I’ve spent the last 7 nights ripping up everything I’d written for the Interior Desecrators book. I’ve rewritten every line. In a novel, this would be disastrous, but for a wacky happy picture book like Desecrators, it’s your guarantee of quality. Every phrase has been triple-filtered for purity. So did I really have to step away for two weeks to polish 170 captions? Yes . . . and no. As with the Gallery of Regrettable Food, the writing is the smallest chore. I have to produce a printable version for the editor to edit, and that’s a logistical clusterfarg; I have to lay out the pages as well as obsess over each phoneme. But there was more to this past fortnight. There were events I could not mention until the herd had thundered past and vanished over the horizon.

We’ve had company.

No, that doesn’t quite capture the essence of July. Let me put this in perspective.

Fourth of July: big barbecue for many people.
Fifth of July: wife’s mom comes to stay for weekend.
Sixth of July: elaborate brunch for wife’s friends from New York
Seventh of July: hearty BBQ for an old college chum of mine plus wife & kids
Twelfth: wife’s mom returns from trip to stay for second weekend
Thirteenth: big surprise birthday party for wife’s sister
Seventeenth: 5 relatives arrive to stay here
Nineteeth: additional relations arrive; BBQ is held, meat products chewed and swallowed
Twentieth: wife’s family reunion in far-flung suburb. Four million adults plus offspring
Twenty first: follow-up brunch here at Jasperwood, for 50
Morning of the 22nd: make your own damn waffles!

Crucial, all important detail: during this entire time, the temps were over 90 degrees, with 80% humidity. It’s a wonder we didn’t devolve into blood fueds, vendettas, fights in the backyard where your wrists are tied together and you have to struggle for the blade embedded in the hard baked earth.

But everyone was wonderful and well-behaved, and I’m not just saying that because some read this site. (Hi, Kathy!) The parade of relations impinged not a whit on my modus vivendi - it’s not as if I prowl the house in the wee hours dressed only in a bathrobe, clutching the neck of a bottle of Jack Daniels, shouting I AM THE LIZARD KING at the new moon. It just wears on you, eventually, and no one’s to blame - except perhaps your own bad self, which ends up doling out the milk of human kindness in those single-serv creamers you find at cost-conscious restaurants. As anyone who’s hosted a never-ending kaleidoscope of fun knows, fun can be exhausting.

We have central air at Jasperwood, but due to the peculiarities of the layout it doesn’t reach the living room. You can dress beef in the bedroom, but the living room is like a New Orleans bus station in July 1934. My wife was worried that people at the brunch would be uncomfortable. I replied that they were welcome to go to Perkins for breakfast. (Hadn’t finished the coffee yet.) She wanted me to get an additional air conditioner. I balked, because recently it seemed like a spigot had been attached to my wallet and welded in the OPEN position. But on Sunday morning that my wife noted the time and temp: 8:30 AM, 89 degrees. It would be unbearable in the living room. We need another air conditioner.

I could have raised my hand a foot above the cereal bowl and let the spoon drop, but I chose to drop it from a height of six inches. Same effect, less splash.

Do you want me to go buy an air conditioner, I said in a level, nonjudgmental tone, giving it a slight Teutonic inflection so I could imagine myself as the Terminator, running through a menu of verbal options appropriate for the situation.


Yes, she said.

I’ll be back, I said.

And so it came to pass that I was driving south at 8:50 AM Sunday morning to buy an air conditioner. Where? WHERE? Well, Home Depot, of course. They never close. The fellow on the phone had said they still had a few - well, Liar, liar, orange button-encrusted apron on fire, I found out. They had none. They had fans. I bought two box fans, some extension cords, and drove home. Passed a Menard’s, thought: I should try there. I really should. POOF! the devil on my left shoulder jabbed my neck with his trident and sneered awwww, just drive. She’ll never know. They probably don’t have them. The angel on my right shoulder said but you’ll know. You will know you didn’t try.

As someone once said: you’re judged by the good things you do when no one’s looking. Note to self: when no one's looking, kill whoever said that. I pulled in, parked, walked ten steps, saw a pile of air conditioners twenty feet high. All brands, all sizes. Bought a GoldStar made in Korea and dragged through the heaving Pacific to this Midwestern store; grunted it into the back of the Galileo, drove home. Wife’s expression: priceless. It was as if she’d sent me to pick up some milk, some bread, and the Holy Grail, and I’d come back with all three. I heard the bells, saw the lights: Husband Points Jackpot. I got the damn thing in the damn window and turned the damn thing on, dammit. There. Enjoy your damn air. (None of this was said aloud, only implied through scowling.)

