Cauterized for Your Protection

The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came!

I can sleep on a real bed tonight!

The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came! The sofa bed came!

It’s not big enough to stretch out on - a member of the Lollipop Guild, frankly, would have to curl up - but the sofa bed came! The movers called this morning as I slumbered in the basement; I ran upstairs, took the call, hung up the phone, and thought:

I'm going to miss sleeping in the basement.

Really. I’ve come to like sleeping in the basement lo these past two weeks. The gentle rumble of the furnace, the chicken-scratch busywork of the TiVo, the occasional POP and CRACK as the giant TV cools down, the insect drone of the electrical spaceheater, the baby monitor playing the longest song in the universe: background static. Nevermind that I kicked the covers off every night, and woke shivering, or that the space in which I slept was 21 inches wide (I measured it today, for amusement purposes only) - it was better than sleeping upstairs in the living room. (On an identical sofa.) It gets noisy upstairs. The paper thumps against the door. The planes roar overhead. It’s bright, too.

I have to sleep on a real bed tonight.


But no, I need this. I’m so stiff and twisted from three months on sofas that I feel like a drawing of the year on Dec 31st, the bent & aged one that hobbles out with hand on back. Gnat slept for eight hours straight last night - a first - so we’re on the right path here. I’ll be back in the bed in 2001.

It’s good to have a real goal.

Got to work today, checked the messages; I was offered the chance to have the year-end summing up monologue on Almanac, and I was honored: yay. I was offered the chance to be Grand Marshall at the downtown Christmas parade, and took it: more about that later. And I got a call from the company that imports Christmas lights for Target. They called to say they understood I’d had problems with my lights, and they wondered if there was anything they could do. I looked at the phone, and thought: now how the hell did they know my lights didn’t work?

Oh, right: I wrote about it in the newspaper column.

I forget sometimes that what I write on my screen in the office actually gets reprinted a half-million times and distributed around the country. I’m not one of those crusading columnists who picks up a copy from the newsboy on the corner and strides down the street, tie flying in the wind, reading my Brave Indictments of the Powers That Be. In fact, I don’t get to experience any newspaper cliches anymore. No more smoking around the office. No dames perched on desks talking rat-a-rat hard-boiled chatter. No more post-production journeys to the tavern for a scotch with office comrades. I got to shout STOP THE PRESSES once, but it was in college, and we all felt sheepish about it. I always thought that working in a paper would be like storming Anzio, daily - a massive coordinated effort full of drama, heroism, wry-but-heartfelt camaraderie.

Um . . . no.

Anyway. I’d bought six boxes of lights from Target, and three failed, right out of the box. Half! They blinked, faded and went out, and no amount of twitching the line could keep them on. I wrote about this in my column. Apparently Target - based right here in Mpls - called the importers, who are also based in town, and they called me. So I called them back, offered equal time to explain things. They’ll probably offer me new lights. And of course I can’t accept them.

If I’d just driven back to Target and exchanged them, I’d have new lights. But no, I had to write about it. So now I’m out 30 bucks.

I’m having a hard time keeping up with mail lately - thanks to everyone who correctly intuited that this has been a week of clusterfargery like I’ve rarely seen, and offered sympathy & bucking-up. It’s all better now.

And I'm still working hard on the future site. Finished the overhaul of the Minneapolis section. I’d set November as the month for fixing that part of the site, and whether or not I was done on the last day was immaterial: that was the deadline. I’d intended to make many changes, create new graphics - and what do you know, it looks REMARKABLY like the old version. There’s really no good reason to change it. On now to the interface overhaul for the site itself, as part of the new, needless, and utterly unrequested change to a Monthly Magazine format. There will still be daily updates - new material M-F, that’s the promise - but on the off chance than parenting duties intercede, some days might be just links, or a picture, or something of the sort. I’ll Bleat as much as I can. But in case anyone gets the idea that this site is doomed to drift off into disrepair and disinterest, hah! You wish.


Bought the tree at the Boy Scouts Lot (“Where a Previously Innocuous Transaction is Now A Political Statement!”) and was heartened to see they had names on every tree. For years I’ve named our trees, a tradition stretching back to 1988, and one that was starting to seem teeth-grindingly precious, to be frank. I don’t think I named it last year. This year’s tree was named Whitey. (I looked around for trees named Cracker and Ofay, but no luck.) The fellow who helped me drag it to my car was a reader of my column, and that’s always nice.

