I am a machine. A piston. Woke after a splendid dream, and I mean splendid – sometimes I dream we no longer live in Jasperwood, that I sold the place for some STUPID reason that makes me weep. This time I dreamed we moved into a house that made the Vatican Apartments look like Li’l Abner’s shack. So I had that “movin’ on up” spring in my step from the start. Spent the morning on work and play – did the Fun Factory with Gnat for ten minutes, worked on the column, did phonics cards, worked on the column. Noon: hit SEND on column, feed child, bundle her off to preschool. Home: fifty degrees. Sit outside and listen to the radio for a while, then back to work. It is, after all, a four-piece day.

Picked her up a few hours later; stood outside with the Moms as the kids kicked through the leaves on the lawn. Off to Target, for the first time in weeks, it seems. I had two goals: restock the house, and find a topic for the Sunday column.

Gnat fell asleep en route, one of those kiddie comas that cannot be broken. I put her in the cart: Zzzzzzz. As we clattered along her head bobbed from side to side, jerking up, sinking down, jerking up. I got a sweater from a clothing rack and made a pillow, so she wouldn’t keep cracking her skull on the cart. She slept the entire trip. Rather funny, actually – head down, arms hanging slack, mushed face, everything but a ripe meaty snore.

At one point I paused to consider the paper towel options.. We’re in that difficult time of the year where you want your paper towel to have a seasonal theme, but nothing explicitly Christmas. Turkeys would be nice, but they don’t go that far.

“Look at that,” said the woman standing next to me. “They put the ones I want way up there. Now how am I supposed to get those?” She pointed to some Peanuts-themed Bounty towels on the toppermost shelf.

“You could throw heavier things at the ones next to them, until the ones you want fall down.”

“I suppose . . ." Then she seemed abashed, as if it was silly to admit you wanted a particular pattern for your paper towels. "It’s just, well, when you make cookies it’s nice for the kids to have a paper towel on the plate that’s –“

“You don’t have to explain a thing,” I said. “I’m looking for something in a brown-leaf border.”


I spied something autumnal in the back; as I reached deep into the shelf, I noted a Peanuts-themed roll. I handed it to my new-found comrade in seasonal Bounty-border quests. “Oh! Thank you!” she said - then she stopped. “It’s not he same one.” And it wasn’t. It was a Viva, or a Bravo, or a Brawny, or a Burly, or some other brand that was New! With Scrubb-Tuff Quilt-Weave! We looked up; indeed, the Peanuts-themed roll on the top shelf was different than the one I'd handed her. The colors were more vivid, for one thing. The characters really stood out.

"Maybe it gets better as the roll progresses," I suggested. We both knew it wasn't true, but in these situations you say things like that. Then I spied another fall pattern, much better than the first.

“Oooh,” she said with no small amount of envy. “That’s nice.”

I said that it was, and began looking around for another. Found one. Last one. I could put back the original fall pattern and have two of the ones I liked, or I could give her the one she so clearly liked, the one that might make up for the disappointing Peanuts-pattern problem. I gave her the roll.

Because I’m that kind of guy.

Also because I’d already had two conversations with strangers who had started talking to me while I was staring at cleaning supplies, and both had said “you can probably get a column out of this.” You never know when someone's going to conclude a little random conversation by saying, in essence, "I know who you are." It’s the damndest thing. And it’s wonderful, of course; it’s just a blessing when strangers tell you that they like what you do. (Usually I get to point to Gnat and say “here’s the inspiration,” but this time she was face down and unconscious; looked like I was actually some sort of delusional non-dad who based his life and work around the exploits of a lifelike doll.) I am naturally inclinded to be civil and cheerful in these settings - read, extroverted and annoying - but there's something about having your picture in the paper three times a week that reminds you to Be Good. It ought to have the same effect on your behavior as having your cell number painted on the side of your car. You'd drive better. Or ditch your phone.

Off to the check-out. There’s a lane with one customer. I dump everything out on the belt . . . and wait. There’s a problem with the card. Curious: the clerk is attempting to input info from the customer’s driver’s license. Something isn’t working. The clerk calls a manager. The manager takes over. Numbers are inputted, keys struck. The manager advises me to go to the next check-out line, where a clerk awaits. I look down at my stuff on the belt.

“But I’ve already deployed my items,” I say.

“Deploy,” says the woman behind me in line. “That’s a good word.” And in True Minnesota Fashion she helped me to put my items back in the basket. (Off topic: the other day outside the Strib a guy was parking at a meter, and one of the employees who was talking a smoke-break went over, made the roll-down-your-window motion, and said “there’s some time left on a meter at the end of the block.” Ah Minnesota.) I moved to the next lane, and found myself behind a guy buying one (1) Hot Wheels toy with his Target credit card. His shirt was buttoned up to his neck, his sleeves buttoned to his wrists; tattoos spilled out of his collar and cuffs, and you had the sense that the guy just writhed with ink. My turn. The clerk apologized for the wait, and I assured her she had no need to do so – wasn’t her fault that these damn computers screw up. Beep beep beep beep, sign here. That’s when Gnat woke up, and realized she’d lost her chance to push the card into the slot. This was a grave injustice. You – Didn’t – SHARE!

You – were – ASLEEP! I said, but no good. Waaaah all the way to the parking lot, all the way to the grocery store. Bought materials for the evening’s pseudo-Mexican feast, grumbling: I could have done all this at Taco Bell for half the price, and pocketed 20 hot-sauce packets as well. I was going to carry the bag out, but Gnat had other plans – this grocery store puts the goods in your car, if you choose. They give you a plastic slate with a number; you drive up, and the bags are fetched from a conveyor belt that carries big numbered tubs. Fine, honey. We’ll be 228.

Off to the cigar store for a quick stop. Parked, got out, went to the back seat to unlatch Gnat, and whoa: she had, in her hands, a plastic slate that said 228. D’oh. Back to the grocery store. Then cigars. Whenever I walk into the store and pass a patron heading for the adjacent fabric or arts-supply shops, I feel like I’ve been caught dragging my child into a crack den. You beast! Home; make dinner; greet wife a while later, walk dog, play with dog, head upstairs & begin the column. It’s about Target. Has nothing to do with what you just read. (Thank goodness; they pay me for that one.) Write 1497 words. Stop. Transfer to PC laptop. Crack fingers. Write this. Stop. Boot up PC laptop; finish Thursday column, which thankfully was 83% complete.


Done! Tomorrow, however, is hell: a 3500 word piece is due. And I regret to say there’ll be no Matchbook today. Have to save something for tomorrow. I’m redoing the matchbook section anyway; it’ll be the first peek at the all new and totally underwhelming site-wide redesign.

Do I now deserve a small measure of television? Yes. "Carnivale" awaits, with all its sepia-tinted religious mysteries; it makes the Matrix look like a Li’l Rascals ep, frankly, and I can never remember what it was meant when it’s done – only that I loved every second.

If that works for a death-bed epiphany, it surely works for a TV show.

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