And you know what? They enjoyed their damn air, dammit. It made a difference. Thanks to my effort, everyone eventually left the air conditioned area and clustered in the living room around Ostentasia, the WideScreen TV, so they could watch . . . GOLF.


That was one half of one day.

Multiply it by six, and you have the last two weeks. There was one more party to come - but that’s tomorrow’s Bleat.

New Flotsam and Matchbooks up! Enjoy, and thanks for showing up; hope the subsequent blather’s worth your while.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070302.html#072902

Don’t put a case of soda in the freezer to chill it for the party. Don’t. And please: don’t put two cases in the freezer. There’s a good chance you’ll take out a few cans for the guests and leave the rest behind, as everyone moves to a nice glass of a wine or a sturdy cup of coffee. The next day you’ll learn what 17 cans of frozen soda look like - or rather, what the inside of your freezer looks like after 17 cans have exploded. It looked like a slasher movie populated by people with root beer for blood.

It’s Gnat’s birthday Tuesday. We had the party Saturday afternoon. Unlike last year, which was a blurry duck-themed parade of noise and big BIG faces leaning close and talking nonsense, this year she got it; she understood that this was her day. Her big present was a Radio Flyer wagon - classic red metal, with wooden sides. (Yes, I am going to buy her the Radio Flyer trike that looks like the 1952 model; that one hits me right in my demographic sweet spot, and I’m going to reward the company for reviving the design.) The notable thing about the Radio Flyer, of course, is the lack of a radio. It got its name from the way-cool high-tech invention of its day, the word that mean modernity, progress, and the slow steady march towards human perfectibility. Radio! As I’ve no doubt said elsewhere, it’s like finding “CyberFlyer” in a toy store in 2082.

I also got her a grocery store playset - a beeping cash register with a scanner, a drawer full of money, and ersatz consumer goods with their own UPCs. I’m curious if they’re real UPCs for products that failed, or gibberish. Do UPCs get retired? What of the barcodes for all the “clear” products we had in the mid-90s - if you swiped them past your friendly neighborhood laser, would the register sigh with nostalgia? If the Terminator plot ever comes true, and machines do rule the world, their oldies channel would consist entirely of numerical strings that identified long-gone entries in the bar-code database. Hey, Old El Paso Burrito Mixin’s - they're playing our sku, honey. Haven’t heard that one in a loooong time.

Anyway, she loved it - as I knew she would, since she was with me when I bought it. (Luckily, they forget.) Oh, toy stoh, she said when she opened it, referencing where she’d seen it. It’s my favrite. She played with all afternoon. She played with it all night. At the end of the day I saw it sitting on her play table beneath an exhausted bouquet of helium balloons, underneath the Happy Birthday banner I’d taped to the mantle, and I felt a sense of satisfaction that settled in the center of my bones. She’d had a happy day.

Monday was perfectly typical, right down to the flood of unexpected vomit. We went to the Linden Hills library, which had been featured in Sunday’s paper - seems the artist of one of the building’s many artworks was somewhat famous. He was a U of M art instructor, and a Stalinist. At least in his yout. The article interviewed his widow, who talked about how repeated encounters with physical labor turned her husband into a radical, how they went to New York and fell in with the Simply Red crowd, ending up as Stalinists who didn’t quite know how to feel about the Rivera mural scandal at 30 Rock, because Rivera was a Trotsky boy, and they weren’t.

The actual meat of the “scandal” - Rivera painted Lenin on the walls of Rockefeller Center’s elevator lobby, a stupid schoolboy prank now elevated to the level of A Brave Statement of Dissent Crushed by the Bootheel of His Capitalist Masters. Grow up. Here’s how a sympathetic account puts it:

"On May 22, 1933, Rivera was called down from his scaffold where he was still working on the unfinished mural. He was handed a check for $14,000, the balance of his fee, and informed that he had been dismissed. Within 30 minutes the mural had been covered by tarpaper and a wooden screen.

