. married
"It doesn't much signify whom one marries, for one is sure to find next morning that it was someone else."

- Samuel Rogers, 
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(started 06.17.02 | 07:43pm EST) "DO YOU ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT the economy when we're doing this?" my wife asked me as we stopped for a quick snack of sushi before one last, quick lunge into the Saturday crowds. "You think about inflation and price indexes and consumer confidence, all of that?"

I had to say that yes, I did. I look around at the crowds and count heads and empty shelves and discounts and sales. I try to make a running diagnosis of the state of the country's monetary health, at least in its largest city, where positive signs might not mean anything in the larger picture, but negative ones mean trouble everywhere. I had to say that, today, the signs were good.

Shopping was my idea. I wanted to buy my wife some clothes, spurred on by the hole in her sock when she came home from church that morning. At first, she didn't seem to want to go, but the truth was that her summer wardrobe needed a bit of a goosing, and frankly, neither of us really felt like doing any gardening or souring a perfectly nice day by spending it forging another link on our endless spring cleaning saga.

And so we set off, our first stop the women's sock department at the Bay, where I had to persuade my wife that replacing her holey sock with just one pair was neither sensible nor economical. A bulging sock and underwear drawer is a gift, I quietly ranted, and keeping socks with holes is essentially soul-crushing, an infection of despair at the beginning of your day. "You're so sensible," she says, sweetly humouring me.

After a brief detour to look for real Clark's desert boots (for me - they were out of the traditional "sand" colour; I haven't owned a pair desert boots since college, but for some reason I crave a pair this year), we make our way through the Eaton's centre, into Banana Republic, where I buy K. two linen shirts. I love buying clothes for my wife. I don't have anything to do with choosing them - that's her business, and I can't see what I can possibly contribute, except for the usual nodding "looks great" - but there's something pleasing about picking up the tab on a shopping trip. It's as close to being a sugar daddy as I'll ever get.

The fact is that, for the first time since we met, I'm making a bit more money than my wife, and after years of patience and support, it's nice to give something back. There's an ego boost as well, I won't deny it. It's good to know that I can more than just hold up my end in supporting my family, going beyond just paying the bills, bringing a modest bit of luxury into our lives. I can't begin to say how important this has become to me after years of freelance poverty, spiked with the briefest periods of solvency. As a single man, I'd blow the money on my latest obsession. This feels healthier.

I don't finish the day empty handed. At Tristan and America, I find a shirt that, according to my wife, "makes you look like a DJ", which is about the coolest thing I can aspire to with my hairline. I really wish techno had been around when I was a lad - I was always a pretty lousy guitarist, but I think I could have gotten a long way with ProTools and a Mac, and wouldn't have had to worry about bandmates - a clear bonus.

At the Gap, I find the mint-blue short-sleeve shirt I'd been admiring marked down to twenty bucks. I buy it along with a skirt for K., a quasi-military kind of deal that, she says, "appeals to my inner WAC." At Old Navy - notice that we've hit all three tiers of the Gap empire today, something that would have made us melt with despair a decade ago - she pulls something off the end of a rack where I'm looking at much more sedate shirts, a blue and black number that looks like a supergraphic Maori tattoo, the kind of thing that a semi-retired surfer, or the owner of Epitaph records would wear. I'd never have given it a second look, but she makes me put it on and it looks great. "You're a big guy. You can pull it off." I'll doubtless remember this day, years from now.

(Why all the shirts, you might ask? I have more shirts than anything else except maybe socks, but it's close. So why do I need more, and why now? It takes me a few minutes of pondering to stumble on the reason: I actually leave the house every day these days, and spend considerable time in human society. It's quite a change; for the last few years, I'd manage days, even weeks, in a row without seeing anyone but a pizza delivery guy, my wife, and our cats. A few old Gap golf shirts and an ancient L.L. Bean striped button-down shirt whose collar has frayed to near-separation were all I really needed. I'm not proud.)

Our final lunge is into HMV, the big record shop that won the battle of the music stores on Yonge street, killing Tower outright and turning Sam's - that sentimental Toronto institution - into a bankrupt ghost of its former self. I look for the soundtrack to Bullitt and a Zumpano record, come up empty-handed and end up with a Bill Frisell disc, a trio record with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones. I used to listen to Bill Frisell all the time, about ten years ago. I remember a concert where he did this incredible cover of "Live to Tell". My wife starts with a Sister Rosetta Thorpe disc and ends up holding an Andrews Sisters compilation. "The inner WAC thing," she says.

