Piper Tower, Mpls, Nov 2

Week two
11.06.00

I haven’t read many books since Gnat was born. Read the spectacularly infantile “Killing Time” by Caleb Carr - whew. Bad, bad book. Bad. Bad book. Started “Niccolo’s Smile” tonight, a bio of Machiavelli. It’s a crisp and engrossing story, full of swinish behavior by stupid rich bastards. Money and power, power and money. I can understand wanting power - in that political context, anyway - but money? What did they have to buy, for heaven’s sake? Ooh, let my spend my scudi on a home entertainment system - it’s a big box that contains a jester, two actors, three strippers and a lute band, all chained to an interior wall! Simply throw bread and meat in the top once a day, hook up this tube to your sewer, and voila: hours of entertainment. And here’s your remote - a serf and a whip. Lash his back and he'll cross the room, bang on the lid of the box.

When the serf no longer responded to whipping because you were just hitting old insensate scar tissue, that would be the equivalent of low batteries.

Anyway. It’s a fine book. I’ve always thought Machiavelli got a bad rap; i’s gratifying to learn he was a merry fellow, quick with a joke and a finely-tuned witticism, and loved by his co-workers. Not at all the skulking Iago with a wavy dagger in one hand and honeyed words ever at the ready for the Prince’s ear. It’s like learning Kafka drove a motorcycle and used to laugh out loud when he read his work to friends.

Both of which are true, incidentally. Changes everything, doesn’t it?


Had a small private little baptism ceremony for Gnat on Saturday - godparents and grandfather in attendance. We were waiting in the lounge, which is a nifty place for its design aesthetics - this wing of the church was built in 1960, and has that Danish Modern simplicity that wears well. The fireplace at the end of the room was massive, and it had a log as long as Bunyan’s femur, but it looked clean and futuristic. On one wall, a big painting of Pastor Youngdahl, who guided the church from humble beginnings to the gigantic hive of useful Lutheranism it is today. In the doorway, a pastor -

- a pastor, making “let’s go get a smoke” gestures -

Huh?

I went over to see what he wanted. I’d met him a few nights before at the new members’ dinner, and he’d introduced himself as a listener to the old radio show. As merry a fellow as you’d ever want to meet: a hoot, as they say in these parts.

“Do you, ah, partake of the occasional cigar?” he wanted to know. I admitted that I did. Whereupon we retired to his office, and he offered my choice from his humidor, in recognition of this fine day. Having never been offered a smoke by a man of the cloth before, I was astonished, but pleasently so. Spied an Opus X in there, but it would have been wrong to take it. I took something small and potent, thanked him, tucked it in my pocket and returned to my family, grinning.

The ceremony was brief and serene. Gnat said not a peep - she had an expression that said I trust this will be explained at a later date. And I will have some explaining to do.

Because: the man who baptized my daughter was the pastor of a small church in Fargo, many many years ago. He went from Fargo to elsewhere; so did I. He went to the Pacific Northwest; I went to the Eastern Seaboard. But everyone ended up back where they wanted to be, and so, on Sunday November 5, 2000, Paster Laurel “Bud” Lindberg - an ageless fellow, hale and merry - baptized my daughter, as he’d baptized me more 42 years before.

It’s astonishing how these things happen. Even more so when you consider that this church is about ten blocks from my house.

Then everyone came over for ham and coffee. (And beer.)

That part isn’t astonishing at all, because it’s the end result of anything remotely Lutheran. I caught up with Pastor Bud and his wife Nancy, filling him in on the histories of the family members. They remembered the names of my uncles; they remembered the names of cousins and aunts in the congregation. Remarkable.

They had to leave after a while - another church engagement elsewhere in town. I was picking up some dishes and heading back to the kitchen when I heard a knock - it was Pastor Bud again. He’d forgotten to give me something. What? They’d already given us a rose, a candle, a blessing, a ritual and a sense of completion in our family history; what more could he possibly bestow upon us?

He handed me a cigar. And winked.



11
07
00


I have a new mission in life. A goal. But it takes some explaining:

Saw Charlie’s Angels on Saturday night. Why? Because a unique set of circumstances combined to make it possible: the Giant Swedes had a babysitter, and invited us in the presence of Sara’s aunt, who insisted we go. Go! Just leave the baby and - go!

Did I want to go? No. Did I want to see a movie? No. The only thing I wanted to see was the inside of my eyelids. And only then for a few seconds before unconsciousness hit like a piano dropped from the tenth floor. I’ve never been so fargin’ tired as I’ve been this week. Never. It’s been baby bleedin’ boot camp around here, and last night was the worst of the worst - not because Gnat was being fussy or screechy, but because we were trying to prepare for the after-christening brunch, and this meant staying up until two to shepherd the mushroom-wildrice hotdish from oven to fridge. And then it meant getting up five hours later. So we were dead on our feet, but you don’t turn down a babysitter, I guess. Not when it means the chance to see stupid noisy Hollywood pap!

