monday - april 15 - 2002

Today: There are none so blind as those who are me; a horrible, horrible thing; spiffy new additions to the site

I was sitting outside in the bright clear light, reading a magazine I didn’t want to read. Earlier over lunch I had been three pages into a biography of the man who invented Freon when the article suddenly made no sense at all - instead of freon, it was now discussing Medieval paint technology. I read it twice, then checked the page numbers. Pages 41-48 were missing. Pages 33-40 were duplicated earlier in the book. So I went back to Shinders, explained my dilemma, and helped the clerk paw through the entire inventory of that magazine. Every issue had the same mistake. It’s rather telling that I was the first to notice; apparently Science & Technology Quarterly is purchased exclusively by people who intend to get around to it, but rarely do. Thousands of issues sit atop toilet tanks across the land, unread - but hey, it’s better than not reading People. If you’re going to not read a magazine, this is the better one to ignore.

I swapped it for Discover, which I didn’t really want to read, but it was the same price, and had space stuff in it. Went outside to read in the noontime sun.

Except that I couldn’t read. My eyes couldn’t really focus - couldn’t grab the words and make them sit still. I had my glasses (prescription circa 1995) on the end of my nose, a trick I’ve used for the last year, but it didn’t help; my eyes seemed coated with Vaseline and drier lint. Let’s see. What could be a possible remedy for this?

Why, maybe - just maybe, and I know it sounds crazy - I could have a doc examine my lookin’ balls, as we call eyes ‘round these parts. Perhaps the adjacent mall would have an open slot for a walk-in like me. So I went to Southdale to one of those stores that promises glasses in About A Fortnight. A charming & extremely efficient and knowledgeable salesperson helped me select new frames - alas, they’re all tiny nowadays, those Gen-Y technogeek Ben Franklin styles, and whenever I put them on and shove my mug an inch from the mirror it looks as if I have WAY too much face left over. But the bigger ones gave off a strong sideburns aroma, a smoked-mirror-lens Burt Reynolds Cannonball Run vibe, and I had grown tired of the old wonky dork look of my current style. So let’s go for the new wonky dork look, then.

The size of the frames has diminished, yet the prices are higher. Never has the relationship between price and cost of materials been more preposterous. Two hundred bucks for some metal as thin as a bisected Q-tip. Oh, and two screws. Made of metal mined in the northern reaches of Siberia, no doubt. That would explain the cost, but only if they transport the screw to the US by firing them from supercannons and bouncing them off the moon.

I chose the largest small style I could find, since I had the sinking suspicion I’d be needing . . . BIFOCALS. Old man glasses. Eyewear for the shuffling, pink-pated, pants-yanked-up-to-the-sternum set. Given that I’ve worn glasses since 4th grade, and have been more or less blind without them since fifth, this wouldn’t surprise me at all. But still.

To assuage my wounded pride, I got some cool new sunglasses as well.

Also bifocals, but still.

The prescreening was interesting. You put your face up to a device that peers at your eyes, and then blows compressed air directly into your eyeball. You’re not expecting it. They don’t tell you it’s coming. Were it not for the large machine between you and the technician you’d slap her out of instinct. It measures the pressure in your eyeball, and suggests whether or not you’re trending towards a glaucoma-type situation, as current parlance would have it.

Then the exam. I hate these things, for two reasons.

1. No matter what the medical tech or doctor says, all I ever hear is “okay, let’s find the cancer.”

2. Eye exams seem so damned subjective. Better? Worse? Same? I don’t know! What the hell did you go to school for if I have to do all the heavy lifting here? For several years I had a prescription that was too strong because I gave the wrong answers, and all that time I tottered around with crippling headaches; I avoided the beach lest I see people’s circulatory systems.

Verdict: oh, yeah, bifocals. “Everyone has to get them eventually,” the doc said, and noted I was actually a little late in needing them. Since my eye pressure test was a little high, he said he’d check for glaucoma. “What’s the treatment for that?” I said nonchalantly, picturing a scalpel plunging directly into my eyeball.


Oh. He put something in my eye that made it feel adhesive, as though the eyelid had a post-it note on the inside, then we were done. Go ye and squint no more.

