My fault, my fault. Last night my wife and I were sitting outside, chatting with neighbors who strolled past on evening walks. One fellow had a new puppy, an adorable little scamp eager to ingratiate himself with the Big Ones. In retrospect, I blame myself. I had a tank top on. A loose tank top. And I should have known that puppies are clumsy rambunctious beasts. Let’s just say my new term for sharp, unwelcome pain that makes you cross your legs in recollection is “like a puppy claw to the nipple.”

As much as I feel guilty about light bleatage, I’ve always thought that the phrase “blogging will be light today” is akin to saying “the free ice cream cones will be 27 percent smaller today.” It’s still free ice cream. Whether the following qualifies as the equal of sugary chilled confection is up to you, of course.

Right now it’s Saturday; the house is asleep except for me. We’re in the middle of the start of the Month of Visitors, a ceaseless procession of guests that guarantees this month will evaporate like a drop of rubbing alcohol on a hot flat stone. It began with the Fourth, which was the usual meat-enabled bacchanalia. Well, no - not usual in the true sense, the old sense, when we late 30-somethings would assemble on the Lileks Manor porch and stay up for hours, demolishing bottles and explosives, sucking back packs of smokes and fighting our way through some of the most brutal political arguments I’ve ever experienced. We have wee ones now, and this tempers the tenor of the day. Which is why I’m glad I have interesting single friends who will stay behind, help me blow up stuff, and chat until the sky empinkens anew. (No. It is not a word, but it should be.) Everyone peeled off in clumps, until it was just myself, Wes the Filmmaker, and Jeremy the Dark Chef. We blew up a few things, discussed the mideast, blew up some more stuff. Repeat. Wes took his leave around 11, driving off in his amazing restored Mustang - he's been working on it for 20 years, and for 18 of those it didn't run. That's dedication. And it's rather sobering to realize that there are more years between now and the car's creation than between the movie "Casablanca" and the day the car rolled off the assembly line. I don't know why, but that makes me feel strange. The car is part of the here and now, part of that American Yesterday that's always back there around the corner. "Casablanca" is the Past, the years preserved in amber. All an illusion, of course. More tricks of time, which plays no tricks at all. (That's the main trick.)

Wes' departure left the Dark Chef and me, and as we did some nights when I was at the counter of the Diner and he ran the grill, we just geeked out. One AM, the neighbor is setting off this ungodly strobing firework, and we’re discussing the political intricacies of Episode Two. Pathetic! Loved it. Got to get your geek on now and then. Sitting outside on a Minnesota Fourth with a fine cigar, a Hornitos tequila, bombs bursting in air while you rant and rave as if this stuff really matters - well, I needed that.

And not just because geek opportunities are rare - or even important, for that matter. The sad & erroneous lesson you learn from young geekhood is that human friendship is never as good as the relationships you have with your books, comics, movies, and various extruded plastic figurines. People disappoint in strange ways. They don’t get it the way you get it, or they get it too much. (I was warned off the Lord of the Rings by a childhood friend whose entire persona screamed GIRL POISON, and I everafter associated Hobbitophilia with a nerdy dateless future. Of course, he married ten years before I did.) The most perfect expression of geekdom is the Comic Book Guy wheeling a load of tacos home for a Dr. Who marathon, just as the ne plus ultra of sports-geek is a guy sitting at a bar weeping because his team lost the opportunity to break some pointless record that had existed since 1964. Perspective; moderation.

But mostly I needed it because hosts have a lousy time at their own parties. You’re so busy stuffing food and funny-sauce down everyone’s wursthole that you’ve no time to enjoy the party you convened. At the end, however, you sit down; you unwind; you relax, and this relaxation often has the feel of a twice-yearly event. So it was on the fourth. If I woke the next day with my head alive with the clangorous melody of Notre Dame on Easter morn, fine.

Tonight was another supper for friends and relations; a blur. Total blur. At the end when the table was cleared, the dishes done, the post-meal gossip and chatter played out, we just collapsed around the sofa and read books to Gnat. It was ten PM; she was working this evening hard, trying to stay up as late as possible. Everybody read a book to Gnat. Everybody kissed her goodnight. She takes this much love for granted. We can give her no better gift.

