Everyone’s having fun with the Dell Dude getting busted for pot. I’m not. Some people were irritated by the spots, but I thought they were clever, and worked - can you name another computer company with a recognizable slogan? Let’s try:

Dell: Dude, you’re getting a Dell!

Advertising is all about sliding that splinter of Brand Awareness into your forebrain, and the ads did exactly that. And if Ben seemed like a goofy Eddie-Haskell slacker, and you didn’t like the character, well, to quote Larry Olivier: dear boy, it’s called acting. In fact he did such a good job his entire career is now over; he’s Steven forever like Nimoy is evermore Spock, without the promise of six additional movies and millions of fans to wish him well. If he has good chops he’ll show up somewhere in six years in a completely different character, but for the immediate future every casting director will look at the head shot and say “he’s the Dell guy. I don’t want the Dell guy.” His career options consist entirely of making a cameo in a straight-to-rental C-grade sex farce where he says “dude, you’re startin’ to smell.” Oh, he might do ad campaigns for Senator Miller: Dudes, you’re gettin’ a Zell! He might do PSA for government educational grants: Dude, you’re gettin’ a Pell! What is for certain is that he will hear that catch phrase every day he goes out in public for the next year. He's that "I didn't do it" kid. He’s Homer “Perfect Game” Simpson.

A few months back in my newspaper column some readers were slagging Mr. Curtis, and I googled around to find some info on the fellow. I found this story in - wait for it - Boy’s Life:

You might know Eagle Scout Ben Curtis . He's that "Dude, you're getting a Dell" guy on the TV commercials. On Sept. 11, 2001, the 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tenn., found himself in the midst of a crisis.

He was sleeping in his Lower Manhattan apartment when an airliner hit the first World Trade Center tower. His roommate, a photographer, ran to the disaster scene a few blocks away, but Ben went back to sleep, thinking the noise was a gas explosion. When the second tower was struck, he got up and looked out the window. Seeing the fire, he decided his roommate might need help.

When the first tower collapsed, Ben rushed into the subway entrance nearby to escape the flying debris. Clouds of soot poured down into the tunnel. He took his shirt off and tied it around his face to breathe.

A woman came down the stairs with a severe gash on her head. "At first I was completely freaked out," he said, "but then my Scout training came back to me." He used his shirt as a pressure bandage and helped the woman to safety.

Still chuckling at his pot bust? Fine. But we all wonder how we would have reacted that day. He knows. He can live with himself. I wish him good luck.

Have your emergency kit all prepped and ready? I do. In the weeks after 9/11 I wondered what we’d need if we had to hunker down for a while, or perhaps light out for the territories. When I went to Target for humble necessities I threw a few what-if items in the cart, and after a while I had a Bad Juju Box: matches, a small stove, a couple of flasks of propane, a wind-up radio, flashlights, batteries, first aid supplies, that sort of thing. I even threw in a few miniature bottles of hooch for bartering or disinfecting. (Or drinking.) The last few weeks I’ve been picking up canned goods and other varieties of stored food, and let me tell you if we’re holed up here for a few days we are going to eat like kings.

Day one, we eat the steaks, because you never know if you’ll lose power and everything in the freezer will spoil. (For the same reason, the ice cream will have to go right away as well.) Day two, the pork chops and cheesecake and frozen waffles. If we lose power after that, I have a wide variety of Indian MREs, pouches of various curries and side dishes that will go quite nicely with that can of vindaloo sauce. If the gas attacks are over, I might even do some grilling.

You know, this isn’t how I expected it to be. Not that I expect anything will happen in my neighborhood; I think the chance of al Qaeda striking fear and terror into American hearts by irradiating the local video-store / Starbucks complex is nil. It would be unseemly to overreact, but it’s prudent not to underreact as well. In the outland beyond the city people naturally have stocks on hand, because you never know when the weather will take down your juice and you’ll be stuck in the house in February behind four-foot drifts with no phone and no lights. But I repeat - this isn’t how I expected it to be.

As I said to my wife last night: did you ever think you’d live to see the day when Eastern Europe was our ally, and France and Germany our enemies? It’s a rather commonplace observation these days, but in a way that makes it all the more bizarre.

The world is always turning under our feet; it’s just that now we’re noticing it more. Before it carried us along. Now it’s turning a bit faster than ever, and you spend your day feeling off-balance all the time.

O for the days when the portentous GONG that signaled a Fox News Alert drew our eyes and ears to a press conference on Chandra Levy. And a year from now we may miss the days when the GONG announced a press conference on Laci Peterson. We alternate between times when the missing are so few we know them by name, and the time when the names roll by from dusk to dawn to dusk again.

Gnat has now tired of her computer games; she wants new ones. She’s exhausted the Mickey Mouse letters and shapes and numbers game, although she still enjoys the segment in which you use a water hose to knock cans off barrels. Baby’s First First Person Shooter. My wife bought a triptych of Mr. Potato Head games, and she’s done with those. So just in time I got a box from Amazon with two new games - a Curious George adventure that teaches coordination and deduction (fling your feces at the yellow hat!) and a Winnie-the-Pooh game that will delight her mightily tomorrow morning.

It’s just astonishing how easily they take to these things - I never showed her how to shut the programs down, but she figured that out; she figured out how to return to the home screens, how to tell the program she doesn’t want to save before quitting, how to double-click to launch a program. She’s figured out dragging and dropping. Put her in front of my laptop when it’s running iMovie, and she clicks on the button that starts the show. This summer I plan to give her an old 8mm camcorder - why can’t three-year-olds make movies? Wouldn’t you like to see a movie of your day you’d made when you were three?

TV? Eh. She doesn’t have time for TV anymore. When she’s done with the computer she sits on the sofa and reads a book. (By read, I mean she looks at the pages and describes the action based on her recollection of the story.) Then she asks me to write ABCs on her little blackboard easel; we arrange her stuffed friends on a chair and she plays Teacher, showing them what the letters stand for.

And every 20 minutes or so: GONNNNNGGGGG. NEWS ALERT.

That’s the winter of 03: she’s at her little table, concentrating hard at her iBook, dressing up Mr. Potato Man; I’m at the island working on my iBook, flitting around and soaking up data, and the TV volume is set low, the screen showing old men in good suits in elegant rooms. They say nothing. We sit, and work, and wait for war.
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