Saw “Hannibal,” against my better judgment. Some films you just have to see, because it’s an instructive lesson in the zeitgeist. And because it’s the only film showing at 4 PM, and if you’re going to see a movie and have supper and get home before everyone’s babysitters crash, then “Hannibal” it is. I had no desire to see it, even though I loved its two predecessors; just from reading the stories and glancing at the reviews, it smelled overripe, ludicrous and unnecessary. Well, I can’t say I enjoyed it, because it’s not the sort of movie you enjoy. You endure. But I enjoyed enduring it. I’d forgotten that Ridley Scott directed it, and I didn’t know that David Mamet co-wrote it. I didn’t know it was so . . . lovely.

But I was in the mood for lavishly filmed decadence, it seems.The previous evening, exhausted and unwilling to ruin a quality product with my weary state, I’d watched “Get Carter,” a Stallone vehicle. According to the previews, it was a hard-noir movie, an obsidian brick; unrepentant action, with cool art direction, an inordinately well-groomed hero, a twisty mystery and Michael Caine. Good B-movie material, at least, and it beat broadcast TV. Well, it stunk. It was slow and poorly paced; the mystery wasn’t, and the action was just rote noise. For some reason I have a soft spot for Stallone, because he’s now a lug, a palooka, and he’s at that low point in his career when he can use his iconic status in interesting ways. (“Copland,” for example, wasn’t bad, and he wasn’t bad in it.) But as Entertainment Weekly put it: “His attempts to revive his career are hampered by, well, his career.” The movie also featured a frightening Mickey Rourke, who was both buffed and puffy, with this face that looked like he'd had an allergic reaction to a leprous bee.

So, after seeing this well-shot piece of krepwork, I wasn’t in the mood for more of the same. I was prepared to dislike Hannibal, but I’m here to tell you it works as advertised: it’s been a long, long time in a movie since I squirmed and turned and thought “no, no, don’t show me that, please.” I see a lot of movies. I see a lot of bad movies. This wasn’t one of them. It had a peculiar balance that made you recoil and applaud Lecter at the same time; the movie has a seductive undercurrent, inasmuch as you think, well, if Lecter kills only the stupid, the greedy, those possessed by some aspect he finds uncultured, perhaps he’d spare me; after all, I think Florence is lovely, too.

But. Admission. I was watching the movie twice as I saw it. Once for myself, and once as I imagined it seen by someone else:

The three-year old girl in the row behind us.

When the movie started we heard her voice peep up, and we all spun around - there was a beautiful little girl with black curly hair; looked Central American. She was in the charge of two squat pasty women, one of whom yacked through the opening credits on her cell phone.

For the entire movie, every one of us - Sara, me, Mr. and Mrs. Giant Swede - could only think of how the horrors on the screen were hitting this child. And yes, we said something. Yes, we complained. Details in Wednesday’s newspaper column.

But those were evil people. Empty, stupid, thoughtless, evil people. If I found out that someone had taken my three-year old daughter to that movie I’d be tempted to call in some chits and have his kneecaps pureed.

These people do it on purpose.


We took a skiff from the boat to the shore of a small Mexican town; they had a small stand that sold produce, and we wanted something fresh for the evening meal. While the crew selected vegetables and chatted with the old crone at the stand, I wandered off with Jasper across a small grassy park. There was a small neo-classical pavillion - mostly brick, terra-cotta ornaments. It was in disrepair, but was quite ornante, and as far as I could tell from the inscriptions, was built in 1915 to celebrate the complete electrification of Mexico. Yeah, right, I thought. I took some pictures while a mariachi band played nearby. Jasper had wandered off, and for a moment I was fearful he was gone - but he was just sunning himself on a hill. I saw him from the back, head in the cool grass, ears at half mast, and felt a great pang of love and relief. We got up, walked back to the produce stand, then headed into town - there were a few medium-sized buildings from the 20s and 30s, and several had ghost ads, including a series based on the stick-figured from the Full Service Bank ad campaign of the 60s. Except, in true Mexican signage style, this one was hand-painted, slightly wrong in every aspect, and had big smiling eyes instead of a blank ovoid face. I was snapping away pictures, thinking, this is going to make a fabulous site, when the real Jasper entered the room, barked once - a sign he’d been sent upstairs by wife to wake me up.

When a dream that began at the swimming pool of a cruise ship ends with a photo shoot in a Mexican alley, you know it’s time to stop step back from the web site a little bit.

Went to Circuit City for new headphones. I listen to music at night through the computer, and the JVCs - not a year old - had busted the other night. Nice going, folks! Cheap design loses you a customer for life!
Bought some Sony headphones in a style I’d had before, and liked.

Of course, that means that I’d had them, and they broke. Or did they? Don’t remember.

