TODAY: DQ, Derek Flint, the WTC reconstruction

When you dine out with human beings less than 1000 days old, you have to pick your spots carefully. I hate to disturb other diners, so we pick places that are usually empty. In the city, where we live, the small cafes are often full of people having Civilized Meals on Sunday night, and I hate to disrupt those - so it's off to the burbs, where most folks are still sated from Saturday’s meat-and-cheese-fries engorgement session. We went to Puhket, which is two transposed letters away from a PR nightmare; it’s a Thai place located in an old Big Boy, across from a deceased Mr. Steak in a careworn part of Richfield. Great food, wonderful staff. Gnat usually makes a hideous mess - rice, everywhere - and I always clean up the strewage before we go. It’s one of those habits you get from seven years of waiting on tables: tip well, and group your dishes. Silverware in a glass; placemats balled up and stuffed in the cleanest remaining mat; plates scooped and stacked. Takes you all of a minute, and you feel less of a schmuck. But it reminds you that even a night out is still defined by the random hands of your little one. Relief is now defined as the moment when the bill arrives, and you can leave.

On the way home we decided to have that All-American Treat, Dairy Queen. The nearest DQ is a classic late 50s model with the original blue-and-white sign, one of those small urban details that survived by accident, and is now the subject of veneration by your host. It’s like an embassy for the Nation of Summer. Inside it’s about 52 degrees; hot dogs roll on their organ-meat treadmill, kids sit on the sill working on ice-cream aneurisms. Nothing changes; nothing should.

I’d dumped Mom and Tot at the park a few blocks north. Got three cones. I asked for a tray to transport them back to the park; the clerk didn’t hear me and walked away to join the other two employees clustered around the cone machine, having some impromptu staff meeting. There were no other customers in the store now.

“Uh - can I get a tray, please?”

They turned in unison, somehow stunned that this transaction they thought was ended had suddenly flared to life again.

“We’re out of trays,” said the woman I took to be the Shift Leader.

I looked at the three cones, each half a foot tall and covered with a delicious carapace of butterscotch, wondering how the hell I would get them back to the park.

“So . . .” I said.

The manager just looked at me, perhaps repeating “we’re out of trays” telepathically.

“Uh - well, how -”

“We can put them upside down in cups and put them in a cup tray,” she finally said, since it was obvious I was going to stand there in Full Stupefied Dad Mode unless they helped.


So the clerk took three cups, upended the cones, put them in a drink tray and handed me the result: three sad cones slumped in cups, flat butts exposed. It seemed humiliating, somehow. Back to the park. Gnat loved her cone, pronounced it “my favrite,” and all was fine. Until she dropped it in the sandbox.

My kingdom for an ice-cream cone shaver.

Highlight of the weekend, that. Spent all available minutes on the book. I’m laying it out in Photoshop - don’t ask. Why don’t you just print out the web pages? Don’t ask. Why don’t you just submit the HTML pages? Don’t ask. Much of this tsuris comes from the absolute mess I made for myself when I first did the site, then the proposal; all the illustrations have stupid file names that were good enough for the website version, but make the reconstruction of the site into book form a nightmare. Lots of brain-smoking grunt work, so I watched a movie while I did it. Put “Our Man Flint” into the Mac and had it play in the corner of the screen - a nifty tiny widescreen movie to which I paid intermittent attention.

Flint is one of the Bond spoofs. Between Flint and Casino Royale (ugh) and Matt Helm movies, I believe there were more spoofs than imitators, let along Bond films. I saw it as an older boy and thought it was The Greatest Movie Ever, but then again I thought that about everything I saw then. (Still do, for that matter, as this summer’s movie reviews demonstrate.) In retrospect it’s, ah, how you say, ah, stupeed? No? It’s not broad enough to be real camp, and for that I’m grateful; intentional camp ages about as well as unrefrigerated milk. After a while you just watch it as a period piece, a cultural artifact, a transmitter of messages they had no intention of sending. But I did love seeing the old iron computers with “Remington Rand” written on the side, and if nothing else I’ll always bless the movie for the Best. Telephone Ring. Ever.

