the diary thing 
Nn- netTHE OTHER NIGHT, I TURNED OFF THE HOT WATER, dried my hands, and stopped washing the dishes long enough to ask K. to marry me. She said yes. We kissed and hugged, she admired the ring I gave her, and I went back to washing the dishes, after which I cooked dinner -- mushroom and swiss chard risotto.

I'd wanted to wait a bit longer, actually -- till this weekend, probably, when the weather might have been nicer. After all, no sooner did I have the ring in hand than K. came down with the flu. I spent a few days nursing her, but I can't say that it seemed a good idea to pop the question while she lay in bed, achey and puffy-eyed, so I didn't. As soon as she was better, the weather turned nasty ,and we got the inevitable last snows before spring. The thermometer went below zero and the ground was covered with slushy, wet snow and it didn't seem like a good time to go for a walk in High Park or down by Sunnyside. So the ring stayed in its little box, though I'd hidden it in a gramophone after K. pointed out that she knew what it was, and that it was driving her crazy looking at it when she used my computer.

To be honest, I'd been feeling quite guilty about not popping the question as soon as I could, especially when I was in a bookstore and suddenly recognized the song they were playing over the store speakers.

 "Bill, I love you so, I always will.
 I look at you and see the passion eyes of May,
 Oh, but am I ever gonna see my wedding day?"

"Wedding Bell Blues", written by Laura Nyro for the Fifth Dimension. I'd always kind of liked the Fifth Dimension, in spite of "Let the Sunshine In", though this song always seemed a bit of an anachronism amidst the slicked-up peace and love vibes on most of their records. It's a real old-fashioned plea for "the piece of paper", the whole white-dress-and-three-tiered-cake ceremony, apparently so old school and oppresive in those groovy times. I should know better than to believe those kind of generalizations -- they were as false as the passionate declaration of my twenty-five year-old self that I'd never get married. 

 "And in your voice I hear a choir of carousels,
 Oh, but am I ever gonna hear my wedding bells?"

It's a pretty overwrought bit of verse, here on the naked page (or screen, or whatever), aimed at the typical male, afraid to commit, even though he might be utterly devoted in every other way. The singer's perspective is understandable; she's stuck with old Bill through thick and thin, and from the sound of it, old Bill hasn't had the best of luck. He sounds a bit on the self-absorbed side, to be honest -- no raging  asshole user or anything, but a bit of a navel-gazer, a bit passive-aggressive and conveniently happy to remind his lady love that she's a "free agent, the master of your own destiny -- I'd never try to tell you what to do, honey. I don't own you, and you don't own me." Laudable, sensitive new-age guy crap that's really just a neat way of evading any responsibility for emotional consequenses.

 "And though devotion rules my heart I take no bows, 
 But Bill you're never gonna take those wedding vows."

Suddenly, I felt very guilty. Never mind that I fully intended to ask the question -- and as soon as possible -- but, well, the time just didn't seem right. Well, I guess the time is just never going to be perfect, so I'd better get a move-on. After all, it's something she seems to want, badly. I don't have any illusions about being the perfect catch -- sometimes the luckless Bill and I have more than a little in common -- and if she's willing to throw her lot in with me, it's the least I can do to make it formal, to -- in the annoying parlance of the day -- make it real.

And so I waited, one day, then the next, hoping for a good moment, maybe after dinner, maybe if the weather clears up. Then I get an e-mail from K. at work.

 "The average unmarried female, basically insecure
 Due to some long frustration may react
 With psychosomatic symptoms, difficult to endure
 Affecting the upper respiratory tract.
 In other words just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold
 A person can develop a cold."

Guys and Dolls. Miss Adelaide's song to her wiseguy beau, Nathan Detroit. Touché. Time to get my ass in gear. So I start thinking about how to do it, what words to say, and I start doing the dishes. I'm deep in my thoughts when K. comes home. I don't hear her come in, take off her shoes, or hang up her coat. I'm still soaping the dishes when she comes up behind me. I'm startled, and so I turn off the tap, collect myself, dry my hands and...

"No man is genuinely happy, married, who has to drink worse whiskey than he used to drink when he was single."
- H.L. Mencken

Yes, I finally did it. Not quite the way I expected, but I'm happy. And yes, Lucy, you were right after all.

