If Gnat screams next week in the living room and her foot starts bleeding, I’ll know exactly why. Because Daddy got on a chair with a crowbar at 3:15 AM Saturday night, that’s why. If I may, an explication:

Had the annual Hugh-Hewitt @ Jasperwood party. It was loud and raucous, I remember this: a guest standing on the back steps holding up a door handle. Came right off in his hands! Imagine that. I put it back, and it served us well for the next few hours, as guests went outside to finish a cigar or fire up a new one. At one point I think we had the entire Northern Alliance plus Michael J. Nelson Hugh plus the Crazy Uke and the Giant Swede and my buddy Manny (Mitch has the links; I’m too beat to do it) all puffing fine stogies and talking with that sort of manic fluidity that characterizes the third hour of a good party. I’ll say this for Hugh: he brings good liquor. And I’ll say this about him too: he drinks it.

But he shared. Once the fine small flask of whiskey was placed on the table, no one had much interest in beer. (This morning I looked in the fridge and thought: What am I going to do with all this beer? The stupidest thing I have ever thought.) I rarely get to go to parties, and I suppose it was selfish to act like a guest at my own soiree, but dang: I had a fine time. In fact it’s been a great run, the last few days. Thursday I went to the Fair for my appearance at the Strib booth, and discovered that I was slated to sit on the back porch and talk for AN HOUR with Uncle Al Sicherman. Fine; beats standing in the service area handing out maps to the bathroom, but what are we going to talk about? We managed. There was a nice crowd assembled, partly because it was raining and we had an awning. Then off to Hugh’s booth to do 30 minutes. Then the Keegan’s pub quiz, about which I will say no more, because the lie is already around the world so many times it has sufficient frequent flier miles to visit the moon.

Friday . . . I don’t recall. Oh: I watched DOA, the original with Edmund O’Brien. Nice little noir thriller. As I’m watching it I am baffled by a sound effect: when our hero checks into a San Francisco hotel, there’s a slide-whistle sound whenever he looks at attractive women. It’s the classic wolf-whistle. On a slide whistle. Maybe it worked for audiences of the time, but it was just damn peculiar – I paused the movie and googled “DOA slide whistle” and of course the first hit agreed: really unnecessary. I love the internet.

I’d recommend the movie only for the exterior scenes of San Francisco in the 40s, and a reminder of what cities used to look like:

It also has a scene in the Bradbury Building, known to most as the leaky dump where the toymaker with the glandular problem lived in “Blade Runner.” You expect Darryl Hannah to show up, spray-paint her eyes and do cartwheels down the hall, interrupting a Heart video starring J. J. Geddes.

Anyway. Saturday I took Wife and Gnat to the airport; they headed off for the now-annual leave town so Dad can have a smoker trip.

Which is why I found myself outside the house at 3:15 with a crowbar.

I always clean up before I go to bed. No matter how late the party goes, I clean; there’s nothing worse than coming downstairs to a disaster area, and nothing nicer than waking up with nothing more than good memories. (In between the two: waking up with a clean house, good memories, and a skull that has been hollowed out and furnished with a throbbing, reddish, radioactive ball.) I did the dishes, cleaned the counters, threw away the empties: easily done, and done by three. Ah! There were empties outside, and ashtrays to clean. I finished cleaning the table, went back up the stairs –

No door handle.

Usually the door doesn’t latch when it closes. You have to turn the handle. But this time it latched. And locked.

I ran to the front door: locked.


Let’s think about this. Let’s consider our options. I knew of course that there weren’t any options. But let’s humor ourselves, eh? I went to the storage shed to see if there were any tools, knowing well that there were not. Hmm: a string of lights. If we use the plug to hold the crystal chip from my subdermal transponder, I might be able to generate a crude yet effective phaser beam. Or, I could use the prongs to turn the handle shaft.

It took five minutes, but I succeeded in pushing the handle shaft into the door. The other part of the handle fell out and hit the floor.


