02. 18. 02
At first I thought that my wife’s plane left on time because she lied to the ticket agent. Packed the bag yourself? Yes! (Even though I helped.) In your control at all times? Yes! (Even though I brought it downstairs and stowed it in the car.) Anyone ask you to carry anything? No! (Even though her sister gave her three packages to take to the family in AZ.) Turns out my wife answered the last question honestly, and said she had three packages from her sis. Whereupon the ticket agent drilled her with a dirty look and asked the question again. And this time she said, well, no.

Thus secure, the plane left on time.

Of course, I couldn’t say goodbye at the gate - as a non-ticketed passsenger I was a potential security threat, even if I’d cleared the watchful gaze of the rhuemy-eyed drones watching C4 and box cutters roll through the X-ray machine. There’s a new security machine atthe airport - a gigantic beige device that looks like a CAT scanner. It sits in the middle of the ticketing hall, and completely obscures the fabulousl 60s-era inlaid marble map of the planet on the floor.

Grimly symbolic, that. Note to self: kill bin Laden.

Went home to begin the weekend of freedom. To give you an idea how it went: I woke at ten AM this morning, which sounds sinful and indulgent until you realize that I went to bed at four. I was almost proud of myself when I finally gave it up last night - I felt like someone who picks up a basketball after ten years and finds he still has the stamina and the skill to compete. I’ve always preferred to approach the sunrise from the opposite direction, just so I can get the drop on it if need be, but this was ridiculous. The entire weekend was like this - every night an aimless stroll through one hobby after the other, every morning the slight sense of shame for having stayed up so late, and the odd sensation of a quiet breakfast without Elmo or Ollie or Gnat amusing herself at her table.

The weekend had a few moments of fun, but most of the time I felt like a drifting ship waiting for the anchor to hit bottom or snag on something solid. Jasper went into Coma Mode, and hardly stirred all weekend. I played exactly 30 minutes of the game I’d procured (Bloodwake, which Sucksmuch) then wandered to the computer to work. Finger aerobics. Annnnnd tweak and scan and code and write and tweak and scan and code and write. It wasn’t a bad weekend. If you had a third leg, an extra, and it was gangrenous, and anesthetized, and you spent the weekend sawing it off, it would be like this weekend.

One bright spot. Saturday I did something I haven’t done since - well, since the last time I had four or five days alone. I just drove around town, looking at Things, whittling a hard block of time down to a soft pile of shavings. I prowled through the Nokomis neighborhood, looking at the old houses grand and small, the small commercial nodes (the strip malls of their day.) Threaded through the side streets, slowing to pay respect to old grand churches and noble bungalows. Saw some signage from the 50s or 60s. I never get over to this part of town - it used to be part of South Minneapolis, but the freeway cut this part of town in half, and now it's like a twin who was taken from your home at childhood.

As much as the League of Interminably Concerned Citizens bemoans the impact of the auto on cities, my car enables me to tour vast swaths of the old town when I please, see neighborhoods I’ve not seen in years. What would have been an afternoon’s journey on a clattering trolley is now a 20-minute jaunt away - and instead of shivering in the underheated streetcar, I had my individual climate controls, a stereo capable of reproducing the sounds of the finest concert halls of Europe, and a hot cup of coffee as well. (Liquids are forbidden on buses today.) See a street that has an interesting house? Hang a left. Pass an interesting store? Stop on the spot, not wait to be excreted ten blocks down the line. God bless the car! Savior of the urban experience!

Heh heh.

I used to do this when I was single and bereft. I’d just drive. There would be a vague objective - oh, I’ll go across town and, uh, buy some cigarettes; they have those Carltons I really like at that gas station on Broadway - but usually I was just in a wandering mood. So it was Saturday. I ended up in old neighborhoods where I lived long ago; visited Theater Antiques, an old movie theater converted in a small mall of expensive detritus for credulous yuppies (I believe that’s the actual slogan.). I always find something. This time it was two enameled lighters for my haphazard Zippo collection, and a copy of CONFIDENTIAL from 1960 for a later Flotsam Cove.

Then back through Uptown, so named because it is south of everything else. Really. There’s a big movie theater that has UPTOWN on its mast - hence the name of the neighborhood, but it still makes no sense; in the 30s when the theater was built, the city was not only mostly to the north, there were only 24 blocks to the south before you ran out of city altogether. It’s like calling Peru “UpCountry.” Perhaps the theater owners heard about the concept of a pole shift, and wanted to get ahead of the action. It’s one of the never-mentioned peculiarities of Minneapolis: downtown is up from Uptown, and Uptown is down from downtown.

