16th March 12
The Simpsons (~22 years)
It’s not really accurate to say The Simpsons has been a continuous cultural influence for all of the past 22 years. Though they still churn out new episodes, I haven’t really followed the show for at least a few years. I don’t really know anyone else that does, either — even my most Simpsons-obsessed friends gave up on it years ago. As far as I am concerned, they really could have stopped making new episodes around 2004, and I wouldn’t have noticed. Most fans would even consider 2004 pretty late, but one of my all-time favorite episodes, “I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can,” the one with George Plimpton and the Ribwich, was from 2003. So I was still watching it and enjoying it regularly as late as 2003.
The first episode I ever watched was “Some Enchanted Evening,” which is the one where Bart is kidnapped by an evil babysitter played by Penny Marshall. Wikipedia tells me it premiered May 13, 1990. That means from age 10 through about 24 or so, I watched The Simpsons at least once a week. Actually, probably more, since I watched it in syndication once or twice a day (usually at 5 or 6 on the local UPN or FOX affiliate) well into college and actually into 2007 or ‘08, when I got rid of my TV. That has to be more one-on-one time spent than with any other television show, movie, book, piece of music, or most people.
If you were born after 1985 or so, I think it’s hard to understand just how massive an influence The Simpsons was on day-to-day life for a pretty long time. Just in the way people talked to each other. In the early ’00s, I dated a succession of girls where a large percentage of our spoken communication was made up of Simpsons lines thrown back and forth at each other. Or in the music world, where I spent my entire early 20s, the influence was pervasive. Obviously, there an endless number of bands named for Simpsons lines (the ones I remember best were the Pointy Kitties, the Kung-Fu Hippies, and of course, Monorail, who actually opened their shows with the song of the same name). And despite the fact that many bands I knew held rehearsals on Sunday nights, you never heard of a band rehearsing at 8 p.m. EST. My own band observed this rule; we rehearsed from 6:30 or so until 8:00, and then always stopped to watch The Simpsons. One of the markers of the show’s declining quality, around 2001, was when we stopped breaking to watch, and just rehearsed through that half-hour block. Such a thing would have been unthinkable a few years earlier.
At some point, the show will go off the air, and who knows how old I will be then? Probably in my thirties; possibly even my forties. I may even have kids at that time that are the same age I was when I started watching. Maybe I’ll watch the series finale with them. Imagine how meaningful that will seem.
The show has still turned up at interesting times, even well after its heyday. When the I-35W bridge collapsed on August 1, 2007, at around 6 p.m., I was sitting a few blocks away at the Aster Cafe next door to the theater at St. Anthony Main, waiting to go see The Simpsons Movie, which started at 7:30 or so. In the panic and noise that followed, I couldn’t decide whether to actually see the movie as planned or not; what’s the appropriate response to a situation that enormous, that close by? In the end, I decided to go see it anyway, since I couldn’t get back across the river to South Minneapolis, cell phone service was shut down, and there was nothing to do but sit in the bar next door and get drunk watching the TV reports, which seemed unproductive. It seems weirdly incongruous, looking back, but it was really comforting to be able to sit in that theater for an hour-and-a-half and spend time with characters I knew.
3rd August 11
“OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven!”
3rd August 11
I was writing something the other night that required me to make up things about Revenge of the Nerds / Top Gun / E.R. actor Anthony Edwards (among other people), so I did the first thing you do when making up things about people that aren’t true but seem like they might be true, which is look up the person’s Wikipedia page. This way, you can ensure the things you’ve made up fit into the broader framework of the person’s life.
Of course, some idiot or genius had beat me to it. From the Anthony Edwards Wikipedia page:
Edwards was also one of the founding members of the bluegrass band Nickel Creek. Playing mandolin from the time of the bands formation in 1989 and leaving the band in 1994 when he was offered more work in television. When asked by Bluegrass Unlimited magazine in 2004 about leaving Nickel Creek, Edwards stated that, “The band was simply a way to pass the time, and meet lots of women.” Edwards continued: “They will do fine with out me. They have a chemistry and fan base that will carry them until at least 2007.”
