Frequent visitors to the Bleat will recall last year’s Stuff Reduction Program - a regimen by which I hoped to clear a space in which to live a neat, streamlined life. It was mostly successful - all the CDs have been reduced to a little hard drive whirring out of sight; the stereo is gone, replaced by these nifty translucent rods from Harmon Kardon - they’re a speaker AND a marital aid! - and the shelves have been winnowed, too. Yesterday I removed a big bulletin board from the wall and replaced it with this simple DeSoto hubcap clock which you see above. (Slightly altered to read DeBleato, which sounds like some sort of Latin word for ceaseless vomiting. Not to go off on an unsavory tangent, but I’ll never forget a word from an old Infocom games manual; it was some sort of espionage game, and you played a spy behind enemy lines. The game wasn’t funny, but the manual was - among the words in the dictionary was “fludgetz,” which was the local term for the trots. Floodgates, indeed.)

Anyway - it’s not spare, but it’s lean, which presents a problem when someone wants to shoot a picture here for a magazine article on the site & its creator. I think photo assignment editors believe I live in kitsch heaven, with tottering stacks of Highlights magazines, lunchboxes, tin robots, TV trays, formica sample books, etc. I don’t. Nor do I want to be photographed as some grinning geek who’s obviously not gotten the Adulthood Memo, and thinks it’s just keen! to spend every day pretending it’s 1956, and that any moment now mommy will swoop ‘round the corner with a glass of cold Bosco so I can watch Winky Dink in my coonskin cap while planning our trip to Tomorrowland. Sorry. I’m not trying to freeze time or pretend things happened after Cap’n Kangaroo went off the air, and all the retro stuff on this site is not an attempt to reconstruct the past. While banging out an email the other day I wrote something that actually stuck with me for a change:

Trying to reconstruct the past from the magazines and pictures is like reverse engineering a snowflake from a drop of water.

Figure that out, and you’ll see why I keep working and reworking this stuff, over and over again.

So the photographer comes today, and I present him with this challenge. And I’ll be damned if the picture doesn’t end up looking like I live in a cool room full of cool old stuff. He’s very, very good.

It’s Shift magazine, incidentally; don’t know which issue it’s in. Probably June.

Finally saw “Rear Window,” and it was every bit as perfect as I’d hoped. The restoration was spectacular - it’s a much sweatier film than before. The performances are all fine, including Raymond “Bunny” Burr (that was his nickname. Really: friends called him Bunny). Jimmy Stewart does a nice job playing the stupidest man in the world, i.e., a man who does not want to marry Grace Kelly and spend his 40s photographing New York and beautiful models.

Since I’d seen it before, I was watching the movie more than the story, if you know what I mean. What intrigues me are the things that the movie thinks we’ll take for granted and understand. The ordinary and prosaic details of a work of art often end up telling a story independent of the one the author intended. For example: in New York in the mid 50s, no one had air conditioning. A fellow could rent an apartment with a piano and try to make a living as a songwriter. (And he’d often practice wearing a suit.) Bars were open at least past two. The chuffing of busses was a constant sound; ship whistles less so, but still part of the daily aural landscape. Children played on the sidewalk unattended. My favorite detail, perhaps, was catching site of a white garbage can mounted on wheels - and yes, there was the white-uniformed Santitation Dept. employee, sweeping up. I grew up watching Rocky and Bullwinkle, and one of the comic bits - Aesop’s Tales, I think - always ended with a little janitor who jumped in one of those strange wheeled devices and flipped a placard that said THE END. I’ve never actually seen one in a movie. Well, there it was.

Curious how the things that date the old movies seem quaint and fascinating - my, a wheeled trashcan! - but the things that date recent movies seem hilarious. There’s a scened in the first Lethal Weapon movie in which Danny Glover, who is getting too ol for thizhit, pulls out a cellphone, and it’s a brick connected to a car battery. Or that’s what it looks like, anyway. Will this screen, these speakers, these few modern items I’ve accumulated in the room have the same timeless presence as this simple DeSoto hubcap up above?

Damn right, they will.


