Today: Toddler cosmology; why I live here, pt. 38,742; and why Hewitt is a DEAD MAN.
The mind of a three-year old: Gnat just came into my studio. She went down for the night a few minutes ago, but part of the ritual consists of getting out of bed, padding down the hall, and pushing open my door - which has developed a hideous high-pitched haunted-house creak in the last few days; it sounds like Im trying to grate a cat butt-first. She usually stands in the doorway with a guilty grin, and I walk her back to her bed. But tonight she had a downcast expression. Im sad, she said when she came in my room.
I cant sleep.
Well, then think of things that make you happy, and you can sleep. Think of playing with Jasper. Think of caramels. Think of flying to the moon.
I cant fly to the moon, she said. Its too high.
You could if you had a rocket ship.
Oh, yes. Then I could go to the cheese planet moon.
That would be the result of repeated viewings of A Grand Day Out - the Wallace & Gromet Claymation short film about flying to the moon for a nice wedge of Stilton. A toddlers mind has a great many questions, but it also has more certainties than we suspect; they have limited information, but they jam it together like mismatched puzzle pieces until the pieces start to fit.
The cheese-planet-moon thing worked - not a peep since. She is dreaming of lumps of clay arrayed into the shapes of English archetypes, heading to the moon in their muddled, decent fashion.
Hey, lets talk about public transportation! I was walking around downtown this afternoon, noting the progress of the light rail line. A story in the paper noted that theyd be stringing the wires soon, and that gave me a certain amount of grim satisfaction. When people around here think of the light rail system in its future or past incarnation, they see quaint trains clattering past under a bright blue sky. They dont think of overhead powerlines. I understand completely why no one really minded the end of the trolley system in the 50s; besides the fact that the cars were a bit old and drafty, they required a network of lines that made put a tic-tac-toe grid over every major intersection. When the lines came down, and the sky above the streets was clear for the first time in 50 years, it looked the way the promised atom-powered future ought to look. Air-conditioned, chrome-plated, wire-free.
Now the lines are going back up. If Im wrong, Im wrong; I hope the streetcars are filled to capacity, with people hanging off the sides and top like the Bangalore Express. I dont want to see empty cars rattling by the Strib building. My opposition to the streetcars has five points:
1. The money could have been better served strengthening the bus system. You can get a lot of busses and reduced fares for the poor for $800 million, which is the cost of the first line alone.
2. They should have built a commuter rail line between Minneapolis and St. Cloud, 55 miles to the northwest. taking some of the pressure off the Interstate. Its all growing into one big metro glob anyway, and both cities would profit.
3. The aforementioned lines in the sky.
4. The destruction of a perfectly good street downtown. They closed off a block by the government center, routing traffic two blocks in either direction. Stupid, stupid, stupid: if we learned anything from the last fifty frickin years of urban planning, its this: DONT DO THAT. But they did.
5. The price of the transit stations. There are four in downtown Minneapolis. Each is about three or four blocks apart. Each is quite elaborate, and theyre all different. When I think streetcar station, I think a modest little platform with a shelter and a sign that says Streetcar.
This is one station:
Its huge. My GOD its huge. The arches - which serve no function; they're purely decorative - are meant to echo the Stone Arch Bridge, an historic railroad structure thats now a pedestrian walkway, and part of the extraordinary new riverfront redevelopment. Its lovely, and its impressive, but for heavens sake look at the SIZE of that thing.
So Im walking along, full of thoughts about the light rail system, and you know the feeling you get when youre just so caught up in a subject you wish you could march right over to the Mayor and tell him what you think? Right. Lucky for me, there was the Mayor, R. T. Rybak himself, standing on the streetcorner, waiting for a light.
I walked up and said Mister Mayor! and he turned and grinned - we havent actually seen each other in years, but I knew him back before he went into politics. He was heading over to the Strib to meet with the editorial board, and I was headed the same way, so we talked about the light-rail system, the stations, the need for public art, the expense of the same in a time of tax hikes, and other matters. Thats what I love about this town: the Mayor is just standing there waiting for a light. No retinue, no official car, no aides, no pomp.
Hey, Mister Mayor said a women sitting on a bench outside the paper. She was with a friend, and they both gave him big cheery smiles.
Hey there, he said. Waiting for a bus?
Naw, just taking a smoke break.
We headed inside the building, and I asked if that happened often - people just calling out hey, mayor.
All the time, he said. You know, when I took this job I thought people would stop me and say fix my pothole, but they dont. They all say hi. He paused and smiled. Im the town mascot.
I disagree with some of his ideas, but he's one of the good guys. He loves this city like fwe mayors ever have.