I lived there in the 80s. Had a one-bedroom between the lakes; $300 a month. In the summer you could hear the revellers up the street in the outdoor bars; once a night a train would come through a block away, which was good - all Serious Young Writers need to live close to a train in their 20s, to make them feel part of the Gritty World Beyond. The apartment looked out on The Mall, a grassy expanse that ran from Hennepin to the lakes, so I had a nice park view from my working window. I shot a prize-winning TV show there, wrote my first novel there, wooed my wife there. I loved that apartment. (My wife remembers it as an absolute sty.) Nine years after I left Uptown I would walk past a store window and see a puppy; yes, Jasper is an Uptown dog. My friend the Giant Swede lived in Uptown as well, as did half the other strenuously single people I knew. Loved it, loved it.

But. Then came the Day the Bar Closed, which seemed to signal an end to our golden youth. The Old Library Cafe was the liver-pounder of choice for our circle. It was housed in a Carnegie Library, which made you feel good; there’s something about drinking within sight of Ionic columns that ennobles the effoft. Its outdoors bar was the prime fleshpot of the time; you went to the beach during the day, got brown, then went to the Old Library at night to be brown around other browned people. I met absolutely zero (0) people there, because my social clique was the staff. Yes, yes, I know - this is the surest sign of a loooooser, the sort of fellow who chats up the waitresses because he knows they have to talk to him. But. I had a friend from a TV station where I worked who also waitressed there, and she let the others know: I was ex-waiter myself, the Giant Swede was an ex-bartender, and we were okay guys, and good tippers. Hence our table was the Island of Relief. The waitresses could swear, complain, be nice without worrying that it would be taken the wrong way, and if the boss wasn't looking they could sneak a drag.

Looking back, I see this was the last time my social life would be tightly braided with Server Culture - I wasn’t working 9-5, but I was on the professional track, such as it was. The Giant Swede was working for a defense contractor, and since he was buffed out, nine feet tall, had an Arnie buzzcut and Raybans, the womenfolk in the waitress work regarded him as an unusually hip manifestation of the Reagan administration. We both dated the women who worked there, with the usual tiresomely messy results, but it made for an interesting summer. Then one day a woman skated over on Rollerblades and struck up a conversation with the Giant Swede, and no more did he date the waitresses. (They have two kids now.) I met my wife a few months after summer’s end, and when I introduced her to the Giant Swede, we all met at the Old Library’s indoor bar. A few months later the place closed for good. Its work was done.

Bars close all the time, for the usual reason - shifting tastes, cooked books, coke habits in the office - and this provides you with a marker, a milestone, the sense that something’s over and it’s time to move on. I pity the people who hang out at financially sound bars, who never find the door to entropy suddenly padlocked. They never get the boot. There's something to be said for standing stunned outside your favorite bar and asking: what now? Where should I go/ And hearing a small voice saying: go home. Go home.

So I drove past my old apartment. Had an 80s station on the radio, and I was actually listening to the songs instead of mentally fast-forwarding through them and changing the station. Every Breath You Take, check. Always Something There to Remind Me, check. I listened to them as if this was all there was, as if these were the last notes of today and the first notes of tomorrow. It’s necessary to revisit the songs of your heedless youth, if only to affirm your lurking suspicion that it’s All Gone To Hell since you were a youngun. I mean, what if “Shout” by Tears for Fears is really a great song, and you wouldn’t know because you’ve changed the channel every time it came on for the last 15 years?

I’m here to report that it’s not a great song, but now I’m sure, instead of just suspecting it. But now and then it’s good to stay with, say, “Don’t You Forget About Me,” particularly if you can put the Brat Pack out of your mind, and especially if you’re charging up the road to Jasperwood, and as that drum riff crashes in you look up and see the stone eagles atop the water tower blazing in the sunset. You’ve just toured a hundred years of city history and a score of years of your own small story, and now you’re home. And this place is better than anyplace you’ve seen today.

All that missing is your family, which is everything in the world.

Although you do have the Buckaroo Banzai DVD to watch, so let’s not get too tragic here.

Tuesday, February 19 2002
404s? You ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m sure the site is just a mess, given that I’ve been uploading for a week here and there, suffering disconnects and timeouts and hangs of all manner. But at least there’s now a custom 404 page (although the last time I tried it, I got a 404 telling me the 404 page could not be found.) In any case - the site is now firmly seated on the Texas Server.

Take a look at the main page - I love that picture, and it’s a little beefier than before just to celebrate the slightly wider pipe and more generous bandwidth allotment the site now enjoys. Just don’t go nuts! Portion it out! I beg you - if folks could confine themselves to visiting one section per month, I’d be happy. It’ll keep the site from shrinking down to three pages and an apology, anyway.

