10 .16. 00

Jasper’s on the bed, watching us. It’s the end of the day. The room is dim. “He’s really becoming the forgotten member of the family,” I said. Sara gave him a look of love and sympathy.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “He got three walks today.”

“And a great dinner,” she said. He had meatloaf and juice and dogfood and juice-dipped bread. And he licked a pudding cup.

“And he got to play, and he got a frosty paws, and he gets to sleep on his own where he’s always slept,” I said, thinking of the sofa that awaited me once again. “He’s got it better than anyone.”

Jasper’s tail thumped once, hard, on the comforter. They're on to me.


Baby hates me. Well, no. But I’m not Mom, and I don’t smell like Mom, so Gnat regards me as her second choice, all the way. Of course, this will change, but when your daughter is pounding her little fists on your chest and wailing because You’re Not Mom, you feel like the Unmilk Hitler. In her binary world, there is Mom, and there is not-Mom, and when she’s in the mood for Mom, the not-Mom is the Unmilk Hitler.

Sunday has been . . . loud. I think Gnat’s slept about 47 minutes since yesterday. Babies, say the books, wail about 2 - 3 hours a day, and she usually cries one, one and a half. Today she’s made up for a week. Why? Because Sara has been painting baby-bedroom furniture, and Gnat’s been taped to the chest of the Unmilk Hitler, that’s why. We had some interludes of peace, though - walked through the woods this afternoon with Jasper, and I was delighted to see her big eyes fasten on the tree trunks and branches. Contrast Rulez! Since she has no idea what I’m talking about at this point, and it’s the sound of my voice that appeals to her - I hope - I didn’t give her a play-by-play of the scenery, but explained in detail the mythology of the X-Files show. If only to reacquaint myself.

Perhaps that’s why she’s wailing tonight. It would be the baby’s curse: express nothing but understand EVERYTHING. And now she thinks big aliens are coming to get her.

Well, welcome to the club, kid.

She’s quiet now . . . good. Whew.

Friday night: Watched “Black Angel,” a noir movie from the late 40s. I know it was noir, because it said so on the box: FILM NOIR COLLECTION. And indeed, from the very start it dripped noir. It began with a cruel blonde in her glamorous bedroom, the sort of pillowy feathery poufy scru-pad that tells the decent upstanding moviegoer that this woman LIVES ON SEX, and hence is Trouble with a capital X; she was brushing her hair and abusing the maid and wondering WHY her white scarf wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Everything had a monogram. Her tampons probably had a monogram. Enter: the bitter, lovelorn ex-husband, who’s given the bum’s rush by the doorman. Enter: Peter Lorre! Well, we’re in familiar territory now.

Peter Lorre smoked so much in this movie that you expected him to have two cigarettes going at once, so he could smoke between puffs.

Anyway. The dame ends up getting herself dead, of course, and the rest of the movie is a search for the Real Killer. (Naturally, the state convicts the wrong man.) It featured Dan Duryea as the sort-of romantic lead, and he was double-creepy throughout the entire film. The female lead had the sizzle and smolder of a cold slab of butter, too. Odd movie.

Great sets, though. There was a nightclub that was 40% stage and 35% staircase. How they made any money, I’ve no idea.


10 .18 00

Drat.

I originally wrote “Drats,” but I’m not sure that mild expletive exists - “Rats,” yes. “Drat,” surely. “Drats” - looks, and sounds, peculiar, like “Dangs” or “Goshes.” But there was a cartoon character in the mid 50s that said “goshes” - Little Max, by Ham Fisher. Now that I think of it, most plurals of expletives, mild or otherwise, look odd. Try it yourself.

Anyway, drats. The gigantic TV I wanted to buy turns out to be 4:3 ratio, not 16:9. I thought the price for the flat-screen digital-ready 16:9 Sony had come down to a reasonable level, but the TV turns out to be just a bigger version of all the other TVs out there. Finding this out was no small task, since Sony’s website sucks. (That’s not a plural.) It’s been designed by a thousand people, each of whom seemed to develop their own little part and then connected it to the center, instead of the other way around. There’s Sony Music, Sony Electronics, Sony TV, Sony This, and every other page tries to jab that damns Memory Stick up your nose - hey! I don’t want the Memory Stick! I want a TV ! I want to plug in 16:9 into your search engine and get a page of options in two seconds, okay? If you can't do something that simple, then kisses my butts goodbyes.

