Archive for July, 2004


July 31, 2004

Euology For A Rusted Headache
The car is gone. Last week it’s gastrointestinal system fell out (again) while I was driving, and I had to leave it in a local parking lot. It got towed from the lot, then, and when we figured out where it could be found, it had already racked up a substantial impound fee. So, after I chose not to sink any more money into it, the little fucker still cost me a wad of cash, in addition to anything I might spend buying another car (which is, at present, unlikely).

When I say wad of cash, I mean it. I’m standing in the impound lot’s office–an odd narrow space with a countertop that cannot be gotten around. I don’t know how the attendant gets in, but it’s not this way. At the end of this little space is a picture on the wall of cars at a ’50s-style drive-up diner, their little headlamps lit up by tiny bulbs, poking through the picture. The impound guy, tall and dead, sits in his rolling chair on the plastic mat for as long as he can–until it’s absolutely necessary to get to his feet. A graying black dog sleeps on its side under his desk. I watch it for a long moment for some sign of breath, count out four even stacks of twenty-dollar bills, then a smaller stack, then some ones, then check the dog again. It breathes.

Impound guy comes over and looks at the money. His shirt–and the trucks outside–are bright orange, like Halloween. This makes the impound lot’s color scheme orange and gray. The wrecks are gray steel, the sand is gray with road silt, the building is gray aluminum, his pants are gray, his skin is gray, his eyes are gray. “I don’t have change,” he says.

I gather up my money. “That’s great,” I say. “We’ll be back.” On the ride over, Sara had said, “I should’ve asked him how much it’d cost us to abandon it.” I think it over on my way out of the office. When we drive out of the impound lot, her car slams off the curb onto the asphalt. “Terrific,” she says.

Past kids on bikes, circling like sharks, and college students, drinking on the stoops of their rented houses, we find a convenience store. I pull a twenty out of my pocket on the way, to prepare for my lie. Inside is a jolly Mid-Eastern attendant in an Abercrombie shirt. I buy Gatorade with a twenty. “Sorry, it’s all I have,” I say, and feel bad about it.

“At least you’re not just buying gum, right?” His smile’s bright as a Crest ad, except I see it soiled by my lie, like the flotsam of too many Oreos.

“Yeah,” I say. “Could I get just one stick of gum, please?” Not funny. It comes out sounding like I’d rather trash the cigarette lighters shelved by the register, because I would rather like to.

Still, he chuckles, and it feels like charity. “Here’s your change, my friend,” he says. I wish I could say “my friend” like that to strangers, but it never works when I try.

Sara says, driving back into the impound lot, that the place is open 24 hours, and since they only take cash, people must assume anyone driving into the place has money on them. Good point.

The lot’s at the bottom of a gravel hill, under a bridge that’s still being built. When it’s done, the people of St. Paul will be able to drive right over this place without having to look it in the face. Between our parking spot and the office are two seemingly impounded purple children’s bicycles, decorated with stickers of flowers.

Money paid, we go to clean out the car. “It’s probably up top,” the impound guy says. “Take the road back, but stay out of the ruts, and you probably shouldn’t drive too fast. There’s three hundred cars or so up there, so check the number and be sure you’ve got the right one.” The road is lined with small bulldozers and huge stacks of tires, like rubber lumber.

“At least we’ll get a few good pictures out of this place,” I say.

“That’s something,” she says.

An impound lot is orderly and beautiful in its death, like a cemetary. Dead cars become their own tombstones. Each is the casket for an era in someone’s life. Our pasts are divided into dynasties named for the cars we drove through them: The Greater Volkswagen Dynasty. The Black Cadillac Age. The Reign of Honda I.

We find mine in a stretch of derelict Pontiacs. This one’s got the remains of a thousand commutes. That one is full of newspapers and pillows, piled like the mass grave of a sweaty roadtrip. Mine’s got a nest of forgotten receipts, a comic book, and half a melted Starbucks drink.

That’s what I look like dead, to strangers: comics and coffee.

Cleaning her out doesn’t take long. ATM receipts, sunglasses that aren’t mine, a fortune cookie, road maps both new and old, a filthy mint, lots of change, empty boxes, a rubber sledgehammer, a bottle of antifreeze. Sara gets the rusted pipe the tow guys left like an entrail in the parking lot–it’s been in her trunk–and we bury it with the car.

I think about sitting inside one more time. I consider contemplating the oddity of unknown lasts–how I didn’t know I was driving her for the last time–then decide we weren’t really all that close, and hit her broken hood with the sledgehammer a few times. Then I open each door, push down the locks like eyelids, and shut each door. Finally, I take a few pictures of the corpse “for insurance purposes,” though that’s ridiculous because, in twenty minutes, I won’t own this car.

Sara cracks open the fortune cookie she found in the dash. It’s been there since I bought the car two years ago. It came with the car. Presumably I’d been saving it for just this occasion. “The skills you have gathered will one day come in handy,” she reads, then hands it over.

Lucky Numbers 1, 2, 3, 29, 31, 33

In the empty sand at the far back of the lot, near the treeline, is a rusted-out Dodge from the forties or fifties. Her interior is shot, her skin is rotten like teeth, but all the curves are right. It’s easy to imagine this car alive and on the road, under streetlights at night, blonde hair flowing out the windows, fedoras on and lights green. In the back seat, the legs and tail of a cat sneak into the hollow of the door. I’m transfixed until its gone, then jerk as though I’d been startled but hadn’t noticed until just now.