Re: the WTC reconstruction plans. I am late to this particular subject (I know that sounds as if I think the world has been waiting for my input, and I must issue apologies.) People have been universally dismissive of them, which I don’t think is fair. In the rough, yes, they all bite the wax tadpole, but they’re roughs. The undercurrent of the objections seems to be disappointment that they’re not tall enough, that if we don’t build something as tall as the Twin Towers, the terrorists won.

Well, let’s be honest: in that particular battle, they did.

Of course we could build a replica; of course we could go 110 stories again, times two. That’s not the issue. It’s not cowardice to suggest that there might be difficulty renting the upper floors of two 110 story towers; I can imagine myself as someone looking for office space, standing in the exact same spot in the sky the walls of the WTC enclosed before, feeling naked, and wondering whether this just wasn’t proving some point that didn’t need proving.

Cities aren’t over, skyscrapers aren’t over, really big skyscrapers aren’t over. But. The World Trade Center summed up a particular mindset that is over, and before we demand that they rebuild the thing just as it was, let’s remind ourselves exactly what it represented. To paraphrase Paul Goldberger: what saved the project from being overwhelming and inhumane was the fact that there were two towers, not one. Two towers, he said, was a minimalist sculpture on a heroic scale. One tower would have been the apotheosis of modernist arrogance, this gigantic thing planted at the end of the island. One tower: a regrettable box. Two towers: beloved icon. (See Trump’s craptacular 90-story tower by the UN for a perfect example.)

New York has suffered from modernism since the building boom of the 60s; block after block of humanely scaled buildings were replaced by big blunt boxes that crushed the street and paved the clouds’ basement with flat black slabs. Bah. Some International Style skyscrapers are beautifu., but most aren’t. The Twin Towers got lucky - each had company, both had scale that drew the awe from your marrow in one swift second, and they had the heroic hue of silver. (Imagine them as black, or gold: unthinkable.) I wish they were still there, for thousands of reasons. But we are not the same culture that built those towers.

The WTC was just the sort of wholesale urban renewal we don’t do anymore, because we know better. You don’t burn the village to save it, and you don’t raze blocks and blocks of old neighborhoods to build gigantic monochromatic modernist edifices. It worked once - Rockefeller Center - but it doesn’t seem to work anywhere else. Times Square is a perfect example; the initial proposal was a new Rockefeller Center, a new WTC, with thematically consistent buildings replacing a hodgepodge collection of structures that arisen over a century to fit various needs. That project died, and in its place we have the piecemeal reconstruction of Times Square. Not the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen, but the buildings compete, and this gives the area an energy Johnson’s original plan would never have had.

But the WTC site is different; here you don’t want competition or noise. You want gravity. One of the proposals calls for a pair of symmetrical skyscrapers facing a memorial boulevard that extends to the river, and incorporates part of the old street grid. It has a comforting heft and presence; it has classical antecedents. We’ve been done with the WTC’s style for some time now; for the last twenty years architecture has looked towards home as much as it’s looked beyond the flat top and the blank glass wall.

It’s not that people hated Modernism - they hated seeing good old buildings fall to the reaper’s scythe, replaced by ugly tall graceless slabs, again, and again, and again. Modernism wore out its welcome long ago. Modernism had no time for people. People returned the favor.

People like gargoyles. People like allegorical figures peering down from above. People like hubcaps with wings sprouting from the 44th floor.

I always thought that the WTC was a symbol of New York, but the Empire State Building was a symbol of America. Born in the Depression, built in a year, unchallenged in the sky and on the ground. The careful massing, the astringent decoration, the stones all laid by human hands, the franchise boozenook on the ground floor and ape clinging to the giant phallus on top: that’s America. It will be no dishonor to the WTC if the replacement echoes the culture that produced the Empire State Building instead of the culture that made the Twin Towers. The WTC was the creation of a bureaucratic state, designed in a style that steamrollered over history and culture. I’d rather its replacement appealed to history than pawed at the sky just to prove it could.

Plus, I want statues. Big muscular allegorical dames.

