| 6:23 AM. I’m standing at the urinal when the hotel desk clerk barges in the bathroom. He’s a short old fellow with a big nose and thin hair plastered over a white bald pate; black vest, black-rimmed glasses. “Man,” he says. “When’s the last time you took the load off?” He barged into the stall next to the urinal. Zip, hiss, a sigh of relief. “I’ve been working since Friday!” he crowed. “Can’t beat the tips. I love a good convention. They’re drunk and happy and ten feet tall.
6:23:01 AM I’m awake in my bed, having been jerked from a dream by a stuffed-up nose. I stare into the dark as an impossibly rich and detailed world drains away, lost for good; all I can remember is the hotel – it had all the trappings of a 20s hotel made over in the 60s – and the building across the street, whose ornate carvings over the doors had been painted so many times they were barely legible. Time had not been kind to the Richards Building, I thought. And then it was all gone for good.
6:24 AM Get Kleenex, or rather Target branded tissues; drain; return to sleep
8:02 AM Wife wakes me to attend to my day of duty. Downstairs for breakfast. LoCarb Special K, ultra-Splenda-sweetened soy milk. Kiss goodbye. Gnat’s watching some horrible HBO Family show. Coffee. Read the paper. As usual, the local section has all the stories I want from my morning journal – mayhem, arrests, sentencing, accidents, and the weather. Over to Variety. Scan the comics with trepidation – will today be the day we finally get the dreaded Huey Stare in Boondocks? It’s a staple of the comic; Huey is watching something on TV, and the TV says something that’s just SO IRONIC or UNBELIEVABLE, but maaan, so TRUE, and then Huey fixes us with that unblinking stare – AAAAHHH! I can’t take the penetrating force of MacGruder’s insight! No! Quick, 50 ccs of Hi and Lois STAT! But we’re safe. No Huey Stare. There is another installment of a strip we’re trying out for a month, Clear Blue Water, by far the worst comic strip I have seen in 30 years. Wordy, poorly drawn, and politically facile in a fashion that makes Boondocks look like a Thomas Nast drawing.
8:17 AM Open the laptop. No connection to the internet. This connection is in use by another computer, says Mr. Browser. Oh is it now. This means my Earthlink-supplied modem had an aneurism while we slept; the only way to fix the problem is to turn everything off twice – the computers, the modem, the Airport, the bridge, smear chicken guts on the steps, burn a picture of a saint, etc. This I do. While waiting for everything to cycle back up, I note what Gnat is watching: Little Lulu. There is no reason for Little Lulu to have a cartoon. She belongs to the past and cannot be repositioned. It is a meaningless, cheap, meretricious show whose sole purpose is to pacify a parent who wanders by, sees the absence of animated carnage, detects a few clever pop-cult references, and thinks it’s quality programming. After all, it’s HBO, and we pay for it, so it must be good.
I’ll be frank: Lulu must die. I’m rooting for Tubby to get a meth habit and take her out in some psychotic delirium.
8:20 – 9:30 “Surf” the “Web.” Realize with chagrin that Instapundit had read three law books and posted ten links while I was still standing in a New York Hotel bathroom. Catch up with all my imaginary friends.
9:30 AM: TV off. Gnat wants to play on her computer. “I want Barbie dot com on the internet,” she says. I call it up, and she designs a video that features Barbie skating to a hip-hop soundtrack. I consider learning Flash so I could write a program that has Tonya Harding taking the ice with a tire iron. But no. I like Barbie. Barbie’s just fine.
9:32 – 11:00 AM I have two columns to finish, national and local. The national column is supposed to be 700 words long; I have 1200. Bad. Or good, depending. . . no, bad. Focus, boy, focus. I take a break to revise the Strib column; I’d written it the previous night. At the last minute I’d ripped up the column because I just couldn’t think of anything to say about the letters I intended to run, and in those cases I just say aww, to hell with it and write the whole damn thing myself. I reread it; works for me. Call up the paper’s mainframe via Internet Explorer java-based emulation, file the column: booya. One down. Upstairs to shave and change.
11:12 To my dismay I learn that this site is officially OVER, as I am nominated for two blog awards in a Washington Post competition. I do not want to win “Best Rant.” I would not, however, mind winning “Most Original.” You can vote here. Thank you.