In a week I get the glasses, and I’ll see again. They said it would take a month to get used to the bifocals. Criminey Joseph, bifocals! Ah, well - everything else works in tiptop shape; my pants size has grown but two inches in the last 10 years (a clever way of avoiding the fact that I was 28 in 97 and 30 in 01, but I seem to have stabilized that.) All the joints work; I’ve no residual sports injuries, no repetitive stress problems - my hands stopped hurting a few years ago when I stopped playing Doom for four hours a day. I haven’t lost any hair up front for 15 years, and while it might be thinning on top, big deal. So taller people see my scalp - let ‘em see it, the nosy parkers. The doc said my optic nerves were in perfect condition, too. Who cares if they’re bifocals? I’ll be able to read again!

I’ll be able to see!

And somedays this seems like a distinct disadvantage.

Somedays I wish I never had to see again, if it means beholding obscenities like this:

This is a scent from a pro-PLO in Berlin. (Always nice to see German pressed into its old familiar duty.) The child has fake dynamite strapped around her waist.

Can someone on the PLO’s side please denounce this without using the word “but” within ten yards of your outrage?

Can someone explain to me how this mentality, when given free rein of a state, will result in freedom? Freedom of the press? Of the courts? Of the TV and radio? Free elections? Freedom of religion?

As others have noted, the cultural attitude on display is an inversion of human decency - heaven is a whorehouse, and children are encouraged to die. It takes a particular sort of moral degeneracy to steep your children in the culture of death rather than shield them from it at all costs. Keep in mind that this picture was taken at a rally in Berlin, so it’s not like this fellow has lately seen in IDF kick down doors in his apartment block looking for martyr factories lately. No: this man lives in a state so exquisitely tuned to the moral vibrations of the universe that it will trade with Iraq but deny spare tank parts to Israel, a state that prides itself as the repository of cultural values of Mankind, that regrettable and utterly uncharacteristic unpleasantness in the 20th century notwithstanding. This man had to go down to the store looking for materials that would make a good suicide-bombing costume for his daughter, like it’s Halloween and she wants to be Ariel the Little Martyr. He had to tie the dynamite around her little waist; he had to look into those little eyes and answer her questions: what’s this? What’s this, Daddy?

He had two options. He could lie. Or he could tell the truth. I’m not sure which is worse.

What haunts me is the idea that she liked this, and thought it was fun - a day with Daddy! - and afterwards all the relatives came over, and she ran into the room and shouted BOOM!

And everyone laughed.

Isn’t that cute.

tuesday - april 16 - 2002

Today: To hell with spring; got 'em if I smoke em

Usually at this time of year we Minnesotans don our lighter coats, add a sprig of green to our wardrobe, and venture outside to breathe deep without hearing the sound, not unlike a small kalimba, of our lung sacs freezing and bursting one by one. Today’s normal temperature is usually in the lower 50s. If we’re lucky. Even then it doesn't mean spring is here - every other year a cold snap rolls through and slays the early flowers. We mourn the hapless tulips who mistook a lull in the shelling for a ceasefire, and stuck their heads over the lip of their trench.

Today it was 92.

I am a very happy man.

I winced as I pulled on a tank-top, thinking that I would look like Flabio, but hey: carrying a 30-pound sack around all day actually does something for the shoulders. (Only one, alas. You want symmetry, you have to have twins.) There are days - I call them “bifocal days” - when I lament the loss of the frame I had when I smoked a pack a day and walked three miles in the morning and three miles at night. But I haven’t the time for a six-mile daily hike, and I’m not going back to the nails unless I have it on very, very good authority that the missiles are inbound and heading for Jasperwood.

And would I smoke a cigarette then? Why, yes. I have a pack so stale they would turn to ash after one puff, but I keep them around for a few reasons. One: the unbroken seal on the pack is a testament to my successful cessation of the cigarette habit. Two: the pack has historical significance. The pack is called “Jumbos,” a brand put out by Moonlight Tobacco in the mid 90s. I smoked them at the ‘96 GOP convention; seemed the thing to do. At the DNC convention I smoked another Moonlight brand that was, according to the package, “cured with honey,” which seemed apt for the run-up to Clinton II. Both were excellent cigarettes. Both had stupendously good design on the boxes, which was a welcome relief from the unremittingly banal nature of most modern cigarette packaging, which seem to aim for the visual ingenuity of floor polish containers. Similar ingredients, I suppose, but still.