It’s peculiar, though; it’s always peculiar to be going along on one’s daily errands - not that buying a hacked-off fir from uniformed youth is a daily errand - and suddenly be Recognized. But that's what I sought from the start; I always wanted to be a
Famous Writer!

Never stopped to wonder why. So: why? Well, it’s better to be talked about than not talked about, as Wilde put it, but again: why? Because it means people are reading you. But I think that when I first started on this endeavor, I was more intent on being known for writing than the writing itself. I wanted people to say: my, there’s the
Famous Writer! And again I ask: why? Because I admired writers. And I wanted to belong to that club. Not the club of celebrity, but the club of Conspicuous Writers.

A rather sophomoric ambition, but it served me well. Made me write. I've been successful, but modestly so; I’ve never had the sort of SUCCESS that would have set me up for life - or screwed me for good. Or both. Nothing is more injurious to some people’s careers than early fame, and while I would have been happy to take it, I never had to worry about what corrosive effect early fame was having on my work. (The standard consolation, of course, just true enough to let you keep your self-delusions intact.) I never landed on that sweet spot where talent, opportunity and zeitgeist make one the Thing of the Moment. It used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore.

I had just enough “fame” at the right place at the right time; I was a high-profile writer for the college paper - which, in retrospect, sounds like being the top-rated cable-access commentator. But it was a big college - the paper had a press run of 60,000 per day, five days a week, and I rode that train for four solid years. I still meet people who remember the columns from those days. The guy who sold me my satellite TV receiver was an old Daily reader. He recognized me from my radio jobs. The guy in the tree lot recognized me from my TV spots.

My point? It’s fun to be recognized. It’s good to be told that people like your work. It makes me happy. I go back to my original ambition of 1980: I wanted to be on the shelf with the classic 20th century American humorists. I did not want to be one of those local heroes whose work is eventually collected in a thin book with a lousy cover, published by his friends.

Well, the Gallery will make my fifth book published by a Real publishing house. I don’t think there’s any chance I’ll be put in the pantheon of greats when I’m done, but I’m reasonably sure I’ll outlive and outproduce most of the people in my field. Fran Lebowitz only wrote two books. Al Franken wrote two books too many. I intend to craft my will so that this site will be up as long as there’s an Internet. Genius flames and dies, but amiable competence can live forever.

So I took Whitey home and let him sit in the porch. Went grocery shopping. At the checkout stand they have little slips for the food shelf - each as a bar code, so it can be scanned and added to your bill. They always ask if you’d like the slip for tax purposes. Just seems to spoil it, frankly. I always say no. And I always wonder why they don’t have these things the rest of the year. What, are people hungrier in December than June? Do we expect they’ll just graze in the summer months?

Went home. Made a summer meal: grilled hamburgers on the Weber, played with baby, had an evening showing of the November home movie I finished editing last night. Slow-motion: the sentimental editor’s friend. Not a dry eye in the house. In the middle of the film, Gnat emptied her supper into her drawers, reminding me that she’ll have plenty of opinions about my work once she grows up and reads it.

Well, then: I’d better start getting better, then. I don’t want to disappoint her.


Cliches come to life: I was under the tree, adjusting the screws on the base, when I felt it lean. It was leaning west. My wife was on the phone in the other room. The dog was busy and unlikely to help in any case. I was alone here. I was doomed. Once a tree makes up its mind to go, it’s off. Timber, as they say.

Which, when you think of it, is a remarkably explicit and concise warning, since timber is not the act of falling wood, but wood itself. So when the lumberjack shouts TIMBERRRR, he’s shouting the equivalent of WOOOOOD or perhaps CELLULOSE  COLUMN  SEVERED  FROM ITS ROOT STRUCTURRRRR. But the word “timber,” if spoken in a certain way, means that something is falling, regardless of its composition.

The tree, or timber, fell on top of me. It did so quietly. Without fanfare, calamity or malice. In fact it was almost delicate, in a prickly sort of way; it felt like I imagine it would feel to be mounted by a porcupine.

