A summer night, Sunday: sunset, a faint breeze from the north cooling the torpid air. Two boys on scooters race each other to the bottom of the hill by our house - in the tradition of such events, they built up great speed on foot then hop on their contraptions, heading right into the five-cornered intersection. Every mother’s nightmare; every boy’s thrill. They head right past the spot where, according to the memoir of the man who lived in this house as a chld, boys gathered in the twilight seventy-five years ago to play marbles under the sole streetlamp. This hill has an irresistable effect on children, I think.

As they trudged up the hill to make another run, I heard one of them say to the other:

What if there were Tangletown Ghosts?

That’s the neighborhood - Tangletown. No boy ever asks “what if there were ghosts,” because such things are strongly suspected to be true, even if you know they’re not; you hope they’re true in a way that makes them possible, but never proved. (At least to your eyes.) What if there were Tangletown Ghosts? Meaning, a special kind, a local variety, the sort of ghosts around which grow stories and legends. It’s the sort of question that makes boys swear to form a Tangletown Ghost Investigators Club - consisting, of course, of you and your best friend and maybe one other kid - not the popular snob kid, because the club wouldn’t feel so much like yours anymore if he was in it. No, just you two. So you get pads of paper, a pen, a flashlight, and you go exploring. Important detail: no one else can know about the club. You have a secret word (written on the inside of the notebook, in reverse) and you vow to find at least one ghost before school starts.

You forget about it in a week or two.

And oddly enough you remember it all your life, too.

Spent most of Sunday on the Gallery of Regrettable Food, the project that never ends. In ‘97, the original. In ‘99, v. 2. In ‘00, the book version. In ‘01, the promotional version. I wasted two weeks trying to redesign the front page, which was bootless; ended up redoing it with new graphics which are nearly identical to the old. Everything else is redone, rescanned, resized, retweaked. I am ashamed of some of the crap I put up - bad font choices, layout grids instead of tables: shame. This new version has new material, and will be much cleaner. Did two books today, and while I’m happy with the end result I am just



by the entire thing. Friday and Saturday night I spent reediting video, which is a little bit more enjoyable but not much. This is the Year One tape for Gnat’s birthday, and I decided to make it out of footage not used in the four hours of edited movies I’ve made so far. I have to keep resisting the desire to recut and reedit all those movies, too. This way lies madness, of course - I’ll end up releasing Special Edition Baby Movies with new footage, and absent relatives digitally inserted.

Interesting note: watched “State and Main” by David Mamet last night. Unlike most of his movies, this did not - like Shakespeare - require a grace period while you get used to the peculiar cadences. No one really spoke as if they were in a David Mamet film. As with all other Mamet movies, it featured his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, and while I’ve never thought she gave a bad performance in previous movies she was always rather standoffish, wide-eyed by utterly unrevealing. It’s like watching the Hoover Dam smile. Well, in this movie he managed to take the exact same expression and invest it with something undefinable and irresistable; it had the same effect as Diane Keaton’s “Annie Hall” character.

The movie was a low-key comedy, which is to say it had about seven laughs, but a constant sense of amusement and pleasure. I enjoy every one of Mamet’s movies. Whenever I see his latest at the video store, it’s an immediate reaction: oh, well, this is it for tonight, end of discussion. And my wife agrees. On such things are happy marriages built.

Anyway - when we finished the movie I checked for deleted scenes. There weren’t any. Characteristic, somehow, of the film’s creator. If the scene needed to be there, it would be there. If it’s deleted, then there’s a reason you don’t need to see it.

Smart man. Good advice.

And I know I’ll never take it.
. .
Caution: strong language ahead, eventually. I usually self-censor like *$%U#$ in these Bleats, but this one requires full-strength application of the relevant words.