"Seeking a compromise, Rockefeller suggested that Rivera should replace Lenin with some unknown face; the artist offered to add Lincoln but refused to expunge Lenin. Charged with willful propagandizing, he declared only that "All art is propaganda." Since he had accepted his payment, Rivera was unable to force the Rockefellers to exhibit or even keep his work. The mural was subsequently removed from the wall..." The Encyclopedia of Censorship, J. Green, Facts on File, pg. 254

Censorship. Criminey. “Your work is intellectually despicable. Here’s fourteen grand. Go home.”

A few pages past this article was a sharp review of Amis’ book on Stalin’s crimes. It made the artist of the library painting look like a pawn, a fool - at best. At worst, it made him look like someone who believed it was necessary to break tens of millions of eggs and starve all the chickens, and shoot all the chefs to make an inedible, poisoned omelette. If it was known that the library had a painting done by a Hitler lover, right-thinking people would swoon, but in this neighborhood a romantic fling with Stalinism gets a shrug. Why? Not because the locals are Stalinists, and not because they support murderous collectivist tyrannies. Why, then? Because they don't want to be lumped in with anti-Communists, who, like, voted for REAGAN? It can't be that simple. It can't be that stupid.

Anyway. After the library trip we drove to the grocery store, and en route she got car sick. A two-stage barf. Happens about once every six weeks, I figure. (Time it takes to clear car of car-sick smell: five weeks, six days.) It always happens when we arrive at our destination, too, so we’re as far from home as we’ll get . . . so back we go, windows down, morose little girl in the back seat saying “Ick, daddy. Ick.” Hose off child, hose off seat. Let seat dry in blazing sun. Back to store. She was a delight at the grocery store, as ever; most of her conversation makes sense now, so we don’t just swap vague blobs of word-mush but actual ideas, observations, and jokes. It’s the highlight of my life. There’s something liberating in loving someone who really, truly, honestly has no idea how much you love her.

It’s been two years and I’ve been there for every day. Seven hundred and thirty good-mornings and good nights, from the cross-eyed who-you stare you get at the start to the clever smile, the hug, the goonight daddy bye bye I get now. When you’re a young adult, you wish yourself a long long life so you can do the things you simply must do. When you’re a parent, you realize that little matters as much as the simple, daily act of caring for your child. Give me the time, so that I may give it to her. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070302.html#073002

The wonders of the world are so deeply embedded in daily minutiae that you don’t stop, don’t think, don’t realize: oy. What a time of marvels.

It’s like this. I’m refinancing Jasperwood - a prosaic task, but necessary; not for me the 7-year ARM, heaving and bobbing on the seas of rate fluctuation. I want to nail the payment down for 30 years. So at Gnat’s birthday party I mentioned this to Andrey the Crazy Uke, longtime friend and incidentally the arranger of my various mortgages. He locks in a good rate Monday, says he’ll call Tuesday with details.

So it’s Tuesday. Gnat’s playing with her grocery store set: beep, beep, beep. Oh! Egs, daddy. Cohn. She has integrated the Stunningly Lifelike Foodstuffs she got at FAO Schwartz, and is running them over the scanner. There’s a problem with scale, as I see it; the grocery store playset canned goods are an inch and a half tall. The ketchup bottles are two inches tall. The FAO Schwartz faux-corn is eight inches long. In real life, we’re talking corn the size of broadswords, onions the size of beach balls. But it all blends into a seamless continuum in her world, and if she’s happy, I’m happy. Prepares her for the future when sentient genetically modified corn rules the Western Hemisphere.

I’m listening to Ian Punnit on the radio. He took over my Diner time slot back in 98; he later took over for Art Bell during one of Art’s hiatii. Now he has a show on KSTP; we have lunch once a month or so; fine fine fellow. He’s broadcasting from Florida today, and he’s talking about liberalizing Cuban travel restrictions. He takes a call. It’s Andrey. Hah! I start writing an email to Ian about this amusing confluence. So then: I’m sitting in the house bought with money Andrey coaxed out of the great swirling money-storm out there, listening to him talk on his car phone to another guy I know in Florida while I send a missive through a server in Texas. Seamless. Wireless. No friction. Ubiquitous connectivity. It’s Star Trek stuff, really; when I was a kid this was what I thought the future would look like. And it did!

I know, I know - what’s the big deal? To a guy who grew up in a time where everyone had one (1) phone and there was one (1) computer in the entire state, it’s impressive.

I like living in these times. I truly do.