ENOUGH, enough, ENOUGH - it’s 20 degrees below normal. It’s COLD. I’m SICK of it. The snow isn’t even snow anymore - it’s this lethal sharp glinty ice that feels like it’s made entirely of busted razorblades and Exacto knifepoints. The creek is running, but it’s as black as Baal’s blood, black as the ichor of a god no one dares worship, and it runs like slow clotted goosefat. Thanks to the thaw last week, there are deep resevoirs of mud in the woods, paved over by paper-thin sheets of gossamer ice, and when you step on them you sink to the ankle and think: oh, I’ll track this in, and if I don’t the dog will.

And he does.

All day, cold. All day, teething Gnat. Not entirely not herself, but still a little peevish. I applied the little gum-goo on her teeth - tiny little ridges, very cute. As I said in the column: they’re coming in slow. If they moved any slower they’d have an Amtrak logo. Since she’s been annoyed, it means that I have to engage in baby-placation every 90 seconds or so, and while that hasn’t meant an end to work, it just made for a scattered & aggravating day. And now I have two columns to write - when what I really want to do is blow headless bombers in half.

Really. I have a new game, Serious Sam - I’ve been waiting for a while for this one, having heard great things about the demo. It’s the product of some Croatian developers who just decided to invent their own 3D engine, and whoa: it’s a hoot. Incredible graphics - although it’s interesting how lens flare is touted as a sign of realism. It’s so realistic you’ll think you’re watching a movie! But I can overlook that. Mortyr had some nice graphics from a proprietary 3D engine too, and it stank from here to Danzig. This has great gameplay, and that’s what counts. Things come out of nowhere and scare you. Fearsome beasties throw themselves at you in wave after wave after wave of furious glee; not since Doom have I had this delicious combination of dread and panic. Fun fun fun, and if I finish all my columns in the next 15 minutes I can play some before bed.

I really, really need to shoot some undead Kleer skeleton horses tonight. I really do.


Kids today with their wacky slang! I overheard a young fellow, festooned with the usual amount of ink, metal, grime and boredom, announce to his friends “I’m like alll about getting some food right now.” Translation: I’m hungry. Now, it’s the job of all adults to sneer and malign young people’s slang, and hark back to our own days when slang was really something. Rad: now there was slang! Deec, cool, scope it out, heyyy, sit on it. Them’s fine slangs. Why can’t kids today use them instead of these sloppy words they use today? Brains are all fried by that there drugs they take. What do they have nowadays, Ecstacy? In my days we just had Reasonably Satisfied. And we liked it! Damn glad we had it!

Actually, all slang annoys people who are older, and transfixes those who are younger; that’s its job. But I do pity Today’s Youth, who don’t seem to have any new words, only lame intensifiers. “All” is about as lousy a piece of slang as you can get. “She’s all that,” for example. It’s impossible to say this with any amount of cool. There’s nothing to emphasize. You can either attenuate the “all,” which just sounds like the lazy groan of someone prodded while napping, or you can emphasize “that,” which is rather anticlimatic. It’s like saying “all that jazz” except that the jazz, literally and figuretively, is removed.

I have no slang. I borrow the slang of previous generations. Nifty is a fine word. Golly - well, I don’t say it, but I should; it has nice apple-pie connotations, AND it’s David Lynch’s favorite word. (Next to Gee.) Keen I won’t do. Spiffy is, well, next to Niftyness.

I’ll never forget crossing a mountain range in Italy in a train car with some high school friends, en route to Rome; Holly said that her older brother always knew what the next big slang word was going to be, and he predicted great things for “scope.” As in “scope it out.” How right he was. At the time I marvelled that anyone could know what the oncoming slang would be - did they get a notice in the mail from cooler kids out east? Had they visited the Slang Factory somewhere?

Long, long, long day. So I’m going to upload and watch Judge Judy. I think you can boil the entire show down to this: in a peaceful and prosperous land, people of limited skills and ambition will find endless ways to complicate their lives. Last night I also watched the second Lone Gunmen, which I think I enjoyed. I’m not sure. The show simultaneously annoys, amuses, disappoints and satisfies. On one hand, it’s a pity that the whole taut murky world of the X-Files comes down to the Three Stooges - it’s like the Star Trek franchise, which started out exploring Strange New Worlds and ended up with a big albino shoehorn limping its way home. We’ll see. I’ll keep watching.