Both Jumbos and the honey-cured smoke, I should add, were not the product of Moonlight at all, but of R. J. Reynolds, which "created” Moonlight much the way big beer created small “craft” labels to compete with microbreweries. And in both cases, the smaller spin-off products were better than the parent company’s main brands. Never once on a Jumbo did I get the awful drag-o-poison all smokers know well, that occasional last bitter hit that tastes like paint chips and weasel piss. I never could figure out why cigarette makers felt compelled to load up the sticks with so many awful chemicals - fer chrissakes, just give me the tobacco and I’m happy. No one’s ever going to take a drag of their Marlboro and frown: hey, where’s the ammonia?

I’m sure the answer is contained within some cigarette history book, but I’m just curious: at what point did some exec say “boys, I think it’s time we added sulfur and cadmium to these here smokes.”


“Well, they’ll smoke more!”

But research shows that they’re already smoking as much as they want. More than most would like, to be honest.

“Who cares? We’ll get them hooked on that bold fresh flavor of formaldehyde and granulated tin!”

But that’s not addictive, sir, and nicotine is, and what’s more studies show that smokers enjoy nicotine but balk at the chemical tang formaldehyde gives the last few drags -

“Naysayers! I’m surrounded by naysayers! Add some varnish while you’re at it, and retool the ad campaign to show mountain springs.”

Anyway. Didn’t mean to go spinning off in that direction. Busy day, what with taxes and all. Here’s a rough definition of economic progress: at 40, you should pay in taxes what you grossed at 30. Think of it this way, and somehow the weeping is less severe. Took the Gnat to the usual Monday haunts, including a fruitful trip to Target; discovered Frank Lloyd Wright influenced lawn torches - classic faux stained-glass design, but the flames come out the top of the lantern, not glow from within. For Pentecost, maybe, but not for daily use.

Bought taco seasoning, diapers, a Simpsons figurine, underwear, and the Atlantic magazine. God bless America.

That’s it - have to get to work, since it’s a double column day en route. Mail is still hosed, but things look promising, and I’m sure another ten tons of mail will follow once I solve this problem. In a way, life without email has been refreshing, but I know it’s been a false sense of peace.

Meanwhile - BUY THAT ATLANTIC and read the piece on Saddam. It’s not a recitation of atrocities, but a deft account of the man himself. Sober, careful, and fascinating. The Atlantic has, in the course of a year, established itself as the best monthly in the country. P. J O’ Rourke AND Chris Hitchens: my kind of mag.

Final note: yes, I am on the cliff, smiling in the warm wind (low 80s at 10 PM) posting wirelessly. Here’s to more of that for months to come.

wednesday - april 17 - 2002

Today: Weather; blah; things, blah; the problems of journalism, with a horrific visual for a conclusion.

Storm’s coming. The trees are waving their limbs in fear and distress; a bullying wind has knocked every trash can on the block to the ground, and the clouds overhead are moving like a routed army. Maw! Grab the younguns and head to the rooty cellar! All of a sudden the great sheltering limbs of the trees over Jasperwood look like ceiling beams in a quake-shaken house, ready to crash down. The rain just started - and as with all storms that arrive with an advance guard and spend the next hours looting and sacking, the rain is cold, tentative, and comes down slantwise.
When the rain arrives all at once and pounds the ground, it’s just a tantrum, a mob blowing off steam. Not this storm; not this time.

Little of note happened today - played with Gnat, swabbed her, fed her, tickled and chased her, read books and blew bubbles in the warm spring air outside. Went to work, banged out a column, went home, made an exceptional Mexican-themed supper, napped the nap of the just, woke, walked dog, did some work on the site. A perfect day. I’d be silly to spoil it by working myself into a frenzy over the issues of the day, so I won’t.


Okay, I'm warning you: the end of this is not pretty. And since all this subsequent blather about journalism is eye-rollingly boring to many, I offer this chance to bail: it's the cover of the Institute of Official Cheer's house magazine . . . and more than that I cannot say, except: wait.

Okay, you've been really, really warned. I'll return to domestically oriented Bleats tomorrow, but below it's just dull & bloody.


Newspaper quiz. Story: 100,000 or so rally in DC in support of Israel. You’re the headline writer. Which one do you use?