This site is hosted by a private party, for which I am deeply grateful. But it still costs money, so don’t think I rattled the tin cup and plead poverty and spent the scratch on Xbox games. It all went into the site, and to show my gratitude I’ve added old sections gone lo these months - and added a new pop culture site as well, Matchbook-O-Rama. It’s a straightforward site - just pictures from my matchbook collection, nothing more. There are many sites like this on the web, but most I’ve seen are rather . . . bad. The site just has six pages now, but it will suffer a weekly update, along with Flotsam Cove.

Theory: Star Wars reflects no cultural mood, no shifts in taste and temperment; it’s a noisy fairytale, and stands outside of the culture that produced it. Star Trek, on the other hand, always reflects the zeitgeist, for better or worse. The first show was gung-ho New Frontier cultural imperialism leavened with the instructive and often chastening lessons of multiculturalism - i.e., Earth had much to learn from other cultures. And it often had much to teach them, too. The second iteration was static, hopeful, diplomatic, PC, and in retrospect I don’t find the average episode too compelling. Unless there are Klingons or battles. Deep Space Nine was the post-Soviet version, an embassy in the Balkans. Voyager was typical 90s: the great exploratory mythos reduced to one small ship crawling home on hands and knees. Now we have Enterprise, which I am enjoying more than I had hoped, and which seems to be unapologetically American. Last night I watched an episode Tivo’d earlier n the week, and caught this exchange:

Reed, the bitter British munitions expert, is lamenting that our favorite lanky boozehound warp theorist and pig steward Zeph Cochrane launched his first warp-capable ship from Montana, and reed says the word “Montana” like a Frenchman would say “Velveeta.” Trip, the can-do Suth’ner, gives him the needle: “Ah don’t remember no Europeans figuring out how to invent a warp engine. No Brits, no Eyetalians, no Serbo-Croatians . . .”

I thought of this today when I came across a story in British newspaper about the new addition to the Spooky gunship: laser beams! They shoot through schools! the article seemed to suggest; the title called them Death Rays or something like that. (As opposed to other bullets, which the British newspaper writers no doubt regard as “owie pellets.”) So we’re on the way to inventing phasers: great. Good for us. I’m glad we have these things. I want our enemies to know we have death rays. But I would also like our allies in the newspaper world to act like grown-ups, and realize that we have not made these things because we are hideous bloodthirsty lunatics who might go all cowboy on everyone and do something unthinkable - say, break off relations with Arafat after we caught the PA smuggling in a radiological weapon to Tel Aviv. I’d also like them to remember that the DoE, thanks to the Argonne lab, invented a surgical laser which will save more lives than the Death Ray will ever take away.

One of the things I loved about the original Trek was that the Captain was an Iowan, for chrissakes. I think that spirit is present in the new show as well, which will make it unpopular among the smart set in Europe, and the object of much cassette-smuggling in Tehran. Also of note: when faced with death, the two character polish off a bottle of whiskey and discuss the Vulcan officer's butt. Works for me.

Weekend of Freedom Movies:

“Jeepers Creepers” was advertised as a smart stylish horror flick, one that breathes new life into a tired genre, etc. Not bad - kept my attention, although it had a few irritating lapses. (Minor spoilers - shouldn’t really surprise anyone.) It had a demonic bad guy, which was disappointing. The minute the villain turned into an Unearthly Thing from . . . from Unearth, I guess - anyway, it became less scary. Norman Bates is always scarier than Satan. You can reason with Satan.

Second, it contained a tired cliche: the soulful psychic Black woman. Specifically, a fat Black woman. You never have a skinny Finn who has visions in these movies, or a middle-aged Ukranian. It’s embarassing, and insulting - ah done sees you in mah dreams! Jesus.

Then I watched “Outland,” or “High Noon” in outer space, as it’s been called. That was the pitch, anyway. (Some day if I ever get an audience with a studio exec, I want to pitch my idea of a high concept adventure movie. “It’s ‘Die Hard’ in a skyscraper!’” And they’ll love it.) If memory serves the film did not do boffo BO (Stop! Don’t go searching! I’ll do it myself. Okay, it made $20,000,000, which isn’t bad.) While the DVD is horrible - the print is so blurry it appears to have been smeared with Vaseline - it has some extraordinary set design and nice model work. (No matter how detailed the model or good the cinemetography, however, a third of your brain is always saying, in the voice of a know-it-all 11 year old girl who thinks this is silly, that IT’S OBVIOUSLY A MODEL.) The set design dates the film, though - you can tell you’re looking at a late 70s / early 80s film, if only because the computer terminals have such crappy graphics. What was wrong with these people? Why did they think that people would use wire-frame models and 8-bit images in the future - to say nothing of black screens with green letters that all made bibity-bibity noises as they fled across the screen?