Anyway: long day. Finished one column this morning, sent it off, dropped off Gnat, wrote another column in a very compacted space with my head a-whirling - the gears were spinning but they just didn’t mesh until surprise! deadline time. Then it all came together. Picked up Gnat, went home, played on the floor for an hour, made an excellent Thai red curry dish, and had the kitchen clean before Sara got home. Napped, woke, threw back a cup of coffee, walked Jasper while editing the column on the cellphone (it’s fun to just walk down the dark street with the headset on, talking to copy desk; it’s the one attribute of the science-fiction life I thought I’d have when I grew up. Well, that and this computer. And all the lasers. I’m up to seven lasers now.) Got two crappy DVDs to watch, came home, played rope with the pup, and got in 40 minutes of the most brain-boiling gaming I’ve had in a long time. Man: Serious Sam is just one fabulous shooter; the battle in the great hall of columns is going to go down as one of the finest moments in first-person shooter history. Never did I think that waves of frogs could be so terrifying. And the size of the enemies! Good Lord! At least they were considerate, and placed the super shotgun in the middle of the room, heaped with ammo, as is the custom in these games. My bloody sweat-stained hat is off to these Croats - what a hoot this game is. Golly it’s keen!

And now I’m like all about done.

I discovered a batch of slides in the morgue the other day - morgue being a newspaper term for a very cold room where corpses are kept - and was amazed to find, unlabeled, a batch of pictures from the 1959 open house. In those days, newspapers just threw open the doors every so often and let the common man tour the joint. The door prizes were very Minnesotan: a boat, or a TV. At least two clowns were present. A few slides showed the building in its various incarnations - the old nondescript Star building on the corner, then the modernized 47 version (I still don’t know if they knocked the old one down to build the new one - seems unlikely, unless they all camped in a parking lot, wore parkas and typed with mittens) then the various additions to the structure.

It’s an unloved building. I don’t know why. Granted, the style is, well, fascist - Benito Moderne, I suppose. But there’s a certain grave dignity in its minimalist appearance. And it has a series of sculptures that include a cow; a man ought to work in a building with cow sculptures at some point in his life, I say. It’s surely better than the dull pile of brick and dark glass they built next door in 79-80, during the last gasp of the age of graceless architecture. Since it’s been added and refitted and gutted and renovated a number of times, it has odd dead spots - broad hallways that only last a few yards, doors that are only five feet tall, ancient signs with hand-painted letters, ‘59 terrazzo paving an expanse of floors, krep-brown early 80s bathrooms, and the like. Most fascinating is the basement, which still has a series of tracks embedded in the concrete floor, used for moving giant rolls of paper around.

The basement is also a graveyard of elapsed technology - heaps of dusty Selectrics (crowned, I noticed today, by one manual typewriter), cassette recorders the size of a Manhattan phone book, bins of old computer tape.There are desks yet to be used and desks that’ll never be used again. Today I was startled to see a gigantic wooden desk the size of Nebraska - where it had been all these years, I don’t know. It’s possible they put up false walls around it, and only discovered it this year - workmen were making a new meeting room, and their picks broke through to discover an ancient office with a rotting skeleton behind a big wood desk, a candlestick phone still clamped in his bony hand.

You know, I’ve 43 minutes left in my evening here - then it’s downstairs for entertainment, and after an annoying, drizzly sunless day, I need entertainment. I could write. I could answer mail. I could play “Serious Sam,” although after the Oasis level, I believe I’m afraid to. Instead I’m going to slap together a few photos of the building to show you what I mean, and why I like it.


(Note: this bleat linked site is currently not available; it will be added to the Mpls section in the future)

Exactly how annoying is life going to get? Is there a limit? In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal an article discussed the new trend towards inserting network promos in the middle of shows - something that does wonders for your sense of dramatic engagement. I know I was annoyed so much by TNN’s stupid little talkback strips at the bottom of “Miami Vice” that I quit watching altogether. Invariably the strips had some inane comment from a viewer - “Crockett and Tubbs: nice threads!” as though this could possibly enhance my enjoyment of the show. It might do wonders for the ego of whichever Cletus phoned it in - lookee here, Branday, ah’m on the tayvay and this time it ain’ onna them chail suppor’ shows onna access channul. But for anyone with an IQ in the upper half of the sub-99 segment, it was annoying.

