Not that I said I was leaving, but I’m back. Ran off to New York for a meeting with editor over Interior Desecrators. The day started early, with the usual gut-flutters and growly mood. I really don’t like to travel, I’m afraid. I wish I were one of those fellows who threw underwear and a toothbrush in a rucksack with a well-thumbed curry-stained copy of See the World on 97 Cents a Day and lit out for Bali, but it takes a crowbar to get me to St. Paul, let alone the other side of the country. I don’t like to fly. I don’t hate it; I’m just not comfortable. In the old days I met every bump and shudder with a grin, but in the old days I had inhaled 18 shots of bourbon before getting on the plane. No more. So I just endure it now, and while I look utterly calm on the outside, my toes are crossed. I know it’s safe; I know that planes can withstand all sorts of turbulence; I know, I know. Doesn’t matter. Don’t like it. No sir.

At one point we hit a particularly wicked interlude of “chop,” as the pilot called it, and he bade everyone to take a seat. The stews strapped down in the back as well. Up, down, up, down, up - holy jumped up jeezum GOD! the plane felt as if it dropped a thousand feet in a second. Everyone lifted from their seats; hands went up in the air as if on an amusement ride; my computer flew up and I caught it with the fine instincts of someone who cannot justify buying another this year. The lady next to me, a demonstrably nervous flier who had been operating a set of imaginary pedals for the duration of the flight, grabbed her husband’s arm so tightly you expected his fingers to swell like balloons. Then it was over; then we were calm; an hour and a half later, we were there.

There, in this case, was Newark. Best way to get into New York. You land quickly, you get a gate right away, and there’s no waiting around for some stinking chuffing bus with taped-up seats to drag your sorry weary wrinkled bodkin all the way through the boroughs to Manhattan. There’s now a monorail, the sight of which makes any Simpsons fan start to burst into song, except they’re not quite sure how that song goes, anyway. It’s very clean and sleek and horribly claustrophobic, if you’re so inclined. It pokes along on pylons suspended waaaay higher than you’d like, and each compartment is about the size of an elephant’s womb, although drier and brighter. It takes you from terminal to terminal to parking garage to a train station, where you can catch a northbound train to Penn Station. Half an hour tops if you’re lucky. Then you ride the narrow escalator up the dark hole into Penn Station (“Now with 49% less Urine Smell”), then you take the escalator to the cab stand -

Which has no cabs and appears not to even be a stand anymore. There are cement barriers blocking the passage. A 9/11 casualty, apparently. Well, it’s only ten blocks north and two over to the hotel, so I walk. I had misjudged the weather, so I was a red-faced sweating mess when I showed up at the hotel, which of course was populated entirely by dry Europeans and models. They gave me a room anyway.

It was the Royalton, one of my favorite hotels anywhere. It was designed by Philip Starck, who also designed the plastic food storage containers I bought at Target a few weeks ago. The view was substandard - a brick wall, a sliver of a 60s era office building, a disused fire escape with a dead pigeon. But it was quiet and elegant, the perfect nook for a few days. I showered and went straight to Grand Central Station to buy the papers and gawk like a bumpkin. On one hand, it seems like a waste of magnificence, like a cathedral built on spec to be hired to whatever religion wants to claim it - but of course it’s one of Manhattan’s great civic gifts, a scale-model heaven. Penn Station funnels you into a broad long room that lacks direction and focus, and the ceiling presses down as if trying to make you hunch like the huddled prole you are. Grand Central always tugs you up. When you walk in from the Vanderbilt side and stand on that staircase overlooking the hall, you stand straighter and square your shoulders and fill your lungs with air. (Now with 93% less Urine Aroma.) This is the heart of the city, right here, each day a single beat, each person a mote in the stream that courses north and south. Then someone jabs an umbrella in your back and you realize you had better move along.