Sometimes I think I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly just to keep up on things I’ve neither the time nor the interest to keep up on. It’s like reading a paper from a city where I lived for a few years. This week, for example, the cover tells of a Backstreet Boy who “Breaks Down,” and from the pictures inside I can see why he drank too much: only under prolonged & constant intoxication could one accept the fact that you had stupider facial hair than Prince. The cover story concerns “America’s Sweethearts,” one of those movies I’d rather be disembowled than see. It stars Julia Roberts, who bores me more than words can say; I think she looks like a melted duck. Inside are other treats - a story on the mainstreaming of NASCAR, another cultural phenomenon that holds no appeal, and a review of a spicy new “edgy” French movie that contains this all-too-typical piece of critical blather:

“Few would mistake ‘Farg Me’ for a good movie, yet -”

Let’s stop right there. Translation. This movie stinks, but some large important social point is being made, and if crap art makes the correct social point, it gets a pass. Incorrect social points? We’ll get to that. We resume:

“Yet it’s not dismissible, either.”

Because the reviewer would be out of a job if we didn’t dismiss artless crap.

“It’s a caterwauling punk anthem on film” - translation, smelly people do nasty things to uptempo music inexpertly played by hamfisted bands fronted by tuneless shouters - “a vengeful fantasia served up with digital rawness.” I have no idea what “digital rawness” means, unless they’re referring to what happens when your run your knuckles along a cheese grater. “The hellbent antiheroines are as horny as they are hateful, and it’s that fatal split, rooted in biology as well as feminine anger, that makes the sensationalism stick.”

Oh, please. Spare me the twaddle about fatal rooted splits and stuck sensationalism. If it's a guilty pleasure, a loud sloppy nihiilistic yawp aimed at film-school graduates, fine. Say so and be done with it. This is like someone analyzing the "transgressive culture jamming" of an interracial pictoral in Hustler.

I mentioned that a correct social point must be made. The hateful - yet horny! - antiheroines of this splitly digital rawness are on a “barbed-wire road odyssey of sexual rage,” which will always be tres chic among film geeks who don’t have valid driver's licenses. A few pages later, the same reviewer tackles the video release of “Family Man,” a Nick Cage film I’d like to see. It’s about a granite-hearted Wall-Street go-getter who wakes up and finds, a la “Wonderful Life,” that he’s now a happily married family man. Maybe the film is krep, maybe it’s a B- as the magazine now says. The review ends with an excerpt from the original review (written by the same fellow who wrote the review I cited above) and here’s the line that made me roll my eyes AGAIN:

“‘The Family Man’ is family-values porn for commitment-phobes.”

So: this movie that shows a cynical careerist the joys of marriage and fatherhood is “family values porn,” and the movie about two women who - to cite the other review - “screw, humiliate and murder in increasingly operatic ways” and includes a scene in which one of the character “regurgitates all over the nice guy” to whom she’s giving lap nookie - this is “a violent howl of desire and disgust,” a “hardcore female rampage-thriller.”

I’m not debating the merits \ of the movies - I’m objecting to a mass-market critical sensibility that’s terrified of straying into booshwah territory lest the rest of the smartycats wonder whether the author is angling for a job with Ayatollah Ashcroft. People worry about the effect on popular culture of mass-market concentrations, of Time-Warner AOL homogeonizing our culture - well, don’t worry, folks. According to the latest issue of EW, “Family Man” gets a B-, and so does the fine French rampage-thriller “Fuck Me.” One’s porn, maybe, but the other’s worse: “family values porn.”


.. ..
I used to live a few blocks from Gary Condit. Probably ran into him, or one of his ahem friends now and then, probably standing in line at Mr. Kim’s Corner Emporium. Coffee, nine dollar, thank you vary moch. I loved Mr. Kim. Hard working? You’ve no idea. There were days when it would be ninety in the store, and he’d be there still standing after ten hours like a man lashed to the mast of his ship. That is a hard-working American. A blow-dried pol with a crinkly smile and a ready line of happy palaver and Solemn Concern is also a hard-working American, but a distinctly lesser breed.

So. I wonder if I was behind one of Condit’s
ahem friends while she bought a pint of Haagen Daaz, slightly giddy with the thoughts of the evening ahead (a Congressman! Interested in her!) Or if I ran into him as I stood outside the gas station on the corner, waiting for those gonifs to finish ruining my electrical system, looking up at the odd little mini-Flatiron building that parses that triangular corner. Or if we stood at the same bar waiting for service. For that matter, Monica Lewinsky used to hang around my neighborhood, too.