1. 100,000 rally in DC in support of Israel

2. Bush official’s remarks booed by thousands at pro-Israel rally

Very good! You’ve a future in this craft. But let’s make sure. Do you:

1. Mention the crowd estimates, or

2. Make no mention of the crowd size whatsoever

Well, promotions all around, then. Final question - do you end the story on the rally with

1. A heartfelt plea from an old Jewish woman who saw the madness that engulfed Germany and begs the world not to let it happen again, or

2. Three paragraphs on a counter-demonstration in the newspaper’s home town in support of Palestinians, including this quote: “For me, it’s horrendous to see the millions of dollars being used to massacre Palestinians,” said Sanna Towns of St. Paul. “We can’t even put that kind of effort into funding our inner-city areas, our schools, for job training.”

You’re hired.

I am, alas, describing a story in my own beloved Strib. I had a conversation about this story today with our paper’s ombudsman, a fair and decent man who has the worst job in show business today. YOU spend your day talking to pro-PLO and pro-Israel callers and see how you like it. He’s right; no one is ever satisfied, and in a sense an equitable amount of dissatisfaction is proof that the paper’s doing the right thing. But the story and headline I used above are examples of how things look to people who know more than the paper has the space to say.

To those of us who followed the story via mainstream press reports and blog updates, the story of the rally was the rally itself - its size, its tenor, the quickness with which it was assembled, and the lack of foaming hatred. Was Wolfie’s boo-fest the most distinguishing characteristic? No - unless you believe that conflict determines the story’s angle. And most reporters think that’s the case - not because they agree with the dissenters, but because they’ve been trained to look for the story in the dissent. Thus if a rally of 100,00 people is largely peaceful but has a brief skirmish with police at the margins as the crowd disperses, the headline and lede graf will be “Arrests mar hopes for peaceful rally.”

It’s the stupidest rule of journalism, and one of the most devoutly believed: The detail that contradicts the general impression often contains the truth of the event.

II'm sure the pro-Israel callers wanted the story to mention how the rally's contrasts with pro-PLO counterparts elsewhere. No placards that showed Arafat with a swastika on his forehead, no speakers praising suicide bombers, no mosques trashed afterwards. True. News stories, however, rarely concern themselves with what did not happen. Nor are they written with the assumption that the reader knows everything about everything. This is fair; this is necessary - but the cumulative effect omits the details essential to understanding the story. That picture of the young girl with the faux explosives is widely known to people who augment their news diet with blogs, but it’s unknown to people who simply read the paper. Might that picture have provided a contrast to the DC rally? Sure. Would it have been a simplistic comparison? Maybe, to some - and some readers would have found the juxtaposition inflammatory, and demanded the paper run the picture of the incinerated Palestinian boy. And if THAT picture ran, the other side would demand that the paper note how the PLO terrorists lived and hid in residential areas, etc. etc. etc.

If every story was 100 inches long, it would spawn 200 inches of corrections and amplifications.

So: when you have a pro-Israel rally, what do you do? Find the conflict within the rally, of course, and seek out the other side for “balance.” One might think that “balance” could consist of comparing the rally to its European pro-PLO counterparts, and there’s a case to be made for that. What our paper did was just what most papers would do: find the local angle. Which brings us to another problem. (Again, I'm speaking not as a representative of the paper - just a concerned observer.)

Sometimes it is not the job of newspaper to print what is true, only what people think. It’s not the job of a paper to fact-check the utterance of every person quoted - alas. If people think that aid to Israel starves education and urban development, well, report it; that tells you how the opposition views the world. There’s rarely space in the paper for details like this:

Minnesota spending on education in 2002-2003: 8.76 billion.

HUD budget FY 2003: $31.5 billion

US aid to Israel 2001: $3.5 billion

Indeed, just adding these facts - simple facts, laid out without comment - would seem to be tilting the article against the protester. Which tells you a lot about journalism these days.

Now let’s delve a bit deeper into the protesters’ background, just for fun.

According to the Strib article, “the protest was sponsored by the Coalition for Justice in Palestine, Women Against Military Madness and Al Aqsa.” Upon reading this, I was somewhat surprised to discover that Al Aqsa had a branch in Minneapolis. But it would appear that WAMM has appended “Al Aqsa” to their name, giving them the Cramdenesque name of WAMMAA.

I went to their home page, the rather aggressive sounding worldwidewamm.org, and discovered no such embrace of the anti-Al Aqsa cause. There is the WAMM statement of principles: “Women Against Military Madness opposes the design, manufacture, and distribution of military weapons by the U.S. government and corporations.” Well, go right ahead; you’re a non-profit, and volunteering to be irrelevant is a proud American tradition. But there’s absolutely nothing on the main page I can find that protests the design, manufacture and distribution of explosive belts to young women.