The ground here is equal parts sand and green squares of auto-glass. Tiny car parts lay scattered like shells on a beach. They’ve been swept in on tides of steel, each wave foaming with orange rust.

Sara’s crouched down in her sandals, trying to get a picture of the Dodge from head-on. “I think the camera battery’s about dead,” she says. “See what you can do with it.” Nothing. Snapping a picture makes the camera power off. It’s caught the stench of a mechanical plague in the air, I guess, so I slip it’s stainless steel body into my pocket and get back in Sara’s car.

One last stop at the impound office to sign the car over as scrap. I sign my name on a thick pad of carbon-copy slips, wondering how many cars that pad can dismantle before it’s done. We’ve discussed donating the car to a local charity, but it’s worth so little there’s really no point. The automortician says, “It’ll just end up back here anyway.”

The dog under the desk takes a breath, then lets it out.

Noise: Erin McKeown, “Softly Moses


July 30, 2004

Plot to Overthrow the King
Plot is king, but the king has no clothes. Story is the ruler that will guide the hearts of the people to freedom.

When I, personally, see “plot hole” in a review, I immediately dismiss the review. What, exactly, is a plot hole? In practice, it is a term used to dis a movie by an unhappy critic too lazy to examine or identify its actual flaws. Granted, critical malaise may be caused by a dull, dreary, or bad movie, but the term has nonetheless been blunted by misuse.


July 29, 2004

When strangers call you up or email you out of the blue to let you know you’re not very good at your job, then disappear back into their own lives, that sucks.


July 28, 2004

This is great. Audible proof that Nickelback is lame. Hear two of the band’s money-making singles side-by-side, one from each of your speakers, and hear the truth: They’re the same song.

Courtesy of Justin


July 27, 2004

In the absense of a vivid and meaningful bit of writing, but in the spirit of an update, let’s do this:

Three Signs You’re Getting Married
1. RSVPs are coming back to you. People will be there, so you’d sure as heck better put on the show.
2. Your invitation to your own bachelor party (Vegas, baby!) arrives. You’re having a bachelor party, so you’ve got to get married now.
3. Some lady calls at 9pm to let you know the wedding dress is ready to be picked up. Wedding dresses are a good clue that a wedding is about to happen.

Playing With Strangers
The Canterbury card room is excellent. Playing poker against strangers is great fun. Playing low, limit games with strangers is likewise fun. Playing at a nice table with a professional dealer and coming out ahead is just terrific.

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Attention, Star Wars fans and general media-types: If you made fun of Attack of the Clones for its title, you have forfeited your right to celebrate how “cool” or “superior” the new title is (or how much Attack of the Clones is “teh suck”). Revenge of the Sith is exactly the same title as Attack of the Clones. They are both good titles in that they are pulpy, operatic, and active. That they’re shamelessly geeky in the tradition of Flash Gordon only makes them honest. You cannot like one and hate the other, not even because you think “clones” is a funny word.

If you like Revenge of the Sith, you’re a geek. Might as well like Attack of the Clones, too.

Truth is, “sith” may sound like it r0xx0r, but 50% of the ticket-buying public has no idea what a sith is. For them, the title conjures nothing but confusion. (Are they covered in ash or powdery sand? Didn’t I read about the cu sith in one of those books that tells me why I like Harry Potter?) Why do they want revenge? What does a sith’s revenge even involve? More midget bears?

“Darth,” by the way, is also a funny-sounding word. Think it’s cool, and you’re a dork. Just like me. Might as well get behind The Phantom Menace, too.

On the Subject of Bad Titles
Here’s a bad title for you: The Two Towers. On its face, it’s a great title. As a self-contained entity, it’s simple and solid, with a great combination of visual and audible cues (repetition, alliteration) that make it memorable and enticing. In practice, it’s not a very good title. I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the movie, and I still don’t know which two towers we’re even talking about.

With Attack of the Clones, I at least have both a clear, energetic sense of what kind of movie I’m going to see and, when I see it, I get what the title means. (There’s these clones, see, and at one point they attack.)

Thom Chrastka has brought it to my attention that the Gist Mill should have just celebrated an anniversary. I challenge each of you to go and click on a random date in the archives and read something. If you like, please then return here and comment below about that entry and enjoy the mixed-up context of it all.


July 22, 2004

Occasional Animal News Digest
After surviving a near-death experience, this monkey walks upright.

Twelve-foot carnivorous reptile just about kills area woman.

Oscar-winning actress trades respect for cat puns.


July 21, 2004

The Cliff Guy
How have you never heard of The Cliff Guy? He gets all manner of terrific artists to draw sketches for him at conventions, like lots of folks do, but Walt the Cliff Guy has everybody do a sketch with a cliff in it. It’s a great wall for working artists to bounce their wit off of. Check it out for one-of-a-kind sketches by the likes of Guy Davis, Mike Mignola, Kagan McLeod, Andrew Robinson, and lots more. Good stuff.

It’s simply not right for it to be this hot without kebabs, sarongs, Persian architecture, Indian music, cucumber sauce, sandalwood smells, and ocean breezes. It’s not okay to suffer paralyzing humidity in a state with spit-freezing winters. Unless somebody’s going to build me a stilt-bottomed hut out in an eye-blue sea, buy me linen shirts, and serve me amaretto stone sours every half-hour from sunrise until the fireflies go to sleep, this weather is not acceptable.

New rule: For every day we endure 90-degree days, we get a blue-sky day of spirit-lifting breezes or a night of window-shaking Midwestern thunderstorms.