I head over to Random House, still housed in one of those ruinously large International Style skyscrapers on Park. My editor comes down and we head off to dinner at Smith & Wollensky’s. So, who’ve you signed lately? Ann Coulter. He just did her book “Scandal.” I assure him that I don’t think Ann is Sataness Incarnate, and he is not Satan Junior for signing her - in New York publishing circles, you might raise eyebrows by publishing one of them, but I am not a member of that circle. This leads to a discussion of Israel, and we tear into the subject while sawing at slabs of meat. Dominick Dunne enters the restaurant! If I’d had three drinks in me I would have felt as though I were at the center of the universe.

But I’m only three sips into the inaugural vodka of the season, mostly tired and entirely too meat-stuffed to have the energy for those delusions.

As for the delusions I eventually embraced, that’s tomorrow’s Bleat.
Apologies for all the Bleats that begin with “apologies.” In this case I am sorry for the mail I haven’t answered, which now totters in mile-high piles. So many folks wrote last week while I was having one of my thrice-yearly fits of pique, and I thank you all for the support. But you don’t come for apologies; you come for . . . for whatever it is I do here. So let’s do it. Keep in mind that this is a column night, and I’m working on a Newhouse number, so this will be short & unedited, an absolute real bleat in the truest sense. Apolo -

Oh, right.

Back to the New York story. After dinner with my editor we parted on Park, and I wandered off to Times Square to shoot video. It’s one of the few places in Manhattan where I don’t feel a tad self-conscious filming stuff, because I look like every other out-of-town dork sucking up bright lights so I can dazzle the yokels when I get back to Basement, USA. Lookee here! They done got a garlie in her undiewahr up onna billboard so big her butt’s as high as a Circle-K store sign. I was heartened to see the old Paramount Building facade restored - there’s now a marquee just as there was in the Olden Days, although it hawks the hokey steroidal fury of professional wrestling. There were a few new buildings to see - what had been a skeleton last year now wore glass flesh, but like most new Times Square buildings they were confused and incoherent structures, unreadable on the ground level, ambivalent above. This is probably preferable to the Philip Johnson design for Times Square, which would have stuck four or five dead dull towers in the epicenter of the area, and crushed the streetlife like big heels on a crowd of ants. The area does not call out for heroic architecture, but it wouldn’t exactly suffer for it, either.

Went to the Toys R Us store, because I missed my daughter. I bought her a silly book about caterpillars. As I wandered around the store I tried to imagine its previous incarnation - I knew this building from studying old postcards of Times Square; it’s one of the oldest and most flamboyant structures in the area. This was the home of the Toffinetti’s Restaurant! This was the home of Bond Clothiers! Of the giant twin Pepsi bottles, the famous smoking Camel sign! Like the Times Building itself, and the Knickerbocker hotel, so much of ancient Times Square feels as if it’s imprisoned in a cage of light. It’s still there, but it’s mute and blind.

Maybe a couple hundred people a day pass and remember. It’s the fate of any corner in any town. So Times Square should be different?

Yes, it should.

Back to the hotel. Sleep.

Up, out: I spent Friday morning walking around the East side, finding those intersections that still have the flavor of the 30s: you can stand with your back to the Chrysler building, face the perfect slab of the Chanin building, look down 42nd to the Chanin’s kin and imagine what the street looked like when all the cars were black and sleek. Wandered over to the UN, noted how crappy the grounds look - the pavement stones are heaving, the railings are peeling, the sculpture is substandard and archaic. It’s interesting to realize that the very style of the UN building is now passe and disregarded - the cool sleek International Style proved to be a bane to cities, not the salvation, and the UN building - while a lovely example of the style - is a physical embodiment of discredited utopian urban theory. It’s the old corporate HQ model from the 60s - right before the corporations said “to hell with this” and fled for suburban campuses, or towns in Texas where the employees could get a nice house on a secretary’s salary instead of an efficiency in Queens. It’s a holdover from the era of big banks of computers with whirring spools of tapes, punch cards, Dictabelts, men in thin black ties peering over dot-matrix readouts, white-marble elevator lobbies, beehived secretaries, ashtrays the size of hubcaps, three-martini lunches. The era of the Egghead Rule. The MacNamEra.