The film had one winking moment I enjoyed: Connery runs out of a room to go fight the bad guys, and he bolts through small swinging doors just like those in the saloons of Western cliches, and of course the camera lingers as the doors swing back and forth.

The big robot horse in the next shot was too obvious for my tastes, though.

Kidding. There’s a review on IMDb that sums it up well:

" This movie is strange for the singular reason that it isn't great but you can watch it multiple times and never seem to get tired of it. "

Agreed. And in that spirit: ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you back to this site as it was. And then some. (Hint: matchbooks.)

Wednesday, February 20 2002
Warning! Screedish crankery en route later. Bail if you wish.

At the toy store: I was looking for a toy my wife had seen at someone else’s house. I asked the name ten times, and forgot it ten times. Street something. Something street. Street Scene! That was it. Playskool’s Street Scene. I asked a clerk if she knew what I was talking about, and got the rote look of disinterest some clerks have when actual customers attempt to enter into a commercial transaction; finally she went to the computer, and pecked “street” into a search field with fingernails longer than T-Rex incisors. I knew what was coming next.

“Scene?” she said.


“S - e - n . . . e?”

“Scene,” I said, unhelpfully.

She typed in S . . E . . .A . . .M

The computer yielded no results for Street Seam, indicating that Playskool did not have a toy designed around a ribbon of bituminous coal running through an urban thoroughfare.

Ye gods. Gnat will be more literate than this woman in a year, I swear. Gnat now knows 2/3rds of the alphabet. Nineteen months, and she knows Q (koo!) and K and T and M and Z; she picks up her blocks and arranges them in rows and says the letters. We do flashcards every day. Why? Because I am evil incarnate, and desire nothing more than the constant incessant oppression of her gender. As I’ll explain later.

I bought her a little computer, since she sees me pecking away at the laptop every day and wants to do the same. This one plays melodies, and says the name of a letter when you press it on the keyboard. I’d been suspicious of most talking toys, since they just seem to distract with noise instead of making connections between the sound and the concept, but she loves it. She has a tiny little butcher-block table now, and sits at her desk and does her letters and types on her computer while I sit at the kitchen island and write. My plan to ruin her life is taking shape daily. Mwah! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Checked in with the Giant Swedes: all kids sick. Called another friend; kids sick. Another friend is ill, and now Gnat came back from Arizona gushing from both schnozz-barrels, as we North Dakotans call the nostrils. (Actually, no, we don’t.) Since I’ve absorbed at least ten full-force sneezes in the old eye-plate, as we call the face, I’m sure I’m next. Whether it’s fungoo, grippe, crud or any other one of 3823 rhinovirii I’ve not gotten, I cannot say. At this point I really don’t care - some sort of gurgling phoo has plagued this house since November, and it’s now the norm. Every night, as my wife and I sink to the sofa with exhaustion, I ask the same thing: do you think it’s heroin that makes us more susceptible? And she always says no, but by then she’s tied off and lit the candle, so I think she’s avoiding the issue.

Okay, that’s not true, just in case her boss is reading. And if he is: get back to work! The People don’t pay you to read web pages!

What I rarely note is how good natured the child is, even when sick. Never a fit. Never a tantrum. Happy happy, and so very affectionate; just now, we were going up the stairs, and she paused on the landing, smiled, leaned forward, gave me a little kiss on the lips and a little tight hug. (She has great upper-body strength; the pediatrician says she’ll be an athlete. No matchstick arms for her - the other day I saw her deadlift an 8-lb. bag of Jasper Chow.) You don’t think about getting a cold when your daughter wants to give you a kiss. You could be struck dead by a comet tomorrow - would you want your last thought to be the moment you turned aside as your goopy-faced daughter gave daddy a peck? It’s this sort of helpless love that makes nuns wash the toes of lepers, if you can transfer the specific concept to the general population.

And it’s this sort of love that a U of Cal professor regards as a breeding ground for terrorism. On the radio today I heard an hour-long interview with some hay-headed professor who teaches a class in gender, class, ethnicity, paper, plastic, Heinz, and Hunts. She believes that the family is the greatest threat to humanity today - specifically, the (crash of thunder, neighing of frightened horses) Patriarchal Family, with its army of thick-browed brutes picking their teeth with bowie knives while their cowering wives sit hunched in the corner, polishing daddy’s brass knuckles. If’n I see any yore hair left on them, you’re in for a whuppin agin, and this time I ain’t stoppin’ for refreshments. Ah’ve been readin’ up onna my Playboys, an’ they done taught me how to drink while beatin’, and Ah’ve got a pahrful hankerin’ to try. It’s us menfolk whut breed terrorism, and our very desire to be part of our children’s lives just turns them into al Qaeda cellmembers.