There is a Camus quote, proudly displayed: “It is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.”


thursday - april 18 - 2002

Today: Encounter with a activist; no weather; Lucious & Maggie

So I’m outside on the cliff, taking the air and befouling the same, and a fellow walks around the side of the house. We’re both surprised. Jasperwood has an alternate entrance, some steps cut into the side of the hill that enable you to get to the sidewalk without clambering through the bushes or taking the long way around the house. He obviously mistook these stairs for the main entrance. He had gray hair in a ponytail, a generous belly, a fanny pack and a clipboard.

Something told me he wasn’t here on behalf of the NRA.

He was soliciting donations for an organic foodshelf, and gave me a brochure. Let me quote some of the ideas contained within:

“In cities we live in large communities, disconnected and immersed in the daily grind. On busy streets we see people walk past each other, avoiding contact, as if other people were invisible or less than them.”

Let me repeat: on busy streets we see people walk past each other. Ah, this callous world we live in; let us strive to emulate the peaceable Hopi, who remained standing in place for six centuries until mowed over by stampeding buffalo. Yes, we do indeed walk past each other “avoiding contact.” What am I supposed to do? Give everyone a shoulder in the sternum? Shake hands like the horrible offspring of Hubert Humphrey and an octopus? Keep in mind that we avoid contact “as if other people were invisible or less than them.” Well, they may be trarnslucent or subhuman; I'm too busy to find out. I have 40 minutes to get to the barbershop, and I’m not sure how stopping every stranger, cradling their head in my hands and staring soulfully into their eyes will help me get my hair cut.

At this point I wished I was a shapeshifter, and could instantly assume the body and clothing of Clint Eastwood, complete with ratty hat and sarape. “You’re on m' proppidy, mister,” I’d say. Quietly. Squintily. I read on:

“We challenge you to break barriers and find courage in your hearts to meet neighbors and begin the dialogue about how the community can mitigate the problems, lies, and abuse of our culture.”

And this is a solicitation for money to buy broccoli grown with composted nightsoil! You’d think it’s a UN mission statement!

Here’s the problem I have with these guys: their hearts are in the right place and their heads are up their butts. I’d just completed a long walk with Jasper Dog, and I’d said hello to a dozen strangers - joggers, dogwalkers, guys raking the lawn, moms out with kids. People say hello around here. We have block parties. We talk with the neighbors every day, and not one of us ever thinks that we’re breaking barriers, or finding courage, or God forbid beginning a dialogue. We're shooting the breeze, chewing the fat. We are not engaged in meaningful lie-mitigation community strategies. We're talking across the fence - or, as the brochure writer would have it, eventuating cross-property communication modalities.

These folks seem to presume we all live horrible empty lives, disconnected from kith, kin, culture and country. Well, I’ve never felt less connected to my neighbors than when I lived on top of them. It’s density that breeds isolation, not spaciousness. Make everyone live in small cubicles stacked into the sky, and you have people fighting for whatever scrap of privacy they can glean. People avoid eye contact in the elevator because they wonder if everyone heard them having sex last night. Give people a plot and some breathing room, and they feel comfortable in stepping over to the fence and batting the conversational shuttlecock back and forth. So what does this have to do with a food shelf? Nothing - which is why it’s absurd that they feel compelled to bring it up. If we lecture people about the need to make deep searching eye contact with everyone, we can stop corporate farming. Codswallop! Come to my door with a brochure that says “Spring is here, and folks are tilting their heads to the sun with a smile we’ve not seen since the snow first fell. Life is grand - but we must remember the people who need our help, so dig deep, brother, and help us feed our fellow man some fresh healthy vegetables.”

Just read more of the brochure: they transport their produce using “a rainbow colored community painted school bus.” Jeebus wept. Very nice, but hungry kids want Pop Tarts, and I say let them have it. With frosting. And sprinkles.

Ooooh. Big storm last night. Total rainfall: a tenth of a trice. Wind damage: some daffodils got sprained necks. They’re predicting another storm tonight, but I’ll believe it when I’m impaled by a limb that lanced through the roof and pinned me, gasping, to the mattress that would soon become my deathbed. Just give me two or three seconds to believe it; that’s all I ask.

