No playdates, no school, no camp, no class: just me and the kid on a summer day.

“Can I play a computer game?”



“Because you played with it this morning during computer game time, and now computer game time is over. You can paint.”

“Can I watch TV?”

“No, hon.”


“Because you had your morning show, and there’s no more TV until Olie after lunch if you eat your carrots. You can paint.”

“Okay!” So we painted. I did the fat burgher, she did the tall thin evil witch. In Barbie coloring books the old thin people are bad, the young thin people are good, and short fat people are good as well. Important lessons! Then she played with dolls while I wrote the Sunday column. Lunch. The small noon cigar, consumed with relish. Then the pool. The water temperature was about six degrees above freezing, so it took Gnat a while to acclimate. The sun was strong, though. Everyone splashed and basked: the apogee of summer, the point when it seems so ordinary it must be eternal. The point when you feel as if there are hundred such days behind you and another hundred ahead. Three months to parkas, of course, but you don’t think that when you’re tiptoeing across an expanse of boiling asphalt. Nor should you.

Home to clean. I had many duties to perform. Endust all the wood, replace the burned out halogen bulbs in the kitchen cabinets (five), polish the counters, get the doghair off the sofa, vacuum the carpet, clean out the fridge, restock the soda, empty the recycling bins, do all the glass on the doors and windows, sweep the floors, dust in the slats in the furniture, clean the upstairs bathrooms, dust the guest room, refill the soap container in Gnat’s bathroom, clean the grot out of the toothpaste holder - you get the idea. Five o’clock: light the grill and small cigar number two, prep the meat, make the meal, toss the spinach, voila. My wife was late, so she missed supper. Gnat and I were outside playing baseball when she got home.

Relieved of duty, I called the dog to my side and headed off for the nightly walk, thinking: what a wonderful life. How lucky I am. And if she’d been ten more minutes late I would have put my head through a brick wall.

It’s just different, that’s all. Anyone who’s home all day with a kid knows what I mean. Whatever train of thought you have is derailed every 45 seconds. That’s just how it goes. I’m lucky; when my wife comes home she takes over completely, and Gnat is in Mom-heaven. If my wife came home and plopped on the sofa, watched soaps or headed off to play golf, I think I would expel streams of hot liquid brain matter out of my ears. Is it hard? No. If “storming Normandy” is 100, then staying home all the time when a kid is a –10. Nothing I have ever heard at an office compares to the sound of Gnat saying “I love you, Daddee” because I fixed her computer or helped her put a dress on a Polly Pocket or found a lost Care Bear or gave her a new bar of soap for the post-pool shower. It’s just that sometimes you want to scream, because you’ve been Parent Robot since you got up nine hours ago. See also today’s Backfence.

Medved had on his show a fellow who wants people to make new sex partners promise not to vote for Bush in exchange for hot monkey love. Or something like that. He insists that this is just a means of “starting the conversation,” which I hear from artists all the time. As if we’re all just standing here making mute gestures and shrugging, unable to discuss something unless the idea is put forth in Handy Art Form. He also wanted to “remind us of the connection between politics and sex,” which officially made him the most dreary fellow I’d heard so far this week. These people always want to remind us of the connection between politics and everything. Politics and hot dogs. (Work conditions in the slaughterhouse!) Politics and lawn mowers. (Illegals keep our grass short!) Politics and Smurf fetishes. Politics and nose picking. It all goes back to that phrase I hated the first time I heard it - the personal is the political. No, the personal is the personal. I remember sitting in a booth at the Valli arguing with someone about the political implications of Mozart – he made music for the ruling class, ergo you had to see it in the context of 18th century Esterhazy intrigue, etc. etc. What an impoverished view of the world. These people can’t play “Chopsticks” on the piano without worrying whether they’re feeding into some Yellow Peril stereotype from the gilded age. Hey! It’s a pentatonic tune! Chinese music is pentatonic! Chinese culture uses chopsticks! It’s OKAY!

Anyway, the guy said he funded the site himself, so I did a whois; sure enough. His admin contact was “” I took a look, and found a link to this site: re-code. As far as I can tell, it’s a site that helps you generate barcodes to replace the ones stores have already affixed. Here’s the video. And the morans have the gall to ruin Beethoven’s 6th in the process, too. Satire? Not? It certainly is tiresome:

The products we purchase are the inventory of our lives. To chain stores, this inventory is cataloged through the Universal Product Locator symbol (UPC). The UPC symbol is known as a barcode. Barcodes are now found everywhere in our world, extending outside of product inventory into our comic books, our science fiction, our films, and even our tattoos.