“Could it be?” I shouted to my empty apartment. This had me going. But of course it’s not true. It’s too hilarious to be true. A Google search turned up nothing about Anthony Edwards and Nickel Creek at all, so it is almost certainly untrue. Someone made it up for some obscure reason (maybe it’s an inside joke, maybe they have a healthy sense of the absurd) and put it right in Anthony Edwards’ Wikipedia page. I wonder how long it’s been there. It’s brilliant. It’s so weird and inconsequential, and non-malicious, that it barely seems worth fact-checking.
Congratulations, person. Obviously, it should be removed someday, not being true and all, but anything that gets you to think “I need to be careful about not believing every dumbass thing I read on the Internet” is all right by me.
30th July 11
“SOMEDAY SOON, POSSIBLY EVEN IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE, THERE IS GOING TO BE A MAJOR RESURGENCE OF INTEREST IN MY LIFE AND WORK! AAAAAAGGGHHHHHH! AND YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO SIT AND LISTEN TO THE WHOLE THING! EVEN THE PARTS WHERE YOUNG MALES BORN AFTER I DIED ARE TELLING YOU HOW ‘INFLUENTIAL’ AND ‘PROPHETIC’ I WAS! AAAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHHHH!”
4th April 11
vickyj asked: Raclette *is* a wonder cheese! Tell me about some of your favorite uses for raclette.
Oh, raclette. It is among my favorite cheeses. I owe it all to Vicki Potts and Matt Hoiland at my neighborhood cheese shop, the Grass Roots Gourmet, who first sold me raclette and told me what it was capable of. It’s capable of a lot.
Here’s the thing about raclette that makes it so unlike other cheeses: it has a really, really low melting point. Absurdly low. You put a little bit in your mouth, and it begins to melt almost right away. It was recommended to me because I was asking what would be good in a broccoli soup. It’s great in soup, because it melts almost instantly.
This is a very unsophisticated way to think about a cheese, but it may do the trick for you. Imagine, in your own cooking, when you come upon a situation where the lizard part of your brain that was raised in the 1970s and ’80s in the suburbs hisses, “You know what would be great here? Some Velveeta! Or some nacho cheese! Right? What’s the matter, kid, you too good for Velveeta now?” I have that voice inside me, and I’ll bet you do, too. Now you have an answer: you can use raclette instead.
Look, I couldn’t cook a real meal until I was probably 26 or so. Even now it’s a stretch to say I’m a “good cook” (at best, I am “inoffensive”). But I am a whole Kessel’s Run worth of parsecs beyond where I was at age 21, when I’d try to cook meals for girls coming over to my apartment and didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine. Disgraceful!*
But that tiny lizard part of your brain is right: melted cheese is great. You don’t need to stoop to using processed cheese to incorporate it into your cooking. I’ve done all kinds of things with raclette: put it inside Jucy Lucys, made soups out of it (mix in some pale ale for that classic Wisconsin wintertime super-treat, beer cheese soup), used it with baked potatoes. You can even use it in the traditional Swiss fashion, which is similar to a fondue: melt it and scrape it onto your plate and eat it with prosciutto.
So there you go: buy some raclette and use it today. I wish I had answered your question earlier, Vicky, because it’s such a great winter food. But depending on where you are in the world, there may be a few chill-in-the-air opportunities remaining for soups and dips in the next couple of weeks.
* Of course, most of the girls in question didn’t know anything about food, either, so I was safe. Do you remember that time before people cared about food? I do, but only barely. I guess everyone was so busy working on their zines and mixtapes they didn’t have time to think about anything else.
29th December 10
The new work, Broken Manual, is itself very zine-like in its most basic format: it’s a paperback, tape-bound at the spine with the title that appears to be crudely lettered-on with a Sharpie. The text throughout — supplied by Morrison, and covering the “Steps to Disappearing” utilized by “hermits and hippies, monks and survivalists” — is printed in uniform, 12-point Times New Roman font, and it looks very much like something printed off a laser jet at Kinko’s. The text portions appear on stock green and pink, 8 ½” x 11” paper. With the exception of the high-quality reproductions of Soth’s photos of shacks, mountain vistas, and survivalist ephemera throughout (and the imprint of Steidl, a well regarded German photography and fashion publisher), Broken Manual looks much like the sort of thing you might see for sale at a gun show.