11:30 AM Lunch. Gnat has sworn off Easy Mac. I don’t know if she got tired of Mac and cheese after three years, or if she’s reacting to the face I make when the stuff comes out of the microwave. It’s just glutinous barfaroni. In a way, I'm sad; we had an iron-clad ritual. She sat on the tall kitchen stools to stir the water and hard clacking pasta; I picked up the stool and carried her to the microwave, where she’d punch in the numbers. But she’s getting big. It’s not so easy to swing her around as I did before. I miss it already. Every day you lose something; every day you gain something else. Now we both have peanut butter and jelly. I make my own with lo-carb bread. She has "Uncrustables." It's unnerving and utterly typical than she can pronounce the brand name, but not define what it means. But she will. That's what I'm here for.
Noon: she gets to watch “Higglytown Heroes” while eating carrots. I crack a Tab, disassemble the column, despair. Outside for the post-lunch small cigar. Man, I love these things. Why would I want to inhale them? Do I have taste buds in my lungs? No. The cigar is one of the good ones; some have no draw, no presence. Others step right up and say Yes Sir, Here I Am. This is one of those.
It’s warm. Wasn’t before. A few months ago I bought a device that broadcasts the exterior temps to an indoor readout. It has a memory feature, so you can see the range of extreme both outside and inside. I love things like this. I love looking at the wall and seeing a readout, even if it’s fifty above. Even if it’s fifty below. But now it’s 61, the point at which a cool day official shows promise. The trees haven’t turned, but they’re obviously considering the matter, hard.
Jasper is basking on the bricks.
I suddenly know how the column should end. I go inside and fix it, standing up at the kitchen table. Lately I’ve been writing standing up. It makes pacing easier.
12: 40 PM: Column is gone. Two down; two to go. BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK – what now? Jasper is barking in the cadence that indicates DANGER and INTRUSION; it’s not a casual dog-passing-by bar, or even the Mail’s Here bark. It’s the bark that indicates someone strange outside the front door, and sure enough the doorknocker sounds. It’s a Fed Ex guy who looks like Carrot Top’s smarter brother, and he has a box from DirecTV. Ah: that would be the replacement HD TiVo.
Last Wednesday I finally called DirecTV to ask why the HD TiVo was acting so oddly – the picture was distorted in the lower left-hand corner, and the overall picture was 5 percent bigger than the size of the screen. It wasn’t my TV’s problem; I had eliminated that possibility. Plus, the audio was frequently out of sync with recorded movies. After a while they tech just gave up, and said they’d send a new one. And now here it was. Well, we’ll set it up later.
1:00 – 2:00 We went outside and played. I pushed her on the swings; we went up to her treehouse and played pirates; I threw the hedgehog to Jasper. Utter bliss for all.
2:05 PM: Sudden exhaustion. Gnat wanted me to read books, so I nuked some expired coffee from the morning pot. It did the trick. We colored and painted; she drew a tree with no leaves. Then she took an orange pencil and drew a band around the trunk. “Because it’s sick,” she said. That should tell you how many trees we’ve lost around here to Dutch Elm.
3:00 PM I get the bright idea to hook up the new HD TiVo now. My rationale: my wife wants to watch Judging Amy. It’s on tonight. But she might not get to it tonight. Why should she? TiVo allows you to save programs for years if you choose. (I have a program on the downstairs TiVo from 2001, a Mary Tyler Moore episode I mean to transfer to 8mm so I can hoover up a fleeting image of Dinkytown.) If I swap out the systems now, she can have her show on the new TiVo and watch it whenever.
I hook up the new TiVo.
It has the same problem as the previous one.
The problem is the TV.
Or is it? I hook up the old TiVo to another TV, and wait while it powers up and gets satellite data. While I’m waiting, well, might as well vacuum. Ten minutes later I find myself standing in the dining room, equidistant between the two Tvs, a remote in each hand pointing at the sets like I’m playing out a scene in a John Woo movie, the vacuum cleaner roaring between my legs, and I make a command decision: to hell with it. Whatever. Later. I disconnect the old set from the other TV, box it up, activate the new one, plug in my season passes so my wife can get Judging Amy. The machine accepts the command. All is well.
4:00 PM Gnat is very excited because we’re going to do FALL DEGARASHUNS. I bought some seasonal items at the mall the other day – faux gourds, a candle wreath, a box of dried leaves. We arrange them all artfully on the radiator box by the dining room window. Then we clean up everything so I can do the floors and countertops. At 4:59 PM I hose the living and dining room and sunporch with Pier One Citrus Cilantro air freshener. See, if I really pour it on at 5, there’s a light fresh lingering fragrance at six when my wife comes home after a hard day at work. I want her to come home to a house that’s immaculate, and presents no obligations or duties. Nothing to sweep or dust or sort or clean. All she has to do is eat dinner and spent the night with her daughter. I get boocoo husband points and she has absolutely no basis for complaining if I want to go upstairs and play Doom for an hour. Yes, guys, I do have it figured out.