Anyway - brunch tomorrow, then another shift of friends and relatives for supper. Plus house guests. So I’m pecking out a meaningless Bleat here so there’s SOMETHING on the page Monday. It’s a rainy Saturday - finally cool - and someone down the block is shooting off fireworks in the rain, an image so bathetic that Jimmy Webb or Harry Chapin could get a 7 minute song out of it.

Someone shot my Black Cat in the rain
I do think my muse would rue that
‘cause I thought the fuse was too wet
and I’ll never have that Fuscia-shower whistling rocket with stars and report
Ohhhh nooooooo

See you tomorrow. Wish me strength.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070202.html#070802

Again, this will be quick, since it’s a column night and my brain has a small supply of working neurons tonight. Long day.

The appliance deliverymen came by with the freezer - in a rented Allied van, which didn’t exactly inspire confidence in the company’s health (“We’ve sold off our fleet - and passed the savings along to the creditors!”) They nearly wept when they saw the steep stairs up the hill. I don’t blame them. I apologized for the geography, but of course that’s easy for me to do; I’m not the one carrying a live freezer up a hill and a dead freezer down the same. I’m Mr. Sign-the-paperwork-and-return-to-staring intently-at-his-laptop. To complicate matters, the unit was exactly one micron wider than the doorframe. Either it had been teleported in, or the the frame had been put in after the unit was downstairs. The leader of the two-man crew walked around the house with a tape measure looking for an apt exeunt, and I believe he would have taken it upstairs and swung it out the bedroom window if that was the only option. These guys are amazing. I’ve had a parade of movers come through here the last six months, and they’ve gotten all sorts of stuff up and down the stairs with nary a scratch on the walls or woodwork. That’s work. That’s a job. That’s why I don’t take many vacations from the column; the idea that I cannot muster the energy to write 24 inches in 48 hours because I’m tired or “overworked” is shameful when compared to actual labor.

So now we have a new freezer. It’s smaller - 60 inches tall. Unlike the previous freezer, which was a 72 or 80 incher, I can look this one in the eye. I have since filled it with the basics of life: three frozen pizzas, irradiated hamburgers whose box boasts two gap-toothed towheads to guarantee purity, some Savory Turkey burgers from Happyvale Sunnybrook Farm (a wholly owned subsidiary of Fear-Drenched Deafening-Screams Slaughterhouse, Inc.) and a bottle of vodka. Also popsicles. Ready for the rest of summer.

None of these items will ever be eaten, of course; they’re there in case fourteen relatives show up without notice on a day when all the restaurants and supermarkets have burned down. They will remain in the freezer until the power fails, and they turn into limp gray slurry. Then I’ll use the vodka to disinfect the inside of the freezer.

Spent the early morning finishing a column; put Gnat down for a nap after the usual fun and games. She likes to go upstairs and dance to a CD of Toddler Favorites. They’re the songs parents come to hate with a burning intensity, because you’ve heard them again and again, but this disc was made by people who understand the parental desire to throttle Raffi and kick the body into a cold damp grave. For example: they arranged “The Wheels on the Bus” as country swing. I am second to no man in my loathing of that interminable tune, but now I look forward to it. A little pedal steel, some honkytown piano - if Charley Daniels played this at Crackerfest 02 in front of an audience that had been marinated in Shiner for seven hours, people would burn down the shed in glee. Even sober, it's pretty good, and if for "The Wheels on the Bus" that is saying a great deal. Some of the tunes can be accompanied on Gnat’s Fisher-Price 8-note piano / xylophone, so I can improv while she twirls and bops. Life gets no better.

