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James Lileks

Columnist | Variety
Phone: 612-673-7858

James Lileks is a Star Tribune columnist. 

Lileks, a Minneapolis resident since 1976: "I've never repeated myself once. I don't like to say I write a 'humor' column, since that's subjective. What might be amusing to me might leave you poker-faced. Let's just say my columns are not intended to be taken seriously." He also writes "Streetscape" pieces, which detail the delights and errors, past and present, of the Twin Cities urban environment. He's the author of four novels, four pop-culture "humor" books on vintage subjects and two collections of columns. "People who like my stuff will probably like, and those who don't are probably grateful for the heads-up, and will avoid it," Lileks says.
Recent content from James Lileks
We mocked so-called elevator music in the 1970s, but now that it’s gone, we miss it.

Lileks: It's time to bring back 'elevator music'

Perhaps we'd be a less jangly society if vapid mood music was the norm.
Salesman Ron Falato demonstrated a paring knife at the State Fair.

The fair is over but the stuff we bought lives on

We are at the point in September where we regret, or celebrate, our State Fair impulse purchases. One year I was watching this guy make…
The newly crowned Miss Downtown Minneapolis Sandra Lee Larson on Nicollet Mall.

Who were the Miss Downtown Minneapolis winners and what did they do?

For years, young women were selected to serve as civic champions, winning mink coats and accolades in the process.
A small portable iron.

Lileks: The boomer skills have outlived their usefulness

Sometimes you see a link to an article headlined "50 things Boomers Did That Are Useless Now," and you cannot resist. You know you will…
Lileks: Has your phone's speech-to-text sap cotton wurst?

Lileks: Has your phone's speech-to-text sap cotton wurst?

I know the technology is amazing, and we take it for granted — but I'm convinced it's broken, and I'm not alone.
Instead of new foods, the State Fair needs more welcoming entrances

Instead of new foods, the State Fair needs more welcoming entrances

How about a giant gopher? We know just where it should go.
The State Fair is crowded with strange people wearing stranger T-shirts and eating even stranger foods, but many people consider that part of its allu

Lileks: Don't love the Minnesota State Fair? You're not alone.

Here are six reasons you may not want to go.
Ron Kelsey, owner of the world’s largest seed bag collection

Lileks: Minnesota State Fair history? It's in the bag

75 years of rural design.
The lure of getting back on stage overcame the anxiety of auditioning.

Lileks: A star is born ... well, not even close, actually

We're all acting, a little. Our early years are full of auditions.
Mill City Church, at 685 13th Av. NE. in Minneapolis. In the background to the right is Christ Family Kingdom Center.

A Minneapolis block may hold a world record for churches

The four houses of worship in Northeast have long histories.
The Skyride, on a sunny day at the fair.

These new Minnesota State Fair attractions join our old fair traditions

Additions abound, but most of us go to the fair to do (and eat) our favorite old things again and again.
Eventually, the things we want to remember end up in a box that we store next to other boxes of things we want to remember.

Lileks: There's no clean break when you're cleaning out a grown kid's room

You're either a saver or a tosser.
A locally made “Titanic” sequel would need to have a schmaltzy romance like the one between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the original.

Lileks: Some gigantic notions about a Minnesota 'Titanic' sequel

The Titanic wasn't the only sinking ship in the sea.
Moviegoers filled a Minneapolis movie theater.

Lileks: Why don't we ask for refunds at the movie theater more often?

My seat was behind a railing that cut through the view of the screen.
Minnesota dogs don’t get much love from the internet.

Lileks: Three cheers for our ugly mutts

The honor of our dogs has been sullied, and this cannot be allowed to stand. Or sit, and stay. A survey by Mixbook Photo…
Margot Robbie in “Barbie.”

Lileks: 'Barbie' movie brings back sweet memories for this dad

I don't speak Barbie, but I associate the character with some of the happiest, simplest days a dad can have.
Skittles is about to introduce its newest flavor — mustard.

Lileks: Mustard in Skittles is the devil's work

Skittles candy is releasing a new flavor: mustard. Why? What sins have we committed to deserve these sadistic confectionary combos? This is the point where…
Lileks: Think extra crunchy cookies are good? Then rock on

Lileks: Think extra crunchy cookies are good? Then rock on

This might mean new warnings on packages: This product was processed in a facility that contained nuts, granite, milk and marble.
Lileks: Taco Tuesday is now for everyone

Lileks: Taco Tuesday is now for everyone

Taco John's has been fighting to hold the copyright to the term "Taco Tuesday," but now they're letting it slip from their tired grasp.…
Once you have edged the lawn, you must edge again, because the disorder will bother you.

Lileks: We'll return to our regular yard work right after this message

A video cannot possibly presume all the ways in which you might make a bonehead mistake.
Lileks: New State Fair foods leave us in a pickle

Lileks: New State Fair foods leave us in a pickle

Honestly, we're fine.
How many versions of classic potato salad are there?