I’m not exaggerating. She regarded all marriages as oppressive to women and bad for children, since they acculturate children to accept marriage as a viable concept for organizing society. We’re not talking about making marriages more equal - who could argue? - no, we’re talking about abolishing marriage entirely. How this would be accomplished, I didn’t hear - as part of my daily regimen of wife-oppression, I had to run upstairs and change the baby’s diaper while making supper, and I was a bit distracted. I assume that once this woman’s ideas were accepted by all, marriage would wither away like the state - although as with Communism, the failure of the horrid institution to wither away instantly would require some show trials of the wreckers, the forced relocation of the Promise Keepers to dig a canal across Montana, a pogrom or two for tradition’s sake, and other examples of the munificent state breaking your eggs to provide everyone with a theoretical omelette at some point in the future.

Did I mention she was a former Cuban revolutionary?

Did I mention that she got 70K a year in salary at the public’s expense? Some people like to point to salty nutrolls like her as proof that our culture tolerates intellectual diversity, but that’s disingenuous; there are all sorts of equally fascistic froth-mouths who’d never be able to stand on a soapbox on a campus and talk for a minute without being knocked unconscious by a hailstorm of bookbags, let alone get tenure. (You can bring down the stoutest orator with a John Rawls text alone.)

No, she gets a job, and an audience, and a state stipend, because the long hard coil of her stool contains a few fossilized remains of doctrines still worshipped in places where the light of recent history has yet to penetrate.

You can always make a few hearts flutter by condemning the oppressive nature of marriage, since it hearkens back to the glory days of Friedan et al, when the slave-cult of suburbia was unmasked for all to see, the basement doors were thrown open, and emaciated women - blinking, shivering in their sweat-stained French Maid costumes, tottering unsteadily on their Federally mandated high-heels - were led into the sunlight. Remember: we haven’t progressed a centimeter since then.

I’ve no doubt I’ll get mail admonishing me for taking this sort of person seriously, but I do; I’d take it just as seriously if someone in a university was arguing that Blacks have natural rhythm that makes them really good dancers, or Jews really do bake children in their bread. At some point a society’s ability to indulge this sort of bullshittery is a sign of its weakness, not its strength. Anyone whose prescription for the troubled dynamics of some familial relationships is the abolition of ALL such relationships is a hapless crank, and if we have to keep these people on the public payroll then we’d better start hiring flat-earthers for the geology department.

No doubt some will say, well, look at the prevailing attitude in society that supports marriage; we need a few dissenting voices to keep things balance; why, it’s sheer intellectual lassitude NOT to challenge the status quo. Fine. You can say there’s an awful lot of pro-vision assumptions in our culture, hence the need to have a few people insisting we should plunge hot sharp awls in our eyeballs. Just don’t demand that everyone pay the crank’s salary, and please: do not believe an idea has parity to reality simply because it stands in stark opposition to the way things are.

You’d take her seriously if someone assumed, as a prima facie plank of her ideology, that you were a dangerous violent brute who ruled the roost by fist and by lash, and that your concept of a family was not only the moral equivalent of a terrorist cell, but actually produced terrorism itself.

Loathsome little Nazi.

Oddly enough, I cannot possibly think of any good reason to ever strike a woman - unless it’s the one in the uniform who wants to pry my daughter’s arms from my neck because the state has decided all men must leave the household for the good of the People.

At which point: to the moon, Alice. Bang. Zoom.
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Had this little phone chat I had today. You’ll recall, perhaps, that my previous host griped about my bandwidth consumption, as is their right. The fellow who called was insistent and somewhat nasty, and I was taken aback by his tone, but he had a point. Early September I took most of the site down to avoid huge bills, leaving up the Gallery since the book was going to be published the next week. I recompressed every graphic, one at a time, and shaved 37MB off the site. Put it back up, gingerly, one area at a time. Last month he called again.

Some people are just not meant to get along; there’s something about them that instantly sets your teeth on edge. It might be their posture, a cocksure expression, bandy legs and butter-hued dentition, or nothing at all. Sometimes there’s no reason you don’t like someone. Sometimes the only reason is their sneering, humorless, officious voice, and that leads me to why I’m no longer with Interland.

Let’s spell it all the possible ways for the thick-fingered googlers: intrland, interlnd, intraland, interladn. Interland.

I wouldn’t use them as a host if I had a million dollars - or why I wouldn’t use them if my publisher, which does have a million dollars, offered to foot the bill for the site.