Then it’s off to the guest room to throw her stuffed animals into the dark trench ‘twixt bed and wall. Oh no! Down goes the orange bear with the witch’s hat. (Do Satanists have cute little bears wearing Papal headgear? Prolly not) Oh no! Down goes the Construction Dog, who is dressed in a safety vest and carries a wrench for no good reason. Down goes Louie the Lamb, the unnamed bunny, the Orange bunny, the hippy-hued elephant, Hammy the Unnervingly Lifelike Hamster (back after a stint compressed at the bottom of a toy basket, and ready to entertain) and Pat the Bunny, all hurled down to ruin & hideous perdition. I was trying to teach her to save the animals as they dropped off the edge of the world. Oh no, I’d say, help me. Save me. She thought this was interesting, but it was far more amusing when they fell down. So now she throws them off the bed saying oh no hep me!

Sadism comes so naturally; you just have to work all the time to breed it out.

Today, for example, she was teasing the puppy. Running after Jasper, grabbing his tail and shrieking. He hates the shriek more than the tail grab, probably. He looks at me with this unmistakable look of beseechment: tell her to knock it off, please. Which I did. I threatened the crib, the dreaded Time Out. No effect. So, up we went for a three-minute wail-o-rama. When I went back into her room, it was like a parole hearing: will you be nice to puppy?

No, she said. Thinking she had misunderstood, I repeated the question, and she was adamant: no. Oh, great. I got Charlene Manson here. Foe of the falling stuffed animals, unrepentant dog-botherer.

I took her downstairs. She went to Jasper’s portion of the cabinets, got out a rawhide stick, and gave it to him as a peace offering. Aww. How sweet. I turned away to do some cleaning, and when I looked back she had given him additional sticks. All the sticks in the bag. Fifty, sixty sticks. He was sitting in a heap of sticks chewing happily, blessed with the bounty of processed Thai cow flesh. Friends again.

I also caught her feeding him Play-Doh. If tomorrow’s lawn-leavings are yellow pink green and blue . . . I’m just going to leave them there for others to see. Two years ago I would have wondered what the hell was the matter with the dog. Now i’d think: toddler in the house.

Tomorrow: that Mall of America article in this month’s Atlantic by Ian Frazier. Nice work right up to the end, then: WRONG. As you’ll see. (If you care.)

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070202.html#070902

While doing a radio interview about computer-game violence the other day, I came up with a good definition of a “realistic” war game: they ship 45,000 copies, and only 15,000 of the games allow you to proceed past the beach. That’s it. No refunds, either. You get off the landing craft; your screen goes black; your computer seizes up and cannot be rebooted. Game over, man. I was thinking of this tonight while playing Wolfenstein, which is much better than it seemed at first. Much much better. I’m in a level that seems to be taken from “Enemy at the Gates” - a destroyed factory with many hidden snipers, much rubble, flames, etc. You spend a lot of time just sitting in one place looking through a scope, waiting. “Realistic” when compared to “Doom,” I suppose, given that there aren’t any gigantic smiling tomatoes floating around vomiting gas balls. But unrealistic in the usual sense - my bullet wounds are cured by medical packs (or hot meals: right.) I can leap great distances even though I am carrying eight guns, a rocket launcher and a flame thrower. I can also fall two stories and suffer only 22% loss of health. I can jump twenty feet when I’m near death from multiple gunshot wounds, too. No matter how “realistic” the environments and enemy AI, they’re all predicated on preposterous assumptions that the game demands in order to be playable; no one’s going to buy a game where you break your leg and spend 14 hours huddled in a culvert waiting for medics. The player understands this - which is why all the outcries against the scourge of violent video games strikes most gamers as ridiculous. “Realism” just means believable textures, dynamic skies, fog, muzzle flashes, bump-mapped grass, and all the other Bergen-Belsen whistles.

What many gamers miss, I think, is the slippery morality of these games, and why some games may look great and play like hell but have rotten souls. (That was the subject of the interview.) He was talking about GTA 3, and I brought up Kingpin, a game that looked fabulous but made you feel like the bottom of a porta-potty after day three of Woodstock. At some point in the game, the developers must have asked themselves if the player will suffer any penalty for blowing the head off a crack whore, and given the context of the game, they had to say no. It was a world without law or morality; you played a nameless brute bent on revenge; violence had no consequence, so why should anything happen if you shot a woman? I could have thought of a dozen ways around the problem, but they didn’t consider it a problem at all.

