It hit ninety on Sunday. Lakes were full; sprinklers and crickets. When summer leaves it will go in a day - one cloudy afternoon, one cold breeze, one instinctive reach for the fall jacket that’s been on the hook since you took the trash out a week ago, and it’ll be fall. We’ll be ready. Just as long as it's not tomorrow. The day after that - works for you? Fine. We'll pencil you in. Mr. Bittersweet Harbinger of Mortality and Recollector of Youth at 3 PM. See you then!.

I’m saving my comments on the speech for paying venues, alas, but I will say this: those who wonder why this wasn’t said earlier need to look at the calendar. Vacation’s over. This was the Back to School speech. Stand up, face the front, pay attention. Earlier tonight at the Prof’s site I noted a graf on Bush’s diminishing appeal to the conservative base - I think that’s overrated, and also somewhat irrelevant; what are they going to do in 04, write in “Tom McClintock”? Yes, they could stay home, but I have a hard time imagining large numbers of GOPers thinking “I trust him more on national security than that Dean fellow, but I just can’t vote for a guy who co-authored an education bill with Ted Kennedy. As Jonah Goldberg wrote:

But I must say that if it weren't for the war on terrorism, I'd be a bit at a loss these days to say something nice about him given his performance of the last six months. Yes, yes, tax cuts: good. And a few other things: Good. But, I'm really fighting this feeling that when he said earlier this week that whenever someone's "hurting," the "government has to move", he essentially jumped the shark.

The Prof says he sees more comments along these lines from staunch Republicans, which is you won’t find that sort of comment here. With all respect to Jonah, saying that the administration has “jumped the shark” is almost Dowdian in a snarky pop-culty way. I get impatient with this, I really do. What part of “Compassionate Conservatism” was unclear from the start? As for the tax cut, I’m extremely grateful for it, even though I plan to do nothing with it but bury it in the backyard. Can’t let it get out into the economy, you know. I’m glad I already bought a shovel. Take that, you shovel-merchants who want to drain my bulging coffers! Screw you! Anyway, look at the reaction to a big-spending, big-government Republican: horror, apoplexy, the endless litany of disasters both close and distant. The Administration makes a few peeps about allowing a certain segment of post-boomer workforce actually have some control over a wee portion of their Social Security money, and you’d think they’d demanded we strip Granny of her flesh and toss her in a vat of lemon juice.

It is more likely that a true unalloyed Democrat will be elected than a brass-tacks Republican. Get used to it. The number of people who want a particular Government program exceeds the number who want none. You want the NEA abolished? That will require two nuclear attacks on American soil. After the first the NEA will be more important than ever, as we sort out our feelings about the event through a nationally coordinated series of interpretive dances. After the second, the economy will be so far down the crapper-pipes that someone will point out that we shouldn’t fund the Mimes-for-the-Blind symposium when we really need the money for anti-radiation drugs.

As for the Iraq situation? I’m stunned that a country whose face was held mouth-down in the mud for 30 years hasn’t spontaneously produced a civil society in six months. I don’t think they’ve even started thinking about a new national anthem. Let’s give it all to the French.

Wrote this earlier, because I wanted to:

It’s a Monday to you, but it’s Saturday night right now to me. Or rather Sunday morning. And speaking of which: I got the DVD for “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning” the other day, and was dismayed to find that Albert Finney did not vomit on the swells in the dining room. That’s how the book began, if I remember: he drinks 10 pints and assorted whiskeys, falls headlong down a flight of stairs, staggers into the dining room and harks a bellyful into the lap of a diner. And thus was another milestone added to the “angry young man” period of British literature. I tried rereading that book again recently, and got bored halfway through. It lacks the acid of “Lord Jim” and the grim momentum of “Room at the Top,” the other founding documents in the AYM school of postwar British literature.

Finney’s wrong for the role; it needs someone made of rude brash meat, and he’s too short, too guarded. The settings are fascinating, though - those tiny rooms with bad wallpaper, Dad on the dole staring at the telly in the corner of the room, creaky stairs, smoggy pubs, vast factories. England appeared to be an industrial country. Imagine that.

Anyway. Saturday night was the block party back in the old neighborhood. Tradition: we go. Tradition: I wear The Shirt. It’s my dad’s old bowling shirt with a big embroidered Texaco crest on the back, and R. J. Lileks Oil writ large. It says “Ralph” over the pocket. I’ve worn it every year. Now this is the only place I wear it, lest it rip or suffer wear. The old neighbors always remember: you wore the shirt! And the old neighbors always welcome us back. I can't tell you how . . . how nice that feels. A mild word, a hotdish word, but it fits. It's just nice. Jasperwood belongs to every street and no street; we’re on a hill at a curious intersection. The old street was flat and open, a common stripe, and even though we’d hardly see anyone over the winter we spent the clement months outside. Everyone knew everyone. Didn’t know much, but that’s fine; that’s really how you want it. Twice a year we all got together - once for the block party, then two months later for the pumpkin carving. My first year on the block I noticed that there were people here I’d never met, and this was quickly explained: people who moved away came back for this.

We moved away. But we come back.

“Is Jasper still alive?” asked one little girl. I assured her he was. Jasper played with their dog - if that’s the word; they had a Doberman who beat the crap out of Jasper every time they met. Sometimes the dog would just come into our house and lope around, sniffing with her long disdainful snout, then head out the back and continue on to the creek.

Was her dog still alive? He was.