But I hate my book. Read, edit, wince, print, scowl, rewrite, print, stock printer with paper, change ink, despair, doubt self-worth, consider Amway career, repeat. This is why I hate the final stages of book preparation - by the time you’ve finished prepping it for the publisher, you just hate it. There’s nothing new or original. Oh, now and then a bit of mild japery prods a glimmer of a grin, but that’s rare. Of course, I thought this about the Gallery, and it went over well, so let’s hope Interiors isn’t the career-ending wad-o-crap it looks like now.

And yes, I will be taking pre-orders!

When I’m done with this thing, I’m going to play. I’m going to load up Medal of Honor and fight WW2, for example. (I recently won WW2 all by myself in Castle Wolfenstein, but I cheated towards the end.) I’m going to read. I have a Walter Mosley novel ready to go, ready for that holy moment on the cliff when I can fire up a cheroot, sip a Belvedere and get lost. I didn’t even know this book was out - last I heard from Mosley he was writing a strange sci-fi novel, which seemed a regrettable turn of events, much like Caleb Carr turning his keen historical eye to writing really, really, really stupid dystopian screeds. It’s like Hemingway writing a story about a moon mission. Wrong. Glad to hear Mosley is back in his métier; 100 years from now he’ll one of a handful of writers people consult, both to study the time in which he wrote and the time about which he wrote. Mosley has something in his work few other authors have - I don’t know anyone except maybe Chandler who can get across that bone-deep sense of weariness, married to a personal code that’s better than the way you live your life.

And not even Chandler came up with a character like Mouse, but that’s tomorrow’s Bleat.

I’ve been watching Voyager late at night, partly because I’m pasted to the sofa and loathe to give up the day. It’s as hit-and-miss as I remember. There was one two-parter called “Year of Hell” which banged up the ship rather nicely - blown-out decks, litter in the hallway, gouges carved in the hull. At the end of the second part, the Timeline is Restored, as usual, and the ship’s back to pristine condition. Too bad. It would have been far more interesting if the ship had shown its wear; it’s one of the things that kept the premise from fulfilling its potential. Look, when you’re 60 years from home, the dress code is going to break down after half a decade. Stuff is going to break. There will be scuff marks in the turbolift. The captain will have to wrestle with a policy on cheek-piercing. The show needed stubble, but it was freshly-shaved every week.

And the characters are generally awful - bad writing and bad acting. The Klingon Chick wasn’t a strong warrior wrestling with her conflicted self, but a straight-out bitch, and dull to boot. Harry Kim was a wimp - they killed his character dead in the second season when they had him play the OBOE, for heaven's sake. Tom Paris, supposedly the bad boy hot-shot pilot, came off as a dorky twirp half of the time. Seven of Nine were wonderful additions to the show, and gave it an edge; Ms Ryan did a fine job with that character, limited as it was. The Doctor was always one of my favorites, but as usual they played up the wants-to-be-human! thing too much. (Of all the interviews I’ve done of Trek participants, he’s my favorite: a nice guy who loved his work.) Neelix - well, he needed a little more Quark, frankly. He should have been the ship’s black-market guy selling people cigarettes in the holodeck. Robert Beltram did what he could with the Chakotay role, which wasn’t much; they’d given Kirk-like Brashness to Paris, and Captainy stuff to Kate Mulgrew. He spent most of the episodes standing there doing nothing, and I’m surprised they didn’t stick cigars in his fist. Now, Cap’n Janeway I liked. I’ve worked for a Janeway or two in my lifetime. I just wonder how high her voice would have been if she hadn’t smoked.

Best of the batch, no question, is Tim Russ as Tuvok. That’s a Vulcan. He makes Nimoy look like Alan Alda. It’s all in the eyes - Nimoy’s Spock had empathetic, curious eyes; they were sarcastic, inquisitive, disbelieving, and of course fascinated. Russ’ Tuvok had Vulcan eyes. Disengaged from human trivialities, staring six minutes ahead of everyone else, with a tinge of conspicuous disdain. Go up against that flat gaze, and you lost every time. I always thought he got the whole Vulcan thing better than anyone else, and in the latest iteration of Trek, the Vulcan crewmate is doing Russ, not Nimoy.

There was a slight stir when the cast was first announced - a black Vulcan? Well, yes; it’s a hot planet with a big star and a thin atmosphere; wouldn’t everyone on the planet have skin that had adapted to these conditions? Shouldn’t every Vulcan be black?