Just as the bug was annoying. The bug, of course, is that little translucent network logo in the corner. For a year it bothered me - couldn’t take my eyes off of it, and I applauded when the Simpsons opening sequence featured our favorite family ripping it off and stomping it to death. But I got used to it. Then the bugs were animated. It was annoying. But I got used to it.

And so forth. You adjust to everything, until the sky is filled with gigantic trolling zeppelins flashing ads for Coke, Atari, off-world colonial employment, etc. If you’d asked anyone in Blade Runner if all the ads in the sky didn’t drive them nuts, they’d blink: ads? Oh. Those.

Nothing Ubiks like ubiquity, I suppose.

There: that should make the day of exactly ONE person. If you’re that person - congrats! This Bleat’s for you!

Anyway: if they’ll put ads for network shows inside of shows, it’s only a matter of time before they put ads inside of the ads: “Drink Coke While Watching ‘West Wing,’ Next on NBC.” And we’ll accept it, because we’ll experience a minor whiff of relief when the little ad fades and returns us to our regularly scheduled television.

Also in the WSJ, or perhaps elsewhere - TVs on mass transit. Little screens that show ads to the captive audience. They’re begging for vandalism, of course, but it’ll also be popular with people who like to watch TV, and find the prospect of sitting without visual stimulation to be unbearable. Maybe it’ll work; maybe not. In the mid 90s here in Minneapolis, a grocery store installed little video screens at the checkout counter. They displayed ads, announced promotions, etc. They were loathed. By everyone. They disappeared.

Advertisers surely know that there’s a point where their very presence erodes whatever goodwill they’ve accumulated elsewhere.

An unrelated note: when I was thinking about people on the bus who’d want to look at TV because they didn’t like to read, I realized that something’s changed in my life. Previously I’ve always carried something to read. Always. A book, a magazine, a section of the newspaper. Whenever there’s a spare moment, I’d have something to read. I don’t carry anything anymore. Because there’s never a spare moment.

One of those aspects of parenthood you couldn’t see coming. I’ve adapted, though - Friday has always been Pizza Night; I celebrate the end of the work week with my favorite meal. I’ve been content to order in for ten years. Now I drive to the pizzaria and pick it up. I used to phone ahead. Now I order when I get there. I sit down and read the paper.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. At last.

And I just like breathing in the aroma of a pizza kitchen, too. I worked in pizza kitchens for many years - first in Fargo, then here in Mpls - and I’ve always loved that smell. Nothing like it. And it’s eternal & immutable - the local pizza place smells just like the very first pizza place I ever visited, a place on Broadway in Fargo where the pies were .2 millimeters thin, mostly grease, and square-cut so you’d get those tiny tiny triangle slices. There’s one of those independent pizzarias in the nearby commercial node - it’s not the one I patronize, but when Jasper and I walk to the video store, we both stop and drink in the perfume coming from the ventilators. Nature’s most perfect food.

Hey: I have a great idea! Ads on the bottom of pizza boxes! The more slices you remove, the more the message is visible. You could sell 10 triangle-sized ads, or just one big circular one. And the little spindle in the middle that keeps the top of the box from mashing into the pizza - why not implant it with some sort of chip that sings a Pepsi jingle when you open the box?

That’s a prime moment there - people are hungry, ready for happiness and satisfaction. Nail ‘em! Get ‘em! Shove your message down their balky word-holes, I say!

Had a little experiment this month. The Interior Descecrators site was released on March 1. I didn’t submit it to any search engines. It took 20 days for the site to show up on Yahoo’s New Today section, neatly placed in the proper category. And it took another week to end up as one of the five Cool Picks of the Week. That was fast. I wonder if someone from Yahoo actually wanders by the site now and then - you’d think with all the submissions they get, it would be all they could do just to slot submitted sites. Apparently not. Well, the next batch comes on Monday.

And now I’m going to go have a big, hot, oven-baked weekend. With extra sauce.