. Could Sheriff Moose please, please say the following:

"As far as we know, the sniper has never jammed the gun barrel against the roof of his mouth and used his toes to pull the trigger. That’s his pattern, and we’ve no reason to think he will deviate from it."

Perhaps the sniper would sneer at the TV, think: I’ll show you! and be halfway to the great raisin dispensary in the sky before he realized his error.

Back in the routine now
, as you can see. I hope everyone enjoyed the photos and links, such as they were. I always view these vacations like the intermission of an inadequately rehearsed play - a perfect chance for the audience to escape. So if you’ve returned today, I thank you for your patronage.

The Week Without Mom went well. The hardest part was the morning, since Gnat wakes not with the chickens but the planes, and the planes start screaming back to the roost around 5:30 or so. She was never happy to see me. She wanted Mommy. “Go away,” she would insist, so I’d lay on the floor and go back to sleep. Eventually she’d laugh: daddy seep on floor. And we’d get up and start the long long hand-over-hand haul through the day.

Monday we went to School, as she calls it - two hours of play with other tots in a church Sunday-school building. While the kids play the parents discuss our Issues; as I’ve mentioned before, I like the group, and I enjoy the discussions, and the fact that I’m the lone rooster at the hen party doesn’t seem to bother anyone. A big book of upcoming activities is circulated at the beginning of every class, and they’re the usual diversions - petting zoos, swim classes, lice detection seminars, etc. This time there was a new activity: Peace Marches.

Come walk around and express your desire for Peace with signage and couplets. Hmmm. Two were listed, times and dates and locations. I was a little startled, since this is a city-run program, and is explicitly prohibited from political activism. I even considered bringing this up with the program director, and noting that I found this a little odd, and off-topic for the class. But then I’d be One of Those People. And if I took this higher, and got the Mpls. Early Family Childhood Education program to remove the Peace March from the list of recommended family programs, and hence not use tax money and my dues to advance a particular political idea, I’d be stifling dissent.

I kept my mouth shut. Gillian Anderson, Susan Sarandon, Barbra, Jessica Lange: I feel your pain!

Every morning was the same: I tried to get breakfast down Gnat’s gullet, and failed. Monday I woke with great enthusiasm, determined to whip up a fabulous breakfast. Do you want eggs? Mm-hmm. They’re my favrite. Want some bacon? I love bacon. It’s my favrite. I added bagels and jam and juice and milk and laid out the feast: ta-da.

No, no, no, no. No eggs.

Have some bacon!

No bacon!

She wanted cereal. To be specific: Froot Loops. To be specific within the contents of subset Froot Loops: she wanted the marshmallows to be extracted from Froot Loops and placed in a bowl.

Well, forget it, I said. You grow up to be a famous rock musician, you can have a rider in your contract specifying Froot Loop marshmallows in your backstage dressing room, but not until then.

She left the table without eating anything, and went to play. (As I learned the next day, she had Play-Doh for breakfast. Blue Play-doh.) The rest of the day’s meals were struggles as well - you’d think I put out plates of writhing worms, goblets of cold blood, hard-boiled bird-heads garnished with lung froth. She started eating better around Tuesday. Starvation is a most effective motivator.

The afternoons we spent here and there. Tuesday I got a break - her Nana came by to watch her for a few hours, so I went to Uptown, my old neighborhood. As with any good city neighborhood, everything used to be something else, and you derive your sense of self and place and time from knowing what was and what is. Some people like to move around a lot; not me. I like to walk down a street and know that 20 years ago I did this, and ten years ago I sat there with my wife, and eight years ago here - right here - I saw Jasper Dog in the window of a pet store.

Stopped off at Dreamhaven, a sci-fi / comic store that always seems like such a sad place to me. It’s full of what-ifs, none of which will ever happen, all of which make the plain flat world outside its doors seem so infuriatingly normal. Sci-fi and comics are like a consolation prize for people with impractical imaginations - hey, we think of these things too, and here they are. Ripping yarns and silver spacecraft and women with impossible bosoms in leotards. And over here is the really smart stuff that’s better than most of the serious novels or short stories, and most people will never know how good it truly is. Welcome home; nice to see you; now open a page and get lost.

Down the street was Cheapo Records, located now in the old Best Buy store. Cheapo sells used CDs as well as new, and dumps every day’s purchases in big bins marked with the date they came in. Most of the CDs are lame, but there’s always a gem in the dross. People flip through the bins quite quickly: crap. crap. crap. crap. crap. zamfir. crap. crap. 182 blink. crap. hippie crap. crap. crap. Whoa! Woody Guthrie! The sound fills the front of the store, drowns out the music: clack clack clack clack. It’s like listening to a Difference Engine made of hard plastic, or ten people drumming their tongue studs against their front teeth.