Wolfenstein draws from the WW2 morality play, so you’re on the side of the angels and the other guys are on the side of the devil. (Literally, in this case.) There’s something that constrains you, stays your hand - in one instance I saw a bunch of Nazis attacked by hideous demons (don’t ask.) and I dropped down to lend a hand. The Nazis promptly shot me dead. Fine. Be that way. (The next time through I just perched above and watched. Yippee ki ja, muterfokkers.) Later in the game, after an exhausting & tense move through an airfield, I reached an office where a technician cowered and begged me not to shoot him - and I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. He wasn’t wearing a uniform; he wasn’t armed; he asked for mercy. The Star Wars games I’ve played have the same ethos. Act badly, and you become bad. One caller to the radio show said that he used the games to decompress after a trying day, and that he didn’t take the violence seriously. But maybe he should, particularly if he’s using first-person shooters to empty his daily rage bucket.

So why do I play them?

Let me think about that. Goes back to Doom, I suppose; that was the first game that let you really enter a fictional construct, move around, and fire rocket launchers at hairy hellspawned imps. There were 3d games before - “Battlezone” in the arcades, and a Mac game called “Outpost” that used rudimentary wire-frame world in which you could move around, albeit at a glacial pace. But Doom was something completely new, and all of us gray gamers remember that second level, where you were walking through a dark maze, lights flickering on and off, hearing the throaty mutters of the beasts that laid in wait. Much of my gaming since then has been in search of that moment redefined. I got it, in spades, in Halo. But otherwise it’s more of the same.

I’ve said this before, at six month intervals, probably, but I want a game that will give me a world not based on ridiculous combat, silly driving, magical quests, etc. I’d pay for a game that just let me hang around a persistent world that lived in real time whether I was there or not. LA in the forties. A small town in the 50s. New York in the 20s. Open-ended visual novels set in distinct cultures. Proto-holodecks, if you want. I was thinking of this last night when watching “The Sorrow and the Pity,” a movie I’d previously known only as a punchline in a Woody Allen movie. It’s a long, long black and white documentary about France under occupation - interviews with sardonic chain-smoking intellectuals, hearty commie farmers, collaborators, accommodators, victims, weary bureaucrats, the entire panoply. Interspersed are German and French newsreels of the era. My knowledge of Vichy France was nil, and is slightly more than nil now. The interviews are interesting, but the newsreels are chilling and fascinating - the reedy French voice narrating the latest appearance of The Marshall (as Petain was known) to a schoolhouse or country fair, making this old war hero into a kinder gentler fascist icon, insinuating the concept of the Leader, the national savior, into every element of French politics. Merry lifestyle features about how the women of Paris are now painting on stockings instead of using silk - waterproof, and they don’t run! Ah, and here’s a story on France’s favorite actors and actresses boarding a train to Berlin to tour the studios of our German friends.

Lies, lies, lies, cheerful lies, happy lies, lies sung with a barrel pressed lightly against the nape of your neck. Listen to the music for these newsreels - standard 30s nightclub orchestration, not the brassy confident arrangement of American newsreels. You can imagine the moment after the band had finished playing, and everyone relaxed, lit up, and one guy wondered whether he’d be able to get a sausage at the shop on the way home tonight, and another worried whether he’d be fired should anyone find out his wife’s sister married a Jew - of course, no one would find out unless someone told someone, and who would tell such a thing? Well, Francois over there, he’s big on the Marshall and he’s bucking for first chair; Marcel has hated him ever since they argued about whether Chevalier should record propaganda songs for the newsreels . . . you just never knew who to trust any more, and you’re worried all the time, and there’s never enough cigarettes, and no one knows what’s going to happen.

Then the conductor said they’d do another take, and everyone ground out the butts and picked up the instruments hammered out the same joyless song again.

“Soldier of Fortune 2” promises limb-specific gunshot damage, and multiplayer action, and even though I thought the first one had some great moments, I’ve no desire to play 2. Whereas I’d buy “French Violin Player in Occupied Paris” in a second.