Earlier this year I went to Alec Soth’s studio in St. Paul to look at his new collaboration with Lester B. Morrison, Broken Manual, and wrote about it for the newest issue of Rain Taxi. You can read it here.
3rd November 10
Thirty-one years ago today, on a Saturday afternoon, I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in the heart of the state’s 12th congressional district (then represented by Republican Samuel L. Devine, a creep who’d been elected in 1959 after chairing the “Ohio Un-American Activities Committee” in the state legislature).
Three days later, on Tuesday, November 6, 1979, the voters of Ohio rejected a Constitutional amendment ballot initiative to “provide mandatory deposits on all bottles and prohibit sale of beverages in metal cans that have detachable pull-tabs” by a margin of 3-to-1. My dad probably voted in this one. Maybe he drank a can of Coke on the way to the polls.
Almost all of my birthdays fall right before, right after or right on election day. Inevitably, most of my birthdays are partisan affairs.
November 3, 1992. The evening of Bill Clinton’s election, as well as my 13th birthday. I was beside myself with glee, addled on hormones and teenage liberalism, eating popcorn and watching the coverage on TV. The 1990s, I thought, are going to be an awesome time to be a liberal teenager! Actually, as it turned out, I wasn’t completely wrong on that point.
Prove me wrong, Bill. Remember how insouciantly shaggy his hair was?
November 4, 1997. This would have been the first election I could have voted in, but I didn’t turn 18 until the next day. This would have been crushing in an election year, but fortunately, I don’t think the 1997 election cycle was that thrilling.
November 3, 1998. This was the first election I ever voted in, and it fell right on my birthday. The candidate I threw my first vote for was also the first candidate I was ever excited to pull a level for: Scott Ritcher, Reform Party candidate for Louisville mayor. Ritcher is a public figure in my hometown who has had a classic “only in Louisville” sort of career trajectory. He’d founded a wildly popular record label while still in his teens, and had an almost cult-like following in the local youth community. After the label folded in the mid-1990s, he got into publishing, design and politics, launching this year what might best be described (if somewhat cynically) as a youth-cult campaign for mayor. As a somewhat committed youth-cultist myself, I had a bunch of “Ritcher for Mayor” stickers plastered to the tacklebox I carried my art supplies around campus in. Ritcher was of course defeated in a four-way race by the Democratic candidate. He later ran for State Senate.
These exact same guys probably screen-printed my stickers by hand.
November 6, 2000. I am sure I spent at least part of my 21st birthday arguing with my painting professor about whether I should vote for Nader or Gore. I was recently trying to explain to a 20-year-old intern here at work that, when I was her age, there just really didn’t seem to be a huge difference between Bush and Gore — I explained that they were both running against Bill Clinton from the center, basically. She was incredulous. As well she should have been.
November 2, 2004. Oh, god. I don’t remember anything about my birthday this year. I watched the returns at Danny Cash’s place while sealing a couple hundred tiny paintings of cowboy murders into plastic sleeves in preparation for an art fair in Milwaukee I left for later that week. The blue coloration of the Upper Midwest on the electoral map looked really inviting and Canadian. Of course, four months later I was there.
It looked like Lower Canada.
November 4, 2008. Drunk, sitting on the curb outside Erte on 13th Avenue N.E., talking to Herbach the night before. “The thing is,” I moronically explained, “is that after tomorrow, we just won’t have to worry. Or not like we have for the past eight years. I won’t have to worry every single goddamned day that our president is dangerous, or that he’s going to destroy America. Think of what normal, intelligent people will be able to get done, just knowing that their president’s OK and not actively working to undermine everything I like about this country.” Good one, Sturdevant!