Next stop, Calhoun Square. This was the Lifestyle Accoutrement Purchasing Center for us Young Moderns in the 80s, and while the ground floor is still full, the upper level has seen most of its tenants evaporate. There once was a great useless knick-knack / gee-gaw / gift shop: gone. A great menswear store: gone. A vendor of austere, Euro-designed items to put on your desk as a sign that you are a cool, intriguing person who will no doubt have sex soon any day now as soon as someone realizes what this Bauhaus Scotch Tape dispenser says about you: gone. The expensive funky sock store: still there, against all odds. The Ediner, a fabulous streamlined chrome & formica eatery: gone.

There were some vendors in the mall, and one fellow sold all sorts of “spiritual” goods - incense, candles, scarves, tarot cards, Linda Goodman books, etc. He also gave readings on your future. He sat very still in a chair, making a phone call, sitting at his desk waiting for a customer to come by and learn what the creases in their palm said about their bank account in 2016. As I went up the elevator, looking at the fellow, I felt a great wave of pity: everything you believe is nonsense. At least the people at Dreamhaven know this is make-believe - in fact, it makes it easier to almost believe now and then. You, on the other hand, probably believe that Jupiter’s gravitational influence affects the health of my spleen. Well, could be worse; he could use a Mac, in which case some people would really think he was a delusional, cult-befuddled lunatic. That's the only thing more inexplicable than astrology: preferring OSX to Windows.

I stopped off at the cigar store. It was crammed with people smoking cigarettes - people were pretending to shop for things, but they were just taking advantage of the opportunity to smoke indoors. Cigar stores make cigarette smokers feel like beer drinkers in a wine shop. They feel a common bond, but they also feel a little outclassed, and oddly resentful, and defiant. Okay, you get less cancer, but I get to inhale. Mmmmmm. The air had that bright blue tang you used to see in bars. I was happy to enter the humidor, where I could breathe deep again. I always thought I'd miss cigarettes. I was astonished when I didn't.

Bought Gnat a Maisy book at Border’s. The clerk asked if he could have my email address, so I could get offers on upcoming specials. I kindly declined, and said I got enough spam. He grinned and said he understood.

“I mean, I really don’t want zoo porn,” I said, “and I’m a little insulted that they think I do.”

He laughed and agreed - what an odd world, in which a statement that includes the phrase "zoo porn" is understood by a complete stranger. For a moment I thought: back when I lived here, this was Odegaard’s bookstore; we shot that Award Winning Short Film for channel 2 right over there. That was what - '86? Right - it had all those women, none of whom were my wife-to-be, so it had to be 86. What if I could go back in the past, take myself aside and say: You know, in the future, you will be convinced that Russian computers are sending you messages about barnyard sex photos.

I would have gripped my future self by the shoulders: am I insane in the future? Tell me!

No, everyone gets them.

Oh. Well, that’s a relief. I think.

And you’ll be buying a book for your daughter about a mouse. She’s two.

I don’t have a kid for 14 years?

No, you have a decade of whee-ha stay-up-all-night happy-fun-ball time ahead of you. And then it gets better.

I walked outside, looked at the same old row of buildings - the bookstore (an automobile dealership in the 20s) the SubWorld theater (built as the Grenada 80s years ago) and the Gap (built on the ruins of the Port Arthur Chinese Cafe, which went up in flames) the Uptown Diner & Bar (where we all met for big greasy breakfasts every Sunday, where I used to go see the Clams play on Saturday night) and then I walked back to my car. Drove home. Nowadays I turn left off Lyndale instead of right. Nowadays I take a street I never knew existed; nowadays I hit the garage door remote button at a particular spot I never noted two years ago. I put the car into the bay and head through the tunnel. Jasper hears me and Jasper’s barking, Gnat says Daddee! and I’m back in the present day again.

There’s something to be said for moving around, seeing the world, ripping up roots and trying something new. But any city is a time machine if you stay around long enough. On any given day I’m 25 blocks from 1986. I won’t be leaving here again.

The rest of the week was easy. Wednesday night Gnat stayed at her Nana’s, giving me a night where I could play music loud and watch a movie. Thursday: a blur. Friday, likewise, although it culminated in pizza and an early arrival of my wife. She won her case - huzzah! Defrauders of the public trust punished! Gnat was exultant and Jasper barked and I felt like I’d been standing guard duty for six days. Which of course I was.

“Am I relieved?” I asked. She said that I was. I finished my coffee. I got out a glass, clanked in a handful of ice cubes and got down the Maker’s Mark. Child alive: mission accomplished.

