Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Officially Cheerful

Had a rough day? Stressed about the looming Apocalypse and your dwindling bank balance? You need James Lileks. You need The Institute of Official Cheer. It's got everything, all enhanced by elegantly phrased snarky commentary:

* Clothing ads from the 1973 Sears catalog! Go ahead and laugh. But dammit, we thought it was pretty. Except the plaid pants. And some of the hairstyles. And all that polyester. No, I didn't buy my clothes from Sears--that was too fancy. What Ma didn't make, we got from Eynon Drug.

* Elvis meets Liberace! And other all-too-memorable publicity shots.

* Sometimes meat likes to dress up and feel pretty. A sample of the joys of The Gallery of Regrettable Food -- actual food illustrations and photography from the Depression through the swinging 70s. There are a few recipes, but the focus is on the unappetizing pictures and Lileks's delicious commentary. Imagine the mind that could dream up hot dogs in aspic. No, don't. Not if you're eating. Or about to eat. Or ever want to eat again.

Most of the content in Lileks's books is no longer on the website, but truly they are worth buying. (I keep an eye out at used bookstores and library sales; so far I've picked up two, plus a book of essays.) He describes a loaf of mottled red meat sludge in aspic as "a core sample from a mass grave." He tells the hidden stories of the people in those illustrations. Truly, he is the MST3K of old advertisements -- and his wit is as sharp as his eye. (He also posts a lot of other useful and interesting material, including old photos of Fargo, ND, and Minneapolis.)

The effect of reading anything by Lileks is, first, laughter, tinged with horror. Then, as you read on, uncontrollable spasms of laughter. Then choking, screaming convulsions of something that might be laughter or agony, garnished by tears. Then full-fledged hysteria. It's absolutely guaranteed, and it's one of the best ways I know for dealing with a horrible day.

Why yes, I had a . . . regrettable day. Any day in which one's automobile, freshly emerged from the shelter of a warranty period, demands repairs that will cost almost a month's rent (which, incidentally, has just been raised again), that day cries out for Official Cheer.

(It worked, too.)

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