This might not be the most informative website, but now and then it’s the purdiest, ma’am. Or not. This pastel scheme, like last week, is a way of conjuring a spring that does not want to arrive. All the plants are up, and most of the trees have a good start on the leafage, but the temps are mired in the dank cellar of the fifties and the rain is interminable. Seattle on the plains. The local mood might best be described as a straight-edge razor hovering a half-inch over an artery. Just say the word. And the word would be snow.

Mother’s Day went off fine. Gnat chose the gift the other day at the Mall; she’d wandered into a store and picked up a pink candle-holder that said MOTHER on the side. This was the gift to get, I knew, because Gnat had chosen it. The fact that it fit the contours of the genre, and wasn't a Richard Petty Collector's edition Bic lighter. was a blessing. I could even overlook the fact that it said MOTHER. My wife is a Mom, or a Mommy, but MOTHER sums up an image of a gray-haired matron in a rocking chair, waiting for little Timmy to call - he’s been at the Front all this month, and I’m so worried; he just so hates the smell of mustard gas. “Mom” is a breezier term, a more contemporary term, and it fits my chic spouse right down to the nonexistent cuffs of her capri pants.

So we had a brunch today with friends and relatives. Before the meal I had Gnat sign the card, and she did so with great seriousness. I felt like someone presenting mortgage documents to an illiterate: sign here . . . annnd here. A simple pink squiggle sufficed. And that simple pink squiggle said more to my wife than any words in the inch-thick sunday newspaper that landed on our stoop.

After the guests had left and everyone had napped, we went furniture shopping. The company that makes our furniture is hiking up its prices 2 percent, for no apparent reason, and we’d been sent a postcard warning that we should act now or forever pay more for our pieces. So we went to look at a dresser. Young single men, this is your future: Sunday afternoons spent Looking at Dressers. I don’t mind, since I lack what some presume is a male disinclination to matters domestic. On the contrary. I impose my aesthetic sensibilities with an iron fist. Well, no. It’s mutual. My wife and I have the same tastes, and I think she’s happy that she has a husband who has actual tastes in the first place. Afterwards we split up - she went to look at toys for Gnat, and I went to Restoration Hardware for various polishes and cleaners. Stupid as this sounds, as no doubt is: if I’m going to do the polishing around here, I want a cloth that has a cool logo in a classic 30s font. And by God I found it.

The world is a messy place, but at home you can actually create a unified aesthetic field.

Damn, it’s a small world: this morning in the shower I heard an interview with Virginia Postrel, who mentioned the Prof, and when I went to his site tonight there was a link to a Steve Levy piece in Newsweek, with a photo credited to Sigrid Estrada - who shot the covers for my first two collections. I wonder if she has the same tiny studio in that office building I wonder if Mr. Levy stood there like I did, and like Leslie Neilsen did before me.

Anyway. I was working on a long bleat about Woody Allen and the Fritz Lang movie M, but that’ll have to wait. I got sidetracked by an unavoidable screed, and let me tell you:

. For those not interested in my anti-clown harangue, I commend you to the matchbook and flotsam links. Never let it be said that you don’t get your money’s worth on an Monday morning here.

Got a call from UPS on Friday, asking if we’d moved. Why yes, I said. Eleven months ago. Apparently a package had been sent to our old address, and they’d deliver it Monday. Fine! Great! Can’t wait.

It arrived at 5 PM Monday. That’s the good news. The bad news: it was from Omaha Steaks. Ideally, these steaks should arrive as hard and dense as diamonds; drop them on your foot and you’ll limp for a week. These steaks, when picked up, swooned.

That was the highlight of the day. Apologies for a short - well, nonexistant - bleat, but right now it’s 11:44, and I’ve spent the night dealing with angry email, snarky bastards, computer explosions and the overwhelming suspicion that this is all far more trouble than it’s worth. Back tomorrow. Give me 17 hours to remind myself why I volunteer for this crap.
Several weeks ago the radiators at Jasperwood began to gargle - little trickly noises that rattled ‘round the pipes. Then came big dry-heaves that came from the bottom of the boiler itself and reverberated throughout the house. GAWRSH. GAWRSH. It sounded like someone stepping on bloated octopuses, and it woke me up in the middle of the night. I called in the Minnesgasco Repair Plus (“The Plus stands for ‘Focus-tested buzzword!’”) and the repairman diagnosed Air. If pipes were intestines, then mine had Wind, and what the house really need to do was let one rip.

