James_Lileks's blog

Convention Week Blogging

Your host can be found here for the rest of the week. Watch the front page of Startribune.com for daily video, and twitter for updates throughout the day.


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The Fair Begins

Off to the Fair – the finest example of its kind in America, frankly. Lowing beasts, farm machinery, grassroots political schmoozing, processed & congealed meats impaled on a dowel, folk art, high art, mop hucksters, BBQ slopped in plastic baskets, gap-toothed carnies  barking flat rote come-ons, squalling kids, squealing piglets, idiot chickens, mullet-rubes at the test-your-strength booth, first-date teens and forty-year marrieds. Sunrise over pancakes at the Epiphany Diner; sunset at the Midway with neon rolling overhead. Now begins the Fair. For ten days, we do America better than anyone.

Also, because it’s Thursday, there’s a Lance Lawson from 1949 for your amusement. Don’t expect a quick official solution – I’ll be at the Fair all day.  I’ll give your regards to the Midway.


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Fair 2008 Preview

The Fair starts tomorrow. Everyone knows what you mean by The Fair; so deeply ingrained is the event’s supremacy that we instinctively qualify any lesser event. I’m going to the fair at the park. Or we’ll see you at the neighborhood fair. If you asked someone in June if they were going to The Fair, they’d give you a quizzical look – well, yes, eventually, but that’s a ways off, isn’t it? Just saying “The Fair” is enough.

Ah, but what to do tomorrow? Wander around and eat, of course. If you want to know when the African Violet Society of Minnesota – the oldest in the state, they say, which implies there’s competition – or whether you will be able be behold swine in all their fat panting glory, the answers can be found at – deep breath – Fairchild’s Fantastic Fair Fun-Finder, which does sound like a garish 1969 kid’s movie starring Dick VanDyke. The first day gives you an idea what’s in store, and if I can sum it up: more of the same.

Which is exactly what we want, of course. But there’s new stuff as well; some of your favorite radio stations have new booths, in case you want to partake in the curious and slightly unnerving pastime of sitting on a chair watching someone commit radio (more unnerving from the host’s perspective, trust me). The International Bazaar, which had become a dank old dump in the last few years, has been completely rebuilt. But otherwise, it’s as you last left it: the Emerald-City 1930s buildings, the lowing cattle, the barf-enabling rides, the feedbag-sized portions of Fresh French Fries, Sweet Martha’s Cookies (with cold milk to help you locate newly formed cavities,) and other amusements too numerous to relate.  Read more...


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A Proposal for Adding 15 Days to August

The headline speaks reams about the disconnect between reality and government schedules: "Despite the heat, it's time for pools, beaches to start closing." Why is it time? Because it's time. Stop asking stupid questions. 

In the canonical list of things about which you can be rightly steamed, this falls somewhere between cold fries at the drive-through and shirt-collar tags that scratch your neck. But it’s instructive. Sunday was the last day for lifeguards at Minneapolis beaches. St. Paul will close Phalen on Sunday. Ramsey County yanked the lifeguards August tenth, for heaven’s sake. One of the hottest, driest months in recent memory, and this is how we’re served.

Why? Because they can, I suppose; because we’re used to it. There’s a fountain in our neighborhood kiddie pool, and it always shuts off long before the toddler swimming season is over, weather be damned. They have their schedules and they have their budgets. Whether anyone involved in these decisions realizes the message sent by an empty lifeguard chair is irrelevant; if it’s over for them, it’s over for you. Deal with it.

When I read the story I almost gave in, and decided to post the inevitable slumped-shoulder signs-of-summer’s-end thread. But rather than concede in advance, why not go on the offensive? Why not posit that summer does not end with Labor Day, but terminates with dignity in the middle of September? The leaves will still be green; noon will still have strength; the flowers don’t know anything’s changed. If August can last 31 days, why not 45?

Give October its full ration; we all love October.   Carve two weeks out of November’s dead brown hide. No one would mourn the halving of November, and the winter ahead would seem easier to bear if we could sprint through the month, pause for turkey, and schuss into Christmastime.

I can’t think of a month less deserving of the full ration than November. It’s just March, backwards.

But if we’re going to start reallocating the days, it might be wise to leave September alone. It’s a well-mannered month, and all the back-to-school connotations have deep roots in our childhood memories. It always seemed long; let it be long. Give the extra days to June, perhaps – but then again, June’s charm is its slender quality, its perishable nature. July, then? Fine. But July starts with a bang, and has nothing to add after the fourth; just imagining “July 42nd” makes you feel hot and hellish. May? Well, May already has a full ration, and if it can’t do it in 31 days, there’s no reason to ladle on another week.

Come to think of it, there’s not a month I’d shorten. Or lengthen. They seem to be perfectly proportioned, somehow.  All the more reason for the cities to find the cash to put a teen on the tall white chair until they need a parka. Life is short and summer is shorter.

The neighborhood pool is visible from my daughter’s school. It would be cruel to see the fountain spraying when you’re stuck inside, crammed into rows, retuning your brain to the rhythms of institutional instruction. It’s also cruel to shut off the fountain a week before school resumes. If the Park Board would like some free advice, it’s this: run the fountain until school starts.  Wait until noon, when the kids are out for recess. Shoot it as high as it will go – then cut it off. Nothing more needs to be said.    Read more...


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Fergus Falls Fears Fargo Fracas?

This is just silly, really – Fergus Falls, aka the city that’s 3/4ths of the way to Fargo on I-94, has declined a filmmaker’s request to shoot a “psychological thriller” at an old state treatment center. The city wants to use the building for a college, and if it appears in a psychological thriller, people might hesitate to attend. Uh – wasn’t that building used as a set for a movie that used the power of suggestion to make us jump when a cat came out of the shadows, and we thought it was the bad guy, but it wasn’t? No way, man, I’m going to Yale.

