January 4th, 2007

it's a thinker

Today is the day to do things I don't normally do!

Like memes! I don't normally do those unless they have to do with iTunes, and only then because a ridiculously outsized mp3 collection is what I have instead of a life. But this one, which came to me via slammerkinbabe and to her via someone I don't know, is all highbrow and literary and stuff, plus it allows you, the Skullbucket reader, to be funny! Which you're occasionally good at! So it's okay. Also, since no one will actually do it, I don't have to feel too bad about it.

Anyway, here goes.

Leave a list of 10 fictional characters in your journal that you would love to get a message from. It is your friend-list's mission, should they choose to accept it, to write you an in-character "letter" from a character on that list. Then they post their own list in their journal and the process continues!

1. Lou Ford (from Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me)
2. Philip Marlowe (from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and others)
3. Oedipa Maas (from Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49)
4. Stephen Dedalus (from James Joyce's Ulysses and others)
5. Vardaman Bundren (from William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying)
6. Emma Bovary (from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary)
7. The Underground Man (from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground)
8. Tristram Shandy (from Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman)
9. Ignatius J. Reilly (from John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces)
10. Guy Grand (from Terry Southern's The Magic Christian)

Note the absence of Bruce Wayne or Dr. Doom. I'm not giving you bastards the easy way out.
aging gracelessly

Today is the day to do things that everyone else is already doing!

So, I am trying to balance twin urges in my life these days: (a) to save money to pay off debts, move back to Chicago, and insure I can get pay for medical attention after my inevitable heart attack; and (b) to replace all the stuff I left behind during the breakup, and fill my life with the cultural flotsam that will be my sole diversion until my inevitable heart attack. Padding my savings account is pretty important right now, but I don't want to spend all my time bored and stupid, especially since I live in a pretty stupid city, and I'm just getting fatter and drunker, and don't want to get dumber too. So I'm exploring options of how to be thrifty and still fill up the hours when I'm not working, writing, sleeping, or blotto.

1. eBAY. This is a great source for relatively cheap books, DVDs, clothes, home decorations, and other cultural driftwood. The only problem with it is that it lends itself to overspending, because it's basically the world's hugest discout shopping mall, where 50% of the items are awesome and the other 50% are funny in their lameness. So it can become a pretty massive money-suck if you don't go in with a list and stick to it. I mean, shit, last night, I was just trying to replace my old Nexus books, and I came dangerously close to bidding $500 on a piece of Steve Rude original art. I don't have the willpower for eBay and should probably avoid it in deference to ABE Books or some other site that doesn't give me the option to blow most of my paycheck on a drawing of a four-armed ape-man done by a man nicknamed "The Dude".

2. FREECYCLE. There are two problems with Freecycle, the outfit that basically functions as a huge internet version of the "Free" section of the want ads. First of all, like the "Free" section of the want ads, much of the stuff they offer is garbage, stuff that the owners would otherwise just toss in a dumpster -- otherwise, they'd be selling it on eBay. While occasional good stuff shows up, it's mostly junky kitchen appliances, outgrown kids' toys, and furniture too shabby to keep and too big to move. If people have actual worthwhile stuff they don't want, they tend to sell it. Second, unlike the "Free" section of the want ads, Freecycle makes you jump through many hoops in order to place yourself in the running for a paper bag full of fabric samples: I had to confirm my e-mail address three times, fill out a lengthy questionnaire, and provide a 200-word justification for why I should be allowed to browse the used coffeemaker entries before I got access to the San Antonio Freecycle site, and it hasn't exactly been worth it so far. And the ban on reposting requests means that you can ask for something once, and if you don't get it right away, you never will, because no one looking to give is gonna bother to wade through the hundreds of previous posts to see if there's a taker for what they could just as easily drive to Goodwill.

3. PAPERBACKSWAP.COM. This one, on the other hand -- which I learned about via my friend thaitea -- is pretty awesome. How it works, for the three of you who don't already know about it, is you post the ISBNs of books you want to get rid of. If anybody wants a book you're unloading, you get a message, and the site provides you with printable media mail labels with the requestor's name and address. You just wrap the book and send it to them, and get a "credit" good for one book of your choice from OTHER posters on the site. You can search for titles you want, make a wish list, and shore up your library with any number of titles you're looking to unload. I've already gotten requests for 3 of the 12 books I listed, and since you get 3 credits just for listing 9 books, that means that I can replace 6 of the books I left behind with relative ease. It's not entirely free (you have to pay for postage on books you send, which, at media mail rate, is $1.59), but it's still much cheaper than most used bookstores or even thrift stores, with an easier interface so you can find exactly what you want. Heartily recommended!
he's just a stereotype

Today is the day to come to terms with my obsession with James Lileks!