He suggested I call a plumber to bleed the pipes. So, it’s not something you do? No. He went into a long explanation of pipe-bleeding procedures, and made it sound slightly less complex than moderating the reaction in a nuclear power plant. If the humours of the pipes became imbalanced, horrible things would happen. Best to call in a pro.

It being spring, I figured I’d deal with this when heating season resumed. I forgot that heating season, in these parts, now extends to the point when car dealership ads feature sparklers and flags.

A fortnight ago the boiler decided it was through being bossed around by thermostats; it was going to call the shots around here, and if it wanted to run all night and make the joint as hot as Col. Sternwood’s greenhouse, then that’s the way things were going to be. So I cut the power - the boiler clicked in disbelief, huffed once and retreated to a cold sullen sulk. I forgot about it - until a few nights ago when the temps went sub-40 again.When I flicked the master switch the boiler nearly leapt off its apron with glee. I thought it would pin me against a wall and wrap its copper arms around my neck. It fired up, took a deep rapacious drink from the pipes, and went straight to maximum power.

I checked all the thermostats in the house; they were all set at 55 degrees.

The boiler was insane.

I called Minnegasco Service Extra, or whatever the hell it is - there isn’t even a Minnegasco, anymore. God forbid we have a utility company whose name suggests where they are and what they supply. It’s now Reliant, making it the only utility in America to be named after a crappy Dodge from the 70s. (About PintoBell, our phone company, I will not speak.) A fellow showed up this morning, spent a few minutes down in the utility room peering at the piles and valves. The Boiler Whisperer, I thought. There, there, girl. Calm down. It’s spring. Time to rest. Time to rest.

He came upstairs wearing a face of strange rue. “Everything checks out,” he said. “I think the pipes just need bleeding.” I know, I replied - that’s what the last guy from Minnegasco said.

Pause. “And he . . . he didn’t do it?”

No, he told me to hire a plumber.

Pause. “Well, some of them don’t like to do it.” He had a little butterfly-winged pipe-bleeding key in his hands. “Where are the radiators?”

So in one short conversation the fellow simultaneously destroys and renews my confidence in Minnegasco Repair Extra Service Plus Nonpareil. Add this to the fellow from the same company who misdiagnosed a fridge problem as a defective solenoid, when it was actually a frozen reservoir, and you have - altogether now - a damning indictment of socialized medicine!

Well, no. But it’s an interesting little lesson in human nature. Since I pay these guys a minor monthly fee, I call them for everything. And I imagine other customers do the same. The previous repairman had no incentive to bleed the pipes, because I was a contract customer. Why put himself out? I still remember what he said when I cut short his long, strange, rambling explanation of the intricacies of pipe-bleeding, and said I’d let him get on the next customer. I was thinking how annoying it is to wait for a repairman, and that there was no need to tarry here when he could be off to the next job.

“Doesn’t make any difference when I get there,” he said. “I get paid no matter what.”

Apparently I was supposed to have some sort of solidarity with that statement - I hear that! Don’t knock yourself out for nothing! Then we do the soul-brother handshake. Customer be damned, as long the customer ain’t me.

Anyway, it’s all fixed. Stay tuned for the air conditioner to blow up.

The computer makes it possible to work on your book without actually making a lick of progress. You can spend half an hour toying with fonts and margins, and somehow it feels like you’re doing something. I suppose olde-tyme procrastinators cleaned the typewriter keys, lined up the sheaf of paper just so, added a little oil to the eraser wheel and combed its brush (and there’s a piece of office equipment I haven’t thought of in years; I don’t even know what to call it.) Shelley may have sharpened his quills, topped off the inkwell. But computers permit much more creativity in work avoidance. Yesterday, for example, I spent half an hour designing the book submission CD, so that when the window opens it has the proper graphic here, the folders there. As for writing the book, well, in due time. In due time.

