101. 3:02 PM.

So said the TCF bank thermometer downtown. As I passed it I cheered. It’s about time we cracked the century mark. Six months ago it was thirty below; now it’s 131 degrees warmer. Surviving that feels like an accomplishment. It isn’t, of course, but it’ll do.

Why do banks have time & temp signs? Why not the electrical utility companies, or drugstores, or supermarkets? How’d they get that responsibility? Come to think of it, the connection between banks and temperature signs has frayed in the last few years; not one of the banking skyscrapers built since the 80s has such a sign. (The TCF tower is the only one left downtown, and it went up in the late 70s.) I think banks must have said come to their senses, and thought everyone’s got a watch and a radio, what’s the point? Too bad. It’s one of those reassuring details you never think about, one of those faux acts of civic charity that makes a bank seem like a public institution instead of mercenary changing-house.

I’ll take a guess: time & temp signs started popping up in the post-war era, when banks abandoned their Classical style for sleek modern design. The old style of columns and grave Roman grandeur put them on the same footing as the Post Office and other government buildings; when they shed this style, they shed the symbolism that gave their institutions heft and respect. So they signed up the two constants of everyone’s life: time and temperature. You might know the time; you might know the temperature; it’s doubtful, friend, that you know both right now. We do. We belong to that part of the world you do not see but instinctively know exists, the parts that always knows the time and the temperature. You might suspect we know much much more, and you’d be right.

There’s a news marquee downtown that shows the time and temp as well, but it’s interspersed with headlines; that diminishes the time and temp, makes it the light feature story, the lifestyle piece to top off ten lines of murder and war. The bank’s dedicated time-&-temp sign pares away the inessentials and gives you the two things that really matter, the only things you need to know. Time marches on; wear a hat.

When you go to the Mall of America, look for a clock. Look for a thermometer. You won’t find one. Time doesn’t exist there and the temp is irrelevant. Time doesn’t exist because time is the mall’s enemy. I firmly believe that all Americans past the age of six regard Three O’Clock as the Hour of Release - if you’re indoors at a Mall, you want to go out. If you’re at your job, you feel a little click that says the day is now rightfully yours, and although you’ll give your employer the next two hours, it’s more charity on your part than duty. Three O’Clock is when the deep embedded schoolhouse clock signals your emancipation, and you never forget it.

101, said the sign. 3:02 PM. All the news I needed.

Later, at home, sweating despite the air conditioning, checking the web while Gnat played with her new set of farm animals, I read a story that warns America of a very real threat: George Michael has made a political video. Paraphrasing the story:

“A pop video depicting George Michael , depicts the singer dressed in a leopard-print thong, trying to approach the Prime Minister's wife.

“Tony Blair is depicted in the video as a poodle to President Bush.”

Michael, perhaps the only human known to have a gland that secretes bronzer, is worried that the US and Britain are close allies. He said: "It occurred to me that Britain was starting to become a more dangerous place than it used to be for that reason.

You simply must love the way he puts this: it occurred to me. You see him nursing a meerschaum pipe, staring thoughtfully out the window of his Thinkatorium, considering the ramifications of continued US-Great Britain alliance. By jove, I think we’re in for a spot of danger here.

"I simply wanted to write a song that said to everybody, 'People, let's be aware of this situation and understand there are some very pissed off people out there, and that America - and us, for that matter - need to start to listen to them a little."

“There's never been a more important time to talk than now."

Okay, George, let’s listen.


Wiping sweat from his brow with a cloth clasped between the metal claws that have replaced hands lost fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, Abu Hamza Al Masri took the stage.

"Islam needs the sword," he declared, prompting a feverish chorus of "Allah Akbar" (God is great) from more than 400 British Muslims packed into a hall in central London.

. . .A recent pamphlet from the radical British political group Al Muhajjiroun declared: "The animosity of the kuffar (infidel) against the Muslims is so apparent that the umma (Muslim community) is being butchered on a global scale with the consent of the world."

There. What have we learned? That they are nuts, George. Some other things we’ve learned: they’d like to kill gays, like you. The big debate seems to be whether they should be thrown in pits or have stone walls shoved over on them; a moderate faction argues for tossing them off high buildings. Shall we listen to them? They’re pissed, after all, and by your juvenile calculations that must mean they have a legitimate grievance, because we all remember how mad we were at our parents for making fun of our bellbottoms, and we were right. Weren’t we?