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I fear the following will sound like the work of a whackjob nutlog, and for that I blame El Paso. You know how you see something in the supermarket, and think that would be good for Mondays when we have class and there’s less time to make dinner? So it was when I beheld El Paso pre-made Taco Meat. I should have checked the ingredients; surely the first was ultra-high-fructose corn syrup, the second “possum glands,” and the ninth “fly-blown meat from something with hooves, and maybe a nose, but definitely not a rectum; coyotes must have got that.” It was horrible. It has stayed with me to this moment; it’s always there like a tax lien. Plus, I have a headache.

Today I became One of Those People I discussed in yesterday’s Bleat, one of those sad fools who actually thinks he can make a dent in the accepted conventions of the educational establishment. Today at Toddler class the big book of activities had not only information on upcoming Peace Marches, it had literature from the Million Mom March. And there were MMM stickers on the handout table. I’m not saying that material like this should be brutally repressed. No. But either include handouts from other points of view, or - and I’m speaking as a wild idealist here - confine the class handouts to pertinent matters. We’re here to learn about new ways to get the kids to eat asparagus. It’s like getting a flier for an anti-globo rally with your receipt from Jiffy Lube: huh?

But I suspect that the educational establishment regards the insertion of these issues at every available opportunity to be part of their mission; far from wondering what the Million Mom March has to do with a class on establishing sleep schedules, they see these issues as indistinguishable from basic parenting skills. A good parent teaches ABCs; a good parent marches for peace; a good parent realizes the importance of five-point restraint carseats; a good parent subscribes to the MMM position on guns. The personal is the political, after all. And oh-so vice versa.

Still, I bit my tongue. In some peculiar way, I felt as if bringing this matter up in the group would be as inappropriate as the materials themselves. Then, looking through the new handouts, I saw a thick sheaf titled EARTH PLEDGE.

“I pledge allegiance to our Earth,
(the planet on which we live).
And to fresh air, pure water, healthy dirt,
life-giving plants and all the animals!
One Earth - four oceans - seven continents -
thousands of lakes and rivers!
And I accept my duty to be an honorable
citizen of this Earth, with respect and
consciousness towards all.”

On the back, a note from author Patricia Hauser:

“This Pledge, written to the rhythm of the Pledge of Allegiance, was originally composed to develop and enhance planetary consciousness in the hearts and minds of the wonderful second and third graders in my class.

“At our daily ‘Morning Meeting,’ the Class ‘President’ of the week reads the Earth Pledge with each line being repeated by the entire class. . . . Whenever global events are brought up in class, someone volunteers to locate the continent and country in which the event is occurring. This begins the expansion process and realization that we, on Mother Earth, are all in this together and what each one of us does makes a difference.”

“Printed on recycled paper.”

Let me be quite clear on this: my daughter is not going to pledge allegiance to healthy dirt. I will teach her all I believe about stewardship of the world. I will conspicuously recycle the cans and glasses and papers, even though I suspect it’s all a folly. I will teach her that the earth - lower case, no family affiliation - requires our care and respect. But I am not going to raise an eco-freak who tattles on Daddy to the Block Captain because I threw away a grocery bag that had a rip, instead of cutting it up for note paper. She is a resident of the planet earth, but she is a citizen of the United States of America. While that distinction will be meaningless in second grade I will not undercut her eventual understanding of the concept by pretending that we all pledge allegiance to dirt, crabgrass and crocodiles. Respect them, yes. Start the day with an oath bowing our heads to decreased atomospheric particulate levels, no.

“With respect and consciousness for all.” Not freedom. Not liberty. “Respect and consciousness.” Freedom and liberty - those buzzwords you find on Freeper forums - are not as important as realizing that we “are all in this together.”

Well, we’re not. I wish we were, but there’s a big deep hole in New York that speaks to the contrary. This doesn’t mean I teach her us-against-them. This doesn’t mean we bond by shining our guns while listening to Johnny Horton albums. But if you think I’m being paranoid here, consider that my child is two years old, and they want her to swear fealty to soil. I wouldn’t mind some sort of pledge or oath to vow to be a good Dirt Scout, to not litter, to promise to pick up dog poop, to reuse grocery bags. I’ve no problem with that. But this stupid thing uses the language of religion and civics to underscore a practical point, and that tells me something. When you set it up a pledge to the meter of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, I’ll take you at your word. Either you regard this as more important or just as important, and on those points reasonable people can disagree.

Fat lot of good it’ll do you; tonight while googling around for info on the matter, I learned that the pledge is required reading for first graders in the Minneapolis School System.