Lileks: The great Minnesota potato salad schism

Pick a faction.
Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in “Barbie.”

Lileks: Here's what will happen if you see the Barbie movie

Don't make me do this.
Lowry Avenue Bridge

The best bridges in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the story behind each

More than a city of Lakes, Minneapolis is a city of bridges. We have so many that we have spares, like the Third Avenue and…
Does ketchup belong in the refrigerator? The debate continues.

Lileks: Where to you fall on the Great Ketchup Debate? Fridge or cupboard?

The answer is "no."
Scooter drivers too rarely use the bike lane.

Lileks: Hey, scooter drivers, get off my sidewalk

You're going to put someone's eye out!
In the early 1900s, steam boats shuttled people to and from Big Island Park along Lake Minnetonka.

In 1906, it was full steam ahead for Lake Minnetonka's Big Island Park

The amusement park promised carousels, roller coasters and modern luxuries.
Lileks: Summertime, and the complainin' is easy

Lileks: Summertime, and the complainin' is easy

In old newspapers, "drought" is often spelled "drowt." It suggests that readers were confused by the proper spelling and thought it should be pronounced "dro-you-ghet?"…
A robin sat on her nest.

Lileks: Disturb a robin's nest, go to jail?

We signed a treaty with birds?
Lileks: Credit cards are getting coy and cagey

Lileks: Credit cards are getting coy and cagey

I was unaware my card was capable of astral projection.
Lileks: An ordinary day and extraordinary memory

Lileks: An ordinary day and extraordinary memory

It was Father's Day, too many years ago. The best gift possible: Time together and a memory made.
Waste Management worker Daniel Westerhaus emptied trash bins.

Lileks: Feeling the rhythm of the trash bins

Every sensible person has wondered: What if I am right, and the whole world is mad? What if I see things as they truly are,…
Apple’s Vision Pro headset, on display at the company’s headquarters, will not be available until next year.

Lileks: With Vision Pro, Apple wants us to focus on the big picture

It's like a big TV, except it's strapped to your head and follows you to the bathroom on commercial breaks.
A bicyclist rode on the Midtown Greenway.

Lileks: New stop-sign law deals blow to non-bikers' superiority complex

Without opportunities for silent disapproval, we're at risk of losing our ability to be passive-aggressive when it really counts.
Bavarian dancers erected a traditional Maypole on May 1.

Lileks: We're going to miss you, May

There's so much May, and there's never enough.It's one of those jumbo months, 31 days — who could ask for more? All of us. It…
Lileks: It's time to graduate from 'Pomp and Circumstance'

Lileks: It's time to graduate from 'Pomp and Circumstance'

There are others, you know.
AM car radios likely will soon be a thing of the past.

Lileks: AM car radios are fading out

News item: Some carmakers are dropping AM radios from their new models because electric cars interfere with the signal. Your reaction: Gosh, what's next to…
Lileks: His attempts to grow grass are like a salute to male pattern baldness

Lileks: His attempts to grow grass are like a salute to male pattern baldness

Our columnist declares war on the weeds in his lawn.
Do you remember what was said at your high school graduation speech? We asked our columnists for the advice they dispensed at theirs.

What we learned from our own high school graduation speeches

Our columnists recalled the advice they dispensed to their peers decades ago. Do they stand by their words?
Lileks: It's the opening of skeeter season — does anything keep them away?

Lileks: It's the opening of skeeter season — does anything keep them away?

Let's consider our options.
Minnesotans greeting a stranger have perfected the art of saying a lot by saying very little.

A turning point in learning to speak the Minnesota code

Spring is here, it's ours, and we're going to savor all 17 days of it.
Heffelfinger fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in Minneapolis.

Great cities have great fountains: Here are the 6 best in the Twin Cities

Admire turtles, gargoyles, cherubs and more.
Lileks: Seeking lessons from a BBQ Dad

Lileks: Seeking lessons from a BBQ Dad

A Craigslist ad went viral the other day, and for good reason: A group of young men wanted to hire a "BBQ Dad" to…

Lileks: If stores incorrectly post a low price for an item, is it OK to make them honor it?

Adventures in the check-out lane come with a moral dilemma.
Lileks: The Post Office regrets to inform you ...

Lileks: The Post Office regrets to inform you ...

Anyone keeping track of the precipitous decline of civilizational standards can add this to the list: The other day I received a piece of mail…
A mother and her baby girl sat in an airline seat.

Lileks: The scream war at 35,000 feet

It's man-baby vs. baby, man
What will Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport charge us for next?

Lileks: Is the airport taxing Minnesota nice?

Add the hospitality tax to high prices and it's downright inhospitable.
Do IQ test really judge how well our minds work?

Lileks: Are Minnesotans smarter than North Dakotans?

On average, no.
Martin Cooper held a contemporary copy of the device he used to make the first cellphone call in 1973.

Lileks: Happy birthday to a chattering millstone

That techno-marvel in your hand? It's 50 years old.
Electronic ordering panels in a Chicago McDonald’s restaurant.