Too bad they didn’t make Spock black. That would have been much braver than putting Uhura in the receptionists’s chair. And don’t hand me the old line about the bravery of Trek giving TV the first interracial kiss - remember how it happened? Some telekinetic etiolated devotees of Greek culture used their SuperBrains to force them to kiss, because without that subtext of coercion Lester Maddox’s brains would have shot out his ears in two thick gray streams, or something like that. How far we’ve come.

Of course, you could wonder if they made Tuvok black so he wouldn’t have an affair with any of the predominately white crew members, but I’m not THAT paranoid. It wouldn’t surprise me if that occurred to the series’ creators, though. I said these were good times. Not perfect ones.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070302.html#073102

A philosophical stumper. We were driving along today, talking about houses. There are two: Nana’s house, and Nattie’s house. For some reason I asked Gnat where her house was; she pondered, and said: outside. She’s right, of course. Our house is outside. It just seems like a strange way of thinking of it, because we think of houses as defining interior space. But she’s right: all the houses in the world are outside.

You know what? I’m in a bleak mood. One of those days. Nothing that follows is happy. If you want to go away and come back tomorrow, I won’t be miffed, and in fact if you’re cheery I advise it. Shoo! Nothing but coal and brine from here on, alas.

A sign of these unusual times: I was making Indian food for supper, and realized I’d forgotten all about that nuclear war they were supposed to have. When was that?
Two months ago? Three? It was the the Big Story of the Moment, the point on which history would revolve, the horror that would eclipse the horrors of the previous year, the death-blow to our Afghanistan operation, the possible destabilizing blow against the Pakistani regime that would put nukes in the hands of terrorists harbored by the Pakistani intelligence services: all in all, a clusterfrick of horrid dimensions. Then it didn’t happen and the moving finger, having writ, went back to jabbing the Middle East in the nuts. What a world.

And today, of course, more horror. This time Americans were killed as well - and the name of the place, the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria, brings the event closer to home than previous attacks. All of a sudden it’s like they bombed Hoboken, or Palm Springs. It felt like there was a knock on the door: hello, your future has arrived; sign here please.

Yes, yes, I’m being melodramatic. No, there’s no reason whatsoever to think that the people who want every Jew dead will take the war to America. Silly me. I do get the vapors now and then, don’t I.

Maybe it’s from reading stories like this, courtesy of Instantman: a Scot who declares himself a “green” and a supporter of bin Laden is passing out fliers to American tourists calling for . . . the death of American tourists.

They reproduce an extract from a fatwa or religious edict declaring a holy war on the US and its allies. The signatories include Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, chief of the Egypt-based Jihad Group, and other Islamic extremists.

The extract attacks US policy on the Middle East and calls for Muslims to take the law into their own hands: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country."

More tourists come to Scotland from the US than any other country with some 400,000 Americans spending around £200 million annually. A spokesperson for the tourist board VisitScotland said: "This sort of thing is not helpful when we’re trying to encourage US visitors to Scotland.

"Having said that, people are entitled to their freedom of speech. Hopefully, people will treat the leaflets sensibly."

Incitement to murder is freedom of speech, eh? Then I’m within my rights advising everyone to give Mr. Allison his leaflets back, balled up - a nice tasty nougat wrapped in a rich coating of fist.

There I go again! Overreacting! I have to see these things in context - particularly the long American history of imperialist suppression of Scottish nationalism.

Punchline: the nutcase describes himself as a Hindu. Go set up a Shiva Saves! tent in Mecca, pal.

I’ve been in a grim spirit most of the day, really. Sometimes it’s the news; sometimes it’s the absence of news. Sometimes it’s just that horrible feeling that the utter ordinariness of the day, with its petty gripes and botherations, will seem like a lost paradise should something truly horrible happen. It’s the Iraq situation, of course - it’s like a tooth that throbs every other day, and you’re in the middle of North Dakota, in the winter, in 1887. It’s not going to get better. One of these days it’s you, the string and the doorknob.

I was living in DC during Gulf War I and I will never, ever forget the mood of the first few days: immense relief when the first bombing wave wasn’t knocked of the sky. Then oh-shit pucker-time when the Scuds started raining, and the news ran interviews with Tel Aviv correspondents in gas masks. That’s how it will be this time, too. Hairpin turns. People think GW I was a cakewalk - we showed up, pumped up, drove off, boom, game over. But the first few weeks had everyone dining on cuticle salad.