NO, WE DON'T KNOW WHEN we'll actually do it. Maybe next year. The summer's too hot and winter's out of the question. Maybe the fall -- we both like autumn more than any other season. That's a good, long time to think about how to go about it. "Let's just be engaged, okay?" K. said, as I dried my hands, the dishes done. "Okay," I said.

THE STOCK MARKET FELL AN UNPRECEDENTED trillion dollars last week. An impressive figure, if you don't take into account how much inflation has thinned out the dollar, and how much the market had bloated beyond any real value. In any case, most of that trillion dollars had never seen any mint's printing presses, but had simply grown in the hot-house atmosphere of NASDAQ, day-traders, and "new economy" hype, like the one-that-got-away in the old fisherman's joke. I'm sure a few ulcers burst this weekend, but I can't say I felt too much panic watching my MSN news alert ticker register another massive drop in value.

In my collection of magazines, I have a handful of business mags, as well as a copy of Esquire, from a year and a half ago, all of which fretted over the impending stock market collapse in big, grim cover stories. The market crash never came, and stocks continued to soar, IPOs launched phenomenally overvalued companies, price-to-earnings ratios suddenly became poor indicators of a stock's feasability, "dot.com" joined the lexicon, and the idiots at Wired magazine started printing features that were more like religious manifestos than real journalism. Those gloomy cover stories were quickly forgotten, and the marvels of the market were celebrated with ever-more delerious fantasies. A couple of idiots actually tried to advance the idea that stocks were, in fact, undervalued, and that the Dow should probably rise to something like 36,000 in the next few years. 

Somebody has to keep track of all this madness. The Dow could, after all, rise to 36,000 by 2020, but we'll be paying $5 for a can of Coke and reminiscing about quaint old currency like pennies, pulling dusty, almost worthless jars out of the closet to show the kids: "They might be collector's items one day." Sure -- you can sell them on eBay.

Of course, a lot of people are going to lose their shirts on this, but then again, buying on margin is about as stupid as borrowing from the mob to play the slots. You can't help but feel that some people should be separated from their money, much as an abused puppy should be taken away and given to a new owner. There'll be no shortage of schadenfreude in the media over the next year, and no doubt a few juicy tales of wild financial mismanagement amongst the old and new rich. House prices in the Bay Area might start subsiding to reasonable levels again, and a couple of dot.com giants might find themselves being bought by asset-rich "old economy" companies after their share value has sunk below their ability to pay employees. Sober tributes to the natural wisdom of the "business cycle" will be printed in the Wall Street Journal.

Over a decade ago, just after the last stock market crash ended the "go-go Eighties", I was doing pretty well -- working for a handful of magazines and netting my first four-figure paycheques as a freelancer from mags that gave lavish Xmas parties and full expenses. In one week, half of my clients closed down, and I was scrambling for work. As much as it might be satisfying to see the markets wake up and realize they married the barmaid, I hope I won't find myself suffering again. After all, I'm getting married.

THE TRAVEL JUNKET IS A lucrative gravy train, where a busload of journalists are flown by the tourist board of a city or county, boarded in good hotels, fed and led around like good little truffle pigs, in exchange for the slavering, puffy features you read in your newspaper's travel section and in travel magazines. Lavishly illustrated with tourist board photos, these products of the travel junket are essentially paid advertisements for tourist destinations, and bear much the same relation to the travel writing of people like Bruce Chatwin and Pico Iyer as "processed cheese food" does to a ripe wheel of stilton.

I'm happy to report that I've finally gotten on the gravy train -- I'm going to Spain for a week at the beginning of June, gratis, courtesy of the nice people at Turespaña. Feel free to envy me.

I've been wanting to get on the travel junket circuit for years, since I first learned that the majority of what I read in the travel press was not the product of intrepid adventurers but the equivalent of postcard packs. Journalism is hardly the most perk-ridden business -- most magazines don't pay expenses, and if you average out the time you spend researching and writing with your fee, minimum wage starts to look good. What evens it out are things like travel junkets where, for the price of a small sliver of your journalistic soul -- almost worthless on the open market -- you can take the vacation you could never afford, and get access to places no tour group will take you, in the interest of being provided with "local colour". I'm all for it, and hope this is the first of many. After all, for someone who didn't leave his home time zone till he was almost thirty, I have a lot of travelling to catch up on.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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