November 2, 2010. I feel like I have a hangover today. My birthday reveries are haunted by an orange-colored man from Ohio bellowing “Hell no!” over and over in a never-ending animated GIF loop. Somewhere, former Rep. Samuel L. Devine is smiling.
Post-script: Samuel L. Devine was unseated by Democrat Bob Shamansky on November 4, 1980. That was also the year my dad cast his sole presidential vote for a non-Democrat: not Reagan, obviously, but independent candidate John Anderson. Last time I was home, dad and I were talking about the way Carter was perceived by the left at the end of his presidency. “In light of all that, I think I sort of understand why you voted for Anderson,” I said.
“Well, I wish you’d tell me,” he said. “Because I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”
Rep. Bob Shamansky (D-Ohio).
29th July 10
“When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges.” - Jack Handy
After-school day care assistant. // I don’t remember this one at all. The kids were brats, I’m pretty sure, but not in such a way I recall anything about any of their brattish antics.
Dry cleaner counter clerk. // Jimbo convinced me I should actively seek out a job with the dry cleaner in our neighborhood, because when he’d worked there, all he did was sit behind a counter and read Dostoevsky. That sounded pretty good, so I applied the next week, and instead of putting me in a strip mall near my house, they sent me out to a location in an obscenely wealthy ZIP code right over the county line. It had a constantly backed-up drive-through, closed early, and we didn’t accept credit cards; essentially, an incredible confluence of factors guaranteed to create situations where wealthy people would be inconvenienced and become furious. An extremely old man once yelled at me from his Jaguar for a solid ten minutes for dry-cleaning his polo knit shirt instead of washing it, as people in line behind him honked and screamed. I remember only nodding and staring blankly at a vein throbbing in his temple. I still think sometimes of that vein, the way it pulsated, slowing and quickening as his voice lowered and rose. My last week of work I proffered my resignation to my supervisor, and she said, “Ah, you had a new job lined up this whole time. That’s why you’ve been doing such a poor job recently.” “Uh, yeah, that must be it,” I mumbled unconvincingly.
College development call center caller. // The university I was working for had absorbed an all-women’s Catholic college in the 1950s, which meant, inexplicably, that all of their alumni of that college retroactively became alumni of this university, and consequently remained on the call lists. Much of this position, then, was me calling 80-year old women who’d never attended or even heard of the university I was calling from, asking them to send me $25.
Art retail store clerk. // I have written extensively already about this wunderkammern.
Elementary school weekend art teacher. // For several years, I taught free scholarship art classes on weekends to gifted 11-12 year olds from around the city on behalf of the local visual arts association. This was particularly poignant, as I’d attended the same program when I was a gifted 11-12 year old. Some of these kids must be college freshman by now. I sometimes wonder if they went to art school and are now cool, cigarette-smoking art school kids. At least a few of them were geniuses. I heard from mom that one of them had a summer internship at the art museum last year, so maybe I was an OK influence.
Caricature artist. // I somehow got a contract with a large regional food service corporation. The president wanted caricatures of each employee framed outside their door, so I wandered around this cubicle farm for a month, drawing people with NASCARs, golf clubs and fishing poles. I remember a few of these caricatures very clearly, specifically the middle manager that wanted me to picture him standing on a beach, but, like, make the palm trees marijuana leaves, but, dude, not so that it’s obvious, just so that it’s like, you know, if you get it, you’re like duuuuuuuuuude check that shit out. One of the higher-up executives wanted a picture of himself with a rifle and a water buffalo that he’d shot on safari. I drew “X“‘s for the water buffalo’s eyes.
Art museum attendant. // This particular museum had a chainsaw artist create enormous sitting structures for the gallery floors, made from foam and covered with parachutes. I sat around for seven hours a day on these structures reading books about Andy Warhol, and explaining to visiting college girls who the Velvet Underground were and which of their albums they should buy (A: all of them). The only arm-wrestling match I have ever won in my entire career was with my supervisor, a brilliant guy named Neal that had a tattoo of the pi symbol on his forearm. Obviously, the perfect job for a 22-year old.
