October Week Two
Bought a laptop. Special today at the Apple Store: 128 MB extra memory, which they would install for $30. Hah, I said: I’m a man who can install his own memory, thank you. Once at home I cracked it open and discovered that the memory slot resided beneath a plate held secure by the two smallest screws I’d ever seen. So: off to the hardware store for a tiny Phillips head screwdriver. Back home. Open laptop. The screws may be Phillips, but they’re too shallow for the screwdriver. So: off to the hardware store Sunday morning for a . . . a regular flavor screwdriver. Back home. Open laptop. The screwdriver is too big. So: off to the hardware store for a smaller screwdriver. “If we can see it,” I tell the clerk, “it’s too big.” I get a set of five tiny screwdrivers. Back home. (Laptop is still open.) The first screwdriver fits in the slot. I turn. Ping! A small piece of metal bounces off my forehead. The screwdriver has snapped. I try the next one. Ping!

So: back to the hardstore store. I exchange the screwdrivers for a smaller one for eyeglasses. It’s too big, but I need one for my eyeglasses. Total $ spent so far: $8.69. I drive to the big giganto hardware store, and buy another set of tiny screwdrivers - except these are made in Taiwan, not China. Back home -

En route, the radio announces explosions in Kabul. And the whole day suddenly widens and contracts simultaneously.

Spent the rest of the day watching the news, of course. The attack seemed at first like a classic opening salvo - take out the SAM batteries, hit whatever C&C exists (it would seem likely that the Taliban’s communication infrastructure is ad hoc & low tech, but what do I know) fire a few cruise missiles to ground the airforce - and, in a few cases, blow up the houses of Taliban leaders to focus their minds a little. Cluster bombs in the training camps in case anyone’s home. This is big, but not as big as, say, the first day of the Gulf War. We fired 50 cruise missiles today, which is 28 less than Clinton lobbed at the training camps a while ago.

It seems a minor point to carp about the media, but it must be done - NPR, which always covers a war with the tone of a vegetarian in a butcher’s shop, used odd interstitial music. Either slow and slightly mournful, or nervous minor-key piano dabblings. Sounded like we'd lost already. It reminded me of a Today show outro during the Gulf War - before they cut away to a commercial, they’d show a little scrap of film from the war. They showed a pilot in his jet, his head sinking in slow motion as though overcome with the horrors of his day. More likely he was shutting down the engines.

I’m not asking for Triumph of the Will-style images and Sousa marches, but for God’s sake, let’s wait a day before we start playing Chopin dirges, okay?

Then there’s the press corps. “Do we know where bin Laden is, and have we killed him? Are we sending in ground troops yet? What’s the exact frequency used by the planes to communicate with the ships? Are we going after Iraq next?”

To be fair: on another channel an anchorwoman was interviewing a grizzled old military man about special-forces operations, and she asked - theoretically, of course - if spec-ops’ purpose had been “painting” the targets for today’s raids. She didn’t define “painting,” because she assumed that the audience had a certain level of familiarity with the terms, or they wouldn’t be watching the interview. Or, maybe she just wanted to impress the old goat. Whatever: I liked it. I get impatient with the school-marmy hand-holding of many media outlets. There should be a channel for People Who’ve Been Paying Attention. (WPBA - even sounds like call letters.) Otherwise it's like reading a magazine about the Internet that has to explain what www means. And the editorializing - oy. ABC radio news had the venerable Vic Ratnor, and in the space of 15 minutes I heard him ask two guests whether the American people had the patience to follow this war through. He clearly didn’t believe the guests when they said yes. It’s a valid question, sure - but in the middle of the first hour of a bombing campaign, it’s stupid point to hammer.

Admittedly, my terminology is rusty. Heard “BDA” today, and got a little jolt - hadn’t heard that one for a long time. (Battle Damange Assessment, i.e. how much crap we blew up.) We’re going to learn a lot of these acronyms in the future. They will all sound stilted at first, but we’ve spent the last five years dealing with URL and HTTP and other such acronyms that make no intuitive sense whatsoever. We’ll adopt.

For the last couple of weeks
I’ve been wondering just what the hell the Taliban has been thinking - nuts? Crafty? Blinded by messianic certainty, hamstrung by obligations to OBL? None of their offers have been feasible, and they’re inevitably undercut by the bluster and threats that follow. They announce they’re leaving a city, seemingly unaware that we don’t want to carpet bomb cities. They announce they’re massing troops, seemingly unaware that this just makes for one rich target as opposed to many. I mean, when your enemy is capable of controlling the skies after day one, massed armies are just bony Jell-O waiting to be liquified by fuel-air explosives. It’s possible they actually believed that this would not happen. It’s possible they have no idea what they actually brought down on their heads.