I had planetary consciousness as a child. I knew where everything was, more or less. We had a globe at home, and I half-believed that countries were actually colored red or blue or yellow. I used to love to look at that globe, at atlases, at the entries in the World book, in the wonderfully detailed maps that came with Grandpa’s National Geographics. But I had a clear hierarchy: family, Fargo, North Dakota, USA. After that it became indistinct, and that’s a good thing. Otherwise when I went to France I would have expected I could vote in the Parisian election. Why not? I’m a citizen of this Earth.

Anyway: I struck back! I thwew my opinion woughly to the gwound! When the mid-term class evaluations were passed around, I gave everyone A+s for everything, because they are a wonderful bunch of teachers and tot-wranglers. In the Things You Would Change box, I noted that I would be wary of using the class materials to advance a particular political viewpoint, since I was uncertain how this fit the objectives of the program. I cited examples.

None of which, I fear, will strike them as “political viewpoints.” And that’s the telling fact. Public education: It’s going to be a long, long haul. And none of it will matter when sex and drugs enter the picture.

Then I'll yearn for these innocent days.

I’ve been writing Newhouse columns for eleven years, which means I have over 500 stated opinions set in stone. It’s interesting to look back and see where I was wrong (I supported ending the Gulf War without toppling Saddam, because I thought it was best to leave him in place, overthrow him later and deal with a new more moderate regime. GONG.) Anyway, I was curious what I said about Korea in 1993. Some excerpts from three columns (these are the rough pre-edit versions; the final drafts are locked away on some unlabeled disk.)

President Clinton was just in Seattle for APEC, the Association of Peppy Economic Chums, or the Association of Pacific Economic Co-Operation, or the Abject Paste-Eating Churls, or whatever. Your basic squawk-fest: Various leaders got together and put the screws to each other, solved nothing, declared victory and flew home with a sackful of duty-free scotch and gimme caps from Boeing.

But trade was just one of the issues. APEC attendees were also worried about North Korea, and for good reason. North Korea is the international version of the old crank in the ramshackle house who never goes outside. Occasionally someone peeks from the curtain. Rumors swirl. Eventually, the crank perishes, surrounded by towering piles of newspapers, or the crank snaps and goes berserk on his porch and the cops shoot him from across the street. Unless, of course, the crank has a nuke.

Which the crank rarely does. Nuclear weapons are hard to get, and will no doubt be even harder to obtain when the Brady Bill is signed. But speculation runs high that North Korea has a nuke. They’ve built a huge uranium processing facility, which they say produces only glow-in-the-dark watch dials. They have purchased missiles which are capable of reaching major Asian cities in under thirty minutes, which they maintain are intended for a projected Pan-Asian pizza delivery system. (Free watch with every large size.)

Most ominously, they have dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to the border with South Korea, ostensibly to search for the Great Leader’s contact lens.

This is bad news. North Korea is run by a duarchy of bloody-minded raisin-brains daft enough to use the bomb. There’s ancient Kim Il Sung, an elaborate state funeral waiting to happen; the only thing he has to lose is control of his bowels. And there’s his delightful scion, Kim Jong Il, who combines his father’s fabulous paranoia with a slavish indulgence of North Korea’s medal-hungry military. His officers need a war the way children on a long trip need a coloring book. He doesn’t want them getting restless.

A war, after all, takes people’s minds off their pressing problems. In the case of ordinary North Koreans, it’s their belly button pressing into their spine that’s the problem. North Korea is so broke the government now promotes the glory of eating one meal a day - perhaps so they can dominate the world in the waif-look so popular in the model world.

This is the point at which bad governments start to lose control. North Korea is kept Tupperware-tight - listening to foreign broadcasts is punishable by a stint in the camps - but you cannot convince people their stomachs are counterrevolutionary when they growl like gored bears for most of the day. When the state announces a Glorious Campaign to Stop Eating Entirely and Lick A Tractor For Happiness, people might do the sensible thing and revolt. If they haven’t keeled over.

What does the leadership do then? Why, attack. If successful, it’s chow time. If not, well, less mouths to feed. Point is: the Dad n’ Lad operation in North Korea has nothing to lose here.
So let’s sum it up: They’re crazy, desperate, and packing heat. Our response: Negotiate to examine their nuke factories. That’s the UN for you: If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, send in the UN Waterfowl Verification Team.