Never trust anyone who’s awed by the glamor and power of Washington DC. It’s Hollywood for wonks, New York for high-school class presidents, and Miami Beach for people who fancy themselves intellectuals because they subscribe to the New Republic. There’s just something off about the city; it can’t have a real sex scandal, because the participants always end up seeming so icky and damp and pale. I don’t miss it.

Particularly on days like today, when the weather is a exact duplicate of DC conditions. It’s ninety plus in the heat and the humidity, and it’s 8:30 at night. I open the door to go outside and you hit that wall I remember so well from DC. Of course, now I’m attired sensibly: tank top, shorts. Back then the wall would hit you when you were on your way to the office, meaning, you had khakis, a shirt, a TIE fer chrizakes. No wonder I lost 15 pounds my first year.

Today: ordinary. Bereft of distinguishing marks. The usual two-column day, which means that now I am highly disinclined to continue writing. I want to play. I want to consume, not produce. I have “Gaslight” queued up to finish on the TV - a great old piece of hokum, with a plot whose twists you can hear coming like horsehoofs on cobblestones a block away. But who cares? It’s from that era of moviemaking where two people are in love simply because the movie says they are, and when they say things like “I’m so very happy” you just take them at their word. And people’s most irrational behavior can be ascribed to “nerves.”

I’ll be finishing that tonight, and topping it off with “Crime Story.” But first, this domestic update: Gnat’s vocabulary now includes “dut,” for her yellow plastic bath-toy duck, and she recognizes Dut in a variety of contexts: as a toy, as an ornament hanging from a pull-chain on her ceiling fan, and as a picture. She now says Hi as a greeting, likes to poke her finger in your eye and say Eye, and put a finger up your nose when you say “Nose.” She likes to give Jasper - or pup-pee - her version of a kiss, which consists of putting her forehead up to an object for a second. All too cute. Too precious. And today she learned a new trick: when Daddy is unpacking, it’s possible to knock the items he has placed on the chair to the floor. And Daddy has learned a new rule: don’t place items on the chair. Especially 30GB external hard drives.

Gnat may have learned a new word today too, but I don’t think so. “That’s right!” I said through a hideously forced smile. “Daddy said Duck!”

“Dut!” she said.

“Dut,” I agreed. More or less.
.. ..
Ninety-two at eight ten PM. Not bad. Too hot for clothes. Too hot to think or type or do much but hoist a nice perspiring can of ale . . . which reminds me. When we were moving, I got many a box from the neighborhood liquor store, including some boxes from my favorite local pale ale, James Page. I was on the floor playing with Gnat one day when I noticed little tiny letters in the corner of the box’s illustration: N. Wildgen. I wasn’t all that surprised, since the illustration was quite good, but I just had to grin: Nora Wildgen did the illustrations for my Minnesota Daily columns for two years, and was hands down the best illustrator of my work, period. Last I heard she’d decided to concentrate on woodcuts, and that’s the illo style for the boxes and cans and bottles. Tonight as I sat outside on the cliff, panting in the heat, I peered at the can: there was the signature. It’s a small world.

And it makes you wonder how many other thin threads of peculiar continuity thread through your life - whether the fellow at the cash register at the grocery store lives next to your old English teacher, or the sausage you have at a friend’s cookout was made by a local butcher whose daughter dated your roommate in college . . . no way to tell. Might as well just assume that every day is full of mysteries and connections that you’ll never unravel, never reveal. You’re probably right, and it’s always good to remind yourself that really, none of us know anything. I’m serious. We’re all very good at our daily routines, but take everyone on this block and move them one house over, drop them into their neighbor’s lives, and everyone would be totally hosed for at least a day.