LOCAL MAN IMPALED, CONVINCED the headline would read.

No, I’m not going to get into the business of newspapers today; that was yesterday’s business, and I was surprised by the play the Bleat got. I thought it was reasonable to the point of somnambulism, but then again that’s the general tone of most media criticism: somber and self-important. When it tries to be spirited, it ends up sounding pissy and snide - a consequence, I suppose, of the nature of the people who inhabit the beige cubes of most modern papers. Too clean, too careful, too well-behaved. The business needs more functional drunks.

Correction: the business needs more people who aren’t offended by that facetious assertion.

One of the best books about newspapers ever written was “The Paper” by Richard Kluger; it’s an account of the “life and death of the New York Herald Tribune.” The paper is gone but its children remain - the International Herald Tribune, New York magazine (originally a Sunday insert; staff writers included Breslin and Tom Wolfe) and, of course, Herald Square. One of the minor characters who worked at the paper in the 30s was a stylish sot who had the best drunken drama-critic name of All Time: Lucius Beebe. He applied for his job wearing yellow gloves, clutching a walking stick, and was hired on the spot for no particular reason. A few nights later he appeared at the bar where the writers (and editors!) drank, and Kluger describes his attire: “White tie and tails, top hat, red velvet-lined opera cloak, silver-tipped walking stick; he was smoking a cigar less than a foot long but not by much.” He later wrote a syndicated column on New York nightlife, describing what Beebe called “the nervous hilarity of the damned.” His favorite drink was something he called “a rye gag,” and after he got hammered at two he took a nap, a Turkish bath, then made the rounds of the nightspots to soak up news for his column. Kruger again: “He was said to be the only staff regular whose work allowed him to get drunk twice each day.”

It goes without saying that the most famous anecdote concerned the day he threw up in the night editor’s hat.

The paper also had one of the first female war correspondents, Marguerite Higgins, who was button cute and a tough dame - “Maggie wore mud like other women wore makeup,” one solider said.

People who love newspapers ought to wander over to Amazon and place a bid on the few copies in their auction room. It’s thick, and it goes all the way back to Greeley, but for my money it’s the best newspaper story I’ve ever read. Makes one proud to be part of the business, and ashamed papers became such a careful, tiptoeing, healthy place to be.

But I wasn’t going to talk about papers. Sorry.

And I won’t talk about the war, except to mention this: I’m sticking with “suicide bomber.” (Splodeydope is a great term, but it has the disadvantage of being amusing.) Reason: suicide is a sin in Islam, and the pliant mullahs have come up with all sorts of theological contortions to explain why the bombers are not committing suicide, but are dying in jihad as martyrs. I won’t concede that. They’re committing suicide. They’re committing a sin. And they’re going to Hell.

However you wish you define that. And I have some ideas.

friday - april 19 - 2002

Today: fatherhood; email resumes; the glories of the forties


Amazing Gnat moment of the day: having torn the head off a small goose, she wandered over -

Let me rephrase. After opening up one of her pop-up books, locating a goose and removing its head, she wandered over, held it up and said: Beek.

What? I replied.

“Beek. Goose. Beek.”

Another word I don’t recall teaching her. I’m still impressed she knows that mice is the plural of mouse, or that she knows all her colors including brown. That just doesn’t even seem to be a color to me; it’s a failed color, a color that didn’t pass the exam and earn color status. It’s a coler. (Puce is another coler.) But she knows it, as well as black, white, yewow, owanj, boo, pinq, puhpul, red, geen, and aqwamawine.

Just kidding about that last one. Give her a day, though.

We went to the Mall of America today, because I wanted to look at a new laptop. Not buy one, just look at one. As soon as we got in the Mall Gnat said “Amals,” referring to the animal petting zoo in the middle of Camp Snoopy. It was closed, but she enjoyed strolling around on her own - no holding Daddy’s finger, no sir. She sat in a little car and turned the wheel and made vroom noises. She pointed up at the roof above and said “uhpie.” Interesting, that - it’s a quote from the Rolie Polie Olie song, which commences “way up high in the Rolie Polie Sky . . .” She amuses herself by singing this song, but she only sings “Way uhpie . . .” and lets me sing the rest, chiming in with “he’s Wolie Polie Olie,” and falling silent until the line “and in his world of curves and curls,” which she has condensed to “cuvs.” So it goes like this:

Way uhpie
HEES Wollie Polie

But she understands that way up high is up there, above. Why not? Every day I am amazed, like all parents in my situation I suppose, at what this 21-month old creature understands. When I have my cap on, it’s Daddy’s Hat. When I put it on her head, it’s Baby’s Hat Big. She knows that pees means please, peas, and what she does in her diaper. I gave her the daily ration of the juice box - which was purple-hued - and she said “Pooh joos. Puhple! Puhple Pooh Joos.” She knows that Dorothy is the name of Elmo’s fish, Mr. Nool is Mr. Noodle, and she can count backwards from 10 to 1 as well as forward. She likes curry, too.