2. (Excerpt)

Not to alarm anyone,
but NUCLEAR WAR IS IMMINENT. Paying attention now? Good. This is not a sweeps-week trick to get your attention; if so, that first sentence would have read FLESH-EATING BACTERIA CURED BY NUCLEAR WAR, or FLESH-EATING BACTERIA ATTACKS MICHAEL JACKSON’S FACE, STARVES INSTANTLY; NORTH KOREA WEIGHS RESPONSE. No, we are serious here, or as serious as anyone whistling in the graveyard. It is entirely possible that in a couple of months, Bill Clinton, his military loins regirded by his trip to Normandy, will drop a nuke on North Korea.

What will have brought us to this point? Well, military defeat, for starters. But let’s back up a bit. Earlier this week North Korea announced it was pulling out of the IAEC. That’s the international body that asks politely if they might see a country’s clandestine nuclear weapons program and then, when refused, threaten to organize a round of impotent fist-shaking. The withdrawal is proof, say some, that North Korea has nukes! Well, duh. When ten trees have crashed through your roof, it is time to confront the fact that you live in a forest. (And you should start trapping some beavers.)
If you don’t think that North Korea is serious about this situation, take a look at this jolly report from the North Korean Central Broadcasting Network, dated June 7.

“The US imperialist aggressive forces occupying South Korea conducted the so-called noncombatant evacuation operation exercise in Pusan on 6 June. The exercise is conducted under the pretext of our nonexistent nuclear issue, as the US imperialists and the South Korean puppets lead the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of war. This shows that their preparation for a northward invasion has been accelerated to a practical stage.”

But gee, what do they really think is going on?

Of course, dictatorships issue this sort of alarmist propaganda all the time. U.S. troops on the parallel can’t sneeze without Pyongyang accusing them of germ warfare. North Korea, however, is seriously worried that we will invade and destroy their nonexistent nuclear program. And when we find it and take pictures and arrest Kim Il-Sung on possession of plutonium with intent to distribute, he’ll accuse of us planting it in his car. PAGING WILLIAM KUNSTLER; MR. KUNSTLER TO THE COURTESY PHONE.

Stumpy tyrant Kim Il-Sung
kicked the bucket, and oh, what wailing commenced - an unchecked flow of tears and sobs for the trusted and beloved friend. And that was just at Jimmy Carter’s house. Outside of North Korea sangfroid ruled the day - if anything, the Dear Leader was due in hell about forty years ago. If there is justice in the afterlife, he is getting banged around Hades like a brick in a clothes drier.

. . . Kim Il-Sung was set to meet South Korea for a round of specious negotiations. The talks, ostensibly designed to stop North Korea’s bomb-building, would have given North Korea precious time to finish key elements of its nuclear program, like putting Turtle Wax on the nose cone and finishing the detailing on the tail fins. (They may not be this close; some intelligence reports say they haven’t even put the primer coat on the warheads yet.) The death of Kim Il-Sung threw the talks into limbo, because no one knows exactly how power is going to flow in the new government.

Which brings us to the real wildcard in the deck: Kim Jong-Il, the heir apparent. Judging from the photographs, North Korea is now firmly in the hands of an Elvis impersonator. Kim Jong-Il has a pompadour tall enough to require aircraft warning lights. He used to have that pudgy weak face common to Elvis lovers of diminished intellectual capacity, with the cheerful face of your basic omnipotent sociopath, spoiled and convinced of his superiority. Imagine Shannon Doherty with a million-man army, and you see the danger.

In recent photos, however, he looked haggard and ravaged, his face a withered pumpkin atop a doughy gut. His fondness for orgies may have caught up with him; rumors say he’s not well, and this could leach away his power. You have a hard time imagining a soldier saying “sure, he’s an indolent pretender with tertiary syphilis. But he’s OUR syphilitic pretender.”

He has spent the last few years purging the army to assure its loyalty, stuffing it with boot-clicking yes-men. But anyone who swears on to the Kim Jong-Il program is probably a wind-sniffing opportunist devoid of ideological conviction. Kim Il-Sung commanded genuine respect, because he actually killed people by the tens of thousands. His son is famous for running down individual pedestrians in his car while driving recklessly around the country. Unless you can get the entire South Korean army to cross the street against the light, this is a skill of limited utility.

There’s more, but you get the point. I didn’t trust them. And this makes me prescient? Hardly.

And now I am going to go pledge my allegiance to Pepto-Bismol. Or American Standard. See you tomorrow.

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Fuzzy brain: check. Muscle aches: check. Sensitivity to temperature swings: check. Dull headache growling behind my eyes: check. Unbelievably bizarre dreams complete with racing thoughts that refuse to coalesce: check. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the flu!