I know this: there will be one man with a gun, standing agog over a sack of food and medicine that’s fallen from the sky. The bag will have an American flag, and it will contain more manna than he’s seen in a month. He saw the planes fly overhead; he saw the bags drop from the sky. Food - not bombs. Medicine - not bombs. Help - not death. And it may begin to occur to him that the men who gave him the gun were wrong. His first actual contact with the Great Satan after his leaders had brought down their towers, and the Great Satan sends milk for the refugees.

That man might well put down his gun. One down; God knows how many others to go.

Oh - the screwdriver fit. But the screws don’t budge.


Rainy, cold, wet, dank: but after sunset, warm. For some reason the evening has a late-summer feel to it. Odd; not unwelcome, but somehow irrelevant. The weather no longer has the sense of personality it once had. It just seems like a clockwork apparatus disengaged from the mood of the day. Brilliant sun shines on a day when the planes slam into the Towers; evening warmth flows in through a window while you’re listening to news of anthrax. The weather seems like a street performer down the block - you hear the sound, but not the melody.

Maybe it’s just me. Busy day: worked at home, but ran a few errands. Went off to the Mall of America (a perfect symbolic target, eh? What better place to blow up or infect? But it’s Monday morning - not enough casualties. Probably safe) to get the memory in the iBook. Home. Gnat napped while I installed OS X, then updated it to 10.1, the updated the Classic environment to 9.2, and what a joyless dull experience that was. But the final result is a pretty spiffy system, and now I am basking in happy new computer goodness. When she awoke I stuffed her full of the usual lunch - tofu, which she regards it as a hair gel, since the last batch always ends up ground into her hair, and raisins, most of which travel through her unmolested but provide a momentary delight on the palate. She threw a fistful of tofu on the floor for Jasper, who has learned to pay close attention to her mealtimes.

Then it was back to the shopping centers to get a winter coat. First stop: Old Navy, where the 70s went to die. Everything looked like krep. The last time people wore clothes like this, Lou Reed could still find a useful vein. We left. Off to Southdale, the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, and still my favorite. Baby Gap: I took her out of the stroller, peeled off the sweater, put her in a jacket - it was so tight her hands were forced straight out, and she walked in a way that made Frankenstein look like Jim Carrey. They didn’t have the larger size. Goodbye. Went to Children’s Place, where all the little girls’s clothing looked like something hookers would wear on Starsky and Hutch. More 70s stuff, with glittery appliques and sheepskin collars. Blech. Off to Marshall Dayton’s, where I found a nice pink coat; took her out, peeled off the sweaters, stuffed her in the coat - and she fell down, flipped over and started crawling at high speed for the exit. I am damn sure my dad never did this.

Too bad. Keeps me sane, it does. Resolute relentless attention to the mundane aspect of every day keeps my brain from running away into Terror Town, and while I have a time-share there I prefer to visit it as little as possible.

Back in the car. En route to home I got a hankering for a big thick hot American Pastrami sandwich. This meant a trip to the grocery store, where Gnat calls out all the names of the foodstuffs. They break down into two categoires: NUM, which is everything that is not cheese, and CHS, which is cheesey not-NUM. We bought Num and Chs. Then off to the liquor store for Daddy’s num. I parked by the big mural on the wall, which shows gigantic grapes. NUM! Gnat said, pointing to the grapes. They’re the size of beachballs. Yet she can scale them down and fit them to a memory. Smart, these humans.

Once home we ate, played, danced, threw the ball to Boppie Jasper, and generally killed time until Mama came home. Then I handed her off, went outside to read the paper and have a cup of coffee and a small cigar: reward. Kept thinking of the anthrax story - of course, two cases means there’s more, and more means it’s a deliberate act . . . almost a relief: got that out of the way. I thought of OBL’s speech on that videotape; thought of a man who’s still pissed that the Muslims were driven out of Spain, fer chrissakes. (Literally.) I thought of how he’d be cheered if my daughter got anthrax. Of course, she’s not a Jew, but he’ll take what he can get.

Look, you can take me. If I knew I could throw myself in front of a cloud of spores and save her, there’d be no question. But this is not an option. The notion of something happening to my daughter - of watching her die from a chemical or bug sent by these miserable twisted bastards - makes me almost shake with fury. Give me a gun; show me the cave.


