. Yes, yes, very artsy & pretentious. Lo, a single leaf doth fall. Well, it’s all I could come up with this morning, and after weeks of increasingly busy “artwork” it suits me fine. Thus it always is: the baroque yields to the austere, which leads to the substantive, which leads to the exaggerated. The history of art is a shampoo instruction: rinse, repeat. Anyway -the font is our old friend Zapfino, which sounds like the brother of the pan-flute maestro - and this leads to an odd coincidence. Today was the House Tour for our neighborhood - people pony up seven bucks and get to walk around strangers’ houses. I always think this sounds like an excellent opportunity for burglars to make a shopping list, and I can imagine the police interviewing the victim afterwards: has anyone you don’t know been here lately - deliverymen, workmen? “Well, 174 people came through on Sunday, but they all paid admission.”

Anyway. A few blocks away one of the neighborhood residents was signing a copy of her book The Doors of Tangletown, a collection of photos and historical notes. And the cover font was . . . Zapfino!

What are the odds? Even considering that it’s given away with all Macs and probably all Windows? Infinitesimal!

Watched one movie this weekend. It began at 6:42 AM. Gnat was up, and I drew morning duty while my wife took a bathysphere to the bottom of Lethe. She needed it. I could have stood next to the bed with a spanner wrench and played the Anvil Chorus on the radiator and she wouldn’t have moved. So Gnat and I watched some TV. (She distinguishes between “tapes” for the VCR, and “Movies,” which are DVDs. Interesting.) The latest batch of tapes from the library showed the general level of children’s TV, which is strained and insincere and cheap; few of them make an impression. One tape gives me the willies - it’s about a stuffed bear who is rejected in the store because he lacks a button, so at night he searches through the department store for the button that will make him loved. Great message, that. It’s not who you are, it’s the condition of your accessories. What bothers me about the tape is quite simple: half the scenes are stop-motion, with a stuffed bear moving around tiny sets; the other half consist of a person in a bear suit moving through oversized sets, as with “Land of the Giants.” You come to know the character as a trick of the camera, and then he starts moving with human fluidity through a strange, featureless world. High-octane nightmare fuel, if you ask me.

There’s “Spot, the Crudely Animated Puppy” - they busted the budget on this one, and made him blink every 97 seconds. There’s “Old Bear,” for which I have a soft spot; they’re narrated by a Brit who does not talk down to the children, but speaks as he would to an adult. More stop-motion animation of stuffed animals, and very British; the plots consist of making biscuits, or rescuing pants from a jar of treacle, or figuring out how to get Bramwell Brown a National Health card so he can have his leg sewn back on. (Just kidding.) There’s Elmo - Gott in hummel, there’s always Elmo - but he has fallen from favor, passed into the Land of Shades where Teletubbies gambol. That left Olie. She loves Olie. And so do I.

So we watched the entire “Rolie Polie Olie, the Great Defender of Fun” movie. As computer animation goes, it’s not Toy Story - sometimes when there’s a tremendous amount of action on the screen the frame rate drops, which tells me that the French / Canadian company responsible for this did the entire show on a Dell and backed it up on Zip drives.

But we watched all 74 minutes, uninterrupted. Given a toddler’s attention span, this is like an adult sitting through a double bill of “Shoah” and “The Sorrow and the Pity.” Except much funnier. If I can sum up the plot: Gloomius Maximus (James Woods) (really) arrives to extract the fun from all of Polieville. Like all great children’s villains, the only thing that irks him more than the existence of happiness is its manifestations; like all cartoon anhedoniacs, he devises a complex plot to foil happiness once and for all. (The end result of his plot would be happiness for himself, but he doesn’t realize the contradiction.)

He is up against our robot heroes: Olie, plucky lad and all around saver-of-the-day; Zowie, his three-year old robot sister; his parents, his grandpappy AND grandpappy’s false teeth, which periodically burst from the old robot’s mouth and dance around making Speedy Gonzalez sounds. There’s Uncle Giz, the rockabilly robot with the mile-high hairdo and a motorcycle whose horn plays the first few bars of “La Cucaracha.” (Makes me wonder what sound it makes when dubbed for other cultures; what’s the Japanese version of a cheesy cliched car horn?) Happiness is successfully defended, of course, and in the finest tradition of the genre the villain’s heart is turned towards the good. It was scary at times, and Gnat burrowed close when Gloomius’ face filled the screen.