Wife has it too. Half the office has it; the guy next to me looks so bad I expected him to start softly moaning brains, brains today. From all reports it doesn’t hang around too long, just makes you feel like a smear of human jam on a cold piece of toast. And then you’re better. Naturally, I am worried this is the start of PNEUMONIA again, but I don’t think so. At least my dreams weren’t too bizarre - they began with a desperate desire to communicate to someone, anyone, a very important fact about Iranian plastic fruit. That’s when I snapped awake and thought: uh oh.

I don’t know why I’m even writing. I should go to bed. Now. Get an early start on the bad dreams.

So I get to the office on a Dayquil high; I have three hours to do the column. Why, what’s this - a new computer! While I was away they finally trashed my old steam-powered Altair 9000 and gave me a top-of-the-line Pentium. I turned it on with anticipation; I always like the first few hours with a new computer. It’s like moving in to a new apartment.

In this case, an apartment in a building where the elevator takes four minutes to go three floors. It took a long time for the thing to boot, much longer than OSX on my 733. But I’ll cut it some slack; it has so much more to jam in its mouth, and it has shake hands with the network, etc. After a while I get a splash screen: Novell, it says, and there are pictures of the three keys I need to hit to log in to the Novell suite of network-delivered applications. Control-alt-delete. Right away I know I’m dealing with PC software. It’s baldly counterintuitive to use the delete key to start something. Do I have any other options here? Nope - can’t move on unless I hit control-alt-delete. Why not a YES or CANCEL button, then? Criminey.

I hit the keys, and wait. Now I have a new splash screen: another login screen, this time one that asks for name and password. In the old days, this was the first screen you got; now there’s a screen that makes you log in to log on. And of course my old password has expired, so I have to make up a new one. Five minutes on the machine and I’m already salting the slugs.

Finally I land in the land of milk and honey that is Windows 2000 Professional. I watch, saddened, as Windows sprays icon chaff on my task bar. Oh, good, RealAudio. That’s the icon that blinks on and off every two weeks to tell you that a new version is available, and the only way I know to turn off the blinking is to call up the window, then close it. More slug-salting. I call up WinText, the program in which we do all the writing for the paper. The window is squeezed and the text is all jammed together, soeverythinglookslikethis.

I call tech support. I’ve been on the machine for five minutes, and I already need technical assistance. I describe the problem, and they say they’ve been hearing complaints about this. They have no idea why it’s happening. It just is. I watch as the tech remotely trashes the program and its brood of ini files, then reinstalls it. Reboot. Hey hey! The window is sized normally.

Except now all the keyboard commands for moving, pasting, defining, and changing type attributes don’t work. Windows thinks I am using a different keyboard map than the one I chose. I call the help line again. Same guy. He trashes the program and reinstalls it. Reboot. Same problem. I call the help line. Same guy. He trashes the program and reinstalls it.

“You know, I’m starting to detect a pattern in your solutions here,” I say. (Genially!) He says that’s all he can really do, and if it doesn’t work this time, they’ll send an actual human.

Of course, it doesn’t work. One of the senior techs comes over, gets my password, and sets to work. He trashes the program and reinstalls it. It doesn’t work. He talks to the tech department, nods, uh-huhs, then trashes the program and reinstalls it. “This should work,” he says, and turns the machine over to me and walks off.

Well, what do you know. It doesn’t work. I have no way to define text, move it, make italics. All I can do is type. I run back to catch him, and he says he’ll talk to the other senior tech guy about it.

I go back to my machine, call up my email. There’s a message from the other senior tech guy:


It’s now 1:45. I have an hour and a half to write the column. I write it carefully so I don’t have to make any changes, because I don’t have the ability to rewrite.

Is there a lesson here? Maybe. Sometimes speed doesn’t matter. If you have to get somewhere, and your choice is a VW Bug with a transparent windshield or a Mustang whose windshield is made of pebbled glass, which do you choose?

WinText is an emulation of an ancient program, but it runs very quickly, because it’s simple. It runs no faster on my new top-of-the-line machine than it did on my circa 97 machine. We’ve upgraded to new machines and a new OS to run the same old programs, it seems - and within ten minutes I hit an absolute brick wall that reduces my productivity to nil for no reason anyone can understand. It’s clear what the problem is - Wintext thinks I’m using a 1977-era Atex keyboard map, even though we’ve told it I’m not, and even though the keyboard map file is the right one for PCs.

The botherations we put up just to use these machines boggles the mind. And to top it off, Win2000’s text looks like crap. I have a new flat-screen monitor; all the settings maxed out, but web pages still look like they’re using jaggy bitmapped fonts compared to . . . compared to . . . .

Must resist -

Must not ruin my miniscule credentials by making the obvious comparison -

Must - not - turn - this - into - holy - war -


There. I said it.