When I put aside the collections of newspapers and magazines about 9/11, I included a paper from 9/10, just for comparison purposes. Sometimes it feels like 9/10 again - the rote acceptance that something probably won’t happen today. That’s the only way you can live your life, of course. It’s always 9/10 until it’s 9/11.

But 9/11 means that you can never really have 9/10 again. Example. Saw a movie that was utterly vile, a perfect piece of pre-9/11 Hollywood: “Swordfish.” It stars John Travolta, playing his patented dough-faced bemused-villain schtick, and Huge Action as a scowly super-hacker. Since the movie involves breaking into computers, it’s one of those Dramatic Typing movies. We all know that any computer can be cracked if one just stares hard at the screen, and of course it helps if the computer to be hacked has a theatrical GUI that says ACCESS DENIED in some strange font, complete with honking horns to indicate failure. All this stuff is silly, and to sniff at the clichés would be a waste of time. What really sets the film apart is how hideously out of sync it became after 9/11, and after Intifada II. At the beginning of the film, Travolta has commandeered the lobby of the World Bank so he can use the computer in the World Bank lobby to hack into their accounts. (I know, I know. I know.) He straps all the hostages with C4 explosives, and packs the bombs with ball-bearings. One of them goes off. Hideous destruction. A screaming woman is blown to bits, policemen are killed, cars upended, windows and storefronts perforated with a hideous rain of bloody balls, all shot in a slo-mo 360 shot that screams TAKE THAT, MATRIX.

In Israel in 2002, this is reality; in America in 2001 this was offered as entertainment.

So right from the start I hate this movie. I mean, I hate it. I hate Travolta, I hate the screenwriter, the director, everyone involved. (Hugh G. Axtion I give a pass, because he was good in the X-Men.) The movie goes on to waste Don Cheadle, but what movie that uses Don Cheadle doesn’t? (Besides the Rat Pack.) I can put up with all the action clichés if done with a certain humor, but this one curdled when Travolta reveals his motivation: he’s a patriot! He’s stealing money and strapping bombs to American citizens to fight terrorism! Better 20 die so he can get the money to fight terrorists than 10,000 die in a terrorist attack. The patriot fighting terrorism is the bad guy, because he’s nuts, see? He wants to make the consequences of terrorism so bad it will become unthinkable to its proponents. Pre-9/11, this attitude was supposed to tell the viewer he was a flaming lunatic - what terrorists? What threat? Talk about your overreaction! But now you think: if only the FBI took the threat as seriously as this whackjob does. Big screeching disconnect. It’s like making a movie in 1938 about really horrrible bank robbers who wanted to use the money to fund a plot to kill Hitler. It’s as if Goldfinger admits that he wants to steal some gold from Fort Knox to buy cheap antiviral drugs for AIDS sufferers in Africa. You can’t quite see James Bond saying “You’re mad, Goldfinger,” unless Bond followed it up with a discussion of the difficulty of following a multi-dose regimen in villages that lack clean water and adequate refrigeration. But I’m reading way to much into what was, at the core, a loud and lousy film.

Will someone please stop giving John Travolta work, and give the jobs to Don Cheadle? I don’t care what the role is. I’ll watch him do it.

Okay, I’m done. Cheerier tomorrow, I promise. Go read the Fence; I’m somewhat more wacky there. Somewhat.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0702/070302.html#080102

Well, lucky me: I was finally surveyed, by which of course I mean strangers peered at me through odd truncated telescopes, made notes, and left. Haw! Haw! But seriously, folks. You've probably read a survey, scoffed at the results, and complained that no one ever calls you to ask your opinion. Understand that they can't get around to everyone, and that modern survey-taking can discern the thoughts of 270 million people by talking to 14 people who have no idea what they're talking about. Really: I was called once before for an extensive survey on attitudes towards the petroleum industry. The survey-taker was thrilled when I said yes, and I gathered that everyone else had hung up with extreme prejudice. Her first question was standard boilerplate - do you or your family have any connection with the petroleum industry? I had to say yes, wholesale and retail. Pause. Thank you for your participation, she said sadly, and that was that.

Nothing like a little experience to screw up the survey results.