I think it’s the "Fargo" effect. People in small towns are wary of filmmakers, because they think they’re going to be portrayed like the yah-shure-you-betcha types in “Fargo” who say “uff da,” or have their town forever linked with wood chippers spraying blood on the snow. People I know in Fargo still haven’t forgiven the Coen Brothers for “Fargo,” which not only made the locals look like slack-jawed Cletus-types in a parka, but contained absolutely no Fargo whatsoever. You cannot imagine what it’s like to sit in a movie theater in Fargo and watch “Fargo,” waiting for, well, Fargo, only to find that it’s all about the Cities and Brainerd.

That said, Fergus Falls is a nice part of the state, even though the name of the town sounds like what happens when Fergus drinks too much.

To be honest, though: uff-da. And uff-da some more.   Read more...


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Sign Speaks for Many

The lumbering approach of the Fair means we’re less than a fortnight away from September, and that means everything changes. Also, nothing changes; it’s still warm, still green, still summer, if you believe the technical definition. But the very word September lets the air out of summer, and everyone shifts to fall-think – apples, brownness, crisp nights, days dwindling down to a precious few, et cetera. We all know where we’re headed, but it seems almost impossible on a day like today: warm, peaceful, sunny, with birds and bugs and flowers and all the stage dressing of summer eternal. But in four months the barrenness will have taken hold completely, and this sign will make sense. For now, it looks like a plea.


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Longfellow Booms

Nocturnal explosions are confusing people in Longfellow. You can understand why. If we know the reason for a loud sound, we roll over and go back to bed. If a train crashed head-on into another train every night at 3 AM, you’d learn to sleep through it. When it’s a mystery, though, it gnaws at the soul. Could it be terrorists prepping for the convention, testing off their cyanide-dispersal systems in the park? What? What is it?

It reminded me of the mysterious Pikesville Booms. This story broke last spring, and seemed downright Fortean: unexplained kabooms accompanied by a right flash. Scientists were baffled. Watch this video and tell me you don’t say “holy crow, what is that?” Watch the entire thing, which highlights the theories of police, a meteorologist, a scientist, nice ladies who wouldn’t lie about this.

Then read this: mystery’s solved. It’s quite possible something similar is going on in Longfellow as well.


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Fair Haiku - too soon?

Shoot and dagnabit, depthless dismay – we missed the annual Bad Poem Day. Then again, we might have been legally smited; turns out that the day is – oh yes – copyrighted. I’d spell out the rest with more rhymes and cheap meter, but I don’t know if mentioning the event or even linking to the site is permitted without permission.

If you’ve never heard of the day before, well, now you know why.

(Note to the youngsters in the audience who may have hit the second link: the entire internet looked like that in 1996. Tables with borders, tables without borders and gray backgrounds,  gifs without transparency, scrolling text - scary, isn’t it? Well, gather ‘round kids, extinguish the lights, and let me tell you a story about the Blink tag.)

Then again, since yesterday was bad poetry day ™, today isn’t, so we ought to be able to discuss bad poems without lawsuits. It’s hard to top Kilmer, of course; obviously he decided to end the second line with “tree” and worked backwards. The winner in the modern category might be Susan Polis Schultz, who clogged up the greeting card racks with precious dreck like this:

Sometimes
I think
We are so much
Alike
And then I think
We are
Different

But then

I cry

About swans

And you are there    Read more...


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Loni Anderson feted; no word on garb

Forgot to mention: new video up at StarTribune.com. Go see my twin brother try to play golf. It’s pathetic.

In local news:

Loni Anderson will get the third star on the Minnesota Walk Of Famous People Who Left Here As Soon as Professionally Convenient; there will be a ceremony a the St. Paul hotel. I still think this walk reflects poorly on us, since there’s nothing particularly notable about being born in Minnesota. It’s sticking around that counts. It’s like North Dakota getting a list of famous people   conceived while their parents took a Winnebago trip around the Black Hills, and carved their faces in the side of a mountain. FAMOUS PEOPLE WERE ZYGOTES HERE ONCE! BASK IN OUR INDIRECT GLORY

Headline of the day #1: WATCH A CONFUSED BABY WHALE TRY TO SUCKLE A YACHT. If that was an email, it wouldn’t make it past the loosest spam filter. (If you’re wondering whether this was a Star Trek episode, the answer is yes.)

Runner up: IOWA POLICE SEEK ROBBERS IN NINJA GARB. That’s one of the words you only see in headlines: Garb. No one ever walks into a clothing store and says “I’m looking for a garb suitable for night on the town.” No one ever says “nice garb” when your shirt and pants match. It's like "Feted" - another headline-only word. There are more - I'd love to see a headline that read T "Feted solons rip garb in fracas."   Read more...


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Old wall ad revealed by construction

I pity the strip mall at Nicollet and 66th; I don’t think it’s had a good-looking day in its life. Its original incarnation in the 60s was probably as good as it got – minimal and simple. Since then, every architectural fad has rolled over it, usually a few years after the style had peaked elsewhere. Currently the poor thing is being redone with faux classical details inflated to cartoony dimensions, and it just looks awful. But classy!

A reader alerted us to something revealed by the construction: an old Warner Hardware store sign. This was once the big chain for hammers and screws; facing Hennepin Avenue was a giant sign that counted the number of Warner stores in the metro area. Not anymore. Google says there are a few left around down, but neither has the familiar logo.

Odd how local chains managed to shrink without anyone noticing. Then one day there aren’t any Gambles stores around anymore. To say nothing of a Skogmo.


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