Lileks: Kiosks are killing the fast-food clerks

What's better: a day filled with irritating human encounters, or one where every transaction has the rote, sterile perfection you get when dealing with a well-programmed machine?
Macy’s Furniture Gallery in Edina is an example of an earth-sheltered building, a short-lived fad in commercial architecture.

Macy's furniture store in Edina is facing the wrecking ball. It's not a big loss.

The 1970s "earth-sheltered" building has fans.
When AI takes over pizza delivery, we all might risk starving to death.

Lileks: AI certainly is no pie in the sky

Pizza delivery lacks certain ingredients for success.

Lileks: What's Minnesota's most popular nightmare?

The most recent survey of the world's nightmares boils them down to two categories: snakes and teeth falling out.
Lileks: Coming clean about dishwasher soap

Lileks: Coming clean about dishwasher soap

I needed dishwashing detergent. But what kind? Centrum PowerWash Pods with SupR-Kleen Sheeting Action, maybe. Or EcoNice Rice-skin Globules (Removes stubborn residue with the power…
Fire officials recommend everyone change the batteries in their smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when they turn their clocks.

Lileks: The loud revenge of the smoke detector

Did you replace your batteries?
The original Minneapolis Auditorium Building, which opened in 1905, later became known as the Lyceum Theater. It’s where Orchestra Hall sits now.

March 1923: The Minnesota orchestra concert heard across the country

A first-of-its kind radio broadcast brought the magic of music to an entire continent.
In the days before home computers, airline passengers used to book trips through people called travel agents.

Lileks: The tragedy of booking your own travel

You always start by checking to see if there are any nonstop flights — which technically doesn't make any sense because they all stop eventually.
Passengers boarding a flight are not allowed to carry a knife. So why are they told they might need one?

Lileks: 'Now boarding: the passenger carrying the raft knife'

Take your emergency exit row seat responsibilities seriously.
Are clothing stores destined to become museum exhibits?

Lileks: Are clothing stores destined to become museum exhibits?

It's not a mall world, after all.
Soy sauce is not au jus — or is it?

The search for au jus(tice)

Soy sauce is not au jus — or is it?
Recall notice required cutting the electrical cord, although unplugging it first would have been a good idea.

Lileks: What to do when your air fryer turns deadly

Instructions give new meaning for "cut the cord."
Lileks: Ticked off at TikTok's de-aging app

Lileks: Ticked off at TikTok's de-aging app

My attitude about TikTok can be summed up thus: "I really enjoyed that TikTok from that guy explaining how much he loathed TikTok." I can't…
We’re still traumatized by the memory of the lockdown’s empty store shelves.

Lileks: Shopping before a snowstorm? Just check your pandemic pantry

You may still have powdered milk, hand sanitizer and yeast.
Cherries Jubilee and ice cream would taste even better if sugar wasn’t in so many other foods.

Lileks: The first rule of the Keto diet: Don't talk about the Keto diet

A diet that says "no sugar" is like an elocution coach who says "use no words that contain the letter E."
Fallen leaves can clog storm sewers.

Lileks: Minneapolis adopt-a-drain program leaves nothing to chance

Our drain is named Clogg, a name I took from the shoe-storage page of an Ikea catalog.
On the whole, Minnesotans do well in getting enough sleep.

Lileks: Survey on sleep habits is a real yawn

Few people think they get enough, because however much you get, you know you could get more.
Could these packages contain items by Cooptop, Moacc, Tacgea, Anmarko, Wemomo, Mibote, Vovoly or Kaluns?

Lileks: What are these strange brands found only on Amazon?

Searches yield a baffling array of identical items with different prices and bizarre company names.
Lileks: No Netflix for college kids?

Lileks: No Netflix for college kids?

New rules, and they're not going to like them.
Apparently non-Minnesotans don’t appreciate the uniqueness of US Bank Stadium.

Lileks: Ugliest building in town? Or just misunderstood?

U.S. Bank Stadium is unique, and challenging.
Being able to park only on one side of a Minneapolis street adds to the joys of winter.

Lileks: A one-sided parking argument

Why are there no such things as stupid questions?
A close-up of a six-pack of bottled Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. 

Lileks: Something doesn't add up in marketing for Coke Zero Sugar

I assume that if it's improved, it's new. And I assume that if it's new, it's improved. But says who?
The Minneapolis skyline in April 2022.

Is the reign of the skyscraper over in the Twin Cities?

With demand for office space weak, it's unlikely Minneapolis or St. Paul will see massive additions to their skylines.
Lileks: Is Amazon paranoia real?

Lileks: Is Amazon paranoia real?

Amazon was curious, and with good reason: My wife had never before flown to Jakarta, Indonesia, and attempted to buy an audio book, so was…
Lileks: Get a whiff of this guy

Lileks: Get a whiff of this guy

Somewhere in some office sat an executive in charge of brand management, wondering how to get his client into the news of the day. He…

Lileks: The anti-express checkout lane

How about lanes for people who want to chat?