“Sorrow” also excerpted a German-produced French film called “The Swiss Jew,” a merry account of the expulsion of verminous Yid from a German town in the 18th century. It ends with the hanging of a sweaty hysterical hook-nosed Jew in a cage. Wonderful production values. It’s a studio shot, but it’s snowing; the camera is mounted on a crane, and conducts a graceful pass around the people assembled to watch the execution. The faces have the silvery glow of a Hurrell glamor shot. It’s like watching “Casablanca,” except that Rick is helping a Hamas leader escape to Baghdad. Raw ravening Jew-hate is frightening but also dismissible, in one sense; those who spew it are lost to their own pathologies. But when you see naked Jew-hate presented with all the polish and panache of a Hollywood movie, it takes your breath away.

In “Wolfenstein,” every room you enter has Nazis. You never enter a room full of startled film editors piecing together an anti-Jew screed, family men who’ve been incrementally co-opted by three years of occupation. You never find that room.

And what would you do if you did?

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070202.html#071002

Having just read the fiftieth letter-to-the-editor / online article / blog commentary warning that dissent is being suppressed and civil rights revoked at a pace not seen since . . . since . . . since . . . well, like never before! I can only ask: what do you think will happen to Louis Farrakhan when he returns from his Iraqi Solidarity Tour? Imprisonment? Leg irons? A stint in the chain-gang under the watchful eye of a beer-bellied bigot cradling a shotgun?

Just curious. Me, I’m certain he’ll be arrested for treason and denied counsel, and when his supporters assemble outside the jail they’ll be mowed down by burb guns, and the lackey press will run banner headlines that shout GLORIOUS DAY FOR FREEDOM. Or words to that effect.

It’s a dank day. Heavy rain in the morning, that sort of stern torrential downpour that tells you the clouds aren’t in any mood to be underestimated. Here’s a sample of what we got. You want some more? Huh? Later in the day you could see the fronts moving overhead, angry blue-gray masses that seemed bent on some sort of vengeance. Since it’s been so hot lately, I underestimated the temp when I dressed Gnat to go visit Nana - but then again, I didn’t pick out the clothes. She did. Here’s the interesting detail: when I ask her to pick out an outfit to wear to Nana’s house, she picks out the clothes that Nana bought her. How did she remember that? Every day you realize you’re only getting a small sample of the information locked up in that little head. I need to make a list of her vocabulary, which always surprises me - she knows the name of Jasper’s favorite toy, fer chrissakes.

The weather ground down my mood, made an ordinary day just seem banal, subpar. The rain brought out some ghost signs in the buildings around the Strib, and I reminded myself again to update that part of the site with some new additions - and add some other Mpls sites as well. But. I don’t know how quite to express this, and I don’t want to lend credence to a mood affected by glum weather, but the entire Mpls project is one of those things that had the struts kicked out from it by 9/11.

All through the later 90s it felt as if a period had been put to human events; the big conflict of my time had been settled, the big issue of the West vs the USSR settled, and now it we were back to minor messes from now until whenever. But the period turned out to be the first dot in a long ellipses . . . . . . . and hence my interest in what was where when has faded somewhat, replaced by wondering what will be here later.

And maybe I got tired of seeing the city in terms of what has been lost. It does blind you somewhat. Today I was idling at a light and looked up at some huge industrial riverfront buildings now rehabbed for condos and offices; the magnificent statuary atop the tallest structure has been cleaned, the walls shored up, the rats driven out and the people allowed back in. An old blanket factory, where conditions were no doubt hot, noisy and itchy, will now be home to empty-nesters pouring into downtown from the burbs. It’s a remarkable phenomenon - drive around the warehouse district, as I did with Gnat last week, and you find block after block of townhouses and condos rising in the old abandoned industrial areas. A corner I’ve passed daily for five years by the office used to hold a low-slung 50s office building, and I sighed when it was demolished: oh, great, another parking lot. Then they put up the signs for its replacement, and holy crow it’s a gigantic housing project for the yups. More people will live downtown in a few years than ever before, and that’s a good thing. I mean, I have a great view of that riverfront building because the old structures on Washington Avenue were torn down, revealing this magnificent structure. And Washington Avenue, while shorn of all its old brick charm, is now a broad clean street with trees in the middle, instead of the filthy wino haven it was towards the end; the lethal viaduct, into which many a boozer smacked his car, is long gone, and the neighboring buildings have been cleaned up, cleared out, brought up to code and populated anew.