I’m burying the lede. Which is: the Gallery of Regrettable Food book (pub date: Sept 11) arrived today. It lives; it exists; it’s corporeal, it’s thick and hefty and absolutely fantastic. I almost can’t bear to look at it. No surprise there, since I can’t reread anything I do; too painful, too embarassing. But let’s just say that if I hadn’t written this book, I’d buy it. The design is incredible. It’s just packed with stuff, and printed with exquisite care: no cheap job, this. Thick paper, full color. It’s just gorgeous. Full of bloody meat, yes, but gorgeous.

For a few minutes I just looked at it, thinking: from one cookbook and a few scanned ads, to this. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Then the phone rings: it’s my publicist in New York, with Great News: he has me booked on CBS’s Early Show, the morning yakfest. Now I have chills, because now I know I get to climb aboard the rarest of rides in the writing business: the tour. For a brief period, I get to slip inside that gilded bubble: the limo from the airport, the decent spacious hotel room, the car to the studio, makeup, nattering well-meant if standard issue BS from the handlers, SEVEN MINUTES LIVE before the entire fargin’ nation -

Well, I’ve never done anything this big. Never. I mean, there’ll be a few newspaper interviews too, if I can tweak my connections, but live nationwide TV is the ultimate; that’s what gets the attention. That’s what you shoot for. They’re trying to get me on the Today show too - which I really want, because it’s TV baked fresh in the holy halls of Rockefeller Center, friends.

Terrified? You have no idea. Thrilled? You can probably guess.

Whoo ho!
.. ..
Random notes:

1. Driving to work this morning I saw a gas station marquee promising two tasty treats. The first:


Mmm, mmm. Why not? A brilliant invention. It’s either a hot dog with a liquid cola center, or it’s a carbonated sugar-delivery system that contains not less than 10 percent pureed hot dog. This way you don’t have to face that uncomfortable moment at the grocery store when you have a choice between Hot Dogs and All-Beef Hot Dogs. I think the former are there just to make you feel better about the latter, personally.

The second:

Hersh eyking

That one took a while, but I got it: Hershey king-sized bar. One of those candybars the size of a cricket bat, handy for people who want to ingest the maximum daily intake of fat in a single non-meal serving. But the marquee spelling sounded like some early 20th century name, something you’d run across in a history of, say, silent movies: “in 1917, Billy Bright signed on with Harry King (b. Hersh Eyking), producer of the popular King’s Komedy Kut-Ups series.”

2. Playing Elite Force expansion pack last night, as a break; haven’t played anything all week. I got a new mouse, a Logitech with a scrolling wheel. No matter how I configure it, the wheel will not work in any game. Not Blue Shift, Half Life, Away Team, Serious Sam, Elite Force, nothing. But it’ll scroll in text files. I hate computers. I fargin’ hate them. Anyway: the expansion pack has two new missions; that’s why I bought it. I have no idea how to play them. The manual is no help. The official website hasn’t been updated since before the game was released. So I’m peeved, and once again reminded: I hate computers. I hate all my hobbies. I’m going to burn them all and take up pottery of Wendigo sexing or something else.

Anyway. I contented myself with a holodeck death match (and that’s the first time I’ve ever strung those words together), fighting in some Klingon dungeon. My enemies: Kahless and Gowron. After I’d fragged Kahless a dozen times, and been roundly applauded for doing so, I thought: in Klingon terms, this is like shooting Jesus and Nixon. I mean, wouldn’t I have some respect for Kahless, instead of pumping grenades down his gullet every 45 seconds?

What a peculiar hobby.

3. Today’s reading: there’s a most curious & amusing piece in the Weekly Standard, an obit on Mortimer Adler by Joseph Epstein. It’s so bemusedly contemptuous at first you expect the author to kick in with the heart-warming anecdotes, the redeeming features, the breadth & generousity of spirit, but he never does. For six pages he just grinds a dead man into smelly paste and smears it on the wall of his crypt. It’s awfully good fun, and a reminder that someone always survives to write an account of your behavior.

It’s just rare that you read something this unremittingly mean. I quote at random: “In a self-congratulatory mode, Adler spoke of himself getting more out of repeated rereadings of his Great books, finding, as he put it, ‘a growth of understanding and insight’ within himself. Yet insight and understanding are precisely the two qualities most absent from mortimer Adler’s character."