Her first villain. Later that night at the Thai restaurant I drew Gloomius on a placemat, and she identified him: Goomeeus. And she gave an uncertain smile. Sure, he came around in the end, but it’s always the postlapsarian version they remember, the ones unredeemed by the grace of fun.

I’d love to know if this redemption of the villain is unique to Western children entertainment. Wasn’t always so - in the past the woodsman showed up and put an axeblade into the wolf’s head, then ripped open the belly to let out Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. G’night, sleep tight. (click: lights off.) The Wicked Witch was melted, as she damn well should have been, and Dorothy did so with a unilateral act that did not consult Glenda, the Munchkins, the Mayor of Emerald City or the Cranky-Ass Trees.

But nowadays the Grinch repents; Gloomius sings and dances. Evil can be turned; evil is not immune to persuasion.

A good lesson for age 2 - a comforting lesson, really. I want her to grow up with trust in people’s goodness as her baseline belief, with the notion that the Good is a thing which draws people to it when they truly understand it. Children have a binary conception of the world, and I’d rather teach her on than off. After that we’ll work on the details.

The details, of course, are the hard part. But they contain the necessary lessons: the codicils, appendices and footnotes, the caveats that keep you from infecting your adulthood with the silly self-regarding certainties of your adolescent years. Today I listened to an hour-long interview with a peace activist (and it was a rebroadcast! How that escaped the notice of the Department of Dissent Crushing, I’ve no idea) and as she insisted that “violence” was never justified, not even in self-defense, I wondered how many of these people took the Grinch tale as the purest expression of human aspirations. They actually might believe that if we all hold hands and sing the Whoville anthem, the Grinch’s heart will grow six sizes.

How do I teach Gnat about the world? Simple: “War of the Worlds.” Meteor lands. People gather. From the meteor a thin silver tentacle is deployed, sweeping over the assembled humans; it makes an unnerving sound that combines insect dispassion and human malevolence. Three men, soiling their drawers as they confront the unknown Other, hoist a white flag and walk towards it, slowly, hands out in friendship. They are incinerated by a death ray.

That’s when you send the Whos to the shelters and call in the Marines.

Since that movie scared the buhjeebus out of me as a kid, I’ll wait until she’s 12. I’ve ten years, and I’ll build a trust in people so strong it can only be dented by one thing: reality.

. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0902/090302.html#091602
Let me describe hell as I know it: sitting in a circle singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider with other adults. I will sing it in the privacy of my home; I will sing it in the car with the windows down; I will even hum it to myself now and then, since the song contains valuable lessons about perseverance and judging the rightness of a situation. It’s different from “Hickory Dickory Dock,” in which the cretinous mouse runs up the clock, gets knocked off when the bells strike the hour, and continues to run up again on the hour until presumably the percussive effect of the clock striking 12 stops his trembling heart. Could the mouse run up during a non-bell interval? Could he abandon the vertical / horological gambit in favor of scaling an object not given to calamitous gonging? Idiot. The itsy-bitsy spider, on the other hand, correctly apprehends the situation: the sun comes out, dries up that which washed him down, making another assault on the spout feasible.

Why yes, I do spend a lot of time with a two-year old; why do you ask?

Anyway. Took her to this church where the city school holds programs for preschoolers. Interesting mingling of church & state - all the classes are held in a wing obviously built for Sunday School, but now devoted entirely to the public school programs. The wing had the look and feel of the institutions of my youth: dark hallways, bright rooms, gray linoleum stippled with black, cinderblock walls, acoustic tile with a random dot pattern, suspended banks of fluorescent lights. Very modern, for 1958 - and it reminds you how churches completely shook off the past after WW2. They built sleek stripped-down structures that abandoned their specific historical vocabulary. Churches now looked like ski lodges, motel lobbies, golf-course clubhouses. Machines for efficient praying to a Savior in the gray flannel robe. The church we attended in Fargo was modernized in the 50s as well, and to my eyes today it looks like the perfect parish for Paul Drake, Perry Mason’s detective associate. I can see him taking the pulpit, putting out his Pall Mall, shooting a finger at the choir, and giving a sermon, the title of which would be “Is God a Square?”