As long as we’re at it: I don’t want to name my own price for gasoline! OR groceries! Airline tickets, maybe, but soap? Bananas? Unleaded? No. I remember reading all these breathless stories when Priceline took the name-your-own-price idea to basic everyday commodities - why, this turned a century of marketing and retailing on its head. In the old days, everyone haggled; in the old days, you fought for the best price, tooth and nail. The triumph of the big dry goods stores in the early part of the 20th century changed that; a consistent, unwavering price (with occasional “sales”) was seen as a civilized achievement. Haggling was now undignified. The competitive, adversarial relationship was transferred from customer-merchant to merchant-merchant. Peace and civility reigned.

Then Priceline ripped it all up. Great idea at first - airline ticket pricings are notoriously capricious. But milk? Apples? Suddenly a new element was introduced into grocery shopping: if you don’t haggle, you’re getting screwed. Now, I know what the profit margin is for groceries; it’s generally around 1 percent. One percent. I don’t think I’m getting hosed at the grocery store. In fact, I’m glad they make a profit, and I hope they make a little more; don’t want my local, small-chain store (three locations, I think) to close. I don’t have the time to haggle over grapes. It is not an added convenience, and it doesn’t build - snort! - brand loyalty.

Turns out that WebHouse (stupid, stupid name) had to subsidize every purchase. Same old Internet adage: we lose money on every transaction, but make up for it in volume. Now it’s done; now it’s over, and Priceline itself is in danger of toppling. The stock’s in the toilet, and Cap’n Kirk’s ads are more annoying than ever.

I buy videos and books online, but not because I get to name my own price. I do so because I can click once, and the server will kicks out a copy in six months when the DVD’s duped. Beyond that, forget it.

Amend that: I’ll buy clothes from EddieBauer.com - but only because I’ve tried their pants on in the store, and I know what the sizes mean.

Today: crisp, bright. The colors have peaked but lo, they linger. (Sorry for that “Lo.” It’s an old reflex from a Marvel comic-book childhood. “Lo, A Hero Comes.” “Lo, This Way Madness Goes.” Etc.) I woke, edited one column, sent it off, went to work, wrote another, took the downtown walk, went back to the office, ripped up the column, wrote it again, sent it off, went home. Sara was weary from a long day of baby-tending; little old Bobble-Head had complicated the day in her usual way. As she is doing now, in fact. Won’t sleep, again. I’d take her - indeed, I tried, earlier, and it earned us a half-hour fit. I’m still the Unmilk Hitler at this point. Gnat likes me fine in other contexts, but she seems to know just when her Mom wants to be alone, or sleep.


She likes my whistling, though. I whistle made-up tunes, and I get that smile. Finally: someone who likes to hear me whistle.

She’s one of a kind, all right. How can I not be nuts about her?

10 .19. 00

Today’s bleat is guest-written by USA Today columnist . . . Larry King!

If there’s any better music for driving on the highway than the “Run Lola Run” soundtrack, I haven’t heard it . . . warm days in autumn are one of a kind, but every warm day is different. . . dogs are good.

Does anyone remember why we invaded Panama?

Saw the gang down at Kiernan’s Irish Pub the other day; they have a big quiz bowl once a month. It’s popular - the crowd seems to be “dublin” every time I go there . . . Fiestaware comes in colors you just don’t see anywhere but Fiestaware.

Kudos to the Star-Trib Team - tied for the lead after six rounds in the Quiz Bowl, just before I had to leave . . . Neil, Graydon, Bill - smart guys. Someone put them on Jeopardy! I said on, not in . . . Guiness is good when you only want to drink one glass; the Brits call it “stout,” although we Yanks call it “beer.” Vive le diff, as we said back in the nabe . . .

Quiz Bowl questions are harder nowadays; they’d even stump my good friend Stephen Hawkins . . . Team Star-Trib got some tough ones, though. . . smoking and drinking is something a lot of people enjoy nowadays, not just Sharon Stone.

Capitol of Chile? Santiago. Could have fooled me . . . Geena Davis is too good to be that bad in her new show. . . whatever happened to those Nathan’s hot dogs with the relish baked right in? Man . . . Underside of a horse’s hoof? Speed of the Titanic? Hadn’t a clue. But there were sixty questions . . . must have got enough right.

Now that he’s dead, I’ll say it: Sinatra had bad breath . . . You just can’t have enough trees sometimes.

Does anyone here like traffic congestion? Didn’t think so . . . but we keep getting more.
That’s it, gang - see you next time.