I repeat what I said before: evict the kleptocrats and sell their warrens for condos. The views would be extraordinary, and if the offices were replaced by people who ate, slept, made love, listened to music, wrote books, painted pictures - well, then the building would actually be put to a useful purpose.

Walked west. Saw a small fire station.

A small altar was erected against the wall. Flowers. A picture. A plaque. A newspaper clipping, laminated, taped to the side of the station with a photo of a big grinning guy smiling into the sun. He was dead, of course. This house lost one man and this was their tribute. I read the details of his life, the recollections of his fellow firefighters. He was a happy guy. He told a funny story. He loved his job and he loved New York.

Standing here on a clear calm sunny morning, you could imagine that day with no effort.

Faraway sirens; lots of sirens wailing down the length of the island. The door clatters open, the truck rolls out, turns right, heads south, and that was that.

Everyone came back save one.

The little altar had a toy firetruck and a toy fireman. It’s the goddamn toys that get you. It’s the goddamn teddybears in firefighter coats. You can understand what the adults who constructed this memorial were feeling, but when you wonder if the toys were left by the dead man’s children, you see ninety-nine shades of red.

Everything public in New York is fair game for some sort of defacement. Everything gets kicked over or scribbled on or slapped with a handbill or a scrawled screw-you.

The altar was pristine.
Oy. Gnat pitched a towering fit this morning when Mommy went to work - disconsolate and abandoned, she laid on the floor and sobbed for ten minutes. So I brought out the secret weapon. The special reserves. A few weeks ago I bought a ten-pack of Play-Doh, and she was content simply to play with the multicolored containers themselves. I figured at the time that I should not reveal their inner doughy contents, but should keep their palpable innards a secret until I really needed some industrial-strength tot placation material. And so this morning I got out the Play-Doh and made a great show of peeling off the lid off the blue container.

Ohh! she said. Doh! Bwu doh!

I opened each of them, and her eyes grew wide: back doh! Geen doh! Puhpuh doh! Panq doh!

Crisis averted.

Now I need another secret. Note to self: teach dog to cough up Alpha-Bits on command.

Back to the New York trip. Last installment.

Saturday morning was hideous - the raw wind nearly took you off your feet and the cold rain cut right through my thin jacket. (I had spectacularly miscalculated the weather, and as usual ended up pawing the sale rack at the Rockefeller Center Banana Republic looking for something else to wear.) I’d meant to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but around 64th street I lost interest and headed back. A perfect description of the entire trip, really. Some years I love my annual trip. Some years I just want to go home, and this was one of them. The business portion was fun, and it was good to meet people, talk about the book - but I’d have been happy leaving around 11: 45 PM Friday night. Mainly because at 11:46 PM the bartender at the hotel bought me one on the house, and the man poured with punishing generosity.

The bar used to have about 120 different vodkas, so I was surprised to find the selection consisted of no more than the usual suspects. “They looked great, but they didn’t sell,” the bartender said. The place was empty, so we just talked about New York, about our trades - he was an actor and a playwright, and had an interesting tale I must save for Thursday’s Backfence. In retrospect I realize that we disagreed about nearly everything the other said, but it was a genial & high-spirited conversation. At one point a couple came in, ordered drinks - a White Russian for him, champagne for her. They adjourned to the lobby where the mood was more festive - you can’t hear yourself think in the lobby on any given night, since it’s thick with revelers trying not to look at all the other people who are trying not to look at them. (Ozzie Osbourne’s son was there the previous night, wearing his usual scowly mask, and he made me think of some sort of bird: the English Startled Dork. Marilyn Manson had been in the previous evening; missed that rendezvous, drat the luck.)

The female half of the couple returned half an hour later trailing Bad Date vibes, and asked for another one of whatever her date had.

“A White Russian,” I said. There had been no other orders in the last half hour, so this wasn’t exactly a great feat of memory.

“Exactly. What kinda drink is that?” she said.

“It’s not a manly drink,” I said. “In fact it’s rather silly.”