My wife returned to the room to find the tree on the floor, with my arm and legs visible beneath, waving distractedly.

I got out from under it, eventually, but by then I had been coated head to toe in sap and needles. I’m still shedding.

We eventually got the tree up, with the usual arguments, and discovered that the lower portion of the trunk is crooked. Once again, I bought a tree that was raised on a hill. Given the extraordinary weight of the tree - it’s remarkably full and rotund; it’s the Dom DeLouise of trees - it would fall over if the trunk was inserted correctly. Only by bending the stand and putting in the screws sideways will it work.

I fear the worst.

Yesterday’s self-congradulatory disquisition on Fame was actually prompted by a chance meeting in the grocery store. I was pushing my cart along, and came to Dr. John Najarian, famous transplant surgeon, standing in the aisle with his wife. A few years ago I’d written a column about standing in line at the grocery store with Dr. John behind you, wondering if he was checking out your purchases and mentally toting up the cumulative effect. (Of course, he used to have an interest in a local Popeye’s Fried Chicken franchise, which undercuts his moral suzerainty. Not that he claimed any in the dietary regard. I’ll shut up now.) Anyway: I wrote the article, and it went in the paper, as they all do. Now here I was pointing my cart at him. His wife noted the oncoming traffic, and gave his sleeve a tug. “You’re blocking the way,” she said in a very wifely fashion.

He looked at me, and gave me this look I get a few times a day: it’s a look that says I think you might be someone, or if not someone, then someone who’s connected with something. But I can’t say what. He is a Very Famous Doctor himself, and I imagine he gets a variant of that look as well. I couldn’t say “Hey, Doc, I wrote that article in the paper,” because that would be presumptuous.

“I’m blocking the way,” he says to me.

“You’re holding everything up,” I say as I pass, and we both have these odd half-grins.

Fully a third of all the interesting things that occur in a week happen at the grocery store. I love those places.

Movies: haven’t seen
much lately. (See, Baby, Impact of.) But I’ve taught TiVo to record anything by, or containing, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, so last night I turned it on to discover two mid-career curiosities: King of Comedy and Stardust Memories. The former I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years; it holds up. It’s a goof of a movie, nothing to take seriously - DeNiro is hilarious, I think, and if he’d hadn’t played the role the movie would have been either creepy or sappy. As it is, it’s right in between the two. We never forget we’re watching DeNiro, but at least he’s playing a lovable sociopath. Jerry Lewis is . . . Jerry Lewis, as only Jerry Lewis could play him. What dates the movie now - and makes it an interesting period piece - is how it describes the Carson era of late-night entertainment, which was in 1980 still very much rooted in the old Vegas / Rat-Pack / post-war notions of jokey beefy manly Hi-Yo humor. Which is to say, lousy. (To use one of their words.) Letterman was right around the corner, and he changed everything.

Stardust Memories hailed from the same era, and I just remember hating the movie. Deeply. I took it personally. I had walked into the theater hoping to see another film from My Hero, and when it was done I felt stupid for admiring him. Because only idiots admired him, it seemed. I don’t think I ever looked forward to a Woody Allen movie after that one. Oh, I saw half of the subsequent efforts, but it was always a surprise when they connected, when I felt as if an admirable heart was behind the scenes. As a director and a writer, he is hugely overrated. His comedies are his best work. That seems to irritate him. When he combines sentiment, personal history and comedy, he gets a good movie. Otherwise we get mannered characters and tin-ear dialogue.

Enough: it's a column night. Tomorrow: decorating the tree.


It’s always difficult to gin up enthusiasm for a Bleat on Tuesday night, frankly. By evening Tuesday I’ve written two columns, and I don’t really want to write anything anymore. Tonight is different, though - I had to write a computer game review, bringing today’s total to four.

Waa, waa, waa.

I mention this only because I’m tired, and my eyes hurt. They have that fuzzy achy weariness that usually presages a cold, or means I need more sleep. But I can’t sleep. I’ve nine hours of Simpsons to watch. (The TiVo keeps recording Simpsons episodes I haven’t seen in years, and I feel obligated to watch them.) Last time I checked the machine had also taped another movie for me. Great. Wonderful. My TV now resembles my email inbox.

