Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Man Versus the Empire Brain Building

A still from Playtime (1967), dir. Jacques Tati

My employer’s offices recently moved, and the new space was designed from scratch. Opinions vary about the quality of the result, but no one disputes that the design is a very deliberate one that perfectly reflects the worldview and preferences of the company’s leadership. This isn’t always the case—businesses often move into existing office space and renovate it a bit for their particular purposes, resulting in something that may function well enough but doesn’t fully express the personality of the place (at least as conceived of by management). People buy old houses, too, or new ones that come stamped from a mold. Those kinds of places may also reflect some individual worldviews and preferences, but the idiosyncrasies don’t come through as clearly as they do in a place built from scratch to the specifications of a resident mastermind.

Which is a long way around to saying that after our visit to Target Field, we took a trip to the inside of Bud Selig’s brain.

The day started out better than that, though, with a stop at minuscule Al’s Breakfast in Minneapolis, where contrary to all expectations and experience we waltzed right in. A couple omelets and a great dollop of atmosphere later, we were loaded up and ready to drive in the rain into Wisconsin.

Our first stop was the Wegner Grotto—because since 2007 we have become grotto fetishists. This was no Cullman shrine, of course, but a modest assemblage of rough cement sculptures, polished stones, and lots and lots of colored glass shards. There are two sizable caution signs at the site, and a good thing, too—the place practically screams “Welcome to Danger Playground!” and I can only imagine how many children of central Wisconsin have had scarring experiences here.

By all accounts, the Wegners were fairly ordinary people who simply took it upon themselves in retirement to build a grotto somewhat like those they had seen elsewhere. They memorialized events from their lives—in, for example, the replica of the cake created for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

On the whole, however, the site is modest, and hasn’t a single screaming peacock. The Wegners built a little shrine on their site, but we weren’t able to go in it. From what we could see through the windows, it’s now used primarily as a tool shed. Yesterday’s quasi-religious space is today’s linseed-oil repository—a juxtaposition that turned out to be an apt precursor to our next stop, where yesterday’s industrial refuse is today’s mythic temple.

As despairing of oddity as we were at the Museum of Whatever the Hell in eastern Ohio in July, Tom Every's Forevertron restored our faith in idiosyncrasy and set a new benchmark for monomaniacal environment creation (MEC). This behemoth of industrial refuse is part mythological vessel, part logistical miracle, and part junk welded together by a moderately unstable nut. Located a few miles north of Sauk City, Wisconsin, Every's site is dominated by the Forevertron but also contains countless supporting objects, sculptures, and rusting sculptures of birds playing orchestral instruments.

The full story of the Forevertron and Every's complicated life can be found in A Mythic Obsession: The World of Dr. Evermor, by Tom Kupsh, but there are many appreciations on the web, as well as the official site of the man himself.

The Forevertron is as pure an expression of Every's internal mania as he's going to get in this world, I suspect, but MECs as a class are everywhere, particularly in corporate form from Disneyland and gated communities to shopping malls and our last major stop of the day (finally!), Milwaukee's Miller Park, home of the newly dedicated Shrine of St. Bud, who was martyred in the 21st century by unthinking heathens who could understand neither his saintly dedication to a DADT policy for chemically bloated behemoths, nor his ability to warp time, space, and the National League to bring into this fallen world the miracles of interleague play and the unbalanced schedule.

I have had unkind things to say about St. Bud, and I did boo him heartily (and solo) in Mobile this April. Having now visited the park whose construction he masterminded while owner of the Brewers—with its pimple-like profile, poor field lighting, dark concourse, strange proportions, needlessly complex technological hoo-haw, autocentric location, crappy bars, soggy cheese curds, and vast expanses of concrete—I can say that I have been too kind to the man. Miller Park is a soulless technocrat's vision of what a baseball stadium could be. Being there is like watching a ballgame inside a beer commercial. Perhaps the worst thing I can say about it is that it almost (almost) makes me miss the Metrodome. We did have nice seats, though:

This is one of the benefits of going to see a team that is well out of it late in the season—StubHub is full of people who will take pennies on the dollar for those seats they bought in a fit of optimism last March. To the discomfiture of our neighbors, we cheered for the visiting Reds, who won, 5–2.

The whole scene does make me wonder—wasn't Bud's argument for contracting the Twins that no one went to see them, they were never very good, and their stadium was a dump? Funny how those arguments don't seem to apply 300 miles to the southeast.

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