I hate to say this, really, because I’ve met some nice people there, and the 24-7 technical support was great, even if it meant hanging on the line listening to lite jazz for an hour. And in the interests of fairness, one employee (who liked the site) helped lileks.com grow by not charging me for some huge bandwidth usage a year and a half ago. I freely admit I was using more bandwidth than I contracted to use. It would have been a friendly parting had I not gotten a call from the most contemptuous little salesmonkey I’ve ever heard from. Let's call him Dorcus Maximus. His voice annoyed me from the start - it had that exasperated, snooty timbre of a department store clerk who just cannot BELIEVE what FOOLS the stockboys have been today, I mean LOOK at this. I’ll have to refold the WHOLE PILE.

He accused me of bandwidth abuse - a term with which I took umbrage, since it implied some sort of malevolent act on my part. Jeezum Crow, I got linked by Yahoo site of the week and Forbes and ten mailing lists in a month; it's not like i soliticed this, or was running a warez site. He wouldn’t budge from the term, was quite insistent on its accuracy, and showed no interest in understanding why I objected to the assumption. He had the attitude of a bill collector, and I was a deadbeat who needed to have the fear of God put in his bones. I thought quickly, figured I could move the Bleat to a blog, and they could just restrict access once I’d blown the monthly bandwidth charges. He said that couldn’t do that - nonsense, of course; Yahoo / Geocities et al do it all the time. Then he informed me that they were going to take down the site tomorrow if I didn’t change plans and give them more money. He had to have something to show to his manager, or the site would disappear in 24 hours. Could I have a week? No. And even this wouldn’t have driven me away - I understood thier problem, for God's sake - but his tone was so haughty and condescending, so full of contempt for the crippling horrors I had wreaked on their poor servers. I paid up then; I had no choice. I had two national radio interviews coming out about the site in a few days - it had to be up. I also swore that I would have nothing to do with these people as soon as possible, because I never wanted to be beholden to this fellow again.

So now we’re at the new host. today I call up to cancel. I ask to speak to Ja- uh, Dorcus Maximus.

“Why’re you leaving us?” Dorc-Max says in this friendly chirp, but the goodwill sounds as forced as someone shoving a baseball up a rat’s ass. I tell him: we had conversations about the account, and your attitude made me want to get as far away from Interland as possible. Your tactics came from a used-car lot, and were completely unprofessional.

At which point he drops the friendly pretense, and his voice gets that trademark sneer/whine, and he begins to recap my sins ONCE AGAIN, as if I hadn’t said a DOZEN times I knew exactly what he was talking about and UNDERSTOOD THE COMPANY’S POSITION. I was in no mood for the lecture. I was in no mood to hear how I was an Abuser. Every frustrating, annoying, hair-pulling second of the last two months, with its search for a host, the endless emails, the penny-counting to keep the site from exceeding my mortgage payment, the hours spent uploading, the sheer annoyance and frustration culminating in a lecture from this guy AGAIN - it all bolted up and boiled over. I had just had enough of this shit.

“I know what you think I did wrong,” I said, cutting him off. “It was your attitude that made me leave, because frankly, you acted like a prick.”

“Well, good luck in the future, but I certainly don’t have to listen to that language.” Click.

What a baby. Can’t even square his shoulders, push his hat back and say here we go, boys: toe t’ toe nyukyalar combat with th’ customers. I didn’t even call him a prick. I said he acted like one. I could only hope he put down the phone in his veal pen, said “he called me a prick!” to his co-workers - all of whom doubtless thought if the Munchkin-sized asbestos-lined Trojan fits, pal, wear it.

So: if you are considering going with Interland, you’ll get 99.9% uptime and 24/7 tech support. But based on my experience, you might encounter a customer relations department that occasionally decides you should be treated as a hideous tumor, and dispatches a petty little bully to wave a cleaver and threaten immediate excision. Go ahead; use them. You'll be completely satisfied, in all probability. But if ever you meet Dorko Supreme you’ll think as I did: why is this guy sounding like such a pissy jerk, and how quickly can I get out of my contract?

I just realized how I would have gotten out of my contract - by loading up the site with MP3s and letting people consume twice the bandwidth. In other words, bandwidth abuse. Hell, if I'm going to be convicted of it, I should have enjoyed the crime.
Friday, February 22, 2002
No peculiar retail encounters. No cute kid or dog stories. No bandwidth horror stories. No sodden flights of beery nostalgia, no bitter rants with all the pleasure of a twinging molar. What will I talk about today?