Sorrow and Victory.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0802/080102.html#080602

A perfect late midsummer day - the cruel heat has abated, and the humidity has been replaced with clear cool air that rests lightly on your skin. Strong sun, green blaring loud all around: Minnesota summer, take three. The first version was cold and rainy; the second was miserably hot, smotheringly muggy. August is usually the month that drives the love of summer from the Minnesota psyche - by the middle of the month each day feels like roadkill, wet and smelly, pasted to a hot flat afternoon. The obligatory trip to the Fair completes the argument, and when you find yourself standing on the midway at 3 PM, sweaty, covered with grease, fending off yellowjackets, a wad of meat and potatoes plugging your stomach like a hard yam jammed in a drainpipe, you’re ready for fall.

It happens every year. Every season here is more than enough; every season makes you long for the next.

It’s a nice trick.

I love dream logic, but only in retrospect. Last night, for example, I found myself drafted to serve aboard a ship in World War Two. I wasn’t exactly fond of the notion, but, well, duty, honor, country, court martial, firing squad, etc. At one point I was on leave, wandering through a store, and I saw a coloring book I wanted to get for Gnat. I had a horrible pang of sadness, wondering how she was doing - but it was instantly replaced by the realization that I was serving on a Japanese vessel. Now how the hell did that happen. Mix-up in the paperwork? I knew the name of the ship, too: the City of Iron. Well, it would be good to check the Internet and see how that ship did in the war.

In the dream state you can exist simultaneously in two states, two planes. You can be a North Dakota-born conscript in the Japanese Imperial Navy recollecting something that hasn’t been invented yet. At this point, I should note, the dream collapsed, and I was awakened by Gnat: waggup, dadee! Waggup! Given the speed at which dreams move, perhaps the very process of disengaging from their makeshift scenarios accelerates their absurdities. Or the effect of compounded nonsense jolts you from your sleep. It’s fun either way.

A few nights ago I dreamed we had moved from Jasperwood into a five-story house on a weed-choked lot on a busy street; each floor contained one room, and each floor had windows on three sides of the room, floor to ceiling. I hated the place. I could not believe we’d moved from Jasperwood to this place.

I have this dream a lot. The theme is always the same: through some colossal and shortsighted act of stupidity, I gave up Jasperwood for a dump, and there’s no going back. If that’s the extent of my Worst Nightmare script, I suppose I should be happy. The relief of walking downstairs and seeing the world outside the windows is delicious. I’m notoriously short-sighted, and unable to fully appreciate my boon, so perhaps this is my subconscious slapping me around and reminding me to be grateful.

Went to the Mall of America today to ask a question of the Apple Geniuses. As mentioned before, it’s one of the things I love about the Apple store: walk-in tech support. Gnat loves the place - it has puters she can play with (puters with a mohs, no less) and the big trippy wide-screen iTunes visualizer hypnotizes her for the duration of my tech question. I had feared the trip would be a difficult one, since she woke up with profuse nasal excretions. A real shirt-soaker of a cold, unfortunately. It means that her toddler speech is now filtered through snot, which makes for amusing conversations. I put her in her carseat, and she grinned: don baff! she said. I pondered: no idea. Don baff!

Don’t barf? Bingo. Don baff!

Look for a character named Donald Baff in my next novel.

We hit the FAO Schwartz store, the Disney store, the Lego store, then had 1/4th of a donut sitting on the floor. It’s the Mall’s tenth anniversary - the Strib is running stories on this august event, and as ever it all fills me with indifference. I don’t like the place, don’t hate it, don’t feel anything at all. It just is, and if it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be. But it makes Gnat ooh and ahh.

Someday I’ll email her the video of the place’s demolition, and perhaps we’ll reminisce. Remember when we went to the Apple store? You know, the place that sold stand-alone computers that sat on your desk? Of course, she won’t remember; it’s the one design flaw in the whole parent-child relationship. What’s precious to you is forgotten on a daily basis. But still you provide it, because the details add up. They don’t remember the donuts, but they never forget the spirit in which they’re given, the mood of the relationship, the gentle but slightly terrified look on daddy’s face as he shoehorns a wad of fried dough the size of a soccer ball out your mouth.