Ouch. Keep in mind this is an obituary. After six pages, you’d think he cuts the man some slack in the last paragraph, the fare-thee-well summation? No:

“The last time we spoke, he told me that his newest book contained ten typos, and he sent me a copy with a note asking if I could find them. but to do that I would, of course, have had to have read the book, which was not something I felt could be done.

“Mortimer’s was a powerful and lucid yet coarse and deeply vulgar mind. His must have been an astonshingly high IQ, but his brain functioned like a bicep: a large and showy thing with which one cannot finally do all that much but menace and beat down upon other people.”

Ouch. He didn't just say he didn't want to read the book - it was something he felt could not be done. I don't know why they ran this piece, really, but it's a reminder to all: play nice now and then.

4. Also read the New Yorker account of a Weatherman co-conspirator who’s been in jail for twenty years; she was part of an armed robbery that left several cops dead. “Should she be paroled?” the article asks, and I usually just say “nope” and move along. But I read it all out of curiousity. Echoes of the Kathleen Soliah story here in the Twin Cities - it’s 95% about her life, her troubles, her good behavior, her Loving Children, and 5% - if that - about the families of the men in whose murder she was complicit. It also contained a gorge-turning quote from Bernadette Dorhn, that lovely 60s rad. Commenting on that great politucal acte gratuite, the Manson murders, Berny had exclaimed:

“Dig it. first, they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. Then they evne shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach. Wild!”

That was then, in the hothouse 60s She’s now a law professor at Northwestern, and if she’s repentant for that sort of reprehensible sentiment, there’s not a jot of evidence in the New Yorker piece. The article describes Dorhn as “notably glamorous.” (Herr Himmler! Love that full-length black leather coat; tres chic!) If she came here for a lecture, she’d be treated with something close to awe. People don’t realize that if this batch of folks had managed to take control, they would have had the camps up and running in nine months, tops.

As you might have guessed, I don’t like fascists of any stripe, right or left, and I get really annoyed with the lefty variety who get a pass because they were Communists, or sympathizers, and were thus exempt from scrutiny because the anti-Communist forces in America were often boors, xenophobes or opportunistic butter-eating drunks. But I get annoyed by all the old Holy Lefties of the past, the ones who sewed their lips shut over Stalist horrors, or even denied that the Worker’s Paradise might actually resemble hell on earth. One of Gnat’s kiddy-tune compilations features Pete Seeger, for example. Sigh. He sings “This Old Man,” and I like to make up my own lyrics that describe the end result of Red Pete's beliefs:

This Old Man, he purged three / he purged three bad bourgeoisie with a head-smack! Dead kulak / buried with a shovel / this old man crawled to his hovel

Yes, yes, I know, Seeger was one of those feather-headed Marxists who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he’s a Communist, and I’ve no time for them.

Well, no, not all of them. One of Gnat’s favorite toys is a bear given to her by Twee, our Vietnamese doctor friend who lives in Saigon. Twee is an exceptional woman. And a Party member. Whattaya gonna do.

It’s a complicated thing, this world.

5. Something else I’ve gleaned from this compilation: it might be possible to sing pollywoddledoodle all day, but not advisable. Not when I’m around, anyway. Three verses and I’m ready to put my head through a wall, even if it is sung by loveable old Burl Ives - who bugs me because he ratted out friends to HUAC just to save his skin. I can see telling HUAC that there’s a Soviet agent in Hollywood who’s rewriting scripts to soften the image of the Red Menace. That’s one thing. But it’s different to squeal on some addle-pated actors who went to a few Socialist tupperware parties because they thought the bomb was just awful! and it was an artist’s duty to oppose war, etc. - the usual muddle-headed tripe you get from musicians and actors to this very day.

It’s just Children’s music, for heaven’s sake; you’d think I’d unclench a bit. Nay! Ever vigilant! Ever aware!

Ever annoying and tiny-minded!