1. Games. This morning I played a game whose realism would make the hardest soul flinch, whose blood-spattered mayhem will warp young minds from Manilla to Maine, whose demonic scenarios are sure to drag the tender souls of the nation into a pit of boiling perdition from which only their tortured screams will escape. I refer, of course, to Doom. I’d heard a radio host interview a woman who was Concerned about Violent Video games, and sure enough someone brought up that ex-military guy who called games like “Doom” “murder simulators.” They teach you to aim for the upper body! Well, with all due respect, it is impossible in Doom to aim anywhere else, since there’s no up or down. And while I will admit that the game gave me a unique skill set, my abilities are useful only when I am being fired upon by blocky sprites whose gunshot blasts to my torso make me 27% less healthy. I do know that I can defeat a raging pink tasmanian devil by letting him gargle with my chain saw, but again, such opportunities are rare. Ditto for the large hovering tomatoes with the toothy grin - I can bring them down with two rockets, providing that someone has conveniently left a rocket launcher and a box of ammo behind.

The Columbine lads were introduced into the argument, of course. I remember being surprised that those fargin’ bastiches played Doom - at a time when Quake was out? This was like preferring flip-books to Cinerama. I’ve only played one video game that made me feel uneasy about its moral construct, and that was “Kingpin.” I don’t know what those guys were thinking. Oh, yes, please, by all means society needs a game with location-specific pain-skins on crack whores. Please, let me beat drunks with a tire iron. Make sure it’s out by Christmas.

The game didn’t do well, as opposed to Doom, which sold a billion copies. And for good reason. There is a time-honored need for men to skulk around intermittently -lit warehouses that have been overrun by the spawn of hell. And at the time it was so utterly different from every other game that you could suspend disbelief quite easily, and jump when something scary happened. So playing it today was like visiting an old friend. (And shooting him.) The ReadMe file said I could find additional levels at “on-line services, such as CompuServe.” And that reminded me: in 94, when Doom came out, the web was no more than fifty pages, half of which linked to the Coke Server. Now we have the glories of the web, and the magnifi- sorry, the stunning graphics of Halo. In seven years I fully expect my X3Box will contain a small nozzle to spatter me with viscera.

2. Urban Studies. Frequent visitors to this site know how much I love New York City; those with really good memories recall a spate of swipes and some of the stupid remarks made by some Entertainment Weekly writers, who use phrases like “Family Values Porn” to describe something cloyingly wholesome. Well, we can combine these two ancient streams into one forehead-slapping sentence in the recent EW: lauding the release of “Klute” on DVD (a movie not seen at all by men of my father’s generation, who would not pay a penny to see Hanoi Jane in anything except a bag with a zipper up the front) the review notes that Gordon Willis (the greatest cinematographer of the era) “keeps his camera alert to ever tic ad twitch of splendid, seedy new York before the streets were clean and Starbucks owned every corner.”

Yes, every corner store had a bony, bitter Ned Glass-type sitting in front of a row of dented canned goods, Borox and NO CREDIT signs, waiting to catch a bullet from some scabby-armed needle fiend. Those were the days. It was better when the only coffee you got was either motor oil in a Greek-themed cup or lukewarm milk-broth served in a cup by a careless waitress who sloshed half the ration in the saucer, and no refills, pal. SPLENDID? There is, for some, a romantic attachment to grime, filth, vandalism and all the other glories of urban decay that I do not quite understand; I prefer at least a small distinction between the sidewalk and the gutter. To a certain kind of Urban Purist, however, a city has lost its gritty authenticity if law-abiding people feel safe in public squares. A little danger, why, that’s exciting! This opinion never seems to come from women who were twenty, and had to walk down 42nd street from the bus station to Times Square or Grand Central Station. Howzabout we grab that splendid ass, honey? C’mere! Let me clutch my groinal region and lick my lips, splendidly!

There’s a new book about Times Square’s redevelopment I’m keen to read, because it’s a great story. I’m amazed 42nd Street came back to life as it did; if you’d asked me in '83 if I thought it was possible, I would have said sure - if you nerve-gassed everyone, hosed it all down with undiluted chlorine, and sent in snowplows to push the bodies into the river. I just love how the idea of a major public gathering place where private and public sectors work to ensure that the streets are clean and the visitors unmolested is sneered at - ah, that’s the Disney Times Square. I remember when it was honest, real, urine-soaked, and splendid. Where’s the truth? Where’s the grit? Where’s the semen?

These folk need to watch “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” which is not only a great movie, but a documentary as well.

3. Undead Iconography. A recent Bleat talked about the old Victrola phonograph, which is still used in cartoons and pictures to this day; it’s a bizarre example of a piece of technology whose form and function still survive. (The profile of the old classic telephones are another example.) While watching Rollie Pollie Ollie today for the 17 billionth time, I was reminded again of the Persistence of Elvis. There’s a great character in the show - the cool uncle Gizmo, who’s always introduced by a Stratocaster surf-music riff. He has a five-foot Elvis pompadour, speaks like Elvis, rides a motorcycle, and will live long because he is a robot, and hence will not suffer cardiac failure attempting to move a deep-fried core sample through his excretory system. (Although robots age in this cartoon, which is never explained; I can understand how they become decrepit, like Pappy, but how they grow is beyond me.)