I didn’t hate the movie; you can’t hate anything that cheerful with that much, um, loveliness. Drew Barrymore doesn’t do anything for me - the blowsy-tramp routine makes some guys pant, but she always strikes me as someone with a serious cootie infestation. Lucy Liu, however, is spectacular: gosh. That’s all I can say there: gosh. Cameron Diaz is a treat to watch, - but she’s really odd looking, when you think of it. She’s almost a cartoon version of a human - all those oversized features packed into that small square face. Her face, like a modern movie, is all special effects, no plot. It didn’t really help that she was named Natalie, because every time someone called her name I could sense Sara wanting to haul out the cell phone and call the babysitter.

Bill Murray showed up for his performance, which was nice of him. The bad guy was . . . dull, but the baddest of the bad guys, Crispin Glover, was absolutely wonderful. Go figure. The man, as far as I can tell, is absolutely insane, but at least he can still take direction. And he turned in the best performance as a smoker I’ve seen this year. That was some great smoking. If you’re going to smoke, SMOKE; he took half a Winston in every mad drag.

Great action sequences, even though they were mostly derivative of better or more exciting movies. There was a smarter, better movie inside this one, actually, but no one seemed interested in looking for it. Which is fine. What bothered me was simple: as fits a 70s TV show, it looked much like the 70s. And hence it was ugly. But this ugliness is being served up as something hip, something cool. It’s not. Trust me. I was there. The movies were bad. The colors, the fashions, the hairstyles, the interior designs, the carpets, the fonts, the TV shows, the animation, the music - it was mostly crap, gimcracky cheap crap, crap served up to a defeated culture interested in little but sucking on a bong and giggling while Chevy Chase fell down for the 48th time. You can’t understand punk without understanding the 70s. You can’t understand Star Wars, for that matter, without understanding the 70s, and why that movie stood out so clearly.

Culturally, the Seventies sucked like no other decade in the 20th century. It was the rise of the Dirtball, of a cheap smug counterculture, of middle-class hedonism of the most banal and ugly sort. I sat in the movie theater tonight with my eyes wide, in horror, because I’ve been spending some time every day assembling, scanning & writing a site (the next book, I hope) on the craptacular swill of 70s Interior Design. I’ve been steeping myself in this hideous shite for weeks. I know it well. And here it is, gussied up, cleaned off, and served to this goggling tweener / early teen audience as hip.

So my site is going to be larger than I intended. It’s not going to be just about interior design. (That site, incidentally, will be rolled out monthly in 2001, with 125 pages) It’s going to be about the entire 70s. It’s going to set the record straight. It’s going to be about everything - fashion, music, cars, TV. Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to buy it again at Old Navy, and think they’re hip.

I’ll save them. I’ll save them all. I’ll do it for myself, yes - but mostly for the children.

And the money.


11
08
00


The first time I voted, trumpets sounded. It was in a church basement, and a brass trio was practicing upstairs. I pulled the lever, committed America to the damp earnest flannel of the Carter administration, and went back to my dorm feeling holy.

Today was cold - it snowed, and the snow stayed. It’ll die in the face of the sun’s Death Rays soon, but for now it’s instructive: this is winter. This will be winter. You’d better not even be close to starting to think about how much you don’t like it.

But I do like it, really. There are certain forms of weather we get here that are bitchy and foul - pointlessly mean, surly for no reason, vindictive. You have to admire that. I do. It gives you something to fight. The day will come when I tire of fighting it, and move my withered shanks to Arizona, I suppose; I’d love to spend my last two decades on the globe by the pool, looking at the desert, harvesting melanomas and sipping good tequila. I love it there. But today I left the house to walk Jasper - the wind was throwing every needle in its quiver, and I thought: screw you. Look at me, wind: I’m wearing a light jacket, too. And sneakers! Hah.

Went to vote; noted, with a snarl, the flag flapping miserably in the rain. No trumpets. It’s a gym in a school. I used the handicapped booth, which was set lower than the rest, the booth equivalent of the junior’s urinal in the men’s room. I voted with relish and grim enthusiasm, fed my ballot to the machine, and marched outside. The rain had turned to snow, but it was firefly snow, dying quickly, liquifying when it touched the ground. I got in the car and decided I would not listen to anything political until later, much later. Drove to work in the same monomaniacal spirit I’d had all day. It was election day. I love election days.