Can I say anything nice about the new machine? Sure. It doesn’t hang everytime I shut it down like the last one.

No one could figure out why that happened, either.

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Today’s permutation of the Flu: tsunamis of nausea, the sort of big wave you’d get if a 3-mile-wide can of Beefaroni hit an ocean of hydrochloric acid. According to my wife - who stayed home yesterday and slept off this bug - the stomach ills are the last stage. I’d have stayed home today if I could have; I would have tied Gnat to my ankle, laid down on the floor and opened my eyes whenever I heard her rummage in the knife drawer. (Then you just yank your leg.) But I just took a week off. So I went to the office, wrote another column, all the while playing Whack-A-Mole with my gorge. Went home. Made (urp) dinner, which consisted of removing a frozen slab of meatloaf from the fridge, thawing it in the mike, picking it up with bare hands (steady, steady now) and waiting 55 minutes until I could carve it up, arrange it artfully on a plate, and push it away.

At least the chills, aches and fatigue are gone. If I wasn’t so sick, I’d feel pretty good.

Much news tonight about the sniper - raids in Washington, BOLOs for a car with New Jersey plates. I haven’t written much about this, for the simple reason that I know no more than most and less than some. Ah, but that’s never stopped you before. True. But I’ve just whipsawed back and forth on this one like everyone else, and spending bytes in speculation would only add to the ceaseless gallons of codswallop spilled every hour on the cable channels.

Just passed the TV, and they’re looking for a fellow named John Mohammed. And I wonder again what I would feel like were I one of those live-and-let-live Muslims who don’t want to tamp their faith down the kaffir’s throat with a rifle butt. A devout Christian would wince to learn that the authorities wanted to talk to Bob Jesus about some random slayings for the glory of God: talk about “Not in My Name.” Or His. If this is Islamic terrorism, then they’ve made another characteristically stupid move: that line about “your children are not safe anywhere anytime” is the sort of thing that shoves otherwise peaceable soccer moms into the Bellicose Women Brigades. Pop off a round at an elementary school in Minneapolis on behalf of Jihad, and suddenly a lot of good Linden Hills liberal moms are going to be less inclined to attend the church-sponsored appearance by a survivor of the Jenin Massacre.

We don’t dress up our children in dynamite belts - and they think this makes us weak. We shield our children from death, not marinate them in its bloody juices, and they think this means we lack conviction. Morons. Come after our children, and you don’t know what you’re in for. You heard the part about awakening a sleeping giant? The sleeping giantess is the one you want to look out for, because she’ll tear off your head and lactate down your throat. Do not mess with American moms.

If it is Islamic terrorism, it will be delightful to watch the root-causers explain this one. They could get away with writing off 9/11 as karmic justice, because it was so large, so theatrical, so massively calamitous that it instantly took on symbolic meaning. And symbols are always up for grabs. But shooting a dozen people at random is something the mind grasps and understands at once. We all saw the World Trade Center, perhaps on TV. Maybe some of us saw it when we passed through New York. Maybe some of us visited it. But we didn’t work there. We didn’t know the feel of the building when a strong wind hit it; we didn’t know the sound the elevators made to announce the arrival of a cab; we didn’t know the name of the guy at the store downstairs where we bought smokes or lottery tickets; we don’t have a blouse or shirt in our closet left over from a store in the concourse, a garment with a story all our own (my friend set me up with this really great-looking woman but I had on this lame shirt he said I had to dump, so I went downstairs and got a new one at lunch time - wonder if that’s why she married me?) It was a place in Manhattan in New York on the East Coast, and that’s not where most of us are.

But everyone has stood in the open pumping gas, watching the numbers race, hoping we can hold it under twenty bucks, waving to the kid strapped in the backseat, wondering when the gas station started playing oldies through the loudspeaker - jesus, “My Eyes Adored You?” Haven’t heard that one in -



This even the stupidest root-causer gets. But I doubt they’ll admit it. They’ll have to draw a direct link between American foreign policy and some poor guy getting his head opened up at a 7-11. It will require meta-meta-meta thinking so elaborate, so vaporous, so consumed with the sins of the West that they’ll look like someone pissing off the parapets of the tallest building in Cloud-Cuckoo Land.

I think they’re up to the job.

But, well, there I go, doing what I said I wouldn’t do. We don’t know. I don’t know, which is why I should stick to my guns and shut up.

(Update: “You want us to say ‘we have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.’" W -T - F?)