Gnat was in peer heaven. This block breeds children by the dozens, it seems; there are always new kids, babies, tweens conspiring under the streetlight at the end of the block. She made a friend in the afternoon and they spent the entire day together. Her first party we held her. The second party she sat in everyone’s laps. The third party she staggered around under our constant gaze. This year she toddled off holding her new friend’s hand, and when they joined the queue of kids at the moon-bounce unit, guarded by some block moms, I turned away for a minute to look whoever was talking to in the face . . . only to find she was looking down the block after hers. You have to feel bad for the parents with grown kids or teens or no kids at all; no one looks them in the eye.

On the other hand, they have no good excuse for bolting a conversation that’s stalled. Whup! Gotta get the kid! always works.

But they didn’t stall. Conversations pick up where they left off last year. Night falls; the brazier comes out; you find yourself talking to the New People, laughing with instant familiarity with people you haven’t seen in a year, apart from a hey-how-are-you at the grocery store. Then you see your daughter walking up the steps of the house where you lived. The lights are on and the door is open. The new owner isn’t at the party - she’s often away on business, but the man of the house had a gathering separate from the block party, and his guests have just left. Gnat could walk right in.

I’m just going inside, she said.

I picked her up before she could open the door. You used to live here, I said.

Yeah. When I was a little baby.

I swipe a peek: she put carpet up the stairs. There was carpet up the stairs when we moved in. I ripped it up. I took the paint off with a spoon and a heat gun. Now the carpet’s back. So it goes. The next owner of Jasperwood will smother the joint in purple shag. Cycle of life.

We walk down the sidewalk, past the three solar-powered lamps I put in, past the tree I planted, past the bushes and shrubs I landscaped one hot horrid day. This was home for seven years. I’d be breaking the law if I opened the door.

Gnat faded; home at ten. Then I went back, as I’ve done the last three years. Back to sit around the fire and talk with old friends. Ah, here come the guys to bum smokes from Nancy, as they always do. Here’s an old dog. Here’s a new one. I remember Jasper skirting the edge of the fire’s light, eyes bright, looking for food, darting off to the creek to chase raccoons; I note that the lights and banners aren’t up this year, maybe because they belonged to the guy who screwed around and left. We speculate about the health of a tree. Maury shows up; things get funny and very arch. A new guy pauses when he hears the phrase “butt wax” and he sits down; we start talking about our jobs, and end up discussing the failure of late-90s business models that involve distribution of computer applications over dial-up. Then: cigars.

Always, eventually, cigars. The guy from around the corner lights off some fireworks: much smoke. It’s time to go, and I say my goodbyes, say see you at pumpkin time, and head off down the block. This time I get to walk through a thick cloud of firework haze, and I think: that’s about as good an exit as you get. And then it gets better:

“He vanishes into the smoke!” Steve shouts.

Same every year. I drive the short distance to Jasperwood feeling the same damn emotions I felt when I left the old house for the last time that clammy June day: Home’s back there. Of all the places I’ve lived, Jasperwood is the best; don’t get me wrong. I love this house more than any other. They’ll have to carry me down the stairs. This is the Great Good Place. But the Old House we found on a May morning, on a day when I knew I would be coming back to Minneapolis and leaving DC. Its tiny yard looked huge to me; its stately facade and gleaming white rooms were paradise itself compared to the stinky hot hell of our DC flat. My first night in DC I laid in an empty room, my jacket as my pillow, listening to helicopters overhead; my first night back in Minneapolis I had one chair, a TV and a stereo, and I got drunk and cranked up a PSB remix CD and bounced around the living room, daft with delight. Summer! Home! A half block from the creek, six blocks from the lake!

I’m a lucky man; things work out for me. I don’t deserve most of what I have. The least I can do is testify and give thanks, so: I’m thankful that every year I get to shout IN YOUR FACE TOMMY WOLFE! I can, and do, go home again. And tonight for the ninth year in a row I’ll take off The Shirt and breath the smell of woodsmoke from the sunset pyre. I always forget that fact; I always forget that the shirt smells like a campfire after the block party. But you don’t have to remember these things. Show up and it all comes back. Tap the keg, light the cheroot. Here we are again.

And how the hell are you? Really? Man, that’s great.

Hey hey! Another MP3, and it’s longer and crappier than its predecessors. Thanks to Fark I found a motherlode of Trek wavs, and thought I might toss them into something. Well. I started with Dr. McCoy, always my favorite, intoning about the mysteries of the universe over a suitably cosmic synth, and I thought hey, this will make a nice little interminable piece of trance-dance, or whatever the kids call it. But as I went on I realized that McCoy was a Southern gentleman, and putting his thoughts to Kraftwerkian bleeps would be wrong. So I started to work in some “roots” loops, and the result is a song that starts as one thing and ends up completely different. The bass and the beat remains the same, though - the transition is incremental, and you don’t really notice you’re in a new genre until you hear the banjo.

Yes, the banjo. And pay attention to those background medical bay bleeps; took a little tweaking to get them to sync like that. And there’s a special guest appearance by the Official Movie Star of the Hugh Hewitt show, too. Like all the others, it builds, squanders its momentum, then realizes where it’s going about 2 1/2 minutes into it. Then it’s all Hee-Haw. It’s not techno - it’s hickno! NOTE: the song you want, if that's the word, is "Doctor Poppycock." It's the second in the list. Enjoy, you butchers who are possibly also not escalators!

(Matchbook tomorrow.)
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