I’ll tell you one thing I’m not particularly interested in this time around: the X-Files. Even if I hadn’t become fabulously annoyed with the show last season, I’d be disinclined to watch it this year. The entire fundamental premise of the show was amusing what-if fun in 97, given the attention paid to all things Roswellian, the rise of Art Bell, the whole late-night atmosphere in which I was marinating via the Diner. But now it just seems like cartoony drivel. I don’t think we’re in the mood for shows that tried to portray massive smallpox innoculations as a cover for a devious government plot. The next conspiracy show will reveal how the government didn’t innoculate everyone.

A day of high contrusion; Gnat was a goat all day, trying to tell me something and deeply impatient when she couldn’t. Food? Well, yes and no. Sleep? Well, maybe - make that a no. Play with Boppie Jsp? No. Yes. It was only when Sara changed from a bath that she discovered an itchy tag in her jumper, which she couldn’t reach to demonstrate how it bugged her.

If humankind had its genitals located between our shoulder blades, we’d have evolved arms that reached to the ground.

Anyway. Went to work and wrote a brooding column about the sort of safety calculations we all make these days. I like to hit these issues head on. I want to give voice to the fears people have, because they tend to wilt under sunlight. Somehow a hundred people admitting that they’re scared, but that they believe we’re going to be okay, is more reassuring than one bland bureaucrat who tries to dampen the fear. It’s there. Let it out so we can laugh at it. The less we look it in the face, the more horrible we think it is. I am slowly developing guidelines for writing this column in wartime - no Kumbaya moments, no hammerschlag on the war drums, no blithe head-in-the-sand columns. Trust me, I’d love to provide a program of light entertainment, but some days I just don’t have it in me. I’d love to use this site to trot out a Retro Delight of the Week, but my interest in that stuff has fled for the moment. This is an amazing time in human history. World Wars 1 &2 were clashes of political systems; the Cold War was political and economic. This is a clash of cultures, and those little spats are the nastiest of all.

In the words of Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride: I hope we win.

Foggy night; peaceful and mysterious. The lawns are speckled with wet leaves glinting under the streetlamps. It’s that fine sweet spot of autumn, when the ratio of green to gold is nearly even, with the lush lawns making an argument winter can never win - which is why winter covers up the evidence and claims victory, I suppose. After supper I sat on the cliff reading an article in the WSJ on Yemen. A few 747s came in low and loud, emerging from the clouds like implacable gods, the wingtips ripping twin seams in the air itself . . . imagine that those are laden with bombs, and they’re coming for you, and you can understand the expression and tenor of the fellow on the Al Qaeda tape today. (Side note: One of the minor things that makes the Arab world seem so different isn’t just the frequency of nouns that start with Q, but the lack of Q’s faithful friend U in the sidecar.) I don’t think this is going as the OBL boys expected. I think they believed that the United States would throw a few bombs and retreat, after which the Arab world would rise up and smite the infidel. How could it not be so? Was not God on their side? But everything is falling apart now, and far from commanding the situation, it might be sinking in that the last thing they will see is a highly motivated man with face paint and a large gun.

Actually, they probably won’t even see that much. They think they can see the future, but this skill is of little value against men who can simply see in the dark. And so their minds are concentrated, their bowels liquified - for the fellows on the tapes are not suicidally inclined. They want others to die so they may rule. Now they face neither life nor victory, and they are impotent to change those facts. Three days now, and no more bombs - makes one wonder how many people from the network have been hoovered up.

Once again, the speaker went back to the 20s to find the roots of historical iniquity, which shows you how little we share in terms of common cultural touchpoints. For Americans, the 20s have a few remaining connotations - Al Capone, jazz, Art Deco, etc. (Most of these are wrong - as I’ve blathered at length elsewhere, the 20s were not streamlined; that was the 30s, for the most part. And streamlining is not Art Deco. Moderne is not Art Deco. The 20s were more like the teens - beaded lamps, fussy furniture, academically classical buildings. But I digress.) For these guys, the 20s are the start of the reign of perfidy, starting with the Saudis. To Al Qaeda, the Saudis are corrupt and Saddam is a paragon of pan-Arab virtue.

Which is just hiliarious. Or would be if these guys weren’t so bent on killing everyone who disagrees. The Saudis practice a variety of Islam that’s a few degrees to the left of the Taliban; they’re hardly irreligious sybarites holding keggers at the Dome of the Rock. Saddam is about as holy as John Wayne Gacy. Yes, we infidels have troops in Saudi Arabia - put there, with their blessing, to save their asses and all of Islam’s holy sites from a secular dictator. But, of course, these messages are not meant for us. They’re meant for “the street” where decades of misinformation and a constant diet of chunk-style Kill-the-Jew stew have left the population utterly untethered to reality. “There are thousands of young men who seek death as eagerly as Americans seek life,” said the Al Qaeda spokesman.