I got the crowbar. I was standing by the back door, thinking there has to be another option besides smashing out a seven-foot tall pane of glass. Ah hah! The front windows! I ran around the house: I hadn’t put the sashes down. And I hadn’t turned on the alarms. Well, then! The night was looking up! I got up on a chair, steeled myself, and swung.

It was worth it, just for the look on the dog’s face when he saw me coming through the window.

I swept up and went to bed. Replaced the pane with a spare this morning. Let Jasper out; he promptly ran to his excreting spot, and I ran after him to scoop it up –

And the door shut behind me and no, I had not replaced the handle.

But it didn’t latch.

Nor did it latch for the next five times I went outside before I remembered: oh, yeah, that needs fixinating. Criminey.

So now I’m here alone, listening to a king-hell thunderstorm roll in. Very nice, in a summery sort of way, if it felt like summer instead of early October. The house is quiet; I am alone. Maybe a movie in a while. It’s not that late and I can stay up and run around in my underwear and make waffles and wrap them around sticks of butter if I want.

But I forgot to mention the most extraordinary part of the day. Old friend calls up – haven’t talked to her in a few years, but that never matters. One of those friends with whom you can catch up in six seconds – we go way back to the Valli, that stinky dank beery crucible in which so many friendships were formed. It saved my life, that place; the other day I was reading my whiny puerile college journals, and the difference between pre-Valli and Valli is remarkable. Getting a job there was the equal of going to work at the Minnesota Daily. The two events in my 20s that changed everything. Why? It was just a beer joint, a 24-hour restaurant. True. But in both cases I got something I didn’t have before: friends. Big intact pre-made social circles; walk right in and have a seat. Anyway, an old friend from the Valli days was in town; we’re all meeting at 1:30 at the Valli. Or what is the Valli now. (An Irish pub.)

We got there early; I toured the basement pub with the Giant Swede. He hadn’t been back for years. “I met David Byrne here,” he said.

“No, you met him there. I was working the bar, remember?”

“It was by the TV, which was there.”

“Right. But Andrea was always at the end of the bar watching the TV. He was a few stools away, by the pole.”

And so on. When we’d finished downstairs we went up to the new Irish pub – no Keegan’s, but nice. A few more people showed up – and again, it says something about those days that I hadn’t thought of them in 20 years, and recognized them instantly. If I’d met them on the street, probably not. Here? Yes.

Then the reason we were there walked through the door. Twenty-three years ago he hung up his black-and-white Valli uniform, he had left Minneapolis for home, and walked off the face of the earth. We always wondered if he’d been killed in the war, conscripted to fight against Saddam. Whenever we heard about Iran in the news, we thought of Mehdi. We did know one thing: he’s not walking through that door any time soon. And we were right about that. Twenty three years is not “soon.”

And here he was. A bit of a paunch; the coal-black hair gone to snow around the temples. But damned if that wasn’t Mehdi.

My God.

And what of Iran? He went back for three years, then married a woman with family in England. He moved to the UK; he’s been a citizen for 20 years. Import Export. “Rolled steel,” he said.

At the end of the afternoon the cameras came out, and a waiter was shanghaied to take the group photo. Those of us who worked at the Valli knew we were standing on the site of booth B2 and B4; the timbers in the back held up the loft, which was Section D. The bones of the Valli are still visible, if you knew it then. But it’s different now – they knocked out the wall, absorbed the old florists next door, and put in a magnificent fireplace. A quarter-century on, in other words, it’s not only still there, it’s bigger and it’s better. And here we are again. We’ll probably meet like this in another 25 years, when one of our number goes in the box.

So there you have it: the last weekend of summer. Old friends and new friends. If life was a bad miracle it would still be rather impressive. But when it’s a good miracle, you have to stop and count your blessings. And they are innumerable. Like the shards of glass on the living room rug.

Which reminds me: I have to vacuum.


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