I’ve haven’t lost interest in Mpls history - no. But it’s one of those things that just seemed too damn sad after 9/11. The divide between the Then and the Next felt stupefyingly huge. For example: I’ve been working on and off for years on a little site about the Chain of Lakes, the gorgeous pools of water that dot Southwest Minneapolis. When the lakes were finally joined, there was the usual civic ceremony - brass bands, ladies smiling beneath parasols, whiskered solons on bunting-draped bandstands appealing to civic virtue, men in straw boaters plying the canals in rowboats, horehound candies for all, etc. A group of young maidens was chosen to pour the water from one lake into another, as a symbolic conjoining of their fish-scented ichor. Whenever I read these accounts I try to put a realistic spin on the moment - the pickpockets moving through the crowds like greased mercury, the sad loners gathering up images of ladies’ ankles for wank-fuel when they got back to their stifling flat, the self-satisfied businessmen who noted with pride the lack of Jews in the crowd - all the usual human sins which surely were there. That story is more interesting than the civic exhortations the daily papers reported, right?

Maybe not. When the paper today reports on a public gathering of any size, it always seems to be describing an event where atomized individuals gathered for individual purpose in a common place. The stories of the pre-TV era, be they Aquatennial events or Fourth of July parades or Decoration Day ceremonies, always describe a community of individuals gathered for a communal purpose. It’s easy to say I miss that, since I never had to live under a cultural hegemony with which I might have disagreed. But I still miss it. Sometimes I feel like I’m a member of a bucket brigade where some of the other members think we should be fighting a different fire, others insist is that water is stifling the rights of fire, and others deny the existence of fire in the first place.

I could run this idea into the ground and keep myself up until midnight, so I won’t. I think I made the point, namely, it’s raining and I’m blue. End of story and end of bleat.

Permanent Link: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070202.html#071102

On July 11, at 2:37 PM, I laid in the grass of the backyard with my daughter. We faced the sky and watched the clouds. Balanced between the end of the earth and the start of the sky. Perfect.

Let Summer hinge on that moment.

Later we colored in her book of poorly-drawn bears, which I got at Target for .99. I’m pleased to announce that she colors within the lines. Perhaps this cliche has gone out of style, but for many years the idea of coloring within the lines was adopted by smug post-adolescents as a byword for conformity; coloring outside the lines was a sign of creativity, proof that one wasn’t going to abide by the old-school strictures of your repressive coloring book establishment, man. “Coloring within the lines” was shorthand for internalizing all those rules that kept us repressed. Well. You have to learn to color inside the lines before coloring outside the lines constitutes an accomplishment. The line is there for a reason.

I found a picture she’d colored of a happy bear face surrounded by flowers. She colored the flowers inside the lines, and did so with as much care as her chubby hand could muster. She likes to watch me color as well, since I do such a better job. So we collaborate. I ask for a color, and she finds it and hands it over. (Crayola has so many stupid names for its trademarked hues, and I cannot bring myself to ask for “macaroni and cheese,” but when I ask for Gold she finds Gold.) I drew a sun in the sky above the bear, adding the obligatory wavy lines, with one arched angry line to indicate a solar prominence. She said “sun,” got out a blue crayon, scribbled some lines and said “sky.”

She’ll be two in three weeks. Whether this is normal I’ve no idea, but every day she just stuns me with what she says or does. She speaks in complete sentences now; her range of facial expressions is extraordinary, from sly to merry to mock-outrag to sublime delight, all flowing undammed from some inner wellspring. And she rememberes things. If you say you’re going to the toy store today, and you make three stops before, you’ll be reminded at each one that you were supposed to go toy stoh? Les go toy stoh. Daddy, toy stoh.