“Exactly,” she said with great gratitude. So she wasn’t being too picky. So her suspicions were correct. She bummed a smoke off the bartender - Whitey the Roosk didn’t like smoking, either - and off she went. I half expected her date to stop in the Round Bar on the way out and paste me one in the jaw, and I’m not sure I would have blamed him.

I made it upstairs, straightened up the room - I hate waking to hotel disorder - and slept. Woke after ten hours of utter inertness. Made breakfast. I never rely on room service, the cost of which offends me both as a North Dakotan and a grocery shopper. I always pick up supplies at the great little Korean grocery store in the Hotel Roosevelt; the pastry goes in the room safe, and I order a bucket of ice before turning in so I can chill the OJ overnight. I bring some powdered espresso and one of those immersion heaters, so I have coffee within minutes of waking up.

And thus it came to pass that I sat on the edge of the bed, blowing on a cup of coffee, watching an Enimem video, thinking: I can’t stand this guy, but this is a clever video and I like the song, too.

It’s amazing what you learn when the remote batteries are drained and you’re not awake enough to change the channel.

Eventually left the room, braved the cold, etc. On the way back from my aborted trip I went through Central Park - deserted except for one wild-eyed young man on a park bench who was rocking back and forth and saying Ah Hah. So. Ah Hah. So. Poor bastard. I paused at the polar bear tank and watched the big lugs swim around with unexpected grace, then ruined an hour in the din of FAO Schwartz, looking for a toy for Gnat. It used to be a GM car showroom, back in the old days; before this was just another TRUMP property it was the GM building. It’s unforgivably large, a big white slab whose inconsiderate size sneers at the Plaza and the Sherry-Netherland and other humanely-scaled buildings that anchor this corner of Central Park. It’s the sad fact of New York - no other city was ennobled by hubris and so equally ruined. To see the fizzy spires of St. Pat’s standing against the black cliff of the Olympic Building makes you wish they hadn’t invented the elevator until 1986.

In the afternoon I walked to Chelsea to wait out the rain in the Antique Garage. One of my favorite places - a parking garage given over to the bits and pieces of the 20th century. One of the booths had some old pin-up calendars, including the work of “Arthur Frahm” - if they’d been signed, I’d have bought one. The same booth had a book of “pin-up matchbooks,” and I asked the proprietor if he had another matches. “What are you looking for?” he asked, and I shrugged - restaurants from the 40s and 50s, I guess. He grinned. “I just bought a collection from an estate. I think you’ll like it.” He pulled out four gigantic trays crammed with matchbooks. “A buck each. Fifty cents if you buy more than 20.”

I started to paw through the selection, and immediately got that shivery sensation of the Pathetic Collector who realizes he has found the motherlode. This was exactly what I’d asked for: New York restaurant matchbooks of the 40s and 50s. Unbelievable variety. All of a sudden my little Matchbook project on this site was upgraded from dilettante status to The Web Museum of Matchbooks - as you’ll see in weeks to come.

On the way out I stopped at a booth that had some World’s Fair material, and found a pristine pamphlet on rail travel options to the 1940 Fair. That wasn’t anything new or surprising - but attached to the pamphlet was a button.

I have seen the future

Once again, a heart-in-mouth moment. I’ve looked for this button for years. It’s what they gave people who’d seen the GM exhibit, Futurama, the exhibit that showed a world of broad clean highways and gleaming perfect cities. It had rested in a drawer for 62 years, and now here it was; buy me!

Well, yes, of course.

A good day; no complaints. But I really didn’t want to be there. I really wanted to be in a convertible on a highway with palm trees above, Brian Setzer blaring on the speakers, on my way to have a burger and shake at a drive-in. It took a trip to New York to make me realize I’d rather be in LA.

