom.

Speaking of dogs - tonight Raina the Mad Doberman came loping by, and I let Jasper out to play. Which he instantly regretted, since Raina kicks his shanks up and down the block. I chatted with Ron, Raina’s owner, while his dog chewed the ass of my dog. Eventually Jasper remembered that he had superior cornering speed, and zigged andzagged around the lawn like a pinball made of mercury. We went inside; I toweled off the spittle. He picked up a toy and wanted to play, but I explained that we were done. The words don’t matter - might as well read TV Guide to him - but I wanted to be stern. When I was done he looked at me, paused a beat, and belched.

Of all the things dogs do, their belches and sighs are the most human. Which says more about us than them.


I feel sorry with my rice.

Sorry; that made no sense. Explanation: I feel sorry for various webpages I’ve been working on tonight - I am rolling through the Mpls pages, stripping them of their individuality and forcing them to assume a common appearance. It’s the web equivalent of urban renewal. But it’s necessary. It’s a Gap slogan: EVERYBODY IN FRAMES.

But now that I think of it, I do feel sorry with my rice. That’s a bad, bad translation from a good Woo movie, “A Better Tomorrow.” There’s a scene in a restaurant where a tough guy is insulting the cuisine of the proprietor, the ever-suave and uber-cool Mr. C. Y. Fat. He mimes great pain over the insult to his food. In the poorly dubbed version I saw, he says “I feel sorry with my rahce” - then explodes into a furious tirade that’s equally preposterous: “If you have any DIGNITY, you will APOLOGIZE to the rice RIGHT NOW.” The bad guy responds with profanity, thereby demonstrating he's truly disrespectful of the rice, and hence deserves to be shot eight times in the head.

Every time I eat in an Asian restaurant and look at the rice, I think of these two clips. I wonder if the phrase was accurately translated, whether the waiters and busboys and cooks all regard the phrase as the equivalent of “I’ll be back” or “Make my day” or some other iconic action-movie cliche. Why were these clips burned into my brain? I mean, I know exactly where I was when I watched the movie: 1708 1/2 Summit Place, sitting in my Ikea Captain’s Chair in the living room at Fortress Lileks, 1708 1/2 Summit Place in Colorful, Vibrant, Romantically Multi-Cultural Adams-Morgan, Washington D. C.

Or CVAM, for short. (Skip the “Romantically Multi-Cultural” part. The entire phrase - Colorful, Vibrant, Romantically Multi-Cultural Adams-Morgan - came from an Amtrak article I read on the train in the spring of ‘91. CVAM had gone up in riots a few days before, and I found the article to be . . . amusing.) Yesterday I called up a panorama of CVAM on the website, and was not surprised to find that the main intersection still looks like crap. To this day I regret that I couldn’t love it; to this day I would have regretted not spending three years in that lovely, trash-strewn, architecturally fascinating, tree-shaded urine-spattered cobblestoned free-fire zone where song and siren intermingled in a lilting urban aria . . . with a libretto that consisted entirely of “spare change? spare change?”

I wonder how much of my current wanderlust has to do with my four-year limit. I usually get restless after four years of anything - except marriage, of course. Or dog ownership. Or possession of Stately Lileks Manor. Or the creek. Or my job. Or . . . well, the four-year limit doesn’t seem to applyanymore: huzzah. Nevermind, then. Everything worked out. I do not feel sorry with my rice.

Then I called up a QTVR panorama of Cozumel. Stared at it, wandered around, dreamed.

Odd: paradise is always the place where you’d get bored, eventually. Home is where the work is. Hell is the busiest place of all.

Today: easy. Warm. Wrote the column, did the BBC, re-riceified three Mpls web sites while listening to the radio, now this, then mail, then some sort of television into the dim hours, then tomorrow. I’m having lunch with some old friends at an Indian restaurant. If I feel sorry with my rice, it’ll be basmati.