______

Loser. That hardly sums up the day at all, just hints at the highlights, which were:

The Kiernan’s Quiz Bowl. I had to leave before the winner was announced, and we did so poorly on the last series of questions I fear that our first-place status was demoted to third or less. But it was fun, anyway - Kiernan’s is a great cluttered little joint, full of beery old character even though it’s in an 80s office building. And a terrible office building, at that. It stands on
the site of the old Metropolitan building, which makes it worse. The Met - which I never saw, I’m afraid - was one of those Romanesque skyscrapers whose skin looked like it had elephant-man’s disease; it was all mottled and rusticated in the style of the day. The interior was light and airy, though, and it had a roof garden. Tonight would have been a magnificent night to sit on the roof and smoke cigars, but no: it had to go down to satisfy the urban renewal experts. Every time I’m in that shiteblock I think of the Met, and snarl, and punch a janitor. Well, no. But I’d still like to dig up the bones of the man who condemned it, and bang them together so hard his ghost gets a migraine.

I also wished I’d lived around the corner so I could walk home at the end of the night. It’s just a great place to get a two-pint shine. Since I had to drive, however, I had but four gulps of stout in three hours. Drank coffee, mostly. How other people pound it down and get into their cars with clear consciences, I have no idea. This neighborhood needs a neighborhood bar; they all do. A small dim friendly place where a fellow can have a beer. Bring the dog. Put a coin in the jukebox, listen to a song, watch a few innings on the TV (A small Crosley, of course) then wander home.

Not in this town. If they built a small little bar all the bluenoses, the conspicuously concerned, the professionally annoyed and the Clean-Liver-Lover Association would petition the city council to turn it down - they’d automatically assume that a small quiet pub would result in armies of drunkards peeing in the rosebushes. Well. I like the idea of a true neighborhood bar - you couldn’t go there unless you lived within six blocks. No parking. Everyone HAD to walk home.

But I’m dreaming.

Came home from the Quiz Bowl, kissed wife & child, took Jasper into the woods for his duties. Saw: a dark shape in the shadows. Heard: a low growl. Yikes. No owner. Just a dog. A Doberman, at that, from the carriage of the beast . . . ah, but that would be Insaina Raina, the hyper-dobe from down the block. She’s been beating up Jasper for years. Her owner came along presently; I unclipped Jasper, and they ran and ran and ran in the leaves, barking and growling and leaping and yiping and having good dog fun on this warm fall night.

Perfect day. I’ve had five hours of sleep. It’s midnight. I’m going to bed. NOW.

10 .20. 00

My house has a shadow twin around the corner and down the block. It’s an exact duplicate of ours. Lileks Manor is a fairly basic design, one repeated throughout the neighborhood, but they usually varied it slightly from house to house. But this one looks exactly the same. And it’s a wreck. The stucco is chipped and stained and peeling off like sunburned skin; the lawn expired months ago. There are no trees. A few sad pieces of lawn furniture sit in the back, looking like something that fell off a cargo ship and washed up on a deserted isle. The shades are always drawn. The door is always closed.

The house next to it goes out of its way to look good. Landscaping, crushed rock around the trees, tasteful lighting - it’s like a handsome sibling shunning its drug-added loser older brother. I’ve thought that the ugly house was the home of someone old and ill, someone who couldn’t afford to keep it up, someone whose entire life was confined to one small room upstairs. She never saw how ruined the house had become, because in her mind it was still 1963, and the house was full of children. A husband came home at 6 every night. The grocery store was still a block down the street, and the Boulevard Theater still had a restaurant on the ground floor; she could still walk down to the drugstore for a soda on Saturday night with the kids if she could corral them all and wash their faces. The neighborhood was quieter then; no planes. When she heard the planes overhead nowadays she sometimes wondered when they started. When things got so loud.

That’s what I used to think. Walked past the house tonight: Halloween decorations brightly lit in three windows. Boo!

Now I think it’s occupied by a serial killer. It’s still full of kids, all right, but they’re all in the crawlspaces.

(Shudder)

Although I wouldn’t mind a little selective youth-elimination in these parts, frankly; some local youths decided to prune the neighborhood’s supply of pumpkins, and stole & smashed quite a few last night. Took Jasper’s, and Gnat’s. Thoughtless little dicks. I had this horrible thought: what if Gnat was a sickly child? What if she was hanging on to life by a thread, every day a mixture of sadness and hope, and I came out and found her pumpkin smashed? I’d want the right hand of whoever did it. Chopped, cauterized, lacquered and presented on a velvet pillow.

Sara found a pumpkin in the creek today - she thought it might be one of ours. She turned it over - it was one of those Styrofoam precut jack o’lanterns with a built-in light bulb. She brought it home. It’s sitting on the porch. It gives me the creeps. It’s a pumpkin with a power cord, and that just seems wrong.

Back to work: much to do tonight. And more to do tomorrow.