I love those 50s churches from an architectural standpoint, but they lack the twin virtues of the pre-war structures: crushing weight and soaring majesty. The medieval cathedrals were bound by the necessities of load-bearing walls to be narrow, to push in as they pulled up. But for every yard of dun-hued stone was a ribbon of stained glass; for every slab of unyielding rock there seemed to be ten times as much air and light above you. Chalk it up to the requirements of the builder’s art at the time, but no other human structure so succinctly stated the nature of the world below and the world above. Odd: many people in a gigantic church feel more in touch with the divine than they do outside under a night sky. It’s as if a roof helps the human mind focus on the infinite.

You could have blindfolded me and put me in the lobby, and I’d have said “church.” The nose tells you before the eyes do anyway. Wax. Burned wax. Decades and decades of burned wax. You could swab the place with rotten skunks and the wax would win. Take a brick from the wall, crack it open, take a whiff: wax. Burned wax.

But I was talking about hell. When everyone started to sing, I took Gnat to the circle to join in the songs, feeling more self-conscious than I’ve been since high-school gym class. I was the only dad there, for one thing, and I hate to sing goofy kiddie songs in front of strangers and make exaggerated googly faces at my child. Mainly because she doesn’t buy any of it. She wandered away to make pizza in the kitchen playset. That’s my girl.

After 45 minutes the adults gathered in a different room to discuss our various issues, and again I had some trepidation; as the only bloke, I know that my presence can ruin the sense of solidarity for the others, who might well want to talk about issues mothers have. (Like slugabed fathers.) But everyone was quite nice and friendly; whew. We split into small groups to discuss Issues we wanted to raise over the next ten weeks, and I found myself looking at two moms who perhaps wondered what the devil I was going to bring to the table.

“I’m having issues with weaning,” I said.

That broke the ice. The rest of the afternoon was a hoot, and I look forward to the weeks to come. My wife was amazed that I would actually agree to incorporate this into The Precious Schedule, the thing that rules my day, my week and month and life, and from which I rarely permit deviation.

“It’s part of The Precious Schedule now,” I said.

If you’re going to be inflexible, you have to know when to bend.

. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0902/090302.html#091702

An open letter to anyone who was walking through my neighborhood tonight, and saw a man hanging out a small window, waving a five-foot pole and swearing in a strained, strangled voice: there really was a good explanation. My wife bought flowers for the windowsill pot, and I was attempting to arrange them Just So. Alas, this house has the original windows - and by “original” I mean that when they were first installed, the United States had not yet entered World War One. I have no idea why anyone put up with these windows for a day, let alone a century; you can crack them open just enough to let in the bugs, but no breeze. Perhaps they're a vestige of an era that believed the grippe flowed through the ether, and the sensible way to ward off the Spanish Flu or Belgian Ague or Mesopotamian Catarrh was to sit in an unventilated house daubing creosote around each other’s mouths and noses until the authorities announced that the mortality rate had dipped a tad. We still suggest woolen hoods for the Fourth of July picnics, but you can open a window now without fear of dread contagion.

Anyway. To get the flowers on the windowsill I had to remove the windows, put in the pots, then replace the windows - but the plants wouldn’t bend enough to let me close the window. The plants were stiff and thick; imagine Don King dipped in a vat of shellac and left outside in January and you get the idea. In the process of sweating and swearing one of the shims that elevate the pots fell through the drainage grate onto the porch roof below.

Argh. I cannot see that wooden triangle from my room; I could probably see it from the street a block away if I had binoculars. But knowing it was there would be enough to nag at me for years, so I got out a long pole used to change overhead lightbulbs, hung out the window, and batted at the wooden block - until I knocked it neatly into the rain gutter.

Hence the swearing.

But if that’s the worst thing that happens all day, it’s a fine day. And it was a fine day. Warm - one of those precious late-September days when the temps scrape the ceiling of the 70s, with a slight dry breeze. Summer is done but the sets are still in place. Driving home with Gnat I put the windows down to let the kind smooth air flow in; turned on the radio for some tunes - and got the news headlines.

The FBI is investigating al Qaeda cells in several cities: Portland, OR. Detroit, MI.

Minneapolis, MN.

Isn’t that interesting. For a moment I was jerked back to last fall, when the clement temps and gorgeous foliage seemed such a cruel contrast to the events of the day, of the hour, of the minute; the natural world went on as if nothing had happened, and you almost resented it for its nonchalance. You wanted all the trees to drop their leaves and stand abashed. Beauty was almost an affront. But now the news that there’s an al Qaeda cell in my own city brings a shrug. Granted, the shrug is preceded by oh, shit. But then you think: that’s the way it’s going to be for a while, then; live with it. And you pop in a CD and find the Dooley Wilson tune that Gnat loves, “Knock on Wood.”