Last night I went to Amazon and ordered a batch of DVDs, and when I had finished, I thought: am I intending to spend time in some alternative universe soon? When am I going to watch this stuff? I ordered, for example, the Prisoner TV show. I loved that when I first discovered it as an impressionable, herb-influenced college student. It was so . . . cool, so deep, so philosophical, man. I doubt I’ll feel the same way this time - I certainly hope so, anyway. But I’m interested in the show as a cultural artifact. The styles, the music, the sets. The typeface. Especially the typeface.

Anyway. It’s been a long, long day, and it just ran between my fingers like salt; when I bade good night to everyone a while ago, I wondered exactly where the hours had gone, what I’d done with them, and whether my daughter was growing up too fast - did we play enough today? Have enough grins & tickles? I think so - I had her for an hour this morning while Sara was doing this and that, and we amused each other to no end. We sat in the rocking chair and listened to pundits pull apart the recent rulings in the presidential election case. Went downstairs, put her in the Happy Soothing Baby Bouncing Bassinet With Rattle Toys, Repeating Songs and Epilepsy-Inducing Light Show, and read an article in the Wall Street Journal. It concerned, to my astonishment, the boycott against Nestle for its 3rd world infant-formula marketing practices. That issue had long been filed away in the back of my head along with other items from the late 70s and early 80s - a cranial file cabinet containing nuclear freeze petitions, Non-Union Grape bowls in the cafeteria, “Ketchup is not a Vegetable” stickers and “Solidarity” buttons. (Odd, but not very many people on campus wore buttons expressing solidarity with Solidarity. In retrospect, I think they would have preferred that the entire Polish uprising hadn’t happened at all.) The WSJ article concerned the efforts to donate infant formula to AIDS-infected mothers in Africa, so they don’t infect their babies with breast milk. It would seem to be one of those no-brainers where old quarrels are put aside, but UNICEF is pitching a fit.

You read these stories, and your shoulders just slump . . . and when you look at your own happy baby, gurgling in the noontime light pouring in the kitchen window, you just want to build a wall around the house, dig a moat, hire some archers to keep the lunatic world outside.

But do you know how hard it is to get good archers nowadays? We’ve been going through an agency, and after ten interviews we can’t find one who’ll man the parapets and do light housework. But we’ll end up bending on the latter point just to get someone to do the former.

Damn tight labor market, I tell you.

Damn tight.


It’s Happy Legal Clearance Day here at the Staff Attorney for the publisher has cleared that the Gallery of Regrettable Food book for takeoff. Roll the presses, boys. (Actually, roll the presses, muchachos - the book will be printed in Spain.) It’s been a long road from the day I first scanned the first volume, and of course it’s not over yet. The book has to actually SELL, which would be nice. But for once I feel good about a book. It’s not going to be like the others - swing the bottle of champagne at the bow, watch it slide down the rails into the water, and sink with a few big bubbles. Not this time. The only thing I miss about this one, however, is the lack of a Photo Shoot. For the two collections, I took the train up to Manhattan to do a Shoot. I tell you, nothing else makes you feel like you’ve made it, and made it big! A shoot in the heart of Gotham! Lunch at a trendy restaurant with your editor!

And I still knew this wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t know why, or how; I just knew the books were doomed. It was fun to pretend, though.

Gave the Gnat a bath tonight. It’s not something I’ve done a lot, so I need more practice. Put her in the Li’l Wiggler Splash ‘n’ Drown Fun Bucket, or whatever it’s called. In a week or two she’ll fit in it just fine, but for now you can’t rest her keister against the buttplate without the water coming up a bit too high. In Titanic terms, the water is over the deck to the point where you’d start firing flares. Naturally, she wiggles and splashes and writhes about like a little porpoise. It takes one hand to hold her up, one to wash her, and one to get the Baby Magic soap on the washcloth . . . hmm. Paging Doc Ock. Doctor Octavio Octopus, to the bathroom, please.

