2002 Notebook: Weak XL
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1 October 2002
No. 4,047 (cartoon)
I’ve never felt more miserable.

I’m sure you will.

2 October 2002
Scotch Reality
I recently read a very brief profile of JG Ballard, in which he rebutted Cyril Connolly’s well-known warning, “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

    I think he was completely wrong. It is the enemy of a certain kind of dilettante life that he aspired to—that of the man of letters. But for the real novelist, the pram in the hall is the greatest ally—it brings you up sharp, and you realize what reality is all about. My children were a huge inspiration for me.

I didn’t find Ballard’s argument very persuasive. After all, who cares about reality?

Ballard answered my hypothetical question in the next printed breath.

    For most of my working life as a professional, which began over forty years ago, what kick-started the day was a large scotch and soda. ... I used to find that a couple of large scotches did the trick—it created a different microclimate inside my head.

I admire Ballard’s way with words. I’ve never heard a better euphemism for being drunk than experiencing “a different microclimate inside my head.”I’ve never started the day with a large scotch and soda. (Or, if I did, I can’t remember.) On the other hand, if I was a parent, I can imagine that a large scotch and soda could easily serve as a regular breakfast beverage. Of course, one needn’t be drunk to tolerate the rigors of parenting. Another friend attributes her ability to raise her children with a smile on her face to the marijuana cigarettes she enjoyed most mornings.

I’m glad I’m a childless artist. The lack of fatherly responsibilities allows me to dedicate the first hours of the day to the wonders of caffeination. I doubt Ballard enjoys a bottle of wine with lunch as much as I do.

3 October 2002
Bob Ross’s Third Way
Hoo boy, my little hissy fit about Bob Ross generated a storm of responses. In fact, this is the first time I’ve received two reactions to a piece since the 1998 discussion of genital wigs. I probably shouldn’t get too worked up about this, but I’m nevertheless chuffed.

Lisa H. wrote to provide a new perspective on Ross’s approach.

    His “Wet on Wet” technique is an amazing erotic exercise which takes place between at least two women, some Astroglide, and some very fat paintbrushes.

    Just thought ya oughta know :).

I’m unfamiliar with Astroglide and have asked Ms. H. for additional information and documentation.

On a somber note, an employee of a large financial institution provided the final chapter in the Bob Ross story.


    In case you were curious, that “idiot” named Bob Ross passed away in 1995.

    ~ Michael

My initial response was to feel appropriately chagrined that I’d called a dead guy an idiot. And then I had a different reaction when I recalled Woody Allen’s quote, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work ... I want to achieve it through not dying.”

Woody’s been lucky so far, but what about Bob Ross? It’s 2002, and I’m getting junk mail from him seven years after he died. In addition to the “Wet on Wet” technique (which I admit I may have dismissed prematurely), it looks like Ross may have discovered a third path to immortality: marketing.

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4 October 2002
Soap Film
It goes without saying that different cultures, by definition, have different practices. (Maia taught me that one should never say “it goes without saying.” It goes without saying that I enjoy using the phrase for exactly that reason.)

Although I try not to judge other cultures, I make a few exceptions. Example: soap film. For some reason, the British don’t rinse their dishes after they’re washed. As a result, every plate, glass, and utensil is covered in soap film. When someone pours me a cup of tea, I know where all the bubbles came from.

Soap film makes for awkward social situations. When invited to dinner, I try to surreptitiously rinse and dry anything with which I’m expected to eat or drink. Since I don’t want to reveal that I’m being judgmental about my hosts’ standards, I’ve had to concoct some elaborate ruses. I sometimes claim I’m taking my plate, saucer, goblet, and silverware into the bathroom to photograph them in a better light. Other times, I claim to want a drink of water as a pretext for rinsing a pint glass before I enjoy a beer.

I don’t like to be duplicitous, but sometimes honesty just doesn’t pay. Every time I start to explain to British friends why soap film is so dangerous, they just gawk at me as if I was crazy.

5 October 2002
Eyes Peeled
While driving along an unfamiliar English road, I was told to keep my eyes peeled for a chip shop. I wondered where the phrase “keep your eyes peeled” came from. I then thought about keeping my eyes peeled for deep-fried potatoes, a tuber from which the eyes have been peeled. And then I thought about how I peeled away the outer surface of the eyes of last night’s salmon because Carey disliked being watched by her dinner.

After all the pleasant blur of thoughts of peeled eyes and food, spotting a shop that offered salty, greasy potato pieces seemed anticlimactic.

6 October 2002
A New Decree in the Land of Lee
Some of my friends accept whatever happens to them as their galactic fate; others try to control every aspect of their existence like a German factory manager. And then there’s Lee.

Lee runs her life like an enlightened despot. She’s smart enough not to worry about petty details, and she’s also smart enough not to leave critical matters to chance. Lee runs her life by edict.

Recently, Lee and I chatted about this, that, and the other thing. When I could no longer maintain a polite façade, I asked her what was new on the courtship horizon. That’s when she made her proclamation,

    There’s a new decree,
    in the land of Lee ...

That’s how she began her answer, and I promised her that I wouldn’t tell anyone how she ended it.

I can say this, however, with candor and certainty: Lee’s something else.

7 October 2002
Not All of My Life, Yet
Alicia was skeptical when I told her that I’d been an artist all my life. Had I been telling the truth, I would have said, “for virtually all of my adult life.”

“Really?” Alicia asked, “All of your life?”

“Not yet,” I replied honestly.

8 October 2002
National Poetry Day
Thursday is National Poetry day in England. I know this because the British Broadcast Company has been warning me that its editors will be gratuitously inserting poems willy-nilly into newscasts, comedy shows, weather reports, even the damn gardening programs.

Since BBC managers are every bit as concerned about ratings as their overtly commercial counterparts, I asked George why the Beebsters would give members of their audience ample time to switch to another network that wasn’t filled with dreadful dreck. George provided a two-word answer.

Winston Churchill.

It seems that during Churchill’s last days in office in 1955, the National Committee to Preserve British Standards and Values was pushing hard for a national day of poetry to counter a perceived Communist threat.

Churchill railed against the notion with his famous remark, “If all the poets joined Hitler in hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Unfortunately, by 1955 Churchill had lost most of his strength, stamina, power, and influence. As a result, he was forced to craft a compromise. The National Committee to Preserve British Standards and Values would have its poetry day as long as the government-owned media broadcast hourly warnings in the fortnight leading up to the event.

Thanks to Winston and the BBC, on Thursday I shall celebrate a holiday of my own invention, Recorded Music Day.

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©2002 David Glenn Rinehart