Enough. Must go. Lots of work to do. Apologies for scantness; more tomorrow.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0802/080102.html#0806022

There are two ways for a religion to approach life:

A) Everything is permitted except that which is forbidden; over time, we work out the details as the situations arise.

B) Everything is forbidden except that which is permitted, and we will work out the details in advance.

The latter seems to characterize the mindset of some of Islamic scholars; they certainly appear to spend more time deciding what is sinful than any Lutherans I know. (Depending on the synod.) This morning I found myself paging through a site that laid out the rules for various human pursuits according to Islam. There was a page spelling out the rules for laughter and jokes, a page explaining why sporting events were forbidden, a page that tackled the age-old question of whether Jews are monkeys, pigs, or both. Etc. It’s incredibly tiresome. To my eyes, each sentence is another thin steel filament drawn around your arms and body, binding you to a stake. Immobility = freedom: by knowing what you cannot do, you will be free to do only that which you are allowed to do. And when you’re bound to the stake, you can do two things: bow your head in supplication, and wag a disapproving finger at those who dance around your pyre.

I found this link courtesy of Tal G., who pointed us to "Clear Guidance," a message board for Muslim youth. Tal pointed us to a thread in which Muslim youth discuss weaponry:

hey am gonna sleep rite now kay....il give u guys the threads name in brothers area ... i want to see that FILLED WITH BLOOD AND OTHER YUMMMY STUFF for tomorrow inshallah

tha name of that thread is " > : : : » JUICY JEW « : : : <" gud name eh ... lol

key gud nite...ma3assalaam

Gud nite CU latr, sick bastard. The thread is full of charming stuff; they talk about the joys of knifing Jews, and discuss the merits of a particular decapitate-the-infidel tape - who knew it was such a genre? It almost seems as if these guys trade decapitation tapes like l33t hackers swap warez:

hmmmmm has anyone here seen rushthroat?? where the mujahideen get a knife stab it into a jews throat and rips da head off and the jewz making all these sick noises and theres bloody everywhere

There’s more. It’s lovely. Sample message topics: “Do Jews Drink Human Blood?” “Holocoust Never Happened!” One brave fellow who goes by “Mini Alim" attempts to bring some reason to the table. Here’s where he really asks for it:

“what im trying to say is that sometimes a muslim can be worse than a khufr, i would trust a kafir pope over someone like sadam”

Said Ketchman replies:

You have a misconception about this aspect of Islam. In a Sahih hadith, our Prophet(saw) said: the worst of Muslims is still better then the best of kaffirs.

So this disproves anything you have to say on this issue. A kuffar is doomed to hellfire forever while a Muslim, even if he is the worst is promised heaven even if he spends some time in jannah.

Whether I am a kuffar, a kaffir a kaffir, or a khufr, I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is “key gud nite...ma3assalaam.” The rest of the thread beats up on Mini Alim, and you’re rooting for him. He’s quite reasonable and seemingly tolerant - but then he writes this:

With regard to matters of love and hate in the heart, the Muslims’ attitude towards non-Muslims is based on the latter’s attitude towards Allaah. If they worship Allaah and do not associate anything in worship with Him, then they love them. If they associate others in worship with Him, or disbelieve in Him, or worship others alongside Him, or are hostile towards His religion and hate the truth, then it is obligatory to hate them in our hearts.

Religion of peace, exhibit 911.08.06.02 Oh, it’s followed with all sorts of “treat the unbeliever well” stuff, but after the “hate in our hearts” part it just sounds like rules admonishing a slaveowner not to whip the darkies on Christmas.

I’m sure there are reams of scholarship that define “hate” to mean pity, tolerance, love, and hope, and quite possibly the desire to give the infidel a puppy and a poppy and a kiss on the cheek, but I can’t help take the word at face value. I was raised a Lutheran. I went through Sunday School, confirmation, sat through a thousand sermons, and the concept of hating unbelievers never came up. Not once. Unbelievers didn’t even exist as a matter of concern, unless the sermon had to do with missionary work in Darkest Africa, and then we were encouraged to hit the collection plate extra hard to pay for food and textbooks. The closest we got to hate was the “hate the sin, love the sinner” line, but that was aimed at people inside the fold as well as outside, and the “hate” was a nice rhetorical trick, meant to wither in the subsequent application of “love.” If any of the nice pastors had taken the pulpit on a sunny Sunday and told the crowd of middle-aged Scandinavians to HATE MUSLIMS IN THEIR HEART people would have wondered what had gotten into him. Huh? We’ve gotten dressed up in itchy church clothes so we can be told to hate someone? Is this church? Nervous coughs, shifting of capacious buttocks, strained smiles at the handshake in the nave, then later at Perkins someone would say “well, that was . . . different.”

