My wife went back to work today – contract stuff. She enjoys it; pays the bills; puts me back in my favorite job as Dad Around the House, a role I’ve missed these many months. It felt almost odd this morning to spend the morning at the kitchen island again, tapping away on the laptop while Gnat read. Felt even odder not to be connected via Jasperwood’s wireless network, which no longer exists. When I switched the new computer I didn’t set it up the old way, figuring I’d route the Ethernet through a switcher into the Airport and calmugate the frackometer, etc. Well, I haven’t. Reasons are as varied as they are uninteresting. But what really interested me this morning was the sound I kept hearing every ten minutes:

Clonk. Clonk. Clonk. Figured out eventually that it was the sound of my head hitting the countertop, since I’d had about four hours of sleep. When my wife goes back to work, you see, it changes the schedule. I have to rise earlier. But since I’m never smart enough to prepare for this a few days in advance and head to bed earlier, Sunday always catches me wide awake at some hideous hour, knowing I’ll be cattleprodded back to life before I get the requisite REM-time.

But! This morning I woke feeling clear-headed and energized, ready to take on whatever the ol’ world threw my way! Then I woke up again, and realized that the previous waking had been a dream.

Cruel. Very cruel.

Recent dreams have stayed with me for a long while; I still remember one from last week, in which I was some sort of cowpoke asked to console a dying cowboy, out on the lone prairee. I did my best – the Manly Pat on the shoulder, the “Ah’m here, podner” stuff you see in the movies. He’d have none of it. He just lied on his belly and cried – a petulant, mopey, bathetic bawl that disgusted me, if you must know. Yore a cowboy, man, dah like one. Eventually I said “well, I, uh, have to be going,” and I walked over the hill. To my office. Which was in a Barnes and Noble. I was met by an earnest young fellow who had a manuscript I should read; the female character was based on that Annette O’Toole character in that Stephen King book! I said I made a rule of never reading stories based on actresses, and went up to my office. All glass. I could see the entire world of books below me. Then I turned on the computer and woke up. All day I thought about that cowboy. ( I know! I know! Annette was in the TV version of “It.”)

I don’t know why I remembered that one. I do know why I remembered what came next, because it had imagery I still can’t shake. I was in New York when some civilization-ending event occurred – plague + radiological weapon, from the looks of things. The dream took place six months later; I was still living in my hotel room. New York was trashed. Every window broken, every building dark after nightfall. Small communities had formed around the city, and life, after a fashion, went on; generators were hooked up to show movies, and you could hear people laugh from the dimly-lit bars when you passed. But we were using up everything, and nothing new would replace what we were consuming, and we know it. (One haunting sight: a looted Barnes and Nobel in Union Square.) (Can you tell I’m finishing one book and starting another?) Some of us decided to go to the airport to see if we could scavenge some resources, so we drove out to JFK. Two images remain from the dream:

1. All the planes in the gates had their cargo doors open; the tarmac was heaped with opened suitcases and mounds of clothes. That was the worst image of the dream so far. The world had been plundered, and you somehow knew that the plunderers themselves were dead. This brought the situation home with terrible force.

2. In the distance, two gigantic cobalt-blue UltraMen were silently fighting one another on a runway. That was the point where I said okay, whatever’s happened is some truly weird sh*t, and I have no idea where this is going.

I snapped awake, and those huge blue Ultramen spooked me the rest of the day.

Dropped Gnat off at her Nana’s, ran to work. Had trouble thinking, let alone writing. Okay, fine, read the web. Needed diversion. Ah hah: for some reason I started thinking about Joe Frank again. I may have mentioned him before here. For all I know I devoted an entire 3,000 word bleat to the guy. For all I know he was the dying cowboy. It’s all a blur. But: Joe Frank did a radio show called “Work in Progress” as well as a few other shows, all for public radio as far as I can tell. It used to come on Sunday nights, and there was never any explanation – no brassy band, no faux-Ed McMahon voice saying “It’s the Joe Frank Show!” in that passive-aggressive hipster style that’s supposed to inoculate the show against criticism. Hey, we know we suck – just listen to the mocking nature of our theme music. (“Mr. Show,” which I mostly love, is the worst offender in this respect; the theme both forbids and requires that you take the show seriously. Or not. It’s anti-theme music. It’s music the hosts themselves would mock! Makes you appreciate all the more the simple absurdity of Python’s Sousa theme: it’s just pompous burgher who wandered into the wrong party, had a nice time, and never realized it was the butt of the joke.)

Anyway. Frank’s shows would just appear, and you could never tell what the hell they was about. The shows unfolded like crumpled origami, their logic apparent only in retrospect. Sometimes they were monologues, sometimes they were playlets. Sometimes they turned comic before you knew what was happening. All left turns, in other words. Whatever happened, it sounded like a broadcast from a dimension identical to this one except in two or three small but crucial details. I thought it was some of the most brilliant radio work I’d ever heard. Had I oversold myself on that Joe Frank Feeling? Was it really as good as I recalled?

Yes. But you might not think so. I recommend you go here and scroll waaay down; listen to “Middle of Nowhere Pt. 1” – it’s an hour long, so carve out some time. Two different stories. They’re not funny in the ha-ha Firesign Theater sense, not dramatic in the Mercury Theater sense. But I find them mesmerizing – they keep turning and turning and turning in on themselves. You’ll see what I mean in the first five minutes – the main story, which sounds like a straightforward enough tale, suddenly plays a wrong note that tells you to forget everything you had expected. It works best late a night, I think, with the lights dimmed.

Did the Hugh Hewitt radio show, where I introduced my new concept: If Hugh wants America to think I love Hummels, then every mention of those accursed statues will be met with a reference to Depends undergarments. I’m not saying why; I’m just saying, that’s all. Since my wife was still at work I had to pacify Gnat while I did the show, and she got that stubborn inverse-usefulness thing kids get when you really need them to be quiet. I asked her to watch a video or play a game while Daddy talked on the phone; I’d be done in just a minute. Okay. I went upstairs, phone to my ear, hearing the network feed countdown. At 1:45 she appeared at the top of the stairs: she couldn’t find the right video. Back downstairs. Find it. Shove it in the VCR. Hit on. Up comes the names of the animators, all of whom are frickin’ Hungarian: it looks like the casualty list after an explosion at the paprika factory. Eject, put in another. Network feed countdown: five seconds. Hit play. Run upstairs. Annnnd we’re on.

Mark Steyn doesn’t have to go through this. I always see him in a comfortable chair wearing one of those smoking jackets with quilted lapels. Me, I’m pacing in the Master Bath.

So there you are. Bereft of wireless, tired, Ultraman-haunted and staring down the barrel of three-column Tuesday with a cold in the works: off I go. Less tomorrow!

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