Well, that sounds like a mutually beneficial arrangement, actually. By all means, let’s help them out.

One final note: tonight Gnat picked up a remote, pointed it towards the TV, and pushed buttons.

Daddy is so proud.


War-free Bleat! Except for the previous sentence!

Shout-outs and mad love to my peeps at the Apple Store! Y'all got the teknical flava an’ the aqua bling goin' on! Today I returned to the Maluvamerica to get the keyboard replaced - the delete key had popped off when I was installing the Airport card, and given how fast I type, I need a sturdy, dependable delete key. One that can stand up to constant use. On my previous visit I'd been told that they don't have extra keys waiting to be doled out. I'd also been told that since I'd cracked the case to install the card, I'd voided the warranty. You can void a warranty on these machines by frowning at them, it appears. Well, Given that I'd had the machine one fargin' day, I intended to get Customer Satisfaction.

Sure enough, the fellow at the store sadly informed me that my warranty was void. I gave him a level look. I explained I'd had it one day. I pointed out that this was a pivotal moment in customer relations, right here. He said he'd go fetch a manager.

But when he returned he said the manager had told him to swap out the keyboard for free. Victory! Of course, things went south soon after - the new keyboard didn't work, and a second keyboard didn't work, so they had to give me a new machine. And since this meant transferring the Airport card and memory to the new machine, there was the specter of an additional service charge haunting the Genius Bar . . . but they swallowed that, too. I bought an optical mouse just to say thanks. They did me right, as the vernacular used to have it. Now I have a working iBook running OS X, and lordy: it is lovely. The first version of OS X felt peculiar to me, but this feels right - solid, logical, and elegant - as much as I hate that overused word when applied to computers, it really fits this OS. The cleanliness and simplicity is just beautiful. I spend a lot of time on Windows machines, so this isn't the partisan rantings of a zealot.

I'm writing this outside at 9 PM - there are exterior power outlets all over Jasperwood, and I can actually sit on the cliff and work, and then beam it up to the office computer upstairs. Days like this remind me that I did indeed get that Jetson future I wanted, albeit one without tailfinned telescreens. On the other hand, we're not all wearing jumpsuits, and our arses don't start a foot above the ground, as with the Jetson people. God knows what cause that. Some horrible mutation. Someone unleashed the arse-lowering germ.

We Apple zealots - sorry, partisans - no, uh, extremists - we people of the iBook are often surprised to learn how little people know of our gentle, tolerant faith. . . no, this isn't going right. Recalibrating metaphors . . . initializing analogues . . . okay. Restart. As someone who's bi-platform (which, to paraphrase Woody Allen, means I double my chances for a system crash) I am well aware of the deficiencies and attributes of each persuasion. I have no Windows animosity. There's nothing I love about it, except the ability to run programs I can't run on the Mac. Which is no small thing, of course. There's no Max Payne for Apple, and that was one of the best games I've ever played. But I had no love for the machine that let me play it; it was simply a medium, a thing through which the game passed. The Mac feels like a studio - turn it on and go through the door. I've no doubt Windows adherants feel the same way, and I'm sure there are Windows people out there who are using their machines to create family movies and burn 'em on DVDs . . . just haven't met anyone. The Apple store at the Mall does a great job of selling the Mac's power as a digital hub, a machine for your music, your movies, your photos. It's just a damn cool place for a damn cool machine.

While we were waiting to have the iBook repaired, we wandered around the Mall. The Goat exhibit was closed, so we couldn't pet the goats. Went to Williams Sonoma, and felt utterly outclassed. Went to the KSTP store, where they were running some video of talk shows; saw the old studio from which we did the Diner, and smiled to myself. "I used to make stuff up there," I said to Gnat, but she was looking up at the action on the screen with a glazed expression, so I let the matter slide. Back to the store. We played in the Multimedia Theatre for a while, enacting a complex drama involving Lamb the Boneless Lamb and Hammy the Unnaturally Lifelike Hamster, a sort of Romeo & Juliet tableau. An elderly woman watched and gave us the benediction of a Mom Smile, remembering her time 40 years before, no doubt. It's interesting - old women love babies much more than old men. Rare is the old man who smiles and bends down to engage Gnat - it happens, but most old men seem to revert to the bachelor's indifference.