Why? I love New York, but this trip just felt weary and sad. It was my mood, probably; I was blue before I left and didn’t shake it the entire trip. I didn’t go there expecting the trip to be freighted with some post 9/11 expedition, but in my downcast mood I kept seeing things that just made my heart sink. Hallmarky things that would usually make my eyes roll - like a painting in a window of a firefighter hugging a rescue dog - made me stop and sag. An overwrought statue of a grieving firefighter, parked on 7th, had the same effect. I’m sure New Yorkers are used to the giant flag hanging in the middle of the hall, but I’m not, and seeing it displayed in a way that recalled the WW2 photos of the Great Hall made me stop on the balcony and soak it all in. Below, tucked away in a corridor leading to 42nd street, was a wall plastered with MISSING fliers, homemade posters made by friends and relatives of 9/11 casualties. Again, if you pass this daily you suck it up and file it away; if you live in New York I expect that you’ve made your peace with this for the moment. But I don’t live in New York. I haven’t made my peace with it. It’s simply heartbreaking to see it in person.

The dead have never been happier. One flier shows a young kid grinning as he drives his new car; another has a lovely young woman in graduation gown, looking at that undefinable future that always seems to hang over the portrait photographer’s shoulder. Smiling guys at wedding receptions. Secretaries goofing with girlfriends at a shower. Human lives reduced to the level of lost-dog posters.

Got up the next day, went to Penn Station; bought a Krispy Kreme and took the train back to Newark. Uneventful flight. Watched a MST3K movie en route, which ate up the time nicely. Within an hour of landing I was back in my car with Gnat in the back going to the grocery store - I popped in a CD I’d burned and played “Home and Dry,” a perfect little cut from the Pet Shop Boys CD, and Gnat bopped up and down to the beat. Rolled down the windows and punched the gas, so very happy to be home. Like I said, the trip’s glum mood was mostly my fault. If you show up with your sails stowed you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t move out of port. And if I had gone to LA I would have sat in my hotel room missing the clank-clank of cars driving over a loose manhole cover at 2 AM.

I’d go back tomorrow. I just hope that the wall of fliers stays up for a while - not just as a reminder, but as a symbol of something rare and horrible that never happened again.

Or so we hope, and hope is all we can do.

Kirk’s chair is up for sale, I read today. It will be auctioned off to a rich Trekkie who will put it in a special room designed to look like the bridge, and at some point this fellow will put on a Kirky tunic, sit in the chair, pound the arm to call Scotty on the intercom, and realize he has just put his fist through cheap, worm-eaten plywood for which he paid $130,000. I saw The Chair years ago in DC, at an event I’ve written about before here - it was the Smithsonian’s Trek exhibit, and they held a special press event. I met the entire cast. (Take that, Jonah Goldberg!) You could see Shatner stand in front of The Chair itself. You could chat with the cast members who were flattered and gratified to be in the Smithsonian, and were happy to talk to the press - which was everyone but Shatner, of course. You could stand on the glass dish of the transporter and have your picture taken. Geek Valhalla. If ever my daughter becomes enthralled by the wheezy old ancient Star Trek shows beloved by her doddering, palsied hair-in-his-ears Daddy, I will tell her of the moment I stood beneath one of the movie models of the 1701 with Scotty Himself. He looked up and grinned and said “Ah, she’s a beautiful thing” - and while he may have been thinking of the contributions that plastic contrivance made to his bank account, maybe he was admitting that he was a fan, too. Hop in - you drive, I wanted to say. Or did I say it? Give me ten years, and I’m sure I’ll insist I said just that.

Take that, Jonah Goldberg!

Sorry - I’m referring to Mr. G’s remarks at the Corner, jonesing hard for his employers to buy him The Chair. I’m always curious who reads this thing, and have decided to publicly harangue big-league bloggers, or “bigleaguggers,” as we call them, until they snap and spank me in public.