Our comic books are bad enough, but our tattoos?

Looking at the heavy reliance on digital systems in chain stores utilizing the UPC barcode system, we see a problem or a virus in the system. The virus is the human. We are the nightmare of the digital to some extent. We are the squeaky wheel.

And you know what they say: the squeaky wheel gets the copy of Strunk and White, so they can learn how to frickin' write without descending into haphazardly punctuated drivel.

In typical transaction scenarios, both consumer and cashier behave accordingly to accommodate the dominance of the barcode. Both depend on the accuracy of the code.

By which I think they mean: the clerk scans it, and I stand there waiting for all the items to be scanned. I usually watch the screen, which shows a running total. Sometimes the bar code is wrong, because someone hasn’t inputted a sale price. I point this out, because – rebel that I am – I do not accept that the Barcode is always right. I realize that this is a dangerous path, and I may well end up in a prisoner--pyramid at Gitmo with a leash around my neck and a flashlight up my rectum, but you have to take a stand. Sometimes the code for avocados is out of date, and if means John Ashcroft will appear in a cloud of red smoke, drag you off to the backroom and beat your kidneys with phone books until you piss blood, then so be it.

Both function in machine-like behaviors in accordance to the patterns of traditional consumption rituals.

You’re not buying milk. You are "engaging in a pattern of traditional consumption rituals."

What must it be like to live your day seeing everything through the prism of this tiresome horseshit? I’m SHOPPING FOR DINNER, fool, and I am not functioning in a machine-like behavior; I don’t know any machines that chat while they work, or offer to knock a buck off the flowers because they’re a day past their peak, or give my kid a sucker when it’s all done.

Both cashier and customer listen only for a beep as their purchased item's codes are swiped across the glowing light of the register.

What are we supposed to do? Listen for the tortured scream of the chicken breasts, or the stirring sounds of the Internationale from the red pepper? Remember, we're talking about a system that relieves the clerks of entering the price manually, a system that accurately reflects the price of the item 99.9% of the time - and gives you a printout you can use to contest the transaction if you please. But somehow the scannner is an ominous instrument of mind control because it beeps and glows. There's nothing so scary as a beeping, glowing, traditional consumption ritual.

In some situations, even the cashier has been removed, so a machine can now be controlled by only the barcode maneuvered by human hands.

Um – yes. Sure. Absolutely.

Note that the maneuvering hands are human. As opposed to all those simian paws you find in some stores.

Those same human hands can now be used in an act of brand subversion. Those same hands are the flaw that must resist the digital embrace of the UPC symbol. We must not simply shutter in science fiction horror –

Rain’s comin’! Close the shudders! If these people spent as much time on the code to generate the barcodes as they did on the text, it’s possible the people who use their software will end up paying ninety-seven dollars for string cheese.

- but take tactical action to manipulate the existing system for consumer benefit. With RE-CODE.COM, we look for a way to highlight the absurdity of a system undermined by humans that relies primarily on our very own physical presence and continual acceptance. We must showcase the human through the subversion of the code.

And Neo gasps as the cortical unlink is crudely yanked from his head. I love this line: “the absurdity of a system undermined by humans that relies primarily on our very own physical presence and continual acceptance.” Do you grasp the piercing insight here? The stunning revelation? Stores that use UPC scanners rely – primarily, of course – on the fact that you’re right there as the items are scanned, and you accept the prices that roll past on the screen.

Sheep! You’re all SHEEP!

Absent in this discussion is the role barcodes have played in making the clerk’s life easier. I remember the grocery stores before barcodes; every price had to be punched in manually. (Oddly enough, this required both physical presence and continual acceptance, too.) The invention of the barcode scanner relieved the clerk of this tedious duty – but at what cost to our soul, you may ask. Instead of passively accepting the clerk’s input, we are now slaves to the beep. Well, strike back! Re-code! Pay what you want to pay!

My family back in the Dakotas has a store. Big volume. Tiny profit margin. I’m sure the re-code people would regard the store as a fair target, since it has a large corporate brand. Our prices are set to reflect our costs, and what the market will bear. I should set up a website that advocates pepper-spraying dorks who re-code the Cocoa Puffs, and stuffing them in the cooler for an hour before you call the cops.

Just to start the discussion, of course.

(You think I'm in a bad mood now? Read the Fence.)


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