Here’s George’s rapier pen at work, masterfully skewering the hypocrisy of The Man:

Nine nine nine gettin' jiggy,
People did you see that fire in the city?
It's like we'’re fresh out of democratic,
Gotta get yourself a little
something semi-automatic yeah...

The triple-nine reference eludes me, as does his reason for asking people if they saw the collapse of the World Trade Center. I’m just glad he noticed the suspension of democracy in the Western world; I was terribly afraid that would pass unnoticed. One of the interesting aspects of this brutish imposition of fascism is the ability of the populace to arm themselves - although who exactly we are supposed to shoot, I’m not sure. The messages from the government are so confusing! One day it’s kill all the Muslems, the next day it’s just the Sunni branch. The only logical response is set forward in the next verse:

That''s why I''m always gettin' stoned yeah
That''s why I''m out there havin' fun again,
Good puppy, good puppy,
Rollin' on over for The Man...

Translation: since Bush and Blair appear to be on the same page, we all have free license to smoke a joint and get buggered in a public lav.

The Ayatollah''s gettin' bombed yeah,
See Sergeant Bilko having fun again,
Good puppy, good puppy
Rollin' on over for The Man....

We attacked Iran? Amazing what you learn from pop music these days!

The Bilko reference, of course, is meant to portray the entire US military as a greedy scam artist who regards war as “fun.” This can be empirically proven by watching reruns of “Spitting Image,” where the perfidy and bloodlust of American politicians and military leaders is demonstrated by means of mocking puppetry.

When did pop singers decide they had to be political luminaries as well? When did they equate their ability to write a bouncy ditty and make schoolgirls damp with a keen understanding of geopolitics? I’ve read many newspapers from the 50s, and I’ve never encountered a story that says “Chuck Berry Warns of US Intervention in Suez Crisis.” I blame the Boomers, of course; why not? I got the boot and they got the butt and it’s so gratifying whene’er the twain shall meet.

But I’m not going there tonight; not in the mood. Too damn hot. Back to grappling with GoLive 6, which is X native and cheesing me off big time. DON’T tell me to switch to Dreamweaver, because it’s too much money and I don’t have the time to learn a new program. Thank you. That is all.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070102.html#070102

If you think about typing instead of just typing, you suddenly discover you cannot type very well. You realize that you’re doing it wrong, even though the way you’ve done it has worked for you for years. You realize that the pinky finger doesn’t get much work. And then you wonder whether your sudden attack of the stumble-fingers is a sign of something else, like a brain tumor. You read a lot of articles that began that way: “When John Johnson had trouble typing one day, he thought nothing of it. But as the weeks went by, he began to notice that what was once a simple process had become agonizingly difficult. It was then that doctors discovered the seventeen-pound growth in his brain that had not only affected his hands, but caused him to kick his legs uncontrollably for hours at a time. ‘I have a hobby as a Cossack Dancer,’ said Johnson, ‘So at first I thought nothing of it.’”

Hot again today. One hundred and change. Made a foray to Target with Gnat, who was sporting two bright bruises: she fell for no particular reason and cracked her face against a door frame, which occasioned much wailing dismay. I mollified her with Jell-O; she sat in her chair with a sad expression and squeezed it between her fingers. There was no way I could have prevented the fall, but I felt bad nonetheless - it had been a trying morning, and I’d gotten Firm a few times. No, you cannot unspool an entire roll of toilet paper. No, you cannot go down the stairs backwards. No, you cannot ride the puppy. No, you cannot play with your farm animals - well, yes you can; sorry; force of habit. After the Jell-O was on the floor and in her hair, I put her upstairs for a nap . . . from which she woke four times. Every time I had my hand on the doorknob she’d fall quiet. Back downstairs, ten minutes of work, waiting for the wail . . . .there it is, she’s up, back to her room - now she’s quiet. Rinse. Repeat.

Restful? No. Better 45 minutes of solid peace than 90 minutes of twitching on tenterhooks. When she was up I called ApplianceSmart to complain about the freezer I’d had delivered. My main complaint: it wasn’t delivered. When no one called this morning to schedule the drop-off I’d called the store, and found that the delivery hadn’t been scheduled; the salesman hadn’t entered it in the Most Holy List of Deliveries, so the computer program assumed that I’d paid for the unit with the intention of having it sit in their warehouse until the last trump blew. I finally got the salesman, who set to work fitting me into the schedule. He said he’d call me right back. Half an hour passed. I called him.