Actually, due time is soon, and there’ll be no Bleat Friday; I’ve got to meet some deadlines. At least there’s a Bleat today, for those interested in such things. I was in such a brutal funk last night and this morning I almost pitched the whole website. It wasn’t just narsty email, although that never helps - I read it all, and if you’re going to take the good stuff to heart you might as well extend the same courtesy to the bad . . . until it gets pissy. There’s a certain condescending sarcastic tone I can only describe as both nasal and anal. It’s bitter, smug, strident and cramped, and it’s always angry that I don’t realize that the real enemy is Rupert Murdock, or the School for the Americas, or Monsanto, or Regnery publishing, or whatever malevolent Monty-Burns-type sits hunched in a high-backed chair, muttering excellent as the American Sheeple are distracted by that silliness with the World Trade Center.

It’s different from the Crackpot voice - years of listening to Art Bell schooled me in that timbre. The Crackpot voice blends quasi-scientific detachment with wry curiosity and a sense of urgency, as if it was very important that we learned the truth about Time Traveling Ghost Walkers now, because they are trying to tell something very important. Which you can read about in my book, The Aztecs Among Us.

But I’m wandering. I just felt annoyed and irrelevant yesterday - which is telling, because it assumes that on any normal day, I feel relevant. And of course I am not. In fact it feels immodest to have to point that out, as if anyone assumes I am. So what’s the point? Who cares? Cue the confidence death-spiral.

It was more than that. The dreary May weather had ground me down to a blunt nub. I’d burned my tongue. I had two pieces due in a day. My wife asked me to print out a brief, and somehow I corrupted all the printer drivers, which meant I had to find the CD, reinstall, reboot, repeat, etc. - not my idea of fun at 11:30 after a day of napless Gnat and nonstop bitchery on the website end. There’s more to this story, but I’ll recount that on Monday when the fustercluckery to come has passed.

Actually, I was just hurt (sniff) that Instapundit didn’t link to the Screed. I’m over! I’m so over!

You know, there are a few of the nasal-retentive types who are going to take that line out of context. Go ahead, boys. That’s the subject of tomorrow’s Bleat. As for today:

It was sunny. Bright and warm and sunny, and the thermometer outside the window - a noted hysteric when it comes to interpreting the shouts of old Sol - insisted that it was 110 degrees at 4:45 PM. I took Gnat out into the backyard nevertheless, and she went straight up the little path to her house. She pressed the doorbell; she said “ding dong,” she went inside and said ohhhh. Natty’s hohs. Jasper, proving the adage that a door is the thing a dog is always on the wrong side of, clawed the door of her cottage until she let him in.

Once in, of course, he wanted out. And once out he wanted in. Did dogs learn that from us - or did we learn it from them?
The grocery-store line you have just joined moves the slowest. The passing lane is occupied by a grim-jawed obdurate who is doing the legal limit, thank you very much. The person in line ahead of you at the government office has decided that now is the time to chat with the clerk as if no one in the world was behind him. True dull facts, banal observations. Annoyances to the impatient man - and I, alas, am an impatient man. It’s one of my worst faults, and today I became my worst enemy.

Went to pay my property taxes, lest the King’s Men tromp up the hill and lay siege. I was given number A078. According to the display, they were currently serving A062. Ten minutes later, they were still serving A062. I felt the weight of the day’s obligations pressing on my neck, and made a command decision: I would take the pre-addressed envelope, and after work I’d get out the taxes from 01 and find out what I should pay. (They sent a bill, of course, but I’d given it to the tax preparer and it wasn’t in the sheaf of documents she returned. I turned the house upside down that morning, too - the one document I need, and it’s converted back to atoms and joined the celestial ether. When I see those photographs of gigantic colliding galaxies, I think: now there’s an excuse for not getting your taxes in on time. Couldn’t find the receipts; massive gas giant ate them. Of course, this is ridiculous; the galaxies are colliding at a leisurely pace. It’s not like stars smash into your planet like a drunk going through the plate glass window . . . still, it would be hideous for a culture, a civilization to rise to the point where 20th century cosmology and technology allow them to examine the heavens and learn that they have about six years before that black hole comes close enough to perturb their sweet-spot orbit. Or sixty years. Or fifteen. It would be the global equivalent of bullet-time in the Matrix, except no matter how much you twist and dodge, it’s going to hit.