What was the Musketeer motto? Adopt, adapt, improve.

This being one of those two column days I am in no mood to write tonight, so I will compensate with a rare link to this week’s Newhouse column. I don’t do this too often because I am lazy and have too many other links to worry about. Ladies and gents, I give you Scott Ritter: Restaurant Inspector.

Those in the mood to think seriously about the “inspections” issue can skip right to here; those who don’t come here for that are forewarned, because it’s coming up.

Tonight we are dealing with Hives. Gnat has hives. That’s the good thing about dogs: if they get hives, you have no idea, so you don’t consult the books. Dog medical books are rather basic, anyway; the main symptom for all dog ills appears to be listless, or vomiting, or listlessness and vomiting. In general dogs just go until they stop, which is sadly one o the reasons we take them for granted. They’re like running water and electricity. Jasper has been sick a few times - as a puppy he was nearly carried off by parvo, and staged a miraculous recovery that stunned the vets. The sight of the little puppy hooked up to an IV, panting in his vet kennel, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever seen; tore us up. And we’d had him just three days. Now he has a touch of dysplasia in his hips, but the vet’s main suggestion - a diet - has brought back his old spring.

Babies, however, are different, prone to the innumerable small perfidies of the flesh. We have a large tome from Mayo that details exactly everything that can go wrong - it’s like a how-to book for parents with Munchausen-by-proxy. Full of horrible illustrations (Plate 1: scabies. Plate 2: Johnson’s Slough. Plate 3: Projectile Auto-Deboning) so I never look at it, but tonight I was curious where the hives might be coming from. Dinner? I cooked a light curry, something she’s had a dozen times before. An allergic reaction to the polishing cloth I used on the sofa? Doubtful. A reaction to taking an hour nap on the leather sofa in a hot room? Most probable. If I took her to the emergency room, they’d prescribe two fingers of gin. For me. Relax, dad.

Yes, I know that hives can be a sign of a bad allergic reaction, and I know what to look for - facial swelling, difficulty breathing, cranial revolutions, Latinate ejaculations, etc. I reserve my hypochondria for myself.

A fellow I know wrote a hilarious book about hypochondria - I know it was hilarious because everything he writes is hilarious. But I couldn’t read it, lest I get all the things he said he was worried about getting. This was why it was not the best-selling book it deserved: the only people who would really get it wouldn’t buy it, because they might catch cancer.

Other childrearing notes: I have instilled manners in the Gnat. When she burps she says “Excuse me.” And today she took two stuffed animals, made them shake hands, and she said “Good to see you.” Hypocrisy being an invaluable requirement for civilization, Daddy couldn’t be more pleased. Next I’ll teach her the phrase “Your proposal has some merits.” Right after I teach her that when playing with faux food, carrots are not a pizza topping. In some circles they may be, but let her find out the horrors of real life on her own.

Okay. Current events.

Why do I get the feeling that those who support “muscular inspection” - i.e., weapons inspectors backed up by military force - are sometimes the same people who tell me that violence doesn’t solve anything?

I’ve been thinking about these newfangled, extra-angry inspections for the last day, and how they’d work. My very own paper had an editorial on the matter that echoes the familiar UN line: we should make sure Saddam has no WMDs, we should leave him in power, and time is on our side. To quote:

Washington must push to get teams of weapons inspectors back in Iraq as soon as possible. The teams are highly professional, well-trained and ready to go. If Saddam has weapons programs, they can find the proof -- provided that they are given unrestricted access to all of Iraq.

Jesus wept. They can find the proof if they’re given unrestricted access to all of Iraq! In a best case scenario, this is like saying they can find the needle if they’re permitted to search the entire haystack - which, incidentally, is nine miles wide. (And part of it is on fire.) It almost sounds as if they believe the Marines will swarm over every installation simultaneously, kick down doors, and shoot anyone who fumbles with the keys for more than ten seconds.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation here - one inspection of a hundred. It might go something like this:

The day after Iraq admits inspectors, satellite photos show trucks coming in and out of a particular facility - let’s call it Compound W. Some trucks are tracked, but lost in a nearby city. Roadblocks are installed at Compound W immediately - but of course some trucks got through the day before, and the days before that.