Sigh. Well. They’ll do. Also picked up a Bond DVD - the generally mediocre “Diamonds are Forever,” which completes my Connery Bond collection - and a few CDs. Price: $66 even.

“Wow,” I said to the clerk, because it just seems like you should say something when the total is expressed simply in dollars.

“Yeah,” he said.

I thought, you know, this really wasn’t that significant at all.

“That must be the highlight of your day,” I said, deadpan. “Getting a total like that.”

“Oh, yes. It certainly is.”

“Well, I’m happy to have shared the moment with you.”

He grinned. Both of us realized that nothing either of us could say could possibly improve on this conversation. So we didn’t say a word.

Back to Target. I went for one item: soap. I left 80 dollars lighter. Here’s what happened: I drifted past the toddler section, and saw a cute little nail clippers by Sassy. A little bumblebee. Awww. Only two bucks. In the basket. Saw a flashlight for $2.50, was reminded how my wife had reminded me that we’re low on flashlights. In the basket. Saw a rack of Easter dresses; one was yellow, Gnat’s color, so I debated, held it up, chewed my lip, threw it in the basket. $17.00. Ah: Jasper was out of rawhides. Bought 200 rawhide sticks for $10.00. Last time I bought a bag of big rawhide sticks - long sheets rolled up into tubes, really. He ate the first two right down. Now they bore him. They bore him, and bother him; he’ll carry one around, drop it, lick it, give it a gnaw, then leave it. Repeat. (Repeat the DROP part usually when Gnat’s heading to sleep - when they hit the hardwood floor it sounds like someone’s dropped a brick.) There’s something about a rawhide that’s been hanging around for a few days that just makes them unappealing. They’re air-cured. That’s not good. I don’t know why. Another of the endless mysteries of the dog’s private world.

Soap: six bucks. Underwear: $10. Hmm: I needed a belt. Well, then, this one’ll do. $14. Ah: beach socks. I wear them around the house; keeps me from slipping on the stairs while carrying Gnat. Might as well get two pair.

Clerk rings it all up. “Eighty dollars,” she said.

“Eighty? Exactly? Wow.” I signed the slip, and of course, my brain shifted into Pure Idiot Mode: “at the last place I went to, the bill was exactly $66.”

“You should play the lottery,” she said.

“Why? I’ve used up all my luck.”


As if these sums somehow constituted luck.

At the grocery store, the total was $101.13, and I said “Whew” to the clerk. He had no idea what I was talking about. He had no idea how lucky he was.


Goodbye Defiant; goodbye my penultimate sportscar. I learned recently that my wife didn’t like the car at all, ever - here I thought she regarded it as a cute little rocket, but no. I was stunned; it was like the moment in “Rebecca” when Larry admits that he loathed the bitch. When Sara went back to work, she took my car, since the Defiant is an insuperior tot-transport. People see that sports car, and they think - hey, there might be a baby inside! Let’s ram it!

So she suggested we might (translation: should) get a car suitable for Gnat, so Sara can drive her own car to and fro.

Truth be told . . . I was tired of the Defiant. It was a crappy winter car, really. It seated One. I was getting tired of shifting, too. The drive home from the office at rush hour consists of interminable shifting, idling, shifting, idling, the studied interplay of gears, the running up of the tach and hearing the engine whine with pure metal glee . . .

No, I was getting tired of the car. Really. Its round swelling edges, its sleek profile, the way it seemed ready to pounce, like a happy robot dog eager to play . . . who needs it?

Not me.


So I decided I would buy a Honda CR-V, whatever the hell that stands for. Good sturdy machine, good resale value, voted least likely to be intentionally rammed by people, etc. I drove to the dealership. Walked in. Looked around. In the middle of the room -

A big metal machine in a color I’d never seen before. A deep electric blue.

I nearly fell to my knees!

It was the CRV!

All hail the CRV! I took a look around, circled it; kicked the tires, just to say hello. Looked at the base price: hmm, we could do that. Looked at the final sticker price, after all the extras: homey don’t pay that game, I’m afraid. I feared the “extras” were things like “steering wheel” or “engine,” but no - the cowcatcher added $600, the sunroof added two grand, etc.

The salesman drifted over. The salesman was a woman, a high-40s low 50s lady who looked as though she should sound like Lunch Lady Doris, but didn’t. (On later inspection, every salesperson was a woman. It was a strange matriarchal dealership, with all the PCs hooked up to Spock’s Brain in the back, perhaps.) We talked about the vehicle. Shazam: she thought it was a fine machine. Best in its class. Most popular. I mentioned that we were getting this to take Baby around in safety comfort. Baby: the world they love to hear. People in Baby Mode pay anything. “Insurance agents love it,” she said. I tipped my hand instantly, of course, when I asked Real Big Stupid Questions about whether they had it in this color with leather seats and running boards.