I speak only for my experience in my denomination in my time at that place. Of course I welcome any examples of Christian Teen chat sites that demand the faithful HATE MUSLIMS IN THEIR HEART and stab them in the same.

Good luck finding them. As much as it might pain the students at clearguidance.com, American churches don’t give two figs for the subject of Islam one way or the other. It’s just not on their radar. There are no pained debates in church basements about how to act towards Muslim friends, or what to do when your friend’s sister comes over with a headscarf. As much as some would like to portray mainstream American religious belief as a Dangerous Ravening Force bent on establishing an Ashcroftian theocracy, most churches look inward. A dear friend of mine is part of a church-group mission to help the Truly Farked - she’s mentoring a down-and-out drug addict, helping her get on her feet. Is that addict a Christian? No idea. Doesn’t come up. Does my friend praise Jeeeeeesus every time she drops off meals or blankets for the addict? Irrelevant. The act is what matters. It’s the gift, not the wrapping. This is mainstream everyday Christianity - which, I should note, I am not a part of. (I am a Deist, which means EVERYONE disagrees with me.)

Not to say that some Christians don’t feel alienated from modern society. I just don’t see a lot of stab-the-muslim rhetoric coming from sites that succor the Christian teen.

Again, if I’m wrong: send me the URLs.

What I take away from this board - and I’ve read more of it than I care to - is a fantasy of oppression yearning for the humiliation of the Other. To the ranters and haters on this site, the very fact of being a Muslim in a non-Islamic culture is seen as an affront to the rightful order of things, since in a just word there would be no non-Islamic culture. This affront is compounded by the inability of the infidel culture to recognize its errors - indeed, even when presented with the truth, it declines to submit.

To this mindset, tolerance is an insult. Tolerance is condescension.

I don’t mean to tar all the posts with a broad brush - I’m sure many of the posters and patrons are good people who seek a community where they can express their worries about the irreligiousness of movies or music or sporting events. Whatever. I have no intention living my life worrying that the creator of this unfathomable universe gives a quark about whether another man sees my wife’s hair, and I don’t think I’m going to hell for that. If someone chooses to worry about such things, that’s his prerogative, as long as he doesn’t insist that the rest of society conform to his strictures. And I will not believe that the extreme positions of some adherents taint the entire religion. Sorry: I won’t. Should some deranged and racist form of twisted Christianity sweep the country in 20 years, does this mean I disavow the indescribably decent man who baptized me, and baptized my daughter 40 years later?

I’d have no interest in this website whatsoever were it not for three things:

1. When there’s a subculture out there ranking the best jihadi decapitation video, you’d best pay attention.

2. When a message board devoted to guidance for Islamic youth doesn’t delete the posts about stabbing Jews, you’d best pay attention.

3. This thread. As far as I can tell, the debate seems to be whether it’s a brother’s job to kill his sexually active sister, or the religious authority’s job.

What’s the British expression? Isa wept.




This is the order of things. Add another: the fumbuckery of the common cold. Way back in the late 60s, there was a commercial for Contac, and it featured a strange inflatable creature that chased horrified people. It bore a resemblance to Nauga, if I remember correctly. “A summer cold is a different animal,” said the ad, and the phrase has stuck with me through the decades. The brain is odd that way; I can’t remember a phone number or the name of someone I’ve just met, but I remember ad jingles from age 8. It would be interesting to record what I say to Gnat on a daily basis, just to footnote the pointless references; the other day at the Mall I corrected her gently on an erroneous observation, and added “there! I’ve run rings round you logically,” which of course is from the Python’s “Penguin on the telly” skit. And it’s not even a punchline.