And so we went to the toy stoh at the Galleria.

And that’s where I lost her.

She was playing with a clock (tick tock! she said) in an alcove. I looked away, saw a display of letters, thought what the letters would look like spelling out her name in her room, turned around, and she was gone. I looked left - no Gnat. Looked right - no Gnat. Looked at the door: no Gnat. She had vanished. My brain sent out forty seventy billion blurts of confusion and panic and disbelief - I had turned away for five seconds while she was in an alcove - how what how mygod -

She had wiggled through a tot-sized aperture in the alcove, and toddled over to a display of butterfly nets four feet away. Total elapsed missing time: seven seconds, maybe eight. Time it took for my knees to firm up: about five minutes.

Around here at Jasperwood, she’s frequently out of my sight - when she’s working on a project at her table, I’ll run upstairs to get something without worrying that she’ll fashion a noose and toss it over a coat hook. I don’t hover. When she goes up or down the steps I presume catastrophic system failure, and stand where I can get her if she falls; when she’s in my room I instinctively put my hand around a very sharp edge of my keyboard tray. (I will probably do that when she’s eight.) I let her wander in the wide backyard, even though I see eye-poking sticks and skull-lacerating rocks everywhere. I always presume the worst - what if she falls there holding that in the conservatory with Colonel Mustard holding the lead pipe? But she has an exploring nature; she has more faith and trust and confidence than I do, and I’m not going to etch my cautious template on her. Frankly, I'm not always there when she falls, and she falls often. Babies stumble. Toddlers trip. I’ve been at this long enough to know when to console, and when to advise her to shake it off. It’s worked; she doesn’t cry when she tumbles, she finds the humor in pratfalls. She’s going to be stronger than her father.

But all this is for naught if I look away for seven seconds and someone takes her. From which I draw two conclusions:

1. I am against the death penalty in general. I’m not passionately opposed to it, but I’m just not big on the idea. I think life in solitary is worse. But I will make exceptions. Men who take little children and do horrible things to them should be drawn and quartered. And before they breathe their last breath, you release the buzzards. And scorpions. And hungry jaguars.

Technically, that would be a natural death.

2. In the future when we go to this store, I’m putting a small piece of merchandise in her pants, so she sets off the alarm if she passes through the security gate.

Parents know exactly the emotions I am describing. Those without children have no idea. I’m not accusing you of a lack of empathy or failure of imagination, but trust me: you have no idea. One moment you’re looking at wooden letters and wondering how they’d look on the shelf; the next you are petitioning the universe to take your life in exchange for hers.

And then you’re fine and saying no, we can’t have a cookie now.

Parenthood. It’s not for the weak.

Ripping the Who’s Greatest Hits collection right now.I’ll never forget driving to the lakes with my cousins when “Won’t Get Fooled Again” came on the radio; at the moment of Daltrey’s great scream, one of the adults - Uncle, or my Dad - noted that it sounded as if he’d gotten his hair caught in the guitar. Way to ruin the mood, pops. But he was just doing his job. It’s the role of parents to castigate THAT NOISE and thus make it more important to the kids. I don’t know what I would have thought if my dad was as interested in Blue Oyster Cult as I was. Boy, what a day at work! I sure could use some of that “Cities on Fire with Rock and Roll.”

In part I liked the Who because you were supposed to, and this seems very odd in retrospect. But the Who were Important, because they’d been draped with this Pop Art / Voice of a Generation mantle, and because Townsend’s glum, pretentious self-importance gave rock critics something to write about. Someone once said that rock critics loved Elvis Costello because he looked like them; Townsend talked like them. Critics always treated rock as if it was not what the name implied - a thing, an object, the is that is what it is - but a complex premeditated creation full of intentional references. Thus the Stones’ “Satisfaction” is a brilliant summation of post-war youth-culture discontent in a mass-media age, instead of a song about a guy who can’t laid. It may indeed be the former, but that wasn’t the idea. The idea, as ever, was to string some words together with some chords you nicked from another song, and use the combination to get money and girls.