I haven’t mentioned this, but it’s been spitefully cold this week. November temps in October bring everyone’s mood down - oh, we’ll trot into the freezer like good soldiers in November, but making us adapt to winter in October is like shoving a cat down a toilet. It snowed a few times, too. Sunday we went to an Arts & Crafts exhibition at the State Fairgrounds, and it was spooky to drive around the deserted streets, watching the flakes fall. The Fair is always the apotheosis of summer - hellishly hot, sticky, full of wasps, populated by mulletheads and gone-to-seed biker chicks in halter tops, suburban families pushing strollers the size of Humvees, first date couples, teens by the billion, all baking under a clean blue sky. The fairgrounds are open year-round for other events, but I rarely go there, and I’m glad I haven’t. It spoils the place somehow to see it like this, without the makeup and entourage. The Fair always has that Brigadoon quality, and going there in October is like going over the hill and discovering Brigadoon’s still there, with peeling paint and sagging timbers and a dead dog in the alley.

Since it was snowing, Gnat got to her use Hello Kitty Umbrella to walk the ten paces from curb to door. These were very important steps, since they would show the world her umbrella aptitude. She carries it like a staff in a religious ceremony - both hands hold the pole, and she holds it out in front of her with great solemnity and concentration. Once we got inside it had no purpose, but you try to explain to a two-year old why umbrellas aren’t opened indoors. The Egyptians considered it sacrilege to their Sun God, honey. They might have been right. Let’s hedge our bets. Let daddy close the umbrella. She took one look at the items in the room and correctly sized the entire affair as NO FUN WHATSOEVER. “Let’s go this way,” she said, pointing to the door. No, honey, we’re going to look at some decorative tile. Words every child longs to hear. “Let’s go this way!”

Bought her a donut, which bought us 15 minutes. That’s the kind of currency converter I’d like to have. One animal cracker = 90 seconds, etc.

The only booth I enjoyed was the one that sold old maps of Minnesota cities. They didn’t have any of my neighborhoods, mainly because I’d bought them all from this very dealer a few years ago. She did have some panoramas of downtown Minneapolis from 100 years ago, and I’m interested in those. They were taken from the old Exposition building -

Ah, hell, let’s fire up the scanner.

This is an original item from my collection - an 1887 card for the Sly Paint company, heralding their appearance at the second Minneapolis Industrial Exposition. I would have loved to attended one of those expos; those were the days when you could hook your fingers in your suspenders, puff on your cigar, and say “Gentlemen, I come to toast Dame Progress” and no one would suspect your were attempting an ironic riff on capitalistic iconography. The Sly Paint booth no doubt boasted the latest advance in lead technology (“Sly Paint! Where Lead and Asbestos Meet - for Purity!”), and down the hall there were gigantic machines of indistinct purpose that nevertheless assured the viewer: we can make some really, really big machines. I’m not saying I prefer that era to this - the more advanced a technology, the more it recedes to the point of invisibility. But I have some love for that era, especially how it manifested itself here in the middle of nowhere. I mean, this building appeared thirty-two years after the city was founded, and it was built on the site of something else. The accomplishments of that century were remarkable, and remember: the people and stones came by rail, but everything was built with horses and hands.

The Exposition hall went bust after a while, and was taken over by a fellow named - really - SAVAGE. (There’s a suburb here named after him.) He was the famous owner of a famous race horse, Dan Patch, and he ran a thriving feed company out of the hall. But before it became a nag-chow warehouse, it served as the home for the Republican National Convention in 1892. One hundred years later in Houston, while covering the Republican Convention there, I found this item in a political memorabilia booth:

Had to buy it, of course. Didn’t know what to do with it, but it seemed like something I ought to have.

A few years later I was home in Fargo, going through my mom’s things. There were some envelopes full of things she’d kept from her parents and grandparents. Tucked among the quotidian detritus was this:

Upon investigating some family history, I learned that Great-grandfather Newton - who moved to North Dakota after recovering from his Gettysburg wounds - was active in Republican party politics. He never held office, but combined with his presence at the GAR hall, I imagine he might have been a fellow who carried some weight by virtue of his wounds and his deeds. He went to the convention in 1892, and kept the pass as a memento.

In the panoramic picture taken from the tower you see rude low Minneapolis struggling to get off the ground; you see the water frozen as it races faster than the shutter can capture; you can see the ramshackle buildings on the tip of Nicollet Island. As I looked at that picture, I realized that my great-grandfather had looked down on the very spot where I’d get married 109 years later.

I didn’t buy the panorama, because Gnat would have insisted on holding it and crumpling it into a ball. We left, walked to the car with Hello Kitty unfurled against the deadly flakes, and drove to the State Fairgrounds Exit.

On Dan Patch boulevard.

If there’s that much history here, in Minnesota, I can see why the Europeans are so paralyzed. After a while there’s so much history you just can’t move.

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