Worst. Store. Ever:
the other day I noticed that World Market had opened a branch next to CompUSA, in the space previously occupied by Homeplace. That store had died a hard death, completely deserved - the concept was incoherent, the merchandise a messy jumble. The new replacement was smaller, and equally misguided. Imagine Pier One with a small grocery component that offered nothing you couldn’t find at the upscale supermarket three blocks up the street. The store offers Indian cooking sauces, and chairs. Some beer, and pottery. If you put the store in the middle of North Dakota it would be a godsend, as if you'd stumbled on the lost luggage of a planeload of American embassy staffers, but in any large market it’s a hopeless redundancy. The Exotic Soft Drink section, for example, consists of Stewart’s soda, which you can get anywhere, and one flavor of Boylan’s soda. I’d pay a weekly visit if they had all varieties of Boylan’s products, and I would gladly wheel a stroller through the itchy-poky expanse of rattan ottomans to do so. I asked the clerk if the store had any autonomy, any way to vary the product mix to reflect local tastes and product availability.

Of course not. It all came down from On High. Let the World Market Deathwatch begin! I predict the store will be gone by June 15, 2003. Lay your money down, ladies and gentlemen. All bets are final.

I had fallen away from the X-Files over the last few years. No - amend that. I didn’t fall; I was pushed. At some point I was trying to explain why the guys with their faces sewn shut were herding abductees on to a bridge where they would be taken up by good renegade aliens - or maybe they were the bad aliens, the ones who were shape-shifters, or maybe small gray aliens, or maybe those horrible greasy things writhing in cocoons that we saw in the movie - well, in any case, I knew that the Syndicate had failed, and the Conspiracy was dead, except that the Conspiracy was still going on although they’d given up on those gigantic bee-farms and were now working on Super Soldiers, the name of which proved that a 10-year old boy was controlling the entire project. Then there was something about water, although it didn’t seem to matter, any more than Mulder’s brain cancer mattered, or Scully’s miraculous re-wombing mattered (I think Mulder actually showed up with her uterus in a ZipLoc bag, if I remember that episode.) I didn’t know what the Indians had to do with it, or why Gibson Pride mattered, or whether Ratboy was dead or alive, or whether Mulder’s father had slept with the Cigarette Smoking Man as part of a plan to develop a popper that would not only hasten the alien invasion but make one helluva fabulous rush, or whether Scully’s father - also known as Bobby Brigg’s Dad from Twin Peaks - was part of a plot to cripple the FBI by removing all lightbulbs from every office and flooding the rooms with fine particulate matter, forcing everyone to squint and misread the reports Mulley and Sculder filed. I was pretty sure that Skinner had been replaced by an alien in the sixth season, since this big tough guy now looked like he wanted to cry in every other episode. Oh, and Scully had a kid who could move things around with his mind, a plot device I haven’t seen since Bewitched.

I really loved this show once, but it screwed with me; it let me down, it choked on its own myth, floundered in the shallow pool of its creator’s imagination, and turned into something that wasn’t only stupid but an exact opposite of what it had once been: a canny wink to peculiar undercurrents in the zeitgeist. (German for “crap that’s floating out there.”) At the apogee of the series, in 1997, there was this odd nexus of UFO themes in the air, all bubbling up from the substrata of mainstream culture. I’ve written about this before here - I was doing late-night radio at the time, and my show was followed by Art Bell, who had just taken root as the nation’s preeminent BS impresario. So you had Art Bell’s UFO shows, the X-Files, the Roswell anniversary and the first stirrings of millennial anxiety, the sense that something was coming. Central to this theme was the notion that the government had a great grave secret and was expertly managing a strange hidden truth. Nonsense? Sure - but if you’re agnostic on the subject of UFOs, and are intrigued by the secondary topics (why societies believe in such things, what the ramifications might be if the stories are true, etc.) then it made for amusing conversations and enjoyable TV.

Post 9/11, the X-Files just seems stupid. Nevermind the portrayal of the FBI as an effective agency with unlimited resources and nested conspiracies; nevermind the overall silliness of the plots, which finally resembled nothing more than a box of snakes chewing their own tails. The idea that the government has, at its core, a cadre of conspirators who run the military and are bent on enslaving the population to serve alien masters isn’t just eye-rollingly dumb, it’s so far out of sync with current events that it’s a waste of time to watch the show, when you should be reading a current events magazine. Every soldier on the show was in the pay of the evil cabal. It’s like putting on a radio drama in 1942 that portrayed all the fightin’ men as tools of Emperor Ming. Wrong, childish, and childishly wrong in a wrong-headed, childish way.