Okay, here's the thing. I recognize that, for someone I claim to hate, I spend an awful lot of time reading his work. And I realize that the two of us have an awful lot in common (although not as much as we used to, given that I no longer live in Minnesota with a lovely little girl and a woman who barely tolerates me). And I really don't wish the guy any direct harm (unlike, say, Charles Johnson, whose flattening by a meteor would bring me great joy). But I've really just locked in on him because he's easily accessible, a frequent updater, and a cartoonish crank about both culture and politics, as opposed to the Town Hall crowd, who tend to pick one or the other. Also unlike the rest of the clowns of the babbling right, he actually had a long way to fall -- once upon a sometime, LiLi was actually a respected humorist, and not in the Dave Barry "famous despite not being very funny" sense, but in the "can actually make me laugh" sense. Jonah Goldberg and Cal Thomas may be bigger tools than James Lileks, but they didn't start out as people whose work I was genuinely interested in; schmucks they were born and schmucks they will remain. What makes Lileks so compelling is the tragedy of his fall from grace, the squandering of actual talent, the fatal flaw that has consumed his life like the heroes of antiquity. In his case, you can state uneqivocally that the terrorists won: before September 11th, 2001, his blog was a continual source of amusement. After that day, he descended further and further into a cocoon of crankitude; perhaps it was instilled by that horror, or perhaps it was always there and just needed to come out, but the last five years have seen him go from a skilled humor writer and an adept cultural observer to a fussy old coot who can't stand to have anything at the wrong angle. I've read his site every day for at least a year, and in 2006, I can count the number of times he was actually funny on one hand -- and yet, in a strange way, he gets funnier every day. That, bewildered readers, is the nature of my obsession with James Lileks.

Which puts me in an odd position regarding his future. He's sweating bullets now that the Star-Tribune has been sold, fearful that he'll get shitcanned. (My guess? Not likely. He's a pretty popular fixture in that rag.) And that would mean the end of his blog, because, as he puts it, every word he writes will have to pay. I know the feeling, or I did once. The downside of this is that his blog would go away, and I'd be deprived of his hilarious bitching about how the clerks at McDonald's never get his order right, or how he doesn't like the lettering on the cups at his coffee shop, or how Star Wars is the single good thing that happened between 1970 and 1979. The upside is that he'd start doing more and more right-wing opinion pieces (that's where the money is these days for Jim), and I could blissfully unremember the days when he was really funny, and start thinking of him the same way I do his buddy Hugh Hewitt: an easily ignored blowhard in love with the sound of his own complaining.

Anyway, today is the penultimate chapter of his remarkably self-centered Christmas-in-Arizona recap (tellingly, his wife only appears once in the five installments of the series, and then only to tell him to shut up). In classic Lileks fashion, he finds the time to praise the big-box, generic stores and restaurants that he loves to frequent while simultaenously finding the time to complain about the actual people in them who make his life so miserable. Oh, to live in a post-neutron bomb world!

In the evening everyone went to a movie, but I had a pounding headache that would not profit from a Ben Stiller film in which things blow up or fall down, so I wandered around the mall. It was a “lifestyle center,” which meant it had no roof. These places are touted as the future of retail, if not the present, and I can see why; unlike the enclosed regional mall, they seem to pose less of an investment for the shopper. You go to a mall, you’re committed. You’d better do something there. But a lifestyle center is much more seductive, possibly because the definition between outside and inside is blurred. You don’t really enter it or leave it, and in this sense it seems much more like traditional downtowns. I like them.

So, there you have it: the man who constantly laments the de-charming of culture and the loss of the uniqueness and individuality of '40s and '50s consumer society loves "lifestyle center" malls, because they don't have roofs, and thus are just like traditional downtowns, except for the fact that there aren't any locally owned stores, or housing, or government buildings, or interesting architecture.

Everyone scurried from awning to store – except the Youts, who were too cool to exhibit haste in any form. I waited for my party under an umbrella and watched the Youts, and what an unpleasant batch of rats and tramps they were, too. Really: the girls were all forty pounds of plaster poured into a gallon Ziploc bag and topped with crocheted hats (! In 2006?) and their dates were usually nasty little hatchet-faced characters you’d expect to find coughing up blood in an abandoned Times Square tenement in 1967.

DARN KIDS TODAY. DARN THEM. LAWN, OFF, DARN KIDS, DARN. Jesus, man. I mean, okay, I hate teenagers myself, but could this be any more of a stereotype of the cranky old fuck who just, like, doesn't get where the young people are coming from today, man? This time, they're not even failing to give him the correct burger, or sprawled out at an Arby's with an insolent posture and no reading material. They're making him mad just by existing. Someone had a moody adolescence!

Every so often your impression of America coincides exactly with the caricature of its worst critics, and as I looked into the Cold Stone Creamery, watching a dozen people of generous girth staring blankly out the window as they lapped at ice-cream cones the size of the Olympic torch, I felt . . . alone.

Because, you know, it's the fat people buying ice cream that provide America's critics with their caricatures. Not at all the James Lilekses of this country, with their scorn for the poor, with their kneejerk hatred of taxation, with their cultural provincialism and shamefaced religiosity and twitchy loathing of all things European, with their trickledown economics and their endless lust for chain-store uniformity and support of an unjust war based in pure irrational fear. James Lileks may be an utter cartoon of the leveling effect of American culture and of the rootless plenty-plaint of the overpriveleged upper-middle class, but he's not who people should be making fun of, because he's thin!

The next day we went to dinner with my father-in-law and his lovely wife. Gnat was miserable about the prospect, since it would be a Fancy Place in which no fun could be had and the meal consisted of snails served by contemptuous butlers. Or so she seemed to think. When I told her it was the Olive Garden she perked right up. The place was packed, as it always is, everywhere, anytime. You could built 9000 more Macaroni Grills and space them every seventeen yards and the line would go out the door. I had a pasta dish that would have fed Napoleon’s army, but only the portion in retreat from Moscow; let’s not exaggerate. The meatballs were large as well; drill three holes and they’d belong in a bowling alley. It was good and filling and the wine was red and agreeably coarse. Conversation was grand and Gnat enjoyed herself as well. Thus ended the last night.

Olive Garden. THE END