5:05 PM Off to church for choir practice. We get to the room; Gnat says “okay you can go now.” I walk around the block, listening to Hugh have sport with Kerry's orangey hue-shift. Trust me, that's not a spray tan. It's not even a Neutragena bottle tan. I researched this for a story a few years ago. That's a Wal-Mart Coppertone-knock-off topical bronzer tan.
It's warm in the sun but cold in the shade, that hard fall cold that lets you know what's coming. I stand outside the car and fire up the 5 o’clock small cigar. I meet a fellow who recognizes me, and he says kind things about the column and this site. Makes my day, that does. (This has been happening at an accelerated rate lately; I get a minimum of two such interchanges everytime we go out in public. It’s just delightful.)
6:00 We are all called into the room to hear the children sing “Jesus Loves Me.” It’s the same old argument: Assertion (Jesus Loves me) Restatement (This I know ) Appeal to Authority (For the Bible Tells Me So). Unbearably cute. Gnat runs up afterwards and bashes into my legs: hi Daddy! We run to the youth room to see if there’s any pizza left. En route we pass Pastor Bud coming down the stairs – haven’t seen him in a while. He pats Gnat on the head. He baptized her in this very church. He baptized me, in Fargo.
Sometimes I think you have to be crazy to believe it’s all just random. I mean, look at the data.
6:03 PM Alas, there is pizza left, which means I have to sit through “Ed, Edd and Eddy” while the kids chew through a slab of Papa John’s. The “Ed” show makes Little Lulu look like “Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland.” Note to self: Hire the Eds to take out Lulu and Tubby, then rat them out. If they squeal and implicate the Rugrats, all the better.
6:40 PM Home. I hand off the child to my lovely wife, who just got back from a nice autumnal walk with the dog. I change into evening garments, fire up the big computer, and wonder what the HELL I am going to do for a Sunday column. Meanwhile I listen to Hugh on an old tube radio and “Surf” the “web.” Around 7:45 I get my idea for the piece.
8:00 PM It is the hour of the Beer. A Schell’s Pale Ale. I start the column, but my heart isn’t in it.
8:15 PM Gnat wants piano lessons. I’m happy to oblige. She’s doing well, but she’s just me: she wants to skip ahead to the new stuff before mastering the old. The first tune, if you can call it that, is “Fly Far Rocket,” and it’s an industrial / commercial knockoff of the Star Wars theme. The kids have to count down 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 then roll their hand from the bottom of the keyboard to the top. After four weeks, she’s DONE with that. Next: Pineapple Dance, where you bang two black keys on the “cha-cha-cha” portion of a banal little tune about monkeys capering with fruit chapeaus. Don’t ask. Next comes Real Playing: “Tea Time” requires that you play middle do three times in 4/4 with a rest on the fourth beat. She got that right away, and she wants to pick out the melody on the keys. I hate to say no – stop being creative! Get into your pen and put the bit in your mouth! So we pick out the tune after we’ve done our rote-drone portions. Finally, “Let’s Whistle,” which requires the child to play do- re- mi REST, wait a measure, mi-re-do REST.
As an instructor, incidentally, I vacillate between Happy Funny Goofy Loving Supportive Dad and the opera teacher from “Citizen Kane.”
8:30 PM I walk by the TV, and note with horror that the red light isn’t on the TiVo. It’s not recording “Judging Amy.” I fix this, apologizing to my wife. She’s unconcerned. I return to the column. Inspiration strikes.
9:10 PM Column is done. Let’s have a scotch. Now, the Bleat.
What do I have to say? Nothing. Well, let’s just recap the day and hope that will do for the moment.
10:41 PM Bleat is done. Now I can watch TV!
Except that I removed the old TiVo with all the shows I had taped. I have nothing to watch. Maybe I’ll just catch up on the blogs, then. Or read the paper. Or head to bed early, tumble into REM sleep and find myself back in New York. I remember the lobby I walked through to get to the men’s lounge; the women had beehives, and the air was blue with smoke. People were talking to each other, not small plastic cellphones. I can almost imagine the desk clerk giving me a wink: back again, eh? How’s it going?
Oh, it’s going great.
Yeah. Friend, you have no idea.