So what was the Truth? What did we finally learn? The exact date of the alien invasion. Big whoop. We learned that military installations can easily be broken into and escaped from, and that none of the helicopters have FLIR, so if you escape in the nighttime you can drive down a deserted highway unmolested. We learned that highly organized secret societies hold show trials for no particular reason, and have enlisted men stand guard so all the secrets of the trials can be blabbed to hookers who work Ft. Bragg. We learned that Chris Carter believes that “chain-smoking son of a bitch” is the ultimate invective. We learned everything and nothing except that the world will possibly end in ten years, because the aliens preferred to wait until the Earth was populated by a technologically advanced civilization instead of taking over when Earth was full of people who worshipped goats and ornately feathered birds. Bah. Enough. Goodbye.

So . . . the X-Files ended up stinking, Star Wars is a soulless machine; I have my hopes pinned on the Enterprise finale. I’ve only seen about 8 or 9 Enterprises, but I’ve enjoyed them all. Best first season of any post TOS series, good characters, great soundtrack (except for that hideous theme) and innumerable nods to the purists & geeks in the audience. Trek has been delivering, one way or the other, for almost 30 years, because it grows and changes and bends.

If Marlin Perkins had a pouty Vulcan sidekick, “Wild Kingdom” would still be on the air.

Of course, if Bonanza had put Hoss in Spandex and slapped cybernetic implants on his jowls, “Bonanza” would have been canceled after one season.

My point? No point. Good day.
Yesterday’s Bleat was shot through with vitriol - I hate the X-Files! I hate World Market! I take umbrage at the parsimonious amount of ketchup provided in single-serv packs! (I cut that part.) So today will be a Celebration of Love.

I love . . . okay, hold on, it’ll come to me -

I loved today’s Target trip. The other day a friend noted that a neighbor’s tree was A) dead, and B) primed to fall on my power lines, so I decided to put in a store of candles just in case. I didn’t find any emergency candles, just ordinary overpriced stinky candles aimed squarely at the Newly Spiritual 14-year-old-Girl demographic. On the way out of the store we stopped at the snack bar for a pretzel, and the clerk bestowed a popsicle on Gnat to celebrate her general cuteness. I said thanks. If I’d known better I would have batted it from his hand and barked Are You MAD? For the popsicle soon melted and turned her entire torso into a sticky sweet mass - I could have held her up against the car window, and she'd stuck there like one of those Garfield dolls. And it stained her face with a strange insoluble orange hue I couldn’t wipe off. She looked as though she had stood next to a poorly-shielded nuclear-powered carrot. When we got home I tried a new selection of food, the ever-popular Beefy Mac; she rejected it instantly, grabbing handfuls and flinging them on the floor (just swept) the window (just cleaned) the laptop screen (AAAAAAHHHHH) the dog (whatever) and the window sill. I tried to clean the Beefy Mac residue off her tray. No luck. The tomato sauce had bonded to the plastic. I tried Lysol cleaner: no. I tried Windex with the Fresh Healing Power of Vinegar: no. I tried Windex with the Flesh-Melting Power of Oranges: it made a dent, but there’s still a stain, like Gorby’s birthmark.

How indelibly tinted are our innards, anyway? I’ve eaten popsicles and Beefy Mac - am I orange and red within? Is vodka nature’s 401, scouring out all the godless hues and dyes we ingest?

Better safe than sorry. Be right back -

Ahh. You know, you can have your bootik vodkers, your raw Roosky versions, yyour lousyy Skyy, your gentle Belvederes and Chopins, but there’s a reason Absolut is number one. (If it is, indeed, number one.) I’m a neat-spirits man. I’m going to have a drink, I’d like to confront the potion on its own terms, not drown it with sugar and fruit. Just as pepper helped to mask the truth of bad meat in the Middle Ages, so does the ichor of pressed cranberries hide the raw throat-clawing quality of bad vodka. I’ve never understood people who slam back shots as though drinking is the equivalent of getting a prostate exam from a doctor who uses sandpaper gloves. But I digress.