Pizza delivery man. // I only lasted one night. The only uniform they had was an oversized knit polo shirt with the pizza company’s logo on it, and combined with the baseball cap and my oversized art school Buddy Holly glasses, it made me look like a twelve-year old child actor from a 1950s sitcom. I was assigned to deliver pizzas to the Swisswood/Rankin neighborhood of Pittsburgh, an impossibly hilly, perplexing and poorly-lit area of town. It took me three hours to deliver my first pizza, and the guy was decent enough to still tip me anyway. I called in to quit the next day, but got cold feet, so Neal, the aforementioned supervisor with the pi tattoo, called in pretending to be me. “This is Andy,” he told the manager in an absurdly deep voice. “I am sorry to inform you that I will need to resign my position with your organization effective immediately.”
Cigar label illustrator. // I made the acquaintance of one “Farmer B.” at some point in college, a tobacco farmer who ran a small cigar company out his farm in Trimble County, about an hour outside Louisville. He paid me to drive out to his farm and make sketches of the farm, the barns and the cured crops for use on the labels for the cigars he manufactured. “I take good care of my employees,” Farmer B. told me over and over. “You’ll come on out to my houseboat party for Derby sometime. Bring your girlfriend. No liberal girls, though.” I would laugh nervously. You still see these cigars in gas stations and liquor stores all across the state, with my little Micron 005 drawings of barns and tobacco on the label.
Art retail store assistant manager. // I began working for a chain art retailer as a salesperson, and within a month the regional manager got whiff of the fact that I’d spent several years in the art retail industry. He immediately bumped me up to an assistant manager position at a floundering store in one of the western suburbs. It turns out that being a part-time college employee of a local mom-and-pop store in an urban setting and being an assistant manager in a suburban strip mall corporate retailer setting require vastly, vastly differing skill sets.
Art retail store clerk. // This was yet another one. I felt at one point that it was all I knew how to do.
Ticket retailer call center salesperson. // A number of my co-workers here went on to obtain advanced degrees in arts administration.
State Fair automobile display assistant. // I handed out beer coozies and assisted fairgoers in dubious games of skill and chance for eleven hours a day at the Minnesota State Fair on behalf of a major American automotive company. My supervisor was a motor-mouthed, impossibly charismatic corporate carnie who’d chain smoke cigarettes on our breaks and shake his head about the impending collapse of the automotive industry. “This whole business is going straight down the shitter,” he’d tell me. “These motherfuckers have no idea what’s going on. [Major American automotive company] is going to be fucking finished in four years, tops. They’re all going to have to be nationalized by the end of the decade.” He was, at it turns out, at least a third correct.
Standardized test grader. // One of the projects I was assigned to was reading and evaluating narrative essays from elementary school children in Louisiana after Katrina, and it truly remains one of the most sobering reading experiences of my life. Regardless of the subject the kids were assigned — a time they rescued an animal, a time they helped a family member — they all wrote about Katrina. Most of them, anyway, except for one kid, who wrote a nonfiction piece about a talking bear he met once. “I am sorry I frightened you,” said the talking bear to the Louisiana student, after threatening to eat him. “I care about the safety of my children, and I become scared when I think they might be in danger.” “That’s OK, bear, I understand that you love your children very much,” replied the student. Actually, come to think of it, maybe that piece was about Katrina after all. Anyway, I remember it more fondly than many nonfiction essays written by professional writers that I have encountered subsequently.
9th February 10
A few years ago, I had a combination TV/VCR that the previous tenant of my apartment had left behind when she moved out. I already had an old TV, and didn’t need a second, so I decided to get rid of it. The TV part still picked up broadcast television just fine, and the VCR part still played VHS tapes with no trouble, so it seemed reasonable that I could get about fifteen bucks for it on Craigslist. I posted an ad, with a photo, and it sat there for a few days with no responses. I considered putting it in the free section.
But then I thought about VCRs a little more carefully. Why would someone want a VCR when they could have a DVD player? I wished I could repost the ad in 1993, when people still needed VCRs.
Then I realized that I could. I rewrote the ad, and instead of a photo of the TV, I used a photograph of the Cheers title screen.