To put this in context for people who don't have kids, but have beloved pets: imagine if your dog or cat began to talk. Imagine if you had rudimentary conversations. You'd love your pet if they didn't speak, but man! Imagine if they could! That's what it's like.

The other day I found a website for people who are childless by choice, and I read the message boards with sadness and dismay. I’m not one of those people who regard the childless with smug sympathy - ah, if they only knew, the poor, barren, pitifully selfish souls. You don’t want kids, fine. I was never opposed to children on principle, but I was never a zealot on the notion, either. Now I don’t understand people who don’t want children - just as people who have 12 kids don’t understand why I don’t want a dozen replicants. Experience changes perspective. But you can’t give that perspective to others, nor can you judge the character of someone simply because they’ve not yet shared your experiences. (Except on Vulcan, where mind-melds do the trick quite nicely.) I used to bristle at the pro-parental bromides people gave me in my 30s.

That said: As I read the messages on BBS I was saddened by the naked dislike of children these people had. Not bad children, not lousy parents, not snotty tantrum-pitching brats, but children themselves. The very concept of. They delighted in describing how much they hated those little shopping cards some grocery stores provide.

The general consensus seemed to lean in favor of cats.

I’m well aware that I’m missing much in life because we have the Gnat. Travel, freedom, money, salty lingo - all are curtailed now. My car still smells like vomit from the time Gnat did the heave-ho of a spaghetti lunch last week. My interests are now quicksilver streams that dart between, and are frequently dammed by, the immovable rocks of naps, meals, bedtimes and bubble-blowing sessions. I don’t think these recitations of pedestrian domestic matters elevate my days above the concerns of those unencumbered by spawn - I hate that snooty Brittney-uber-alles attitude of many modern parents. I just mean this:

Those of you who have kids understand why these simple days are so precious, and those of you who don’t have kids should take my advice. I spent my 20s and 30s without a wee biped clinging to my leg. And it was wonderful. The places we went, the things that we saw. Four words: Happy Hour In Mexico. You want to spend the rest of your life that way? My hat’s off; send me a postcard; grab life by the beans, as the old coffee commercial put it, and give my regards to Angor Wat, or wherever life takes you. I’m the last man on earth to suggest you should stay home and shovel squash into a toothless maw just because that's the thing you're supposed to do.

But. Those of you who think that kids will come along some day, and wonder what that might mean, how it will change things - I can only note a moment today in the Mall of America with my Gnat. We always end our trips to the Mall with a cookie. A rare treat, since we don’t have cookies at home. (Jell-o Fat Free Pudding for Daddy, yes, but that’s another story.) We sat on a bridge over a stream aas we snacked, alone in a leafy glade in the biggest mall in America. Gnat beamed as she chewed her ration.

“Num,” she said, grinning. “Nice. Cookie nice." Pause, chew, swallow, smile. "Daddy nice.”

I have never been happier in my life, or loved anyone more.

Mail is unhosed. Got a call from my host the other day; he’d heard my plea. THAT’S service, friends. Turns out the problem was not with the host, but was indeed the result of those godless jackals at MSN, may their flesh bubble and split in the pits of hell. I used an alternate ISP, rejiggered ten dozen settings boxes, and voila, an entirely new set of problems:

1. The email program on the laptop was completely fubared - I was able to reconstruct the database, but every letter was gibberish. I attempted to delete the entire 2900+ letter database in one control-A chunk, and it froze the program. Force quit. Reboot. Delete in groups of 30. Realize this will take forever. Trash database. Boot mail program. Discover that the messages still live on as zombies despite the fact that the message db was destroyed. No explanation.

2. I decided to use the OS X mail program, which is simple and straightforward. Enter settings, connect - success!


Jumpin’ Judas. It took an hour, because some well-meaning folk had sent along image files so large I thought someone had scanned the Oxford English Dictionary and sent it one page at a time as a TIFF.