Im starting to worry: one of the things I always regarded as proof that you were a full-fledged citizen of Dorkistan was a snickery pleasure in the So Bad Its Good school of aesthetics. You know what I mean: big-eyed Keane paintings, excess tiki crap, matador-on-velvet paintings, ceramic lamp-bases in the shape of attenuated felines. The stuff that flooded the Salvation Army stores and thrift shops in the 80s, and now sells for hundreds of dollars in Gotham kitsch boutiques. How thats different from the stuff I collect and feature on this site I cant quite say, only that it is different, and Ill cane any man-jack who says otherwise. But Ive spent much time at that 365days.org site I linked to yesterday, mining it for horrors, and its having a deleterious effect on my standards. Previously, this sort of collectible crap had to have some s redeeming aesthetic pleasure aside from the sheer incandescent awfulness of it all. But having downloaded and saved to disk the jaw-dropping horror of Fred Astaire singing a disco version of Carly Simons Attitude Dancing, I feel like my passport has not only been stamped for Dorkistan, but the exit visa has been denied. Theres no going back. Im a few years away from insisting, with utter seriousness, that a nine-foot-wide depiction of the Battle of Hastings done entirely in elbow macaroni and cut-out pictures from Weird Army Tales Comics is a brilliant piece of outsider art and not only demands study and explication, but its own website.
I refreshed my palate with a Berwald piano concerto, then watched an episode of "Deep Space Nine" while doing some busywork on the computer. I was reminded again how religious a show DS9 was. Granted, the religion concerns incorporeal beings who live in a transdimensional gateway outside of time and space, but even that is a commentary on the nature of religion and belief. I cant think of any other TV show whose main character is regarded by his second-in-command as a prophet foretold as the scriptures. Oh, maybe there was an episode of Dragnet where Frank Gannon confessed that he always thought Joe Friday was the Second Son of God. Imagine that scene:
Friday: "So Im a holy man to you now."
Gannon: "Well, all Im sayin, Joe, you were promised unto us, and here you are."
Friday: "Im just a cop, Frank. That's all. Same as you and the next guy to put on a badge in the morning. I put my pants on one leg at a time and I light my cigarette with a match, not a burning bush."
Gannon: "Fine, fine, Im not trying to start anything. But if you ever want to read the Apocrypha, its right here in my top drawer."
Friday: "Thanks, but I have to get to these reports."
Gannon: "You do that. (hums.) Theres a flood comin, Joe. You might want to read up on it."
Anyway. The religiosity of DS9 didnt bother anyone because it was so new-agey, so vague, so feely-fine it made Unitarians look like Jesuits. But it was serious stuff nonetheless. Major Kira, the Bajoran representative on the station, was devout. And she was devout in a way that indicated that the religion was based in a great many particulars, not some gassy generality about being kind to plants and believing in clean water. The show kept putting forth a fascinating argument you couldnt ignore: either these people were nuts and ascribed godhood to these very real but non-divine voices in the sky, or God had spoken to Bajor in a completely different fashion than He chose for us here on Planet Dirt. The Bajorans got the Old Testament and periodic updates every thousand years or so, and in their time of greatest trial, hey presto: the Prophets reappeared, made some vague observations, and fell silent. You can just imagine how this would upend a society; it would be like Christ returning, making some terse remarks about organic farming, and leaving again. Far from solving every question, it would raise a thousand more.
Am I reading too much into a simple Star Trek TV show? I dont think so. It was the smartest of the five series. It was all about politics and culture - and wherever those two streets cross, you always find a church.
Okay, the Hewitt thing, or, another moment in which my life closely resembles the torments suffered by the schizophrenic. Once again, the man on the radio is talking about me. Put yourself in my shoes: Id walked the family to the park, then walked Jasper home (he doesnt do well at the park. He regards everything as PERIL and freaks out if Gnat gets on a slide, or swims in the pool; if another dog shows up hes convinced Gnat will be torn to pieces. So I just walk them to the park and take him back.) The batteries in my radio were dead, so I didnt listen to Hugh on the way back, as is my custom. We get home, I play some ball with Jasper, then head upstairs to do a little work. Turn on the radio. Hewitts reading an email from someone whos castigating him for abusing my invitation to dinner, and for attributing to me the characteristics of Loki the Trickster.
I mean, people, what the HELL? I had no idea what was going on. Later my father-in-law calls from Phoenix. Were coming, he said.
Great! I said. When?
Were coming for your party. Hugh Hewitt just invited everyone in Minneapolis over to your house.
So this is what I get. I invite the guy over to dinner, as a thanks for the upcoming State Fair gig, and he decides to tell the world about it on his show.
Oh, wunderbar. Now the phones going to ring, as allll my friends demand invites.
Of course, it doesnt, because my numbers unlisted.
Also, I dont have any friends.
Thanks for reminding me, Hewitt. Yes, youre still invited. But you get the baked beans from the bulgy can.