We take a long, slow browse through the punk, alternative and goth/industrial sections, revisiting old favorites, checking to see what's still in print. K. spends a long time looking for Bauhaus and Love and Rockets records she used to own. While we're there, we must have been approached a half-dozen times by different youthful saleskiddies, asking us if we "need any help". I don't remember ever being asked if I needed help in a record store before, and after awhile it starts making me a bit indignant. I used to work in one half a block from here, and probably spend most of my twenties and early thirties in record stores, the kind of High Fidelity milieu of competitive loitering, my social circle composed for years of record store clerks and owners, working on our record collections like some people renovate their house, or run marathons.

Today, apparently, we look like lost oldsters whose interest in the Minutemen and Jon Spencer is clearly due to taking a wrong turn over where they keep the Journey records. K. wants to turn it into a sport. "I want to dress up in my squarest church lady clothes and ask them if this Controlled Bleeding CD is any good." I feel like turning on the next lip-pierced little suburban hipster and hissing: "Take a good look. I am what you will become!"

At home, K. gives me a little fashion show in her new duds, and gives me a kiss for everything she tries on, whether I bought it for her or not. It's been a nice day. (finished 10:29pm | 06.19.02)

A terribly, terribly tardy entry. Work, and the summer heat, are my only excuse. Shopping, and marriage. A very domestic theme.

john scalzi
james lileks
alan zweig
mike reed
lucy huntzinger
warlog: ww3
little green footballs
ken layne
uss clueless
andrew sullivan
relapsed catholic
arts & letters
steve bell
talking points memo
jim treacher

DJ Shadow, The Private Press buy it

John Man, The Gutenberg Revolution buy it

The Gutenberg book is one of those slim, popular histories in the mold of Mauve, Arcanum and the genre's model, Dava Sobel's Longitude. Printing and typography is one of my "backburner" obsessions, like architecture and cooking - things I'd devote all my time to if I had nothing but time and money, the keystones of my perfect, fantasy existence. I'm taking my time with this one, spending far too long on a book this slim, thanks mostly to work, a growing pile of similarly unfinished book, and the onset of summer heat that makes napping the usual consequence of lying down with a good book. It's a great story, despite the overwhelming fact that, even today, we know almost nothing about Gutenberg the man.

I love DJ records. They're like self-published short story collections - a bit uneven sometimes, and self-indulgent at their worst, but you know you're getting the product of one person's mind, essentially unedited by compromise. I can't imagine a more fulfilling way of making music. DJ Shadow is, if you read his press, the next Moby. I think he's a bit more interesting than that, if only because he doesn't, as yet, want to be a rock star. It's also ironic that, twenty-five years after I got rid of my Pink Floyd, Yes and Tangerine Dream records, embarassed that someone would find them next to my impeccably punk and retro soul and rock and roll collection, I'm listening to records like this, with undeniably prog elements, right down to the spacey, suspended rhythms and yearningly vague, wincingly poetic lyrics sung in fey tenor voices. Never, ever think that you're done with anything.


(started 06.26.02 | 09:03pm EST) OUR WEEKENDS ARE PRECIOUS these days; K. works normal human hours (9-5, Mon-Fri) while I'm on the late shift familiar to most newspaper types (11-3, Sun-Thurs). Our weekend together is basically Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning coffee. We have friends we never see, and social obligations that end up funnelled into that narrow overlap. I've made Saturdays sacrosanct, booking nothing, keeping the slate clean just in case there's the chance of a day alone together, or an evening out. Most of the time that precious Saturday is taken up with banalities - grocery shopping or a walk, followed by an evening at home with take-out and a movie.

My wife finds weddings fascinating, and last Saturday, K. wanted to spend the evening with a tape of Michael Apted's A&E special, "Married in America". Apted, a decent enough director of a sort of pleasant, humanist drama (Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, Nell), is also a superb documentary filmmaker, whose name will be remembered if only for the 21Up, 28Up, 35Up, 42Up series of feature documentaries he made every seven years from 1977 to 1998.