Sunday - drove around town with the roof open, grilled lamb on the Weber, sat outside and read a Crumley short story in my shirt sleeves. Typical May. Good thing it’s March. Seventy degrees: extraordinary. I just wish the Crumley story had been better. It involved, as usual, a wry damned romantic performing great feats of violence after drinking 37 shots of tequila and smoking a joint as thick as an old-growth redwood. That’s the problem with alcoholic writers. They always seem to assume that just because they can write after putting away a fifth, their characters can run, jump, aim, shoot, woo, hide, talk, and do all the other things that require a modicum of sobriety. If his heroes can do what they do after so much smoke and drink, well, what’s the point of smoking and drinking?

Went to brunch at the Georges this morning; Mr. G showed me some of the items he’s selling on eBay. He auctions off items from his collection of useless electronic devices, all lovingly refurbishes, all working, most doomed never to be used again for their intended purpose. Stripped of function, they are reduced to their aesthetic pleasures - a role they were never meant to have. Some devices were lucky enough to hail from an era whose industrial designers still had a sense of style, a reflexive need to streamline and romanticize the Machine; others came from brutally utilitarian workshops, but they still have a certain Adam-12 charm. There ought to be a museum for all these things. Well, there is; it’s their house. But they are not permanent residents. He saves them from the ashheap, restores them, and sells them to likeminded collectors. Since they have no intrinsic value, I wonder what will become of them in ten, 20 years.

Core memory from a late-60s Control Data computer! It was a small thrill just to hold it, feel the heft of 64K. Those were the days when 64K cost . . . 64K.

Weekend movies: rented “The Winslow Boy,” a David Mamet movie about a court trial in early 20th century England. Mamet is difficult to recommend, because some people -

Some people?

Yes. They don’t like David Mamet plays.

Some people.

Yes. They don’t like -

I know. And you?

It’s hard to tell. That's what they say.

They do.

That's what they say.

Etc. Repeat until engrossed or until eyes are completed rolled back into skull. It’s easy to lampoon Mamet but difficult to do well. Happily, this movie contained almost none of the author’s patented tics. I don’t mind the tics; they made an ordinary clockwork caper-film (“The Spanish Prisoner”) seem far more arty than it actually was. But they can be tiring. On the other hand, the period was perfectly suited to Mametisms - the careful gavotte of upper-class dialogue, structured, measured, wariness wearing a genial mask - it’s perfect for him. Maybe this movie was as Mametified as any, but I just didn’t notice.

It was certainly cheap. All the money went on costumes, I think - rare is the courtroom drama that can’t afford to show the trial, let alone the courtroom. Not that it really mattered. The peculiar thing about the movie was that it seemed to be about something much, much bigger than it was actually letting on. It inhabited its period with absolute confidence and certainty, explaining little, showing less, but somehow making you feel as though you’d spent half a year gliding around a London house unseen. Nice work.

I felt bad for the patriarch, who has reached a stage in his life where he bears a fatal resemblance to Mel Brooks. And I felt bad for the handsome dashing attorney, who is cursed with old-style movie-star looks; he cannot possibly be trusted in any role. He makes Alec Baldwin look sincere. But he was exceptional. The female lead was Rebecca Pidgeon, who is Mamet’s wife. If she has a range beyond middle C, he never lets her show it.

Then I watched “Soldier,” starring Kurt Russell. Now there’s your 1-2 punch, there’s your double feature, there’s your indication that my wife fell asleep after the first movie. I had rented “Soldier” because I wanted something noisy and stupid to occupy the latter hours. It had spaceships in it! It was directed by the same guy who did “Event Horizon,” which I detested. I think I expected to watch it with a sneer, hand caressing the fast-forward button like an overseer rubbing his thumb along the handle of his whip. I mean, it contained large amounts of Gary Busey, which is a guaran-fargin’-tee we’re knee-deep in the B bog.

The movie can be described as the Terminator as Shane in Sergio Leone’s “Mad Max: Escape from Fresh Kills Landfill.” I . . . loved it. Maybe it was the late hour; some nights my critical faculties turn in early. But there’s something to be said for a movie that you find yourself liking despite your expectations - indeed, you find yourself liking it more, and more, and finally jumping over with both feet on to the movie’s side. High art is wasn’t, and it was derivative of every single example of the genre. But there’s something to be said for a genre movie done right, and in the annals of “emotionless genetically-enhanced soldiers saving the inhabitants of a rusty garbage planet” films, it’sin the top two.