The other day I got an Amazon box with four CDs of 1950s pre-rock singles (they called it rock, but it didn’t.) One of the tunes was a most peculiar novelty number called “Muleskinner Blues,” cut right here in Minneapolis a half century ago. Hard to describe; mostly the grinning ramblings of some Cletus interspersed with moronic laughter. Big hit. The laughter, however, sounded like something my dad used to do when he was feeling guilty; I never knew it, but all those years he was quoting a song long buried by the sediment of subsequent pop. It’s possible that nursing homes in 50 years will be full of people quoting Simpsons episodes, and the staff will roll their eyes. Yes, I have grease, and no I won’t grease you up. Stop saying that!

Anyway. Gnat had a cold a few days ago, and of course I got it. When a little slobbery-faced child toddles up to you and says “Hi Daddy” and gives you a kiss, you simply cannot turn your face away. Yesterday I felt half-crapped; this morning I woke with a solid nose and a throat that felt like a loofah in a pedicure salon. Back to my old friend DayQuil, which I drank by the quart during last fall’s bout of pneumonia. It wore off a while ago. I feel like the carpet in a room full of scooting dogs, and if you don’t know what “scooting” means, consider yourself lucky.

Interesting day. Yesterday’s Bleat synced with LGF’s discussion of the same site; I’d gone to bed wondering if I’d oversold the Horrors, but apparently not. Some interesting web sleuthing in the message boards, too. Would that the FBI had the energy to do it. My mailbox is groaning with replies - and again, I have to beg everyone’s indulgence here; I read but cannot answer. I just don’t have the time. (See the 4 Bs, above.) I turned on the radio, prowled the dial, and found InstantMan talking on Hugh Hewitt’s show. Then Mr. Hewitt interviewed the writer of an editorial in today’s Strib, a co-worker of mine I’ve known for 20 years. Small world. (I’ll discuss the editorial tomorrow; it’s a real piece of work.) Interesting topics; all very vital. But they will matter very little soon enough. It’s all thumb-twiddling and graveyard whistling. We’re just filling up time until It happens.

What exactly It will be, I have no idea, but It’s going to be pucker-time. They'll break into the news - surprise, they have the Iraq Invasion logo already made ahead of time. The President will speak. I'll be up all night watching the news, taking a break on the cliff with a cigar to listen to what the radio's saying. Snow on the ground? Brown leaves? Green grass? Rain, fog, a hot night with crickets? We'll see. Don't know. When I stop and think a few weeks ahead, I have this gigantic disconnect between the blessed trivialities of the day and the consequences of It. I have a mix of apprehension, loin-girding, resignation, hope, fear, grim resolution - and there’s nothing I can do with it.

I remember sitting in a wire-caged cart at the State Fair, in a ride called the Zipper. The door’s shut. The cart sways. You’ve paid for the ride and you can’t get off. You know you're going to be lurched up and around and over and down, and there's nothing you can do about it. You're in the cage and the cage is locked. That’s what things feel like now. For me, anyway.

Special note for Anthony Burgess fans and users of Mac’s OX X.2: who ever decided to call the online calendar program “iCal” did not read Clockwork Orange, or read the glossary in back.

It was National Night Out Tuesday - a night where we take back the night from the roving bands of thugs and brigands that roam our streets, steal our hubcaps, stand under the streetlight sneering at passersby, throwing switchblades into the sun-parched earth. Damned juvenile delinquents with their leather jackets and swaggering disregard for Episcopalianism. Well, not tonight! On this soft summer’s eve we stand on our porches, resolute, and say No More! Get in your jalopies and leave us decent people alone!