That’s assuming anything gets close enough to hit anything, of course. These distances are as vast and empty as the space between Barbra Streisand’s ears.

Anyway. I’m in the line, and the line moves not, so I bolt. I’m on the highway heading to work, and I hit a jam; the only exit is a southbound freeway that takes me away from work . . . but back to the government center. Realizing I have spent almost an hour and accomplished nothing, I head back to the government center. Hurrah! They’re on number A077. Perfect.

When I’m called I present my address to a kindly old gent, and he squints, grins: why, he lived a block away as a kid - in the late 40s, I’d guess. I tell him which house is mine, and he recognizes it instantly. Then he describes a house up by the watertower, a grand and mysterious place that looks out over a gorge, and has an actual castle wall with a turret. I knew it, of course; it’s one of the great houses in the neighborhood.

The man who built it, he said, he invented the toaster.

I knew just what he meant. The Toastmaster company was based here in Minneapolis - and in fact one of their 30s brochures was featured in my Gallery of Regrettable Food. It was the Waters-Genter Co., which meant that the house was built by a Waters or a Genter. (Having paused to Google this, I know how that the inventor was Charles Strite, who patented the thing in ‘28. It’s off to the old reverse directories in the Strib basement tomorrow. Do you realize what this means? I live in the house of the man who invented Walnettos, and I live a few blocks from the man who patented the toaster. The shadows of giants fall long in these parts,)

Oh, we built tunnels in those woods, he said. We had a grand time.

I told him a few details I’d learned from the autobiography of a man who’d lived at Jasperwood in the 20s, back when his father was a candy magnate (they made Walnettos, among other confections.) You don’t say, the man said. Oh, and there’s more -

And at this point I realized that I had made that switch people make when they’re no longer waiting, but are being served. Suddenly the class consciousness that bound them to their fellow serfs is gone. Suddenly there’s no one waiting. This was wrong. I stopped gabbing, cut the check with a few genial mumbles, and we were done.

Driving back to work, I thought: what were the chances of that? I run into a bureaucrat in this big sprawling city who grew up close to my house, and in the few minutes we have to chat we each learn something about the history we shared. It almost made me wish I could have found A079 in the waiting room, given him a fiver and asked if he could wait for a few minutes. There were some stories I needed to learn.

Tonight, walking Jasper, I passed the house in which the old man lived. It’s unchanged - no tell-tale additions. Tonight, standing on the cliff, I realized I can see his house from here - one of those lights was his childhood bedroom. To him this was a long time ago; to him this was just the other day. When I mentioned that the neighborhood was louder nowadays - meaning the planes - he said “Oh, I don’t know. We raised a ruckus.” He grinned and noted how the neighborhood was full of kids. I thought about the current makeup of the neighborhood - lots of kids, but mostly pre-teens, tweens, and adolescents; not too many tots of Gnat’s age. He’d lived here when the area had a certain demographic consistency, and every summer day every door burst open with someone running into the sun to play in the creek or climb the Great Hill, skulk around the water tower with its impassive stone Paladins, or sneak through the tunnels carved in the Toaster Man’s dense woods. It’s all so common it seems ridiculous to insist that these details need preservation, or should be noted and passed along. But they matter. These houses are stones in a river of quicksilver; so much flows between and among and around, and nothing clings to anything.

I’ve one more story to tell Gnat about the neighborhood, when she’s in the mood to listen. We can see the Great Hill and the water tower from the kitchen window; we can see what the inventor of the toaster saw.

I didn’t catch the man’s name - his badge was tucked in his sweater vest. If I went back and asked to speak to him again, I might get odd names. Who? What? Old guy? No one here like that. Which would mean he was a sprite sent to teach me a lesson: be patient. You might learn something.

God bless him. Unless he’s in the passing lane doing 55, in which case: move it! Or you’re toast!


That's all for this week - deadlines call, and no bleat on Friday. Apologies for the cranky neurotic bitchiness this week, and many thanks to all who sent along a thumbs-up - I'll try to answer as many letters as possible this weekend. See you Monday.