Then, instead of text describing what the TV/VCR looked like and how it worked, I wrote a little essay about how you could always record Cheers on a VCR, and watch the tape later. And that was how you interacted with Sam and Rebecca and Woody and Frasier, because maybe in the late ’80s and early ’90s you had to work late on Thursdays. You could come home at night and the gang at Cheers would be waiting for you. I suggested you could relive these times with the TV/VCR I had.
Almost immediately after reposting it, I got an email from a guy in one of the far-flung western suburbs, probably almost an hour out, who said he’d loved Cheers and that I should call him in the next thirty minutes. I did, and he made an appointment to stop by that afternoon to take a look. He asked me if I’d seen the recent special that Ted Danson and Rhea Perlman hosted.
Two hours later, he dropped by, and we spent fifteen minutes talking about our favorite episodes of Cheers. He was a fan of the episode where Lillith made Fraiser move into a cabin in the woods. I didn’t remember that one, but we both remembered the episode where the gang went sky-diving. He bought the TV/VCR for fifteen dollars.
I felt a little guilty initially, like maybe I’d fleeced this person by making him drive an hour into the city and preyed upon some treasured memories of a television program he’d loved for my own profit. But I don’t think this was the case, because the thing was, I really enjoyed talking about Cheers with the guy.
5th February 10
theopie asked: Considering your always fine haberdashery and impeccable tastes, I was wondering if you might be able to point a chap in the direction of a decent Twincy tailor?
Thank you for the kind compliment, Mr. Lindsay, but my reputation for being well-dressed is a little overblown, I think. As I’ve noted here before, my regular tailor is a 17th Century French priest named St. Vincent de Paul. Almost all of my clothes are basically junk, and I’m kind of a cheapskate anyway. There are small holes in almost every article of clothing I am wearing today, in fact:
- my Johnny Carson-brand jacket has one in the elbow.
- the Sears-brand shirt I am wearing has a tear on the bottom, where it tucks into the pants.
- my 1991-ish camel fur cardigan (a birthday gift from a long-ago girlfriend — “Lord Jeff” brand) is pretty patchy in places.
- my LL Bean long underwear, so essential to thriving in the northern climate, is a little beat-up in certain regions.
I don’t mind, particularly, and I’m sure you don’t, either. But this sort of slovenly disregard for sartorial integrity wouldn’t fly in many circles.
But that stuff doesn’t matter, really. The trick is not where you buy your clothes, or what they are, but putting it all together so that it works for you. I like pants with straight legs and no pleats, and two-button blazers, and V-neck sweaters, and scarves, and dress shirts with large-ish starched collars. Those are all easy enough to find if you look hard enough. I always have great luck at the Lake Street Savers. The Unique in Northeast is beyond reproach, as well. When in need of more speciality items, I have made very worthwhile purchases at Lost and Found and Blacklist Vintage on Nicollet Avenue.
(Paranthetically: are you as obsessed with vintage store clerks as I am, reader? I don’t mean to sound like a creep here, but I love them. I adore them. I get tongue-tied and clammy-handed every time. The way they stand behind the counter, all aloof, in beautiful vintage dresses, playing vaguely hip records over the store’s loudspeakers and pricing out men’s ties on handmade labels. They seem like holdovers from a happier, more authentic era. Baristas, record store clerks and librarians once held the same sway, but the coffee shop, record store [what very few there are left] and library have evolved in a way that the vintage store has not. Every time I walk into a vintage store, I feel like buying zines and voting for Ralph Nader. They seem fundamentally unchanged from the last major cultural era. God, am I getting old. What was I even talking about? Decrepitude is coming fast. Oh, right — tailors.)
That said, as far as tailors and clothiers are concerned in Minneapolis-St. Paul, you can’t go wrong with Hemies. Remember when Colin had that Prussian cycle champion mustache? That was Hemies. They have beautiful suits and they treat you like a duke. They’re really the best of the best.
Otherwise, for small things, I have taken in articles of clothing for minor alterations at Falconer’s on Lake Street at 12th Avenue. I like their marquee quite a bit.