Or something like that. It’s usually an excuse for a block party. Last year we went to one up the street; this year we went around the corner to a spectacular street that’s one of the loveliest in the city. I’d say it looks like a Thomas Kinkaid picture, but I don’t like Kinkaid. The houses look like they’re made of sugar and vaseline; one good rainstorm would dissolve the entire structure. If Bob Guccione was a real estate photographer, his work would look like Kinkaid’s. But I digress. Met many neighbors, and as usual learned how very small the world is; we all had some common intersection, often decades old. The folks up the street bought their house from a guy I worked with at the paper, and had my wife’s uncle as the realtor; met a fellow who was on the doctors who helped my wife after Gnat was born - specifically, to deal with the horrid preemie-ward nurse who viewed parents as nasty trogs come to steal her babes. (This was the nurse who told me that if Gnat didn’t get her body temperature up, “she’s not going to make it.” She meant “not going to leave the incubator for an open crib in the next few days.” Great choice of word, you mustachioed cow-bitch. I still fume when I think of that. She’s not going to make it. Perhaps you can find better words for nervous parents whose baby is under glass next to another one who’s on a respirator. But I digress again)

Small town? Get this: en route to the party we ran into a new neighbor, who right this moment is feeling that little strange uh-oh pang common to my friends and relatives who realize they’re making a walk-on here. He read my stuff back in the 80s, left town for 17 years, landed back in town up the street, and he not only reads the Bleat but has a fine view of my studio’s window and backyard. I’d say it all makes me feel nekkid, but I am, after all, the one who’s disrobed in the middle of the street.

Back to work. See you Friday.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0802/080102.html#080802

The household now has the Grippe in three manifestations: Gnat is goopy but on the mend; I’m in the middle of the sneezing / running nose / mild fever / phase; my wife is just feeling the bug wrap its clammy hands around her bones now. Today was the worst so far for me - gushing schnozz, sneezes that felt like grand-mal seizures. In the car I let loose with three calamitous detonations that sounded like someone firing a shotgun into a barrel of shredded aluminum foil - one, two, three. I said “eugh,” and sighed.

From the back, a small voice:

“Are you okay?”

Gnat was looking at me with concern. I smiled and assured her I was. Very sweet. A half-hour before, however, she had not been sweet. She almost got me arrested. No, strike that; she didn’t, and that’s the problem. I should have been arrested, or at least detained. It’s like this:

We went to Lake Harriet to walk in the shallows. I brought the camcorder to capture the event for the home movies. She toddled around the clear clean water, digging her toes in the sand, fishing out weeds; she sat down in the lake, soaking her pants and her diaper, which as all parents know means an extra ten pounds of weight. I took off her pants, washed her extremeties, and we went back to the Galileo. As I was putting her in the carseat she suddenly pitched a fit - squirming, crying, yelling, shrieking, acting as if a scorpion had skithered into her Pampers. MOMMY, she wailed. MOMMY. She’s never appealed to that authority in the middle of the day before. What was going on?

It struck me that this looked very, very, very bad. A middle-aged man putting a screaming toddler in his car while she screamed for her mother.

There were three policemen by the lifeguard stand - park police on bikes. I hope they don’t hear this, I thought, and then I realized: hey, I hope they do. I hope they come over and ask what’s going on here. I could prove in a second that she’s my daughter - the books on the car floor, the busted pinwheel under the seat, the diaper bag, the camcorder with miles of footage of this selfsame child in my lap at our home. But they didn’t hear and they didn’t investigate.

I would have felt better if I had been detained, frankly. I’d like to know this sort of scenario makes their antennae quiver.

She wanted to go back to the lake, of course. Just because I had enough footage didn’t mean she was done with the place. So we went back, walked around, drew letters in the sand, two goopy-faced idlers on a summer afternoon on the beach in the city. As good as it gets. As good as it gets.

Earlier I had one of my daily run-ins with a clerk who obstinately refused to click her heels, bow, and accede to my perfectly reasonable standards of servile perfection. I really don’t get it. All I ask is that they read my mind and pull a tendon doing my bidding. I don’t know why this is so hard for them to understand. What do I have to do? Lash their calves with a bamboo cane? Communicate my desires with something as base as words, instead of raised eyebrows and huffy expression? Well I never.

