If you know ten people, you can bother them all attempting to sell them  useless ugly greeting cards!


Habit and routine bring me here every Tuesday afternoon: the Strib coffee shop. I don’t think I put a single second of thought into the way the day has proceeded; it has its own laws and requirements, from the time I plug in the iron (10:50) to the time I get Gnat’s bagel in the toaster (11:30; I file one column while it’s cooking) to the time we leave the house for the bus stop (11:51) to the time when I get back to the house and tie off my arm for the first speedball (12:04) Just kidding. Ha! But after she’s off I fix up the second column, put on a tie, and head to the office.

Why? Well, otherwise I will sink into desuetude, and let all the mental wool gather into a smothering caul. No, a man needs to get out, drive some place, ride an elevator with a co-worker, and hope you can conclude your discussion of the weather before your floor arrives. (The elevator only goes up to four, so we’re usually done.) And now, the usual relief: a mild and agreeable afternoon followed by choir practice, during which I’ll chat with the wives in the church basement, then go home to one of those Hatty-Green meals I make when I’m on my own. (Well, probably more elaborate; no doubt she just ate boiled dog-paw soup, or something equally cheap. Maybe a potato on a holiday. Speaking of which: why did Scrooge blame the appearance of Marley on some underdone potato? Doesn’t exactly seem like the sort of thing to encourage waking hallucinations, or kids everywhere would go to McDonald’s and ask that the fries be dipped in the fryer for only a second or two. “Marley style,” they’d say, although “a la mode de Ebenezer” would be more accurate.) (And speaking of custom orders: the other night on Spongebob, which I rarely watch – I like it fine now, but that doesn’t mean I am obligated to watch it – a large overweight fish attempted to confound Bob’s Krabby-patty assembly skill by rattling off a series of specific requests, including, “animal style.” Now that’s an impressive little aside.)

Then the ACME work – this week it’s an inexplicably empty street. The caption was ripped off, so I don’t know the occasion. It looks like New York in one of those end-of-the-world movies, the ones where they had to shoot Wall street at 10 AM Sunday morning to make it look deserted. Saw one of those at an early age – “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” – completely missed the racial angle, since I was to freaked out by the idea of everyone being GONE. Although it would have some advantages; you could go anywhere and look in people’s houses, I guess, but that would get old after a while. Because plague sucks.

Never seen that movie on TV. Never comes around. At least not that I’ve seen; if I do a TiVo search tonight I’ll probably find it’s playing six times on HBO West Latino channel. Or I could have it beamed!

Really: where did this come from? Streaming HDTV movies on demand, over the air? I like the idea, and if the remote is any clue you can pause and rewind. I do love how going to the video store is now regarded as a pain – because it is, of course – and waiting for your movies to arrive in the mail has also been added to the list of indignities to which we have submitted without complaint.

Over on the lively CrunchyCon blog they’ve been arguing about technology and its effects on community – the author of the book, who's a smart and fine fellow, noted that the ability of the ether-space to deliver all sorts of information to your home will imperil the Mom and Pop video store.

No doubt. I can’t say I’d miss that. We have one in our neighborhood, part of a small chain, and while the owners were always friendly and nice when I went there (I could bring the dog!) the place smelled of wet musty carpet, the new stuff was always sold out, and half the store was given over to VHS tapes. And since the shelves faced big broad windows, the sun had leached the color from the boxes. So you’d walk past the store and see WESTWORLD and SUPERMAN II and other hits of the VHS era propped up like tiny little tombstones for a dying medium. In any case, whatever you wanted, they didn’t have it, unless it was one of 100 popular recent movies. Would I miss it – or rather, will I miss it when it closes? Not at all. It’s irrelevant. Now. Is there a social cost to losing a local merchant? Is the cost lesser if he’s a franchisee? Is the cost greater if it’s a local chain? I suppose there’s an answer, but I’m not sure it’s a useful one – and that’s a recipe for paralysis, anyway. Example:

The local drugstore closed a few years after we moved into this neighborhood, done in by a new Walgreen’s across the street. It was a Rexall, which was the Walgreens before Walgreens – most of the local pharmacies going under to chain pressure were chains themselves, but of a different sort; the guy in the smock filling your prescription was usually the guy who owned the store. He was your neighbor! Which meant that when you showed up with a prescription to cure Bulgy Spots or the French Itch, he knew what you had. (The downside of small town life, right there.) It was sad when the store closed because it had been there for a long time: that seemed to be the prevailing sentiment. And of course the fellow who ran it knew your name. (At least according to the people whose name he knew.) Everyone had the Rexall sign engraved in their brain as a landmark for the intersection. (The shape of the sign, with its 50s renovation of the 20s commercial building, is still visible in its new incarnation as a Starbucks.) What I remember about the store were the shelves and racks of dusty tchotkes, old Hallmark cards, Brach’s candies, the tang of astringent and liniment in the air. It was a Grandma store. The merchandise, in almost every way, was inferior to the range of goods across the street. Now it’s a coffee shop – the first one in the neighborhood, the first place where people could gather since the bowling alley closed several decades before, when it was turned into a grocery store. (Which put the smaller store down the street out of business, of course – and it became the neighborhood’s first wine store.