It takes a day to inspect all the trucks queued up to leave Compound W. Inspectors open boxes, barrels, crates, etc. The drivers are surly and argumentative, but agree to inspection after the Marines step forward and point their weapons. After a day, the team is ready to move to the installation.

(Since there are operations like this going on all over the country, the team was not able to call for backup to inspect the facility while running the roadblock inspection.)

Day Two. Compound W is entered. It consists of six large warehouses, four smaller storage facilities, two buildings of undetermined purpose, three administrative buildings, four barracks, a barrel field, a motor pool, a small mosque, and a cafeteria. The team spends the first day on the warehouses. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 contain little of consequence - dried foods, ammunition, spare parts. But HQ has advised that chemical weapons could be stored in mislabeled boxes or food pouches, so everything must be opened and inspected.

Day Three: Work continues on the contents of the warehouses. Meanwhile, in Warehouse 4, inspectors discover a big metal plate bolted to the floor; the Iraqis cannot adequately explain its purpose. The inspectors radio back to the superiors, alerting them that they may have found an access route to a subterranean area, and a requisition is put in for a jackhammer. (The Marines do not have jackhammers.) They move on to the other warehouses, which are also empty - but, like the others, show signs of recent occupation and a hasty retreat: the offices are in disarray, phones have been removed from walls, file cabinets stand empty.

Day Four: while half of the team works on the floor plate, the other half demands access to the low-slung buildings described in the Iraqi documents as “investigative facilities.” These are one- and two-story windowless structures with central air conditioning units and many ventilation apertures. The Iraqi official in charge of the building says it is was used for administrative and research functions - the government does admit this was a scientific installation, but they worked on synthetic fertilizers.

All of the rooms are locked; the Iraqi liaison does not have the key. He goes to search for the key while the inspection team radios base with the situation. Under the guidelines spelled out by the UN resolution, the Iraqi behavior has not yet risen to the level that would justify force. The details of the situation will be passed up the UN chain of command to see if additional stalling might justify reprisal, and what sort of reprisal that would be; bombing is clearly out of the question, but the team might be allowed to temporarily detain the Iraqi liaison while a protest is lodged.

The Iraqi returns; he cannot find the key. The team spends the rest of the afternoon taking the doors off manually. The rooms appear to have been used for some sort of scientific purpose - there are special fountains for washing eyes, and ventilation hoods in every lab. The rooms smell of bleach.

Meanwhile, the team at Warehouse 4 has discovered that the plate hides a trough used for changing oil on the installation fleet; it had been sealed when a new oil-changing bay was built in warehouse 6. This team is now reassigned to the labs.

Day Five: work continues on the building the inspectors now dub “the bug lab.” Since several the labs are connected, and these doors are unlocked, inspectors are able to explore the building quickly. They find no evidence of biological or chemical weapons.

Day Six: Bug Lab Two looks like the other one; also deserted, also smelling of bleach. There are marks in the floor consistent with the removal of equipment, but the nature of the equipment cannot be ascertained. The warehouses are clear.

Day Seven: the barracks are cleared. Stupendous amounts of porn are confiscated.

Day Eight: the barrel field. Inspectors hope to open all 400 barrels and dump out the contents, but since the facility is near a residential area, fears of contamination quash that notion. The barrels are taken to one of the warehouses; an airtight tent is set up, and the barrels are examined one at a time. They contain petroleum products. Transport and inspection consumes two days.

Day Ten: all other inspections are complete, except for the Mosque. It is an uncharacteristic structure - much newer than the others, with fresh paint. The inspectors demand access; the Iraqi official refuses, citing the condition against inspection of religious sites. (This was the sole condition Iraq insisted upon, and got; there were many editorials in the West applauding the Administration for being sensitive to this particular cultural differences, although some British newspapers noted that American fundamentalist churches are still permitted to encourage the parishioners to bomb abortion clinics.)

The inspectors insist that this prohibition applied to religious sites in residential areas, not on government facilities. The Iraqis refuse access; the Marines subdue them and enter the facility.

That evening Al-Jazeera broadcasts a tape supplied by the Iraqi government, shot from a distance; it shows American troops pulling Iraqis away from the mosque and subduing those who protest with rifle butts; it shows American troops kicking down the doors to the mosque and pouring in, guns drawn.

Inspections are suspended for a week while the Iraqis renegotiate the issue of religious facilities on bases.