Anyway. Tonight I got a call from an actual survey, an honest-to-Gallup 40-question survey done “on behalf of a major television news organization.” Most of the questions were straightforward, phrased without bias, and provided ample room for idiots to make their voices heard (Some of the choices for the Greatest Problem Facing the Nation Today, for example, were “Social Security” and “education reform.” Yes, we all remember seeing the planeload full of voucher opponents slam into the Twin Towers.) But some of the questions were just plain . . . wrong. For example, I was asked if I thought that unions had too much influence on the Democratic Party. I said that was an odd way of putting it - I mean, the Democratic party is the party of the unions; it’s like saying women have too much influence in the NOW. The question-taker paused, awaiting my reply, and I said I’d prefer to give no answer.

“So I’ll put you down as ‘No Opinion,’” she said.

No! I have an opinion, but I just don’t think the question is phrased in a way that allows me to characterize my opinion correctly. As it turned out, about six of the questions were unanswerable, unless you wanted to boil down your various views to a yea or nay. It’s like asking are you opposed to civil unions for gays and dogs? Uh - no for the former, yes for the latter? Sorry sir, it must be yes or no. So I’ll put you down as “No Opinion.”

The next day someone reads the paper, reads that one third of Americans have “no Opinion” about civil unions for dogs, and thinks: what idiots! Who could have no opinion about that?

Which leads me to believe that the “no opinion” section of any given poll represents people who are actually paying attention to issues, and regard the question as idiotic. FYI.

Long, long, long day. Twelve hours of toddler fun with a 37-minute nap break. we went to Target to get an inflatable swimming ring for the pool, but the inflatables aisle had no inflatables. A clerk explained that they were realigning merchandise in preparation for Christmas.

Idiots. How a retailer as savvy as Target can be so stupid in one crucial aspect - seasonality - always amazes me. They sell gardening supplies in March, School supplies in July. Actually, they’ve made another mistake as well - this Todd Oldham Dorm Room line of fixtures and knicknackery is the ugliest line of products I’ve seen since they opened a headshop on the second floor of the Vanity store in Fargo in 1972. It was cheap hideous crap then, and it’s cheap hideous crap now, and just because it has “retro” value because a previous generation suffered with it 30 years hence doesn’t mean it had to be brought back and crammed down the cultural maw once more. In 1939, for example, they didn’t design the World’s Fair to look like 1909. They figured the future ought to look like the future, and designed accordingly.

Not to say they were without their nostalgic impulses - the old Gateway building in Bridge Square, built in the 20s, had murals depicting life in the Gay 90s. There’s a lot of nostalgia for the 90s in the first half of the century, usually depicting the time as serene, genteel, vaguely rural, all-white (of course) where most men spent most of the day riding ridiculous bicycles past swooning Gibson girls. I have an old ad somewhere from the 40s for the Forum cafeteria - an ancient granny in a rocking chair is comparing the Forum’s fare to what she had as a girl in “the good old days,” ie when she was a lass 50 years before. No air conditioning, little ice, bad medicine, hardscrabble farming, gold panics, rye trusts, locust plagues - the good old days.

Which is why I grit my teeth when people get starry-eyed about the 70s. Been there, done that, used the Wella Balsam. No thanks.

Went home, made some lousy fajitas. My secret: meat whose tenderness quotient is somewhere between wet wood and sun-baked leather. Wife was way late from work, finishing up a big project; she came home, I napped, woke, had coffee while reading that New Yorker article about the American who shot an Iranian dissident in 1980, fled to Iran, appeared in the movie “Kandahar” and now has become disillusioned with theocracy. Boo hoo. Interesting piece, but last week’s New Yorker was much better; had a huge article on James Brown by some guy with a Scandihoovian name - he also wrote a 9 billion word thumbsucker on Bob Dylan, which I read to the end even though I cannot stand Dylan in any of his incarnations. You work at a bar that has six of his early songs on the jukebox and tell me how you like “Lay Lady Lay” after the 47695th time. The James Brown piece was fabulously overwritten - the author has a peculiar style of careful overkill, whatever that means, and sometimes you’re simultaneously gagging on his prose while thinking: this is the only possible way to describe what he’s describing. He makes the case for Mr. Brown as the most influential post-war musical artist, certainly more so than Elvis, who was influential for reasons tangential to the actual music. Mr. Brown, on the other hand, receives annual royalty checks in the millions for samples alone, a fact the author just passes along without comment. Millions. Because you can hear one phoneme sung by Mr. Brown and you know who’s singing it.

Walked the dog, went upstairs, opened up AppleWorks, wrote this.

The End.

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