Granted, “My Generation” is an explicit attempt to make a statement, but it just proves that rock is at its lamest when it reaches for Meaning: “People try to put us down / Just because we get around.” Ohhhkay. “Hope I die before I get old” is a great line, but also a remarkably stupid sentiment. Hope I die before I no longer understand why vinyl boots with zippers up the side are important this week. The lyrics aren’t why I wanted to own the song, anyway; it never is. Who wants to listen to “Stairway to Heaven” for that silly hippies-in-Stonehenge twaddle about bustling hedgerows? It’s the music. It’s always the music. “My Generation” is music to bob your head up and down to, and that’s that. Let’s retrofit it for rural Chinese culture after the ChiComs took over, and the Communists attempted to stamp out the practice of ancestor worship:

People try to harsh my Tao
Just because I oppose Mao
Things they do look awfully parched
Hope I die before the Great March

Talkin’ bout my Veneration!

It would still rock.

I wasn’t there when this stuff was made, but there are a few songs from the era that just announce themselves like few others:

1. The opening of “Satisfaction,” in which the guitar sounds as if it’s being played with a railroad spike dipped in battery acid

2. The lumbering bluster of “My Generation”

3. The first chord of “Hard Day’s Night,” which seems to be a chord no one had ever played before

Anyway. The Who were never my band, because they were always too early or too late. I was in kindergarten when the singles hit, in clueless grade school when Tommy was out; they were already old - i.e., two years ago - when I started to buy albums. But Quadrophenia hit me right between the eyes, as it does any morose self-regarding adolescent. Their subsequent appearances through the late 70s and early 80s, concluding with the interminable “Eminence Front,” felt like letters from older brothers who’d already gone off to college while I was in junior high. And eventually I found that I didn’t care what happened to them at all.

Then I see this collection at Target, and, that’s it: must have. Go figure.

Also bought a guilty pleasure Greatest Hits for ten bucks: Blondie. I’m not sure why, since I loathe most of their stuff, now that I think of it. “Tide is High” is dull, and that little yelp Ms. Harry makes at the end always gave me the cheevers. Yech. “Rapture” is unintended humor, but I haven’t heard it a dozen years. When I bartended that song was on every fifteen minutes, and I had that rap memorized. Something about the man from mars shooting stars . . . oy. Then there’s “Call Me,” which also played every half hour in the pub, often in the trough of the afternoon when there was no one else around except the regulars. You’d have a deserted bar with the losers watching TV in the middle of a sunny day; one bartender smoking a cigarette in the employee booth, Mohammed practicing his pool game in the back, and then two sorority girls would come in, order tea, which meant you had to go upstairs and assemble the ingredients, and they’d play “Call Me” while they studied. And everyone had to hear the damn song for the tenth time that day. I came to loathe Giogio Moroder. This was not what synthesizers were invented for! I cried out inside. “Heart of Glass” was different - nowadays it’s hard to imagine how these songs sounded at the time, how a song like that cut through all the SoCal soft-rock drivel, and how it made us Young Moderns think that New Wave would dethrone the withered old gods, slay the Frampton clones, and deliver us unto a world of nervous twitchy smart rock that would help us dance our way to the apocalypse Reagan was surely planning to deliver.

Ah youth. Well, let’s listen and see if it works.

Hmm. “Heart of Glass” begins with nine seconds of drum machines and strange percussive chatter. Never heard that before; in fact there’s all sorts of stuff swirling in the background you don’t hear when it’s pumped over cheap ceiling speakers in a college bar. Lyrics: dumb. Drumming: lazy. Bass line: Escape from Disco Island. Vocals: she was lucky that her limitations came off as a pose of icy indifference instead of incompetence. Verdict: dated period piece. Next.

“Dreaming.” Much better. This yanks me right back, but man the mix sucks -




Moron! Idiot! Coelacanth! Bashi-Bazouk! Jeebus Maury Povitch, how could I be so stupid? A few weeks ago I reset my encoding prefs to get some ancient sound files down to the smallest possible size, and of course I didn’t reset them, so I just turned SEVEN CDs into MONO mp3s.

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