Today was Gnat’s first day at Camp. That’s what they called it: camp. In truth it’s just the summer version of the run-around-and-jump class she had earlier in the year, but since it’s the summer they give it an appropriate name. Thrilled? You’ve no idea. She would scrunch up her shoulders and grin and almost convert entirely to bubbles at the very mention of the concept. Camp! Okay, honey, it’s naptime, and after your nap we’ll go to camp. CAMP! YAAAYYY!

So after her nap we struck out for the distant burbs in the rental car I got this morning. (“I like this car,” she said. “It’s a good one.”) En route I wondered exactly what she was expecting here. Perhaps I should lower her expectations a little. “This isn’t like camp in the woods,” I said. “It’s not in a tent.”

“Oh.” Pause. “That’s okay. There are monsters and bears in the woods.” Pause. “But they’re just pretend.”

“Well, monsters are pretend, but bears aren’t. Bears are real.”

“And they’re nice.”

“Not always.” You don’t want to take away their bear-trust, but you don’t want to fill them with false hopes, either. They get mauled, and you have some explaining to do.

“But bears are real. And mouses are real. And cats.”

“Check, check, and check.” We passed the new school under construction in our neighborhood. It’s huge. And I was reminded again of how odd it looks, and how some people with suspicious minds might view its design. The school sits across the street from a large church, Mount Olivet, aka the Lutheran Vatican. Mt. Olivet is a standard pre WW2 church - traditional, solemn, sober. Churchy. It has the obligatory two-story postwar educational & fellowship annex. A lovely building inside and out. It’s across the street from a junior version of itself, which is the old Mt. Olivet. (It's now occupied by the Christian Scientists.) For half a century Mt. Olivet ruled that corner. But now the school has bragging rights. And not just because it’s bigger. In an attempt to be architecturally harmonious, the architects gave the new school a pointy roof. (That’s the technical term.) As a consequence, the thing looks exactly like a church. The school looks like church.

I’m sure it’s not meant to supplant the church. I mean, I don’t think the architects said “phooey on that God stuff - why, public education is the one true faith! Let us build taller than house of the old false god, so all may come to worship our inclusive, earth-friendly diverse curriculum!” (It would be silly to think that, because most churches around here have inclusive, earth-friendly diverse theologies.) It’s unforunate, however, that it looks that way. Although I’m sure it’s an accident. (cough) No, really. (Straight face.)

Oh, I don’t know what I think. No, they weren’t trying to duplicate and overshadow the church. But obviously no one noticed that it would, which might be telling. Or not.

Some days I feel like I’m ten again, swimming in an unfamiliar lake, one foot always tapping the bottom to make sure I’ve not gone off the deep end.

“And dogs and horses are real. And mice are nice. You can pet them. And you can pet snakes.”

“Actually, I wouldn’t advise petting snakes or mice, honey. You could get the plague.”

“Nooo. I no get pague.”

“I certainly hope not.”

“Me too.”

Glad we settled that. I dropped her off at Camp (“This is gym class, daddee” she said with boundless disappointment) and went on my merry two-hour vacation. Most of the roads leading into the city are hideously bollixed up, so going home and coming back wasn’t wise. I headed to east Hopkins, along one of the most godless commercial expanses I’ve ever seen. No trees. No signs. Cracked curbs and busted pavement and exhausted old strip malls hanging back from the road like beaten dogs. Ugly as places like this are, they often have the most interesting stores, thanks to cheap rent. I found an antique mall and poked around for a while. Most everything hailed from the era in which I have no interest. This was where 30-something women unloaded their grandma’s stuff. A few cases full of rude cheerful guy stuff - fishing flies, beer-themed ashtrays, cigarette-branded beer-can openers. A few items tempted me, but nothing I wanted was worth the price. A Joint Chiefs of Staff Zippo? Sure, but not if it’s going to make the mortgage payment late.

Then I killed some time at Rainbow, a cut-rate grocery store that was recently went bankrupt. Not good, since they were a big advertiser in our paper. But! They were purchased and revived by some Wisconsin chain, which will upgrade the stores a bit. They need it. What a dump. What a spacious, well-lit dump. it wasn’t dirty, or understocked - just knocked around. Every freezer case and reefer unit looked like someone had smacked a cart into the chrome, hard. It made the meat look dented. It made the apples look bruised. And it didn’t help that all the cheap brands and house brands really looked low-rate: "Jolly Good" brand soda, for instance. You looked at those cans with their flat dull graphics and you knew that the cola would taste like you were sucking on a rusty nail.

But good prices on canteloupe. I bought two, and a paperback novel whose cover featured a shadowly man in a cape and a top hat walking along a dark alley. That’s paperback code-language for “historical serial killer novel.” “The Alienist” started the trend. Next to the book I bought was a novel about Bram Stoker hunting Jack the Ripper (sigh.) and the cover had a a shadowy man in a cape and a top hat walking along a dark alley. But I bought a different book with a shadowy man in a cape and a top hat walking along a dark alley; this one was set in 1795, which is one of sixteen years in the last three centuries not yet exploited by historical crime writers.

I went to Starbucks, got a fishbowl full of brackish crap, and sat down to read. Realized that I haven’t read a book in a year. I used to read a book a week. But I’ve been too busy writing to read.

Ah, Cozumel. Sweet book-a-day Cozumel.

But that was then.

Picked Gnat up; we got back in the car and headed home.

“How was gym class?” I asked.

“Fine.” Pause. “Actually, you said it was camp.”

Not even three, and she starts sentences with “actually.” My God.

We drove home by side streets, since the highways were clogged. The road would through a sixties / seventies section of hoity-toity Edina, the rich neighborhood of Minneapolis’ postwar ascendant period. Those developments don’t necessarily age well. Now and then you’d see an occupant puttering in the garden, and it was a reminder that the well-to-do folk who’d settled here in their 30s were now retirees; made you wonder how many of these houses were quiet all day, with a room or two still filled with the kids’ stuff, waiting for their visits home. In ten years everyone would be mostly gone, replaced by a new crop of 30 year olds who made a little bit less than the original owners. (If you have more money, there are newer developments that don’t require gutting the house and extirpating the shag, the mirrored wall-tiles, the country kitchens, the conversation-pit basements with built-in units that can hold a 21 inch TV! and all the other regrettable aspects of the era.) But Edina will still have the same cachet. It looks safe, comfortable, perfectly surburban, and if you don’t know where you’re going you will be lost; you will end up stalled in a cul-de-sac unsure how to get out, wondering whether the Minotaur huffs behind one of those three-car garages.

Got home, made supper, did the Hugh Hewitt show. Fun. Walk to the park; home; now I’m finishing the other column, taking time out to work on the cigar on the steps outside and read the book. Just noticed that the blurb says it has the same atmosphere as “The Alienist.” Did that come because of the a shadowy man in a cape and a top hat walking along a dark alley on the cover, or was the shadowy man in a cape and a top hat walking along a dark alley used because of that review?

Chicken and egg, probably. Chicken and egg. (The chicken is wearing a top hat.)

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