Speaking of which: was his name Dr. Octavio Octopus before he got the extra arms? Didn’t he have six arms? If he did, why was he called Octavio? Was he called Octavio at all, or am I imagining this? I do recall he was responsible for two of my three great Tragic Marvel Comic Moments of childhood: once when he’d trapped Spidey in a leaky underwater lair, and the comic ENDED with Spiderman trapped under a piece of machinery, unable to reach the serum that would save Aunt May from expiring of advanced plotdevelopmenititus. The other was when Dr. Octopus knocked some bricks off a roof and killed Cap’n Stacy, who - in his dying words - let Spider-Man know he knew his True Identity. No one ever suspected that he suspected.

I believe Dr. Octopus is in the Spider-Man movie.

They’d better not screw that one up.

Or, what? I really don’t have any leverage here.

Anyway. Where was I? Right: the baby.


Just kidding. We finished with no problems, toweled off, then had one of those precious goo-gaa conversations. I have no idea what she’s saying, but she’s saying something. What? What sort of thoughts can she form? The other day she had a nightmare; you could tell by her slumbering features that she was bothered by something, and as her agita increased she frowned and scowled and shook herself awake, then SCREAMED in PURE TERROR.

Me, I dreamed last night I lived in New York City, and I could fly. What a great night. Woke up feeling like a sack of dried krep - not only was I in the basement, but I’d kicked the covers off, and it was 61 degrees down there.

Time to greet the new day, I said, and sneezed. I think I have a cold. But I’m too beat to work up the energy to have symptoms.


Amazing: there was Space Ghost merchandise at Sam Goody’s. (All they had, however, was Space Ghost.) They can’t make new episodes, but they can make action figures. How much can it possibly cost to make a new Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast? Probably one-thousandth of the effort to design, prototype, construct, and ship the action figures.

They also had the coveted Ned Flanders figurine, which I bought. As the package commands, I am collecting them all. I’ll buy every damn figurine down to Uter and Poochee. They know it. I don’t care.

Ah, what a wonderful world, with such strange injection-molded fully-articulated figures in it.

I’ve been watching the Star Wars Christmas Special. No, I don’t have a tape - it’s a tiny tiny RealMedia version. Jerky and blotchy, with bad sound, but the true horror shines through. It’s exhibit A in my brief against the 70s. People forget that one of the reasons for Star Wars’ success was the dirt-pile decade into which it was dropped - it was bright, noisy, cheerful, featured Absolute Evil and Scrappy Good, and (WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD) Good triumphed in the end. Yes, I know, the great American directors were all making great American films in the 70s, and it was perhaps the highwater mark of brooding, cynical, world-weary American cinema. But if anyone but Boy George had made the film, it wouldn’t have taken place in space - it would have taken place in some California small town - and the heroes would have been shot dead in the final reel. The idea that a movie would end with a boffable princess giving medals to heroes (except the Wookie) - well, no wonder the critics rolled their eyes. Where was the grit? Where was the sense that the world was running down, coasting on a flat road to end up stalled in the middle of Death Valley?

First Jaws, now this - what was entertainment coming to?

But the 70s Struck Back, and the Star Wars Christmas Special is a reminder of the astonishing mediocrity of TV back then. All you need to do is look at the list of guest stars to feel your heart sag and wither: Harvey Korman. Art Carney. Bea Fargin’ Arthur, for heaven’s sake. Life was a Troy McClure infomercial back then, without the self-referential irony.

I can’t watch too much of it at once. Not because it’s painful; I don’t have anything invested in Star Wars anymore, and haven’t since that little Endor travelogue called “Return of the Jedi.” Can’t watch it because it’s dull. It’s just so very, very dull, in a painful way. It’s like having someone pierce your skin with a needle that numbs the flesh, and then proceed to draw a filament through the wound, slowly, for two hours. You have a vague sensation of a vague sensation, and you know that while this is a minor botheration, you will feel immensely relieved when it’s concluded.

So I stopped, went to the paper’s photo archive. We have billions of pictures from every TV show you can imagine. Was there a Star Wars Christmas Special folder? There was. There was Chewbacca’s family - his dad, Itchy, and his son, Lumpy. Or vice versa. The pictures were crisp, the little data sheets unyellowed by time. No one had looked at these pictures in 22 years.

Bea Arthur! Oy.

I usually don’t link off the site, but for this I’ll make an exception.
Here’s the show in its horrible entirety. (Warning: 18MB Large file. Thanks to MeFi for the links.) Enjoy.

If that’s the word.