Most, but not all. My father dropped by today. He was in town, as I knew he would be; he let himself in and appeared on the other side of the dining room doors like a beta version of his ghostly self, rippling in the old glass. Gnat was unsure at first - who this? But she warmed to him as she does to everyone, and they played in the living room while I made supper. Dad was worried about the war, of course - he'd seen this before. Literally: been there, done that. We had coffee. Sara gave him a picture of Gnat for his wallet. An old picture of Mom fell out - her driver's license photo, sheared from its card, floating in the deck of grandchildren. Now her picture and Gnat's are in Dad's dense wallet, two souls sifted from the clay like nuggets in a prospector's sieve.

But they knew each other already. I'm sure of that.


Watching TV of the Saudi prince (which doesn’t narrow it down, I know; they have princes like we have Kennedys) touring the rubble today. I thought he looked familiar, and for a second I saw him as Father Guido Sarducci in a robe. Al Qudo Sar-duqqi, perhaps. He gave $10 million dollars, then gave us a piece of his mind admonishing us for our foreign policy. Rudy gave him the check back. That’s the spirit. When New York gets its first spaceport, it’s going to be named after Guiliani.

Speaking of which: the other day I heard a TV reporter say that “planes from the Enterprise had struck bases in Gormalak,” and I thought: what, are we at war with the Cardassians?

Bludy Cardies, as Miles O’Brien would say.

Answered the phone today at work - it was a woman from Syracuse who’d read my piece on ending our “warm” relationship with our “allies” in Saudi Arabia. Basically, I argued for buying as little oil from them as possible, jacking up the price on all the Western goodies they want, and letting them defend themselves in the long run. You want to come to the Mayo Clinic? Gosh, there’s a long line. Take a number. The piece stemmed from a variety of interviews I’ve read with Saudi elites who cluck disapproval over the WTC “event,” but point out that America has, you know, been, well, arrogant. You don’t like our arrogance? Wait until you see our indifference. What’s that? Iran is swarming over your oil fields? Call someone who cares, pal.

She loved the piece, and made a point of telling me that she was 80 years old! I’m not sure of the relevance, but good for her. If you make it to 80, I think you have the right to point it out now and then.

It’s been one month. I think we have our war legs now; the heaving deck doesn’t seem so alarming. But as much as I am getting used to this, I don’t think I’ll ever forget those first few days - the only way to describe it is this: it felt as if every single cable that held the mast of the world aloft was systematically cut, one by one, day by day. It will be impossible to convince our children how tenuous everything felt for a while. But the mast did not fall. We neither threw fire to the far corners of the earth or burned our own houses down in fear and panic, and from this instinctive reassertion of civilization and community, we took strength.

And it only takes a note on the news to give you the quick hot squirt of panic in the gut. Today of course we have the FBI warning - codenamed “skyfall,” which is REALLY heartening; thanks, guys - to make you remember where we are. It has a particularly potent meaning for me, since my wife is getting on a plane to go to the East Coast for a week. I’m not happy about this. It’s going to be a clusterfarg on the homefront, as I take care of Gnat without relief - no more the happy moment when MAMA comes home, and I can retreat to the cliff with coffee and newspaper. No more the evening mail & bleat routine; all the bathing and bowl-o-mush and goodnight rituals will be mine to do. I’ll still do the column and the Bleat - there’s plenty of time during the day, and that’s why I got the iBook, after all. I have a few stupid movies to watch, and my plan is to put her down and unplug from all cares and concerns. Although I know I’ll end up downstairs in the Battle Bridge, watching the news . . .

Speaking of which: Jasperwood has a finished basement with shelves and a fireplace; it’ll be a great place for Gnat to play when she can amuse herself unattended. I plugged the big TV hole with a cheap 27 incher, and I’m going to install some speakers to connect to the wires that hang from the ceiling. I never really gave the room much thought at first, figuring there wasn’t any good reason to be down there; after all, there’s a fireplace and a TV in the family room, and at night I can put on the headphones. But . . . at night I find myself going down to the Battle Bridge, the bunker. I wonder if every night will end with a thin feast of the bones of the day.

Ach. I’m too gloomy. It’s been a sunny day, and I had great fun with Gnat; nothing, repeat NOTHING beats hearing “daddy!” when I come in her room after she’s awoken from a nap. I just want to get to the point next week where she hears MAMA’s heels come up the stairs from the garage, and her face lights up like a million-watt bulb. Until then: pucker time, friends. Pucker time non stop.

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