Me, I’d love to turn back the clock, visit all those places in their 50s incarnation – but in each instance my choices and options would be fewer. The grocery store would be smaller. The movie house played one movie a day; now it’s a video store (a big chain, not the smaller one) with thousands of movies. The drugstore is better. The coffee shop is better. In short, all of these additional amenities have brought people into the neighborhood or compelled others to stay; the result is a stronger community, I think, and if the price paid was the loss of the friendly neighborhood pill-grinder, bless him for all his service, I think it’s a fair trade.

All this is entirely separate from my love of the look of old things and my interest in the details of life in previous decades. I don’t want to go back. Technology has given me tremendous freedom and opportunities – it lets me work wherever, lets me spend 10X more time with my kid, and lets me bring my writing machine and my entire music collection to a coffee shop, with a small thin device in my pocket that will ring if my editors in Washington DC have a question. So I do not understand this concern, at all.

Well, no. I do, I guess, but I don’t worry about the internet anymore than I worry about roads. In both cases it’s a matter of where you’re headed and how fast, which I guess was the author’s point. But we’re not talking about new devices that let you vaporize rude people without legal consequences or make you look nine feet tall or run your vocal emanations through a rhetoric filter that makes your evil notions sound sweet and good. A cell phone is a phone without a cord; a laptop is a typewriter; an iPod is a HiFi system. You used to be defined by where you were, most of the day. No more. Now you are what you do, not where you do it. Huzzah.

As for that Microsoft device – uh huh. Right. Vaporware, perhaps? It’s interesting to note how the faint stink of unhipness clings to Microsoft products like dog hair on a black sweater. Thanks, but I’ll wait for the Apple version.

As for that Apple boombox: strikes me as the Pippin of 06, but I’m not the target market.

Obligatory Firefly update: Watched “The Great Train Robbery” last night. I can see why the network wanted to put it on first – all that action, without any of the messy context and backstory that makes people who’re just switching over in mid-show from a “Full House” rerun scratch their head and wonder what th’ heck’s goin’ on here. It had trains and shotguns – people’d get that, even if the whole spaceship thing threw ‘em for a moment. Idiots. Anyway, the show did not disappoint. Just so I can continue my parade of obvious remarks: it’s not the FX, it’s not the costumes, it’s not even the characters. It’s the writing. And the hooker.

Stampa stampa.

GAAAH! Well, the phone works. It just went off in my pocket – a very loud and realistic “old style” phone ring.

Got a few nominations for other bad logo redesigns; Conoco was one of the first offenders. Agreed. Our station is now Conoco, and while I miss the old great logo – Hottest Brand Going! – at least it’s red and black, which are good gas station colors, but it’s not enough to compensate. A reader passed this along. This is American advertising at its finest:

A cowboy lighting a cigarette with a branding iron the size of a Stetson hat. Yes!

I wrote a long time ago about the BP logo – a sun that turns into green leaves, as if they sell solar power and hemp – so I won’t recap that. And I’m sure I spent a few sodden paragraphs lamenting the passage of, and heralding the return of, the Mobil Pegasus. As a kid I liked the Esso tiger, who was placed in your tank in liquefied form – he seemed related to Tony, and made Tony look a little wimpier in comparison. In fact you could say that Tony was attempting to emulate the Esso tiger, who was probably a brother or close cousin. Tony could never quite carry of the Esso guy’s easy-going chesty cheer, though; that Esso tiger had a certain confidence that made Tony look faintly desperate, as though he was overcompensating and aware of it. I also connected the Esso mascot with the Buck Owen tune “Tiger by the Tail.” Kids will do that: conflate and combine disconnected pieces of pop culture, simply because they think the great big overculture out there exists as a single entity.

Am I being overindulgent? A commentor at one of the Firefly sites I visited the other day (it linked to here) said I was an self-indulgent writer. Here! At my own website! Imagine!

Anyway. The old logos are coming back, as I noted the other day. Paramount’s brought back the mountain; Warner Brothers uses the WB shield to great effect. Some icons benefit from simplification – Apple went greyscale, and no longer looks like a Bennetton scarf from 1983. But most computer logos were born in the era of dull design, and it’ll be interesting to see how they change in the years to come. If at all. I mean, imagine if Microsoft decided to go with a black M in a red circle -
it would only take six months for everyone on the planet to know what that meant. If that.

Ah! Speaking of that gum I like coming back (say it backwards, if it’ll make more sense): a year ago I detailed my desperate search for the remaining bottles of shampoo, cruelly discontinued by Bath and Body Works. I bought up the remaining supplies at two stores, and since they’d been marked down to zip I got two year’s worth. After which, well, le deluge. Well: they brought it back. I walked into the store the other day to redeem a coupon for some soap, and the manager said “Your shampoo is back!” (They remembed me because I’d bring Gnat in, and would help them stock the shelves; very cute.) It’s like waking up and finding a six-foot pile of Beeman’s in your backyard. Didn’t expect that one at all.

Now if I could just get Beeman's shampoo. Or better yet, mouthwash. Or better yet, Black Jack mouthwash. Oh yes.

You can have your Teaberry, though. And you can quote me on that. Makes as much sense as anything else I've said today.

Just spent five minutes looking out the window, listening to music, watching traffic; the only thing I thought was wonder if cement mixers rotate counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere.

Obviously, time to fold up and blow. Later. New Quirk and Acme. See you tomorrow.

c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.