The series began in 1964 when Apted was a researcher on 7Up, a Granada television documentary on a group of British schoolchildren from across the class spectrum, the sort of earnest project begun, no doubt, in the hope of seeing class dissolve over the course of the children's lives as earnest social democracy transformed both their lives, ours, and the world. It's obvious enough to anyone who's seen the whole series - and probably anyone who's never heard of it - that no such thing happened. I give Apted a lot of credit for exploring the machinery of class relentlessly from the moment he took over the series. In Britain, at least, class is something you can talk about because you sure can't ignore it. In America, however - and Canada, I'm afraid - it's a lot harder to discuss class, mostly because it's considered impolite, based on the assumption that, since it shouldn't exist in a theoretically egalitarian society, it's best ignored as a subject for polite conversation.

Which is what makes "Married in America" so brave. He's taken the same premise as the 7Up series - a representative group filmed over a regular set of intervals (two years instead of seven, in this case) - but set the project stateside, where the myth of equality usually thrives in the venerable context of themed t.v. documentaries; "Look at how alike we are," they say, "in a land where our means are mere circumstances to the dreams we share in common." For Apted, the circumstances are everything, and we're meant to ponder them as we sit through three hours of basically the same story, repeated nine times: meet the couple; hear how they met; meet their families; wince through the wedding preparations; smile as they tie the knot; nod knowingly as you listen to them outline their plans for the future.

You can't help but handicap each couple's chances of success, to guess just who'll still be together at each of the four updates at which Apted intends to visit them again. Certainly, K. and I couldn't help ourselves. Amber and Scott, the "ambitious, high-energy professionals" whose Southern wedding was a case study in suburban affluence, didn't seem like a good bet, even to their parents. It was hard to believe Scott, the ex-marine, as he said that it didn't bother him that Amber made more money; Amber wants to move to a big city like Atlanta; Scott fervently believes in the kind of affluent suburban upbringing he had. I give them four years, tops.

Reggie and Betty are an interracial couple, sweethearts since childhood, and it's easy to believe that they'll make it until they both start talking about their dreams: he wants to to stand-up, she wants to be an actress. Suddenly, they both seem very young, with a lot to learn about themselves. Brenda and David are a ready-made family, heading into marriage with two children from David's previous relationship. The children are adorable, but David seems haunted, and a bit immature, having become a father while still basically a boy. He's a seether who hints at deeply suppressed rage. You wonder what will set it off, and how much Brenda will take before she leaves.

You desperately want Cheryl and Neal to work out, if only to make his bitter yenta of a mother eat crow. He's every Jewish mother's dream - "my son the doctor" - and she's a Filipina Catholic with a plum job at Sun Microsystems. She's supporting him while he finishes his studies, and intends to follow him to wherever his internship takes him. They'll probably make it if Neal can manage to ignore his mother, who can only barely manage to hide her utter dismay at her son's choice.

On either end of the social ladder we have Donna and Todd and Chuck and Carol. Donna met Todd in college, and didn't consider him date bait because he looked "too preppy". A montage of old photos of Todd in blazer and bow tie reveals that she wasn't half wrong. Times change and today Todd is a head-shaved Manhattanite with a job at a top ad agency. Donna's unemployed, having given up jobs to follow Todd's career around the world, and they both blandly admit that, with their upcoming wedding in a tony restaurant and their lower Manhattan condo, they're living just beyond their means. It only barely bothers them, though. Donna and Todd are an altogether pretty unflappable pair; their wedding is held just before 9/11, and they're stranded in Mexico for five days before they can get back to New York, where their apartment, only a block or two from the WTC, is within the security perimeter.

Maybe I'm projecting, but the look on their faces as they begin packing up their overpriced condo, pausing to gaze out the window at ground zero, seems perfunctory, an expression of shock that has hints of the obligatory, elicited by the presence of Apted's camera. The smoking pile down the street is something clearly unfathomable to them, like an alien footprint, and they don't know how to react, so they leave, mostly because they can. It takes a lot of money to be Donna and Todd, but you get the impression that they're not worried - the money has always been there, and they can't imagine life without it. It's hard to like Donna and Todd, and secretly, spitefully perhaps, you end up hoping that Apted's future visits will find them a bit less than comfortable.