Anyway. In a few years it’ll be half a century since the Elvis attributes entered the culture, but they will still signify Cool. This is an incredible accomplishment, but is only possible in the age of mass media and a lack of momentum in the culture to which the media belong. Everything beyond a certain age - older than, say, five or six years - gets fixed in the Pop Culture display case like a butterfly on a pin, and eventually it’s all equally old and and equally new, equally fresh and equally remote. Elvis stands next to Hippies who stand next to Grunge who stand next to Disco - they all become options, signifiers removed from the culture that produced them.

I’m sure this has happened before in cultures that moved much slower - Roman hero-concepts stuck around for a long long time, because they were founding myths of the society, just as Elvis (I’m not kidding) is a founding myth of the postwar culture. They had them for hundreds of years, because their society did not evolve after the Republic crashed. It was just technology and politics after that. We are in a different situation - because we have access to all these different icons, all created since we developed a mass culture based on images, it’s hard for us to come up with something new. We’re like kids in the attic on a sunny day, rooting through the trunks when we should be outside inventing games.

Like SuperKluteDoom, where we chase traitors through Times Square!

Just kidding. But New York provides other instances of this - when someone wants to show sleek classy urbanism, they don’t show the boxy dullards of the 60s skyline - they show the sleek Moderne profiles of the late 20s skyscrapers. This is akin to a 1920s New York documentary using the buildings of 1840 to symbolize the height of modernity. Which leads me to:

4. The Twilight Zone. I’ve started TiVoing these, because they’re often quite good, and it’s an agreeable way to end a day. The other night I saw my favorite: the story of a young female painter in New York, dealing with the end of the world. (About 74% of all TZs seem to involve the end of the world.) Earth is spinning into the sun, so it’s very hot. Twist ending, though! And when you learn the twist, you’re really depressed. (Last night I saw an episode that involved a faked end of the world - a little deviation from the norm, there.) Burgess Meredith appears in 38 Twilight Zones, I think. And in each one he seems old. Perhaps it’s the nature of his face - it’s built to look older than it is, when it’s really just odd - puckish, unlovely, something youth never really touched. (Although he had an affair with Paulette Goddard, which suggests he was either much more handsome, or a real charmer, or really smart, or hung like Dillinger. Or all of the above.). I thought ahead to the Batman show, in which Burgess played the Penguin with such commendable brio; in those shows he looked much younger. In fact, there’s a parsec between the world of Twilight Zone and the world of Batman - even though only four years elapsed between Meredith’s appearance on TZ and his stint as the Penguin, you can tell that EVERYTHING changed somehow, that the world went from short hair and thin lapels and ubiquitous smoking to this broad, stupid campy pop-sodden media-savvy oh-so-with-it joke culture that we still have to this day. Then you think of Rocky, made a mere 15 years after the Twilight Zone, and now Burgess is just a bag of bones in a skin-colored Crown Royal bag. When I was a kid this made sense - 15 years was forever, after all. Now the pace of change in a mere decade and a half is stunning.

Sic transit Gloria Mundi, I guess. (Minor actress, often billed as Gloria Monday; b. Minot North Dakota 1932, d. Miami Beach 1999. RIP.)

5. Thanks to an alert patron, I’ve discovered a site that hoovered up large portions of my site and is posting them as their creation - specifically, the ENTIRE Institute, and the postcards section. I love a good war. I really do. Usually I just have my wife, who is an Assistant Attorney General, for legal counsel, but this time I can draw on the Random House lawyers as well, since he claims the Gallery as his own. Mwah. Details to follow. Oh, the plans I have in store.

6. A followup: Turns out I didn’t blow through my bandwidth. The allotment was set too low; a minor error easily corrected. So abashedly I retract that yowp of despair - indeed, I retracted it early in the morning, which in turn screwed up the site again. There I was, sitting at the kitchen table, so very proud of my ability to call up the index page from the main Mac upstairs by teasing it through the very ether itself; little did I know, or rather little did I remember, that the very smart HTTP program would dynamically rewrite the links all by itself, and point everyone to the desktop of my iBook. Which, of course, you cannot access. I fixed them all but the BIG HONKING LINK at the top of the page.

If nothing else, it’s taught me that I need some sort of permalink system, and I will create the usual kludgy, bloat-code version this weekend.

Or, I will play with my Gnat and give no thought to the webwide world. For a few hours, at least. See you Monday.

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