3. After using the OS X program for a while, I realized that it truly, honestly, madly, deeply bites the wax tadpole. It’s the worst mail program I’ve ever used that wasn’t preceded by the words “You’ve Got Mail!” Glaring FUBAR point #1: if you read and reply to 100 letters, and the program hangs - which it does, constantly - then you force-quit. And when you start the program again, all 100 letters will be marked as unread. That’s right! When you quit the program, it flags & compacts & deletes & flosses, because I’m guessing it’s reading the mail on the server. It’s not really downloading it. When I call up a letter that has lots of images, for example, the program scurries off to the server to get them, and now and then it hangs trying to get some useless graphic from some RUSSIAN ZOO-SCROO PRON SITE. Grrrrrrrrr

FUBAR point #2: There is no “send later” function, as far as I can tell. You can send now, or save as a draft, and the draft folder does not offer the option of sending all the drafts at once; there’s no “send later” function. Oh joy: hitting the send button 896 times.

FUBAR point #3: The program called up mail I’d gotten, and responded to, the previous night on the other Mac. It’s bad enough to have 1,600+ letters - the current total - but when you realize you’re responding to some of them twice, you just weep.

So: apologies, apologies. I am working my way through the stack, and I feel stupid just sending a one-line “thanks! etc” to these marvelous missives, and some will get two stupid replies while others get none.

And don’t tell me to switch to Eudora! It’s ugly, or at least it was the last time I looked. I have a new program called PowerMail! that has the aesthetic lines I want and the support I need.

Got a package today from Amazon: two of the most amazing, indispensable, retrolicious books I have ever seen in my entire life. I’m not kidding. This is the jackpot, the mother lode: All American Ads 40s and 50s. (Pardon the clunky link - it’ll take you to my book’s home page, but from there you can find the book I’m talking about. Enter “All-American Ads” into the search function. Yes, I get a miniscule cut, but it costs you nothing.)

The books are huge, affordable - $40 for 750 full-color pages, and the pictures are extraordinary. (Everything, I suspect, got a +10 in the saturation slider to compensate for the Ravages of Time, so the images just pop off the page.) You can skip the introduction, which not only reads like a college freshman essay but appears to have been subjected to a Transition Removal process that makes the essay read like a steamer trunk falling down the stairs. Each section ends with an ad chosen as the most peculiar example of its genre, with annoyingly smug commentary. Why, some of the ads in the 40s had racial stereotypes! Gasp! Did you know in the middle of WWII they actually used the word “Japs” in ads? Imagine! And look at this - a pesticide ad ignorant of the dangers of pesticides! And so forth. I beat up on these ads back in the Gallery, of course, but it’s done with love, and the remarks in this compendium seem curdled and self-congratulatory.

From the publisher’s catalog: “Surprisingly, not too many of these ads would make it past today’s censors.” Nonsense. “Politically incorrect more often than not -” again, nonsense - “these ads touting the glories of the all-America, squeaky clean persona and the white, nuclear family often hint at the sexist and racist mentality of the time.” Oh, blow it out your wienerschnitzel, Hans. That’s right: the publisher is Taschen! Krauts! Huns! Kaiserites! You want to lecture us about the racist character of our culture in the 40s? Bring it on, Horst.

Just kidding. (Sort of.) Taschen is a great publishing house, and these books are fabulous, but the tone of the writing is typical for those who approach commercial culture determined to show us sheep how we’re really being led by wolves. (Vampire wolves. Vampire Republican wolves.) What’s often missing in these tedious sermons is the fun of these ads, the ridiculous enthusiasm and vivacity, and an appreciation for the artistry evident in every ad. (Much more so than today, alas. Photography was the death of Advertising’s High Renaissance period.) And let us not forget that these are not propaganda posters designed to coerce; they are illustrations designed to entice and persuade. For some reason this makes them seem deeeeevious to their critics. Help! I am powerless before the scented entreaties of an aesthetic appeal! It’s a mystery, frankly. These ads make you PROUD to be an American. Of course they’re fiction, but by our fictions as much as our facts are we defined. Smiling healthy Hitler-whippers with tabletop TVs, underwear that doesn’t ride up, Coke for all and beer for most, ten-ton cars and orange juice in January.

We rule.

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