“Oh,” he said, “it’s been crazy around here. Lots of folks wanting to buy air conditioners. . . ”

Curiously, I was unmoved by the information.

He penciled me in for next Monday. And that was that!

But it wasn’t.

“I’m waiting for someone to say ‘sorry,’ or ‘we apologize,’” I said. “I bought a freezer with the understanding we’d have it for the Fourth. I waited all morning for it, and it didn’t come. And now you’ll have my money for two weeks without giving me a freezer.”

This seemed to stun him. Then came the apology.

Clueless. As if this was an act of God, Whose Ways Are Mysterious. All I ask is that a company pretend, to the best of their abilities, that they understand the existence of my position. Won’t shop there again.

Then we went to Target. I’ll just say one word, because I want to write about this at length for my Thursday column:


After that shopping trip (FIREWORKS!) we stopped off at an Indian grocery, where I sought Chhole, and found it. Picked up some Naan bread, and decided to complete tonight’s Indian feast with gen-u-wine Indian soft drinks: Limca, from the Coca-Cola company. The clerk seemed bemused I bought it, and made note of it: Ah, Limca. I babbled some nonsense about making an authentic Indian meal, regretting my purchase as she rang it up. If this was authentic soda from India, how OLD could it be?

I got home, checked the cap: bottled by the Hindustan Bottling Company. Said the cap, and I quote: best if used before six months after the expiration date. There was no expiration date. The bottle itself was dinged and scratched, having spent many a mile rattling around with its brethren in the back of a truck - and now it was here, in Minnesota.

No way would I drink this stuff.

Made the feast, ate the feast; wife came home. Explained bruises, then headed off to a nap. When I came back downstairs 25 minutes later there was an open bottle of Limca with one-half inch of Limca in a glass. “How was it?” I asked. My wife succinctly described it as a cross between floor polish and urine.

Will I name a character “Limca” in my next novel? You know it.

That’s it; column night. Back to work.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070102.html#070202

Holiday weeks mean extra work. Damndest thing. My Sunday column was due on Tuesday, the day I usually write my Thursday column. Since each of the three columns feels different - can’t quite explain why, but they do - I had to get into the Sunday mode two days early. And it meant that Thursday’s column is due early Wednesday - and that means I have to write it Tuesday night, making Tuesday one of those rare dreaded THREE COLUMN DAYS. (Newhouse is in the mix as well.) So you can understand why I’m bleatless tonight, but to make it up I promise a Fourth of July Bleat - which will link to a Fourth of July column. And, for fun, here’s last week’s Newhouse, which would have been in the archives if I had time to update that section.

Which, I, don’t. See you Thursday.

NEWS REPORT: “Rumors persist that Saddam will soon step down and hand power to his son, hoping forestall a US invasion.”

Dear Diary. I have decided it’s time to go. Qusay (CQ) wants the job, which is why I will give it to Uday. Ten years of civil war will make everyone miss me more.

I wonder if there is any space in that building in Ha’ar-lem where the American presidents go. It sounds like a restful place.

July 23. Handed over power to Uday today in a simple ceremony He promised to defend the nation; I promised to grind his bones, mix the dust with pigfat and feed them to dogs if he fails. The Americans pledge they will respect a piece of paper over clan and self, which of course no one believes. Uday believes the bone-grinding part. I twisted his ear extra sharply when I said that line.

I showed him where everything was in the office. He wanted to know where the buttons were. He believed there were buttons that made the wall slide back and reveal a bank of TV monitors, buttons to launch missiles, buttons to open trap doors. He was disappointed to learn we had none of these things. I am not so much worried that he has seen too many James Bond movies, only that he prefers the ones with Roger Moore.

Update: Hard to sleep. Uday is celebrating by firing guns in the air - in this case, every pistol, machine gun, mortar, and antiaircraft piece in the national arsenal as well as sixty percent of our SCUDs. Three passenger jets downed so far. Ah well. Youthful high spirits.

August 14. Disgust. Today I learned that my son has commissioned a new anthem to himself, and set it to a stupid American song named “Camptown Races.”

Baghdad ladies fear his name
Uday! Uday!
There’s no limb he will not maim
Oh, the cruel Uday.
Gwine rule all night! Gwine rule all day!
The Father of the People has tossed him the keys!
Saddam has bet on Uday.