And the VX the labs had produced six months before are now in a DC apartment, waiting for the email that gives the go-ahead.


Of course, this is all fanciful conjecture, but you get the point. The only way anyone can assure that a facility doesn’t currently contain WMD is to tear the thing apart - and even then that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t making or storing something a few days, or weeks, or months, or years ago.

The pro-inspections argument seems to believe that if inspectors don’t find anything, this means Iraq doesn’t have anything.

Others might take reassurance from that. I don’t.

. No war, no politics, no fits, no rants. None of that today. Back to basics. We start with Jasper and we end with the same. How? Let’s go:

#1: Dog.

I never realized how much Jasper resented evening storytime until tonight. He was sitting with the family on the end of the bigger bed, watching Gnat take books from her basket and hand them to me to read. He wanted to play. This was Not-Play. He’d put up with this for years. Enough. He attacked. He stuck his snout in the book basket, pulled out a volume and shook it as if he could break its spine; then he chomped down on the little button that makes the book issue a kissing sound. He was stunned. The cheek; the gall. To the death, then. He flung the book off the edge of the bed and went back for more. Gnat was delighted: Jabber read buk! He sunk his teeth into “Goodnight Moon,” brought out a volume of Pooh for bloodletting, tipped over the basket and tried to scratch out Curious George’s eyes, then he mounted the basket and tried to have his way with the wicker. He managed to knock the basket off the bed as well, and he stood on the cliff above and barked angry triumph.

Stupid books.

#2. Olie Polie Movie Daddee

I have now seen the Rolie Polie Olie movie seven times in a week. Because I do not subscribe to the park-the-tot-before-the-tube school of childrearing, I watch the movie with her each time. It helps that I love the characters as much as she does. In fact, I’m comforted by the fact that they exist not as drawings but as lines of code in a computer. They weren’t sketched years ago by a hand now stilled. You could wake them up tomorrow.

When we get fully-immersive 3d holographic TV, I want someone to redo the Beethoven’s 6th portion of “Fantasia. “I loved it as a kid, and even though it now looks kitschy as hell, the style of the animation is unforgettable - to this day I still see the Pegasus fighting the wind when I hear the storm sequence. I first saw “Fantasia” at the Broadway theater in Fargo during one of its many rereleases. The Broadway was a porno house, or as close to one as you got in Fargo in the early 70s; it ran the “Swedish” movies like “I Am Curious (Yellow)” and “She is Skeptical (Puce)” and “We Are Ambivalent (Plaid.)” But once or twice a year they showed a Disney movie, like an act of penance.

I’d never seen anything like Fantasia - except for the Wizard of Oz. Both had the same reference point of 30s modernism. The Emerald City was a Moderne dream, just as the sight of the silhouetted Leopold was a pure Moderne icon. At a certain point in your life you’re susceptible to images like these - pictures of a world that never existed, but seems so potent and gorgeous you believe it should exist, it must exist. It’s the same feeling you get from the hallucinogenic clarity of a Parrish painting or a sumptuous Anglo/Greek fantasy from Pryce-Jones. It’s where you want all your dreams to take place.

And now this 21st century computer-animated program draws on the same sources - Olie’s world is a Raymond Lowry blueprint, complete with 30s-style pop music. It’s like the early space-age fantasies of the Jetsons - the futures that never happened are comforting in retrospect. Unless they’re Soviet flavored, of course.

#3 The Mall

All I wanted was the soundtrack to “Enigma.” Why? Because it’s a John Barry score, and they’re useful for the home movies, particular the Wistful Autumnal scenes I cannot avoid. I haven’t seen the movie, although I did read the book - a murder mystery set in the miserable conditions of the decryption facilities in WW2 Britain. Off to the Mall of America, then; surely that Leviathan of commerce would have a copy of this new release. The first store was Sam Goody, known for its grating slogan “Goody Got It!” But Goody didn’t, or rather, Goody don’t. They had wide aisles, lots of computer software, a big listening booth and large displays for DVDs, but behind the crudely written card for ENIGMA, nothing. When I checked the info kiosk for other record stores, it seemed that this Goody was one of two, the other being twice as large. Apparently the first store was a vestibule, a decompression chamber to ease the transition from the unGoody world outside to the doubleplusGoody world within the walls of the Mall. So we went allll the way to the other side of the mall to Goody Central, a large, dark, loud place jammed with merchandise.