I love the inadequacies of the New York Public Library online catalog, because it makes me want to hop a plane and do research the old-fashioned way: bent over a narrow file drawer flipping through cards until the letters and numbers swim, and I am drive to despair by the sheer volume of human endeavor, and the uselessness of much of the same: all these people, all these books, all these thick musty tomes with titles like “The Spleen and its Moods” or “Towards an Understanding of the Earth’s Ceramic Core.” Ah - here it is! A photo of the corner of 42nd and 5th circa 1927, Catalog # AA0-694-3983-QQ4. Let’s copy that down, hand it to a clerk, then book a room for a week while they pull the picture from the 47th sublevel of the stacks.

I swear I spent half the day looking for this picture. I looked through all my reference books; I Googled every possible combination of search terms until Google and I hung on each other, exhausted, like bare-knuckle fighters in the 35th round of a prize fight. No luck.

I’m doing a small site on Ghost Buildings - a unimaginative term for the odd remainders left behind when a building goes down. You see them all over New York - narrow vacant lots with the outlines of the old building etched on the walls of its neighbors. You can see shadows of the stairs, the fireplaces, the walls; you can see the black smoke on the neighbor’s walls that came from the chimneys. I shot a few pictures of these Ghosts last week, including the strangest of them all: a big ghost on the bustling northeast corner of 42nd and 5th. When the house was built the area was still new - no library, just the hulking Egyptian-styled reservoir. The building was tall and thin, and in subsequent decades it was crowded out by gargantuan neighbors. When it finally fell it left a plot too small to be developed as a skyscraper, so this prime spot stands vacant. (There’s an one-story building in the space, but it’s empty now, as if there’s some sort of death-curse on the spot. Who couldn’t make money on 42nd and 5th? You only have a million people a day walk past your windows.)

I have to find the name of the people who lived there, and put a face to the image of the steps marching up the blank brick wall. And I will.

I loved the Enterprise finale, simply because I wanted to. I love the fact that the main villain was also the simpering shoe salesman in the ZZTop video, “She’s Got Legs.” I like the fact that the Captain has a dog. I like the fact that show has figured out very quickly who the good characters are, and shunted the lesser ones off the stage. I liked the fact that the EU Council de Science - sorry, the Vulcan Science Council - had decided that time travel was impossible, when we all know that the Federation figured out otherwise a few years later that it wasn’t. (Of course, the Vulcan Science Council knows better, but they keep things from the simplisme Earthlings.) I liked the special effects because I am, at heart, 12 years old, and a dork drawing Enterprise pictures in my notebook unaware of the KICK ME sign on my butt.

I loved gardening with Gnat today. Owsigh? Owsigh? She walks up to the back door, points to the back yard, and wants to go outside. Owsigh? Owsigh? So we went outside. Jasper basked and barked; I pulled up weeds in the terrace, and Gnat helped pull up things as well. Flowers, unfortunately. So I splashed some bubble juice in a pan and let her wave the wand and Welkifiy the backyard until there were bubbles crowding the clouds from the sky. She would chase them to the perimeter, watch them go over the fence, and wave goodbye like a Munchkin chasing after the Good Witch. then Gnat found some anthills, which fascinated her. Ans, daddy. Ans. And so we got down on the ground and watched the ants haul out construction debris. Hope you’ve pulled permits for this, guys. This is where ants live, I told her; this is their house.

Ans haus. Very cute. Then she put a thumb in the hill and smushed the entrance. I told her this was wrong, that we had to be kind to ants, but I was thinking: toddlers represent job security for your worker ants. They’re used to this. There’s no unemployment in an ant colony. Wind, dogs, rain, kids - it’s always something.

Today’s Target list, incidentally, included Iodine supplements, in case a bad heavy wind blows our way from the Indian subcontinent. It’s a sign of the times that I added that to “Shampoo” and “rawhide twists.”

It’s a sign of mild sunny day that I forgot about it entirely.