Moron. You do not commission uptempo songs in your favor. Slow dirges are what you want. Something that takes a long time to play, so you can command a performance at noon outside and see who is disloyal enough to pass out. Always build an opportunity for a purge into your daily routine, and you will hold power for many years. As the great Iraqi poet once said: AAAHHHHHHYARGHLLL. Or so the transcripts of his interrogation say.

August 29. Signs of promise. Today he announced a new national TV show, “Who Wants to be a Martryaire?” Building on my canny policy of paying the family of Palestinian pawns who blow themselves up for their religion - really, the mind reels at such idiocy - Uday has announced a new approach. Families will appear on TV, answer questions, and the winner gets to blow himself up in Israel. The family gets a million Udays, as the national currency is now called. It sounds like a great deal, but it’s about sixty-five cents.

October 23rd. Today I asked my driver what he though of Uday so far. The poor man couldn’t decide whether to condemn him and earn my wrath, or praise him and earn my wrath. I saw sweat trickle from his scalp.

“The back of your neck betrays you,” I said, just for old time’s sake. He believed me! He was so terrified he threw himself under the car while he was driving it - an astonishing trick. This is the disappointing part about retirement; people still fear me. I cannot even tell a knock-knock joke. People respond “Come in, I have nothing to hide, but I humbly beg that you spare my family.” Then they soil themselves and fall at my feet. Spoils the mood entirely.

November 3. Election in America in a few days. I suspect an invasion is imminent. Uday, however, says he is a student of history, and that the Americans have attempted these deceptions before; he is recommending that we deploy all our forces to Normandy, where the real assault will take place.

November 10: Glorious news. Uday has stunned the world by invading Iran. The Americans have ceased bombing, content to let two adversaries grapple for the glory of soaking the sand with our noble blood. As I have often said: It matters less in history’s eyes where you lead your people. What history remembers is that you led.

I taught him well.


Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070102.html#070302

Had to stop at Rainbow for some picnic items. It’s a warehouse grocery store, the Mortal Enemy of Cub, another charmless provisioner. Low low prices; amazing quantities of food piled to the ceiling. The demographic was lower middle class, and to be honest I was amazed at the number of bad tattoos on display. I’m talking homemade bic-pen-and-hot-straight-pin jobs. My local urban grocery store has members of the Tattoo-American community, but they’re all young kids trying to get a rise out of Mom and Dad. The clientele of the suburban grocery store I usually patronize has few tattoos on display - if the people have them, they’re discreet about it. Bumblebees on buttcheeks, maybe. I can understand drawing a spiderweb on your neck with a Sharpie to see how you like it for a week or two, but permanently? I always imagine the fellow looking at himself in a state-run nursing-home mirror 50 years hence, thinking Good God, I look like a fool. Half a century with an arachnid food-gathering system on my neck. What was I thinking?

This is not a blanket condemnation of tattoos; were I to climb on that high horse, I’d have to answer to the former Marine I sit next to at work. I reserve my eye-rolling judgments for people who pierce their tongues. That creeps me out, and if I was in the business of employing someone I wouldn’t hire someone who pierced their tongue or lip, because I don’t want to look at it. So sue me, hypothetically. (I’ve had arguments with people about this; some seem to think that their right to impale themselves trumps an employer’s right to decline to hire them. Amazing.) In any case, the more cheap, florid and numerous the tattoos, the lower the economic demographic. This store accommodated that market well - they have something called an EZ SAV-R card, which gives the bearer steep steep discounts on everything from food to DVD players. So there I am, looking up at a heap of cutrate DVD players at the end of the cereal aisle, thinking: This is just the sort of detail sci-fi movies never got right when I was growing up . According to the sci-fi movies of my youth, we would all be wearing one-piece unisex jumpsuits by now, eating our food in pellet form and watching telescreens embedded in the wall. The only part they got right was the pellet-formed food; how else would you describe Lucky Charms?

By the end of the trip I was toting up what I would have saved if I’d had the EZ-SAV’R card, and it was substantial. Which brings me to my Fourth of July point.

Ever seen photographs of old grocery stores? Rent “Double Indemnity” some time, and watch the scene where Fred MacMurray and Babs Stanwick meet at an A&P. Four aisles of soap flakes and lousy coffee. My neighborhood has two old grocery stores from the post-war era; one is now a small restaurant, the other a liquor store. People are surprised to learn they were once grocery stores, because they look so small.