We sat down to chat. She asked about financing. I said we wouldn’t be doing that. (I abhor debt, aside from the house. And even that gives me the clownies.) She asked about a trade. I pointed out the window to the Defiant. She looked back at me, and I understood right there who she was:. She was a hot rod mama.

“Really,” she said, and of course I heard what she meant: You poor son of a bitch.

“Yep,” I said.

She took it over to be appraised, while I drove a red version of the machine for a test spin. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Big vroomy engine. Big plate-glass window. The Defiant gives you a low-down view about as wide as a speakeasy eyehole. This was Panavision. It was solid, but not heavy; big, but I didn't feel as though I was waving my Big American Arse in the face of smaller cars behind.

Drove it back. Haggle, talk, talk, sign. Bought the blue one. A manager had to come over and approve it. (A female manager, of course; it’s the Amazonia Dealership. We’ve removed our right breasts and passed the savings on to you!)

I agreed to pick up the new machine on Wednesday; Car Lady Doris said “You’ll have a few days to say goodbye,” and I got back into the Defiant.

There’s an indescribably feeling you have when you get back into your old car after you’ve bought a new one. It’s like holding hands with someone you’ve just dumped. No matter how much you wanted to, it’s sad and uncomfortable.

I pointed out the blue CRV on the street to wife; she said “Oh! It’s cute!”

I know her well enough. She’s not hiding anything for my sake this time.

Yes, I’ve lost a sportscar. But I have a new blue machine, and I used the passing of the Defiant to extract a little marital leverage: if I give up my sportscar, I can get the G4 Mac that burns DVDs of our daughter.

Check, and mate.

And you’ll note I said “penultimate” sports car. The day I drop Gnat off at college, I’m heading straight to the dealership.

Tomorrow: I get the car. Stay tuned.


Years and years ago I got dumped, for the usual reasons you get dumped in your 20s. To my surprise, however, there was a knock on the door a few minutes after she left. I opened it - there she was - and I was amazed: a change of heart! Just what you think will never happen, and then it does!

“Sorry. I forgot my cigarettes,” she said.

Keep that in mind during this:

Cleaned out the car this morning. Put everything in a box. You can tell I loved this car; there was hardly anything in it to remove. Three CDs, an old checkbook, one glove, two window scrapers, a quarter, many pennies. Previous cars I’d come to loathe usually had a dense compacted layer in the back seat -newspapers, frozen taco-sauce packets, cigarette packs smashed flat. You could do a core sample and see an entire year of baaaad livin’, college-style. But I’d always kept this one clean. Revved and ready and rarin’ to go.

Does anyone ever find themselves raring to go, or is it always rarin’? “Raring” sounds stuffy and Oxfordian; “rarin’” sums up someone with a manic yee-hah expression like Jesse in Toy Story 2.

Anyway. Drove the car to the dealership. We listened to the same radio station as ever; all very normal. But to me it felt like I was driving the family dog to be put down because he showed a fang to the new baby.

I parked in the lot, sat there a second; thought of all the good times we never had. After all, I never courted in this car; never smoked, never stayed out late. This was the rocket that took me to and from responsible places.

But. It was the car that was the integral prop in one of the finest moments of my life. I bought it in the summer of 97. I had the radio show, and had just started the newspaper column. I had absolutely everything I wanted at that moment, and when I got in the car after a show on Friday, on a warm summer night - the roof slid back with a whirrr, the CD player played “Route 66,” Nelson Riddle version (don’t laugh: none better) and I drove home about 700 MPH.

But. That was then, and I can’t be driving 700 MPH anymore. I have responsibilities. And as the last few miles had shown, the Defiant wasn’t a great winter car - the defroster took forever, and shifting was a botheration.

I got out, patted the car on the roof, went into the dealership to fill out the paperwork while they prepped the new CRV.

Even the name sums up my life! I no longer rule; I CRV.

I exaggerate, of course. I don’t mean to make the purchase of a nice new blue vehicle sound like some sort of personal tragedy. The symbolism speaks for itself, and I’m happy to hear what it has to say. I’m glad I can CRV my family. I’m honored. No complaints. But there was one odd moment. The paperwork was all done; the salesperson was getting the keys, and I was going through my satchel looking for a good inaugural CD. I only had two. I hadn’t planned well. One was a remix of “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk,” which didn’t really do it for me. The other was the “Run Lola Run” soundtrack - great driving music. I hadn’t listened to it since election day - too much news on the radio, then it was too cold to run the CD player right away.

The jewelcase was empty.

The CD was back in the car.