Now I’ve work to do. Still hewing to the two-sites-per-day rule - I’m overhauling two Mpls sites per day, bringing the entire site up to code. It is not fun and it is not rewarding. There’ll be no new additions to this site for the next two months while I fix every last detail, but the result will be something I can live with. Two sites per day, 30 minutes per site . . . two weeks of work, minimum. But oh-so-many surprises await in version 5.0. I’m learning Flash just to do them justice.

It’s midnight now. Just popped a window; the breeze feels good. In March! Hallelujah. A good week’s en route.


I don’t know why, but tonight I really, really, really, want a cigarette. It just seems like a fine, civilized treat. I found a pack down the basement the other day, and I didn’t throw them away - no, there’s something cowardly in the act of admitting the possibility of future cowardice. Be strong! Resist! Now and forever! Better to know they’re there and not do anything about it; resolve shores up resolve, like sandbags piled against their brethren. I know I won’t have one. Which is exactly what makes me want one: why not? I don’t want one, so why not have one? You know you want to! Which makes me know I won’t have one.

Repeat until one purchases one’s first cigar. Too bad for me: I don’t like cigars.

This will pass.

Lovely day. Windy, cloudy, but unseasonably warm. High sixties. Little else to say about the day, and since this is a Monday night Bleat with the morning’s column deadline whickering against my neck like a nice sharp razor, I won’t be saying much at all. The day was a pleasant assemblage of ordinary daily details, with perhaps one unusual exception - I stopped off at the neighborhood Package Store, as we call liquor retailers, and the clerk shouted out “been to Walgreens lately?” I thought this . . . curious, but I have a friendly relationship with the staff, so I didn’t think much of it. I asked her when I brought my purchase to the counter. Why should I go to Walgreens? Whereupon she said she’d seen me pitch a fit there the other day. Pardon? I said. Wasn’t that you who got real mad, yelled that you wanted to see the manager? No. Heavens no. I have a horror of public scenes. I regard people who stage such scenes with contempt - no matter how righteous the cause, at best you’re beating up on dim people who don’t make much money, and you’re certainly making it uncomfortable for everyone else. And if I have a guiding principle, it’s Do Not Make Things Uncomfortable for Everyone Else. This is why I would have made a bad Hitler, for example. Would have flunked Hitler school in the first semester.

Anyway, I left the store, got to the car, discovered I’d left my keys behind. I went back, found them on the counter. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME I’D LEFT MY KEYS? I said in a loud voice. The clerk laughed. I WANT TO SEE A MANAGER.
“I’m not here,” said the manager, who was nearby.

A customer looked up with faint alarm.

In other words: by lampooning an accusation and recreating the plot, I made a fellow think that I was one of those horrid store-shouters, which is precisely what I never want to be.

Every moment of every day consists of walking into the middle of someone else’s plot.

One other unnerving note: in the middle of the night, the dog began to scream. Dogs don’t scream, but there’s a certain sound that must be their equivalent of scream - it’s not the the YIPE of unexpected pain, but the horrible shout-whine-bark-Yipe of horrible, horrible pain. A scream. Jasper, who was slumbering at the foot of the bed, began to scream - there’s no other way to put it. I woke, thinking I’d booted him while turning over; Sara woke too, and we both shook the dog awake, whereupon he stopped. He’d been dreaming. But I’ve never, ever heard a sound like this before; it wasn’t just the usual uh-oh nervous whine a dog makes during a bad dream, it was the canine equivalent of terror and utter sorrow. Thinking back on it today, I wondered if the day’s trauma - the car trip to the house where he stays when we’re out of town - had affected him; I’m reluctant to ascribe human reactions to him, because he’s not human; forcing dog behavior into human templates is simply an easy way to flatter one’s self and misunderstand the dog.

But what if he was simply dreaming of being left behind? If a dog’s dream can magnify an emotion, dwell on a possibility that did not come to pass and turn it into a horrible dream, then the emotional lives of these creatures are far more complex than we usually suppose. And I already believe they’re pretty complex. Sometimes it unnerves me how little I know. About most things in general. But the most important things in particular.