Wrote the column, somehow. I have little memory of it. Drove home: no radio, no news. Gathered wife & child - the latter having been a cranky little goat all day, it seems - and went to the Giant Swedes’ for the election day pizza party. It was also the birthday of the Crazy Ukranian, who - wonder of wonders - is the father a brand new baby too. And he’s older than I am. I had to grin, because I could see us all down at the Valli 20 years ago, playing Asteroids and pinball, smoking like fiends, banging back the coffee. And now we all have little ones crawling on the floor; we’ve jobs and wives and responsibilities, and we’re happy. Enormously so.

Then Wesley showed up - another of the old Valli days. Pizza, coffee, arguments in the kitchen. Back home at eight to feed & walk Jasper. (I brought him some pizza crusts.) Out into the wretched night, now colder and snowier and wetter than before. But: no hat. No gloves. Them’s for weaklings. When it starts to get in the 20s, I’ll think about hats. (And then I’ll say: nah.) Got movies, marched home, flipped on the TV and discovered they’d retracted the Florida call.

It’s going to be a long night, and I have to write about it, so: back to the TV. Back to writing. It’s supposed to be cold and snowy tomorrow too, and I say:

Just try me.


11
09
00


Went to Target to get a cheap VCR. They had one; they had several. But the cheap one were too cheap: sixty-five bucks, no stereo. They had some nicer units, and I thought: why scrimp? It’s for the downstairs TeleVisual PleasureDome, after all. I chose a $99 model.

They were out of stock.

Went to the Home Decorating aisles, looking for end tables & a coffee table for the TVPD; they didn’t have anything that matches the wood of the sofa. Either “Honey” or “Cherry.” Two styles, and they both sound like whorehouse employees. Went to the toy aisle, looking for the monthly shipment of Simpson figurines. Naught but Barts. Went to the “Window Treatment” aisle, since my last experiment in window coverings for the TVPD was a disaster. I’d bought some blinds: 1/8” inch too big for interior mounting in the bizarre custom-sized window downstairs. So I bought bigger blinds, drilled the holes, screwed in the brackets, put up the shades, smiled at my handiwork, pulled on the cord to adjust the blinds and watched the entire apparatus pull away from the wall and fall to the floor. Upon further investigation I discovered there was actually no wallboard where I’d drilled, just plaster.

And plaster is my friend, but plaster is my enemy, too.

So. I could have blinds that NO ONE COULD USE - and believe me, when the guys came down to the TVPD to see my new TV (which I’ve now named, and named in an appropriate feminine fashion: I christen her Ostentasia) I expected someone to yank on the blinds JUST BECAUSE and laugh a Nelson haw-haw as the thing fell down. So. Today I bought a rod and some little circular clip-things to hold the curtains. But because the space is so small, there’s no curtain that fits the spot. Maybe a valance, but they look too much like poofy throwbacks to the Dynasty concepts of style and class.

So I bought towels.

Towels for curtains. Might as well put a Led Zep poster on the wall and a black-light picture of a marijuana plant. Fargin’ TOWELS. I walked through the store muttering like Popeye, and then I saw it:

The Holiday Lights Display!

Not Christmas lights, of course. Holiday lights for happy Santa-time! When we celebrate the investment of life into Frosty the Only Begotten Snowman, who sitteth on the right hand of Rankin and Bass, etc. I filled the cart with all the lights I’d need. Swung through furnishings to see if Honey and Cherry were still my only options. They were. I checked out and left.

Got home; made an exceptionally fine supper of chicken soaked in a light mango marinade and slathered with chutney. Tried to nap; could not. Too many unoiled flywheels in the brainpan. Got up, had fun with my baby while Sara took Jasper for a walk.

“She’s fed and changed,” Sara said, “so you can just play with her until I get back.”

Play with her? She’s 98 days old. It’s not we’re going to get out the Risk board. But we had fun anyway, playing the Whistling Marching Game. I whistle and do the little piston-push with her legs. She laughs. I become a puddle of love and devotion. Everyone wins. Then I called Dish network to order a dish, since it struck me as the height of idiocy to get a VCR for the TVPD - go TiVo! Go Digital!

The clerk explained that they sold TiVo -like devices. Capacity? “Ten hours,” she said, “but less if you’re recording action movies.”

Pardon?

“If you’re recording action movies, you get about eight hours. But if you’re recording a drama, you get ten.”

I knew what she meant, and I get it, but it’s still funny to hear it put like that. It suggests that “Pitch Black,” which is all action but visually simple and easy to compress would take more space than a drama that consisted of people constantly walking around the brightly lit interior of St. Peter’s Cathedral.

“Can I put you down for a system?” the helpful operator said.

“AAAAAIIIIEEEEE!!” Gnat said, out of nowhere, and I was tempted just to hang up and let them wonder what the hell happened.

Sara came back; Gnat was asleep on my chest. I handed her over and went downstairs to put up the Window Treatments. Emptied the bags.

No little clips to hold the towels.

Checked the receipt: no little clips.