The keys were in a plastic bag behind the salesperson’s desk. I took them, feeling slightly guilty - sprinted outside, thinking I don’t have to buy this; I can just run away now. I opened the car door. It smelled familiar. It looked familiar. I knew just the right angle to insert the key. Honest to God, I thought:

Sorry. I forgot my cigarettes.

Extracted the CD and went back inside and replaced the key without anyone knowing.

Drove the CRV home, listening to the radio. Three times my hand drifted down to shift.

A few hours ago I had to put Gnat’s car-seat base in the CRV; I hit the unlock button, and ping! two lights on the running board turned on. Unobtrusive, responsive; a nice touch.

I smiled.

I like it. But what to name it? Many people wrote to ask what sort of a car was a Defiant, anyway? It was a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse. I named it after the Star Trek ship - another low-slung, overpowered gray vehicle. I already have a new name for this one, also based on Trek. Figure that I use this vehicle to transport people, and at least one - Gnat - always falls asleep en route.

I christen thee the Botany Bay.


It’s the end of the week, and I’m exhausted. I’m drained like pasta / burnt as a Rasta / If I was Italian I’d just shout out BASTA but Friday has duties like Rosanne has cooties / I’m tapped out / bitch-slapped out / ideas flowing like slow cold tree sap outta my brain which be illin’ / not refillin’ / it’ll be swill in the paper if I don’t get some ideas, and soon. I also have to write a monologue for Almanac. (Why I broke into verse, I don’t know. This happens when I get tired.) I’m also sitting in a studio piled with heaps of, well, piles. All the items I’ve scanned over the last month are about to be dumped into a big plastic box and buried in the basement. Just to prove how pointlessly detail-oriented I am about the things that matter the least, I’m assembling a manifest of the box’s contents so I don’t have to poke through it in the future looking for something that’s not there.

With luck, I’ll get a half-hour of TV and chips & salsa at the end of the night. Made some homemade salsa tonight. It has the same effect on the tongue as the blood of the monsters in the Alien movies. You open the jar, and wallpaper peels. Next door.

the news reported that today was the 107th consecutive day we’ve had in which the temp was below 40. And I thought: so? It’s Minnesota. Your point is? This doesn’t bother me; I prefer it, really. Better a grim arse-biting winter that you fight, and endure, and vanquish, than a mealy wimpy winter where everything is mush and mud. It’s supposed to blizzard on Saturday. Good! Bring it on! The Botany Bay has 4wd; I look forward to smashing through drifts, laughing a Mandark laugh! Ha ha! Ha! Ha ha ha!

So I call up the TiVo menu to see what it’s hoovered off the bird for my evening enjoyment. And to my surprise:

The Electric Company.

Why? Well, it’s possible that TiVo knows I’m from Fargo, and that we took great pride in Mr. North, professional Decoder. It’s possible TiVo knows I have a painful relationship with early 70s artifacts, and watch them with a kaleidoscopic mixture of amusement, detached analysis, horror, and an unbearable sense of sadness. It’s likely that TiVo thought, well, someone who likes the Cartoon Network and old Disney shorts might like this. I did. But not for the reasons TiVo might have suspected.

I remembered everything, and nothing - I’d forgotten that Bill Cosby was on the show. I’d forgotten that cute little Asian girl, who I almost had a crush on - that long straight hair was very alluring - and even though I’d forgotten entirely one of the songs the Short Circus sang, I was humming it by the second chorus. I had forgotten the Comblinasian girl who looked like a cross between Dorothy Dandrige and Lisa Gerritson (smart girl actress from the Mary Tyler Moore show, also from the Thurber-inspired “My World and Welcome to It” - had a crush on her too). I had forgotten Rita Moreno. I had not forgotten that the name of the fellow who played Fargo North, Decoder: in the middle of a skit, I said: Skip Hinnant. And Hinnant was his name.

All familiar and forgotten, simultaneously. It would have been heaven had they played “Silent E,” one of the two tunes that comprised the entire post-60s output of the great Tom Lehrer. Nowadays they’d hire Eminem for the song. “Who can turn a rap into a -”

Well, never mind.

Perhaps the most amusing detail was the name of the actor who appeared in most of the skits - a fellow of great grace and elocution, with an easy smile and pleasant mien.

Morgan Freeman.

If anyone wants to know what it was like to grow up in the 70s in North Dakota, there’s your answer: Morgan Freeman taught the little phonics to ten thousand pale NoDakians.

(Just did a Google on Skip Hinnant. After “The Electric Company” he did voice work on “Fritz the Cat.” He’s now a SAG Negotiating Team member, a job that probably falls upon folks who are neither on the Screen nor Acting much anymore, so they have plenty of time for the Guild.)