Chuck is living in a trailer in his parents' backyard, trying to save up $5000 for the wedding he and Carol want. Like Donna, Carol is out of work, but any resemblance between them ends right there. She's a grandmother at 37, with a history of abusive relationships. Her husband-to-be is a three-times married, two-time loser who did his first term in jail for rape, his second for a parole violation. "Basically, I can't touch anybody," he tells Apted. One more conviction will put him away for life. His current parole conditions prevent him from contacting his own kids. They knew each other as kids, and met again at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Chuck and Carol, like Reggie and Betty, remind me of people I grew up with, though Chuck and Carol are more clearly part of the "underclass" that politicians and social scientists talk about, a crime-prone group who drift on and off welfare rolls and make convenient scapegoats during elections and good fodder during slow news weeks. In spite of it all - Chuck's shave-headed biker look, probably no great help in helping him stay clean, sober, and away from violence; Carol's inability to rely on her own obvious toughness instead of relying on "tough" men - we end up liking Chuck and Carol. They're honest, mostly because they don't have any options left, and you know that honesty is something that's been forced on them. There's no reason why they should be together in two years, never mind ten, but you hope against hope that they will.

After three hours, one thing seems clear: In America today, race is becoming trivial, religion a bit less so, but people still marry firmly within their own class, if not from within their neighbourhood. Reggie and Betty have more to fear from their own immaturity than from race, and Cheryl and Neal's biggest obstacle is his mother. (There's an argument to be made that Neal's mother's wish for a Jewish daughter-in-law might be as much a defense of class as religion or race, that American Jews live in a parallel class structure that's evolved over a century of prosperity and adversity, and which some Jews will defend as vociferously as any WASP, but that's an argument for another day.)

After all, is it possible to imagine Todd marrying Carol, or Amber, the southern belle, marrying David, the chicano computer parts warehouse worker? Sex is different, of course - anyone will sleep with anyone given opportunity, rationalization and sufficient desire, but marriage is a social contract, in every sense of both words. Even sexual orientation seems like a red herring - Toni and Kelly might be lesbians, but they're dreaming of a life as solidly middle-class as anything they've grown up with, down to the wedding planner and the picturesque rural ceremony, a northeastern echo of Amber and Scott's southern extravaganza.

Every couple in Apted's film is preoccupied with money, whether it's paying for the wedding day or planning their future together, and with rare exceptions - Chuck and Carol in particular - it's assumed that the future will be both judged and enhanced by how much money will be available. In certain cases - Donna and Todd, Amber and Scott - it's assumed that the future will be expensive. It's a given that the higher you perch on the social scale, the more cash-intensive life becomes. With this ironclad rule in mind, it's essential that you marry with an eye to monetary advantage.

Class is money ritualized, a sometimes subtle system by which you can recognize your monetary equal without the awkwardness of blunt inquiry. We all learn it's language, at our own peril, despite the shared fantasy of American classlessness. Apted, an Englishman, has a keen eye for the markers of class and no patience for the pretense of the egalitarian myth, so we know where we are, class-wise, within a minute of meeting each couple.

To someone who still cherishes the revolutionary ideal of classlessness that was retailed by Sixties radicals, the world of "Married in America" might seem like a throwback to the world of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton novels. It's hardly suprising when you contemplate the marital scorched earth from which every couple emerged - a rough tally suggests something like a 60% divorce rate among their parents. Almost every child of divorce talks about learning from their parents' mistakes, and insists that, immediate evidence to the contrary, marriage is forever. The next four episodes of Apted's work-in-progress will test that resolve. I can hardly wait. (finished 12:08pm EST | 06.30.02)

Robert Ward, Virgin Trails buy it

IT'S FINALLY OUT! A couple of summers ago, I travelled with Robert "los Bob" Ward through north and central Spain, and I can say that, among the man's other virtues, he's an impeccable travel companion. His book will let you share the experience of travelling with "los Bob", along the pilgrimage routes of Europe. A really amazing read.

Dennis Bock, The Ash Garden buy it

Another book by a friend. A novel about the bomb, among other things. It's still there, hanging over everything, despite every attempt to pretend that, along with the wall, if just went away ten years ago.

Martin Parr, Boring Postcards USA buy it

Exactly what the title describes, and my favorite "art book" in a couple of years. A perfect coffee table book, for very small coffee tables.

Daniel Yergin & Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights buy it

A "big picture" book, about the last century of economic history. Told as a conflict of economic faiths - Keynes vs. Hayek, Galbraith vs. Friedman, "planning" vs. "market". The basis of a really excellent PBS series, and one of the most entertaining books of its type in years.

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