They didn’t have it either.

Last stop: Barnes and Noble. And why not? If I can get a movie at the record store, why not a CD at the book store? For that matter, why these petty distinctions between clothing and food, sporting goods and home decor? Why not just DUMP EVERY G*D*M**N*D THING IN THE STORES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FARGIN’ MALL AND LET US PAW THROUGH IT LIKE BARBARIANS SCAVENGING A POST-APOCALYPTIC GARBAGE DUMP?

Sorry. This is one of those useless peeves of mine: retail mission creep.

Of course, Barnes and Noble had it. I knew they would. I took it to the clerk and said, smugly, “Goody didn’t got it.”

“And now we don’t, either,” she said, ringing it up.

Good point.

Off to the Lego field, since I’d promised Gnat she could play there. She wanted to make a car again, so we scavenged for wheels and assembled something basic. I handed her the car.

“Okay, daddee,” she said. “Let’s roll.”

I am not kidding you. I said: pardon?

“Let’s roll, daddee.”

I say this from time to time as let’s-get-going remark when the rest of the family’s dawdling, and I’ve said it for years, but it was still a bit surprising to hear it from her. Like I said, every day you learn something new.

Like this: until you’ve taught your child to say “excuse me” after they belch or pass wind, you have no idea how many times the latter occurs on any given day.

One stop at the Apple store to see if there was anything I wanted. Ah: a game I’d coveted, now available for the Mac. Zoink. Interesting how all the PC games I’ve wanted to play in the last year have come out for the Mac. All of them. And they’ve all run brilliantly, too. I remember when I bought Aliens vs. Predator and tried to run that on my PC. It crashed right out of the gate, because the game had one of those murder-suicide pacts with the video drivers. Getting the right driver meant negotiating a web site that seemed to regard the drivers as precious gems that must be guarded from outsiders at all costs; by the time I found the right screen I was prepared for the Minotaur to leap from my monitor and chew my head off. It’s like having to get special glasses to read a book.

I sat Gnat in front of one of the eMacs to play with the Toddler drawing software while I asked a question at the walk-up tech support.

“I’m running Jag on a newer iBook, and while I’m on an internet connection via Airport, I periodically get an OS 9 alert that I need to enable Apple Talk. It only happens when the connection is dropped for a half-second or so.”

He nodded, thought a second, then explained how I should reset a certain setting, and that was that. (It worked.) I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: WALK-UP TECH SUPPORT. I pidy the foo who buys a PC at Best Buy, and goes back to ask a blue-shirt a question. I’ll bet if I dragged my 512K Mac to the Genius Bar and asked for help, they’d oblige - after they stopped cooing and petting it like a long-lost pet.

I returned to Gnat to help her with the painting program. There’s a little icon in the corner that shows your saved files, and I had a brief spasm of Twilight Zoney de-de-de-deism: the tiny icon said NATALIE.

Whoa. I called it up - and it was a file we’d made a few weeks ago. It said Natalie, and PUP and CUP. It’s not been changed, overwritten or deleted - so if you’re at the Mall of America, go to the eMac that faces the back wall, find the Toddler program, and call up the painting program. That’s us, something we did together on a rainy summer afternoon.

#4 Gwocery Stow

Then we went to the grocery store for fishsticks. The store is still under heavy construction, and the ambient temp is about 47 degrees. You open up the freezers and the breeze feels warm. I had a specific goal: less fishsticks than I got last week. Three for me, three for my wife, and one for the Gnat. Last week was the first time we’d tried fishsticks (actually fish wedges, these being thick chunks of cod with a thin crunchy carapace of golden batter) and I had three left over. Of all the meals that get bagged, stored and subsequently ignored, limp cold fish wedges are in the top five. The store had a package of Six: not enough. The store had a package of Ten: too many. I shook my fist at the heavens: is this not America? Why are my particular fish-wedge needs so cruelly ignored? Then I spied the box on the bottom shelf: Eight.

God bless America.

Really. Think how this simple shopping trip differs from millennia of human experience. In the past if you wished for fish, you spent half the day getting it. Now it’s not only netted for you, it’s gutted, chopped, formed into a pleasing portion, coated with one of several dozen sauces or breadings, frozen, shipped across the continent to a location six blocks from your home, and offered in a variety of quantities that fit your particular needs.

And half it ends up on the floor, eaten by the Dog.
. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/0902/090302.html#092002
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