Look at grocery stores today: gigantic. And look who they’re for: not the lotus-eaters, but everyday folk. They’re for people who aren’t doing fabulous - but they’re doing all right. Money’s tight, the Visa’s a bitch, but they have a house - not big, not new, but it’s home, and if it’s in this first-ring burb they have a huge yard, tall trees over the street and a decent school around the corner. They have a car - no Saab, but it runs great and you can fit six bags of groceries in the trunk. They have a couple of TVs, a VCR, an AC unit in the bedroom, a dishwasher that makes a lot of noise but does the job; they have a microwave and quite possibly a motor in the garage that opens the door at the touch of a button. There’s not much crime in these parts. There aren’t bored sullen youths hanging out on the corner, there’s not trash on the streets. Middle-frickin’-America. These people have access to 79-cent fresh lemons the size of softballs in February, something kings couldn’t have 226 years ago.

We’re so used to the bounty of this country it’s hard to step back and realize what we have. And yes, this is the Grandpa lecture, the why-in-my-day rant that makes the smart set roll their eyes. It’s particularly galling to those who live in big cities, and who believe that compacted dense urban life is somehow a holier way to live than the gross big-gut Murcan whee-ha experience. Sorry. It isn’t. There are advantages to living in the city, and I prefer the city to the burbs; that’s why I live here instead of out in the distant fringe. But Americans want lawns and cheap baked beans. They want double garages and patios and black boxes with lasers that read Adam Sandler movies. This annoys their betters. Their betters are frustrated when people refuse to act like proles and insist on thinking they’re just citizens. Haven’t they read Barbara Erhenreich’s account of working at Wal-Mart? Don’t they know how unhappy they should be? Deluded fools, happy to save a quarter on aged sharp cheddar cheese when WorldCom execs are making millions!

Over the years I’ve noticed that the people who profess to care for the lower-middle class love them as a malleable abstraction, a protein glob that can be shaped into a right-thinking army. I get this all the time in my union newsletter, which is incapable of framing the debate outside of the terms set by the mindset of the 1930s. You’d think the Pinkertons were massed outside my office, ready to shoot me for putting up a sign expressing solidarity with the Modesto branch on orders from The Boss, who is sitting in the office dressed like the Monopoly Tycoon, puffing on a cigar. (Push comes to shove, I’ll side with my union, but not out of Class Consciousness - the union set the pay scale I enjoy, and while I’d prefer to paid on a meritocratic basis, I enjoy a wide variety of benefits the union fought for, and it would be the height of selfish ingratitude to decide I’d like to opt out now. Bad, bad karma.) It’s not that bad. It won’t be that bad. So what, exactly, am I trying to say?

Only this:

This is the greatest nation on earth in the history of the species.

No qualifications. You want to reaffirm what a hellish hell-like hellhole this is, go read the Guardian, or any other paper put out by pasty slubgullons who can't bring themselves to shake free of monarchy. It's the Fourth. Take it to the ICC.

Eight kinds of ketchup, grocery bags with handles. Fresh flowers cheap and soda stacked to the rafters; acres of produce, schools of sundered fish under plastic wrap, Busytown board books in the cereal aisle for your child to enjoy, dog treats of infinite variation. Ten types of cheap shampoo, all of which do the job, and some of which make your hair smell like melons. (The store also has three varieties of melons, precut, de-seeded, arranged in a circle for your convenience.) Forty flavors of orange juice, each blended with a different fruit - and if you’re the sort of person who rolls their eyes at that, and thinks that we shouldn’t be distracted by OJ permutations when we should be worrying about third-world debt, please take it outside. Life is good juice and a big lawn. If that’s what you want, you can have it. If you try. And if you think that the proliferation of American juice choice and our median lawn dimension is the reason for low Zimbabwean agricultural yields, go sit in the corner and scowl into your lager.

Those of us who love America often feel obliged to qualify the emotion, lest our interlocutors bring up American conduct in the Philippine war, or factory conditions in a Tyson chicken-decapitation plant. As if love and devotion was blind. As if faith and patriotism were incompatible with doubt, with dissent, with a desire to make this experiment even better. The Fourth isn’t a day to accommodate those fools. You want to stand in the aisle of a Rainbow with a bullhorn and tell people they’re oppressed, go ahead.

My checkout clerk was Hmong. Dazzling smile. Happy Fothajulai! she said.

Comrade? No. Fellow-member-of-ethnic-group? No. Co-religionist? Who knows.

Fellow citizen?

Of course. As are you all. Happy Independence Day. Long live the United States of America.

And please, please skip the latest Adam Sandler movie. It’s just dreadful.

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