Went upstairs. Put on coat, shoes. “I’m going to Target,” I said. “I need little clips.”

It’s rare that one leaves the house at eight for Little Clips, so I supposed my wife thought this was a serious matter.

Decided to make a few other stops. I needed a tiny beer-fridge to complete the TVPD’s hedonistic, Playboy-grotto layout. Went to Circuit City. They had appliances, didn’t they? They used to. No more. No fridges. Okay. Went across the lot to HomePlace. No small fridges. Okay, I get the message. Went to Shinders to get copies of MacAddict and PC Gamer. Of course, they had neither. But they did have Penthouse with Paula Jones Nude! I’d chew off my dead aunt’s bunions first. No thanks. Back to Target.

As I entered the store I remembered I’d taken the last set of clips that matched the wood of the sofa. They’d obviously been left at the checkout counter. Would they have been restocked by now?

They were not.

I bought a set of silver ones, to match the lamps. Drove home, composing my Almanac monologue for Friday night’s TV show as I went. Got home, clipped the clips to the towels, stood back, and thought: well, well, well. That looks better than the blinds. Brilliant me! Brilliant, improvisational me! Then I remembered something else:

When I’d begun work on the basement, lo these many years ago, I’d removed the old Window Treatment left by the previous owners.

It was a rod. A rod and a towel.



11
10
00


I never thought I’d hear anyone who was stupid enough to punch their ballot twice described as “disenfranchised.” I never thought I’d ever hear three different politicians use the same word on three different jabberhead shows. Of course, I also saw a Congressman suggest, with a straight face, that thousands of Floridians were en route to the polls when they heard the networks declare Florida Gore country, and this prevented them from voting. Apparently they hit the brakes, did a Bat-turn in the middle of the street, and headed home in glum silence. Hundreds of thousands of them! But it doesn’t equal “disenfranchised,” which - whoa! Just heard another spokesman use it on the radio. I guess everyone got the memo.

Perhaps in the future we should go to the style of ballots used in the first true election in South Africa: you draw an X over a picture of the candidate.

No, wait - does that mean you don’t like that candidate, so you’re defacing their image? Okay, you circle the picture. There. That’ll do.

It’s Thursday, and I’m tired, and I have a stomach ache. Nerves. I feel as if I swallowed a rusty eggbeater. Today was a grim affair - woke with a stiff neck in addition to a stiff back and stiff legs (I sleep on that sofa in the posture of a frozen Peruvian mummy, trying to keep warm in the chilly living room) and a headache that felt like some unseen spirit was putting its thumbs into my eyeballs. So let’s go to work and write ha-ha happyboy funwords! Stared at the screen for four hours, then the usual machinery kicked in, and I ended up with seven extra inches of copy. So it is always. Did an interview with AdWeek magazine, which is doing a story on the site - when, I don’t know.

Went home, fixed a slab of meatloaf and a pot of mashed potatoes. The food equivalent of a thumb to suck. And it’s even better when you coat your thumb with a little meatloaf suit and suck that. Went upstairs for a nap, but it was thin stuff - I kept jerking awake, thinking of this or that, things that needed to be done, and a greasy coil of unrest was stirring in my stomach. Got up. Completed an interview with Minnesota Monthly magazine, which is doing a story on my dog. Played with Gnat. Now this. And much else.

Main diversion this week: watched Toy Story. The DVD, bless Pixar, fills Ostentasia’s 16:9 screen. TS 1 & 2 are superb movies - exceptionally creative, brilliantly directed, witty and lovely to watch. The DVD included a series of shorts Pixar did for ABC’s Saturday Morning cartoons - little bumpers that go between the cartoons and the ads. There’s about 40 of them, little 10-20 second sketches. Quite a delight, like discovering outtakes of the Oz movie.

This time, however, I wondered something:

Where’s Andy’s dad?

He has a mom and a sister, but no father. I wonder why. Odd how I notice those things now.

In the mail today arrived a double-shot of DVD heaven from Amazon: the Star Trek “Doomsday Machine” episode, my all-time favorite (although - side note - I’ve found myself utterly disinterested in Trek as a contemporary concern. My interest peaked and flamed with the end of DS9, which was as good as Trek ever got, period. Voyager had its moments - there was a time a year or two back when it had some dramatic momentum, and I liked it a lot. But the cast just never jelled; no character grew or changed, and the very premise was squandered. It’s just not very good, and it bores me.) and the American Film Institute collection of, well, American Films. Shorts, documentaries, animation - four DVDs going back to the beginning of the medium. I can’t wait. It’s perfect for these days; I can watch a little each night.

I like it downstairs. I like the TeleVisual PleasureDome. It’s close to being warm and homey. It’s the perfect place to watch a movie.

Or would be, if I had the time.