We were at Restoration Hardware, a store I love, and hate. They have some nifty items. They appreciate the pleasures of the past. But they put placards on everything, and the placards have little stories that make these everyday items into touchstones for a Lost American Past, when Craftsmanship Mattered and Pleasures Were Simple and / or Sophisticated. The entire store is designed to flatter the customer, make them feel smart and cultured for choosing these objects. You’re supposed to remember the little tales on the placards and repeat them back when someone asks about the item. "Oh, that? It’s a marble polish handmade in small batches the old-fashioned New England way by artisans who have never forgotten the simple joys of homemaking. Oh, that? It’s a clever updating of the classic 50s kitchen phone, reminding us of a time when the ring of a phone sent everyone running to answer in the hopes it would be for them. The dial has been updated to accommodate today’s technology, but the style and form still harken back to a day when you could pick up the receiver, feel its heft, and realize you could kill a man with it if you hit him hard enough in the temple. Oh, that? It’s a broom whose straw was hand-gathered by villagers in Tuscany, drawing on centuries of tradition that - no, wait, I got that it Target."

I love to catch errors in the stories. Once they had a line of cocktail goods. They’re always pushing cocktail culture on people, be it 30s style martini shakers, tiki culture, bachelor-pad barware. The Golden Age of Alcoholism. There was a zinc item whose streamlined shape was reminiscent of “the nadir of the Roaring 20s.” I heard Wallace Shawn in Princess Bride: Inconceivable! The author had confused nadir with zenith. I pointed this out to a clerk, who said, grimly: good. I love to know they’re wrong.

They got on her nerves, too.

So today we’re looking at that masterpiece of Americana Kitsch, the KitKat Clock. The tail counts the seconds, the eyes move back and forth. You’ve seen it. I love them, and if we lived in a classic 50s Rambler I’d have six in six colors. The placard said: “Through the Great Depression and two World Wars, the Kit Kat clock has kept the time” etc.

Nonsense. The Kit Kat Clock was not around in 1917. It’s plastic, for God’s sake. I read the side of the box, which also gave a short history, and pegged the invention at the mid 30s. (The zenith of the Depression.)

I walked up to the counter to buy my can of Sprayway Glass Cleaner, which is the only true streak-free glass cleaner I’ve ever found - it also has a fabulously institutional aroma that will bring anyone my age straight back to grade school. “Can I help you?” asked the clerk. Early forties, I’d say.

“I’d like to report an inaccuracy in one of your little placards,” I smiled.

I could tell right away that the clerk heard this:

“Klaatu mealworm fistula McWombat, machine-wrapped in butter.”

See, this usually works. Experience has taught me that the staff enjoys customers who do not regard the store as a religious experience. We make fun of the stuff, then admit that this is one hell of a glass cleaner. As long as you don’t give off that hey there, I’m a wacky guy and I’m going to stand here and talk to you for seven minutes until you’re ready to drive a fireplace poker into my neck vibe, you’re fine. Get in with the quip, hand over the money, ta ta.

But this was a disaster. She looked at me as though I’d said "weevils are bursting from your forebrain, you know." Cursing myself for being myself, I soldiered on: “the little placard for the Kit Kat clocks says they were around for two World Wars, but they weren’t invented until the thirties.” Said with a jaunty ain’t that a pip tone. I was already reaching for my money.

“I wasn’t around for World War Two,” the clerk said, thereby putting the capstone on the entire misunderstanding. She took the Sprayway cleaner. “Is this all?”

I should have said No! A dozen of your finest Tinkly Magruders!

But that would be wrong.

Note to self: just shut the hell up.

I was just coding the permanent link text, and realized to my amazement that Friday is my birthday. Well, then, a blog paraphrase of Dot Parker:

As I grow old and older

And totter towards the tomb

I find that I care less and less

Who links to whom

An utter lie, of course; the Opinion Journal linked to me today, I felt an immoderate flush of self-regard. Gnat didn't notice or care; at the time she was busy putting a discarded box from 12-pack over her head. "Daddy do." So I did. "Jasper do." So I put in on Jasper's head. Pissed him off something fierce; hours later I found the box in the sun porch, ripped to shreds and soaked with dog slobber.

I apologized for the earlier humiliation. He didn't seem to get it. He never seems to get it. But you apologize nevertheless.

Never trust someone who can't say sorry to a dog.

PERMANENT LINK: http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0802/080102.html#080902

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