No bloody riots in the streets, no mushroom cloud over Times Square. As ever: it’s the little things that count.

So I’m standing in the lake today. It’s as perfect a summer day as we never had: high 80s, warm water, blue skies, the shores full of kids engaged in massive civil-engineering projects and moms lolling on blankets. Gnat is heading out to the deep end; I’m sloshing along behind, and I’m thinking: why am I so happy?

Because it’s summer. Previously the end of August meant the end of summer – you write Sept. on your checks and the old definitions rush in. School, apples, fresh pencils, rustling leaves, rumors of pumpkins, etc. But today was a reminder that summer can take its time; some years it bolts for the exits when the show’s done, and sometimes it stands in the aisles and chats for a while.

Because I had made my peace with the death of the elms. There are four century-old elms outside Jasperwood, and they’re all going down. Dutch-elm disease. G@$#%mnd beetles.
“It’s sad,” I said to Gnat. We were watching a man in a cherrypicker chainsaw his way through a limb that sprouted during FDR’s presidency. “Too bad for the trees.”

“Too bad,” she said.

“But on the good side, now we’ll get lots more blue sky.”

“Yeah! I love sky.”

I pointed the videocam at her and asked: “Do you think you’ll remember these trees?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t think I will.”

The trunks and the big branches remain tonight – gnarled dead hands that look like they’re casting a curse. Every tree has an ignominious end, except when they burn. Then they go out gripped by madness.

Because Gnat was back
and this was a Daddee Day and it had begun poorly; I am enforcing my new breakfast-together rule. We sit at the table and look at the newspaper and talk about what we’re going to do today. She wanted to watch a little TV, but I’ve had enough of starting the day with that. O the irony: daddy buys big wide Tvs and refuses to let anyone see them. Not true! I’m watching Pataki right now on the HD convention feed. He has that thin plastered hair that makes me think of Bartleby the Scrivener; it looks like it’s parted in the middle when it really isn’t.

“This is a candidate,” Pataki is saying about Kerry, “who has to google his own name to find where he stands.” How the lingo evolves, eh? Makes you glad the founders of Google didn’t call it Frabjas or Fuddplucker or Googizzle. Google sounds just right, and not because we’re used to it. Think of how the most successful brands in the internet were the most amusing or self-deprecating. Yahoo, Google, Fark.

Anyway, I’m not going to write about Pataki’s speech because what I’ve heard is dull. Earnest, but dull. An emailer to the Corner said Zell looked like Montgomery Burns with Hair – Pataki looks like Homer after Atkins and shin implants. And I say that as a short guy on Atkins who wore a Homer T-shirt back when half you punks were TEN YEARS OLD, so suck it up, muchachos. (Just kidding. I'm rambling. Back to the theme:)

Because standing there in the lake I thought about four years ago when I heard Bush’s speech at the 2000 convention. I was in Gnat’s room, putting up the shades. She was brand new. Ahead of schedule, in fact. I think she was still in the preemie ward. I was a new dad. It hadn’t sunk in.

Ever since then it’s been nothing but life, sinking in.

The President has just taken the stage. If Al Qeada’s going to light one off, this is the time.

He is preternaturally calm.

“Nothing will hold us back” appears to be the theme, and designated applause point. So far it’s all a list of domestic achievements, ticked off one by one – and I’m sure this will confuse and dismay those who want Bush to come out with Zellfire and brimstone, but right from the start you can see the Grand Master Strategy: Rudy for smart brainy rhetoric, Arnold for star-power and novelty value, Zell for crowding the opposition into the corner and working the kidneys, Pataki for spreading oil on the water, and Bush for Resolute Confidence and Confident Resolution. Anyone who thinks he’s going to get up and demand that the nation gird its loins for TOTAL WAR is nuts. The base isn’t going to think “aww, I wanted more promises of blood and devastation. I’m going to stay home.” They know the guy. The committed opposition won’t be swayed, but at least he can deny them a few talking points. It might cosset the Holy Sainted Undecideds who want something other than 24-7 messy war stuff. After all, it’s not like he came out and saluted.

Palaver about modern jobs: more women in the workforce, no more lifetime tenure with a handshake and a gold watch. Talk of transforming 20th century models. Specifics? Vague remarks about restraining spending (coff) and regulation, but making tax relief permanent: good. But I’m restless. This is State of the Union stuff. Perhaps it’s rope-a-dope again – someone tuning in after three years of tuning out will be surprised that he doesn’t see flaming evil Bushitler with blood trickling from his left eye, demanding that libraries submit the names of anyone who typed “al Jazeera” into Google. For criminey’s sake, he’s proposing community health centers for poor rural counties. (Fine by me.) He mentions medical liability reform without mentioning John Edwards – in fact, no mention of the opposition at all, which is what makes this sound like a SOTU from the third year of the second term. There’s a general theme – government helping you by setting the stage or getting out of the way, whichever is appropriate. When I hear the words “we will” for domestic purposes I hear “we will spend.” Great nice whatever, it’s an election year. GET TO SYRIA AND IRAN.

Okay, part two is different. I kept thinking: 1943. Between the dark beginning and the first cracks of light. 1943.

Have you bowled? Then you know the guys who try to win by throwing the ball as hard as possible. They get bedposts. You want a strike, you roll it down the middle and curve off left or right at the last minute. Most of the pins go down. A few wobble, and look like they’ll remain standing. Then they fall, too.

“He said United States!” Gnat said while watching the speech. “We have that puzzle!” That we do, child. That we do.

(Gave it a B minus plus. On to the debates.)

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