It was the monthly trip to Chuck E. Cheese’s tonight; Gnat had a fine time, and so did I. Really. The skee-ball’s the thing, a crude noisy t rejoinder to all the bleeping blinking electronic machinery, something that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to a guy with a DA in a Coney Island amusement park half a century ago. I hit the high score, and the machine spat out 60+ tickets: Gnat dropped her jaw in astonishment. You’re amazing, Daddee. Yes. Yes, I am. Then I hit the high score again, just to show it wasn’t a fluke. My secret? It’s all in the arm, the delivery, the right amount of force, and chosing the lane that has a slight flaw in the 100 point cup that makes balls more likely to bounce in than out.

Downstairs for pizza. I told Gnat that this place used to be a bookstore, long ago. For some reason I accessed the fogey chip and told her that when I was growing up, our town didn’t have a bookstore. You got books at the department store, or in the drug store, but there wasn’t a big bookstore like you have now.

“Your town didn’t have anything when you were a kid,” she said, exasperated.

“What do you mean?”

“You keep saying what it didn’t have. No computers, no book stores, no TV.”

“No satellite TV. From space.”

“Well you said no TV.”

Wow. I’m old. I’m telling my kid how her world is a vast improvement on mine, and it’s annoying. Wow. I’m old.

We went to Office Depot afterwards; I’ve made the decision to get rid of all my CD boxes, save the art, keep the nicely packaged sets, but put most of the discs in sleeves. Sorry, archival sleeves. I’ve become annoyed with any sort of media that takes up space; I wish I lived in the not-too-distant future when you have all your movies on a server downstairs in the utility room, accessible from any room in the house. Ah, you say, but what if it crashes? I will have registered them all with some central legitimizing authority, so I can get back-ups after typing in a 37-digit key and submitting to a retinal scan, or some such precaution. I stocked up on sleeves and binders, committing to a storage paradigm on the fly that will see me through the next few years, while Gnat trailed behind finishing her ice cream. Got a nice atta-boy from a woman at the checkout counter – she’d liked the Walker Art center piece. Love when that happens. It happened yesterday at Southdale when we were eating ice cream and I was trying to make sense of that “Horse to Water” video (oy! Much mail on that one; apparently I should pay closer attention, since it’s not as bad as it seemed at the time.) A fellow came over to say kind words about the column, and I had to decline a handshake because I was full of cold germs – which, oddly enough, always makes me feel as though I’m being the Howard Hughes paranoid germophobe. Anyway, he gave that look that always presages The Question – excuse me, but aren’t you . . . There’s never a day when it’s not a joy to hear that question. Ninety-nine percent of the people who do actual work and make actual contributions to the world never get that out-of-the-blue atta-boy.

So I should give back: excuse me, aren’t you that firefighter? That emergency room nurse or admitting clerk? That policeman, that Reservist, that underpaid librarian, that park worker who picks up the stuff people throw in the creek, the guy who wipes the tables clean in the food court so I don’t have to put my elbows in someone else’s ketchup? Aren’t you that systems tech who makes sure my favorite website comes up every day when I want, the UPS driver who gets my stuff to my door and rings the bell, the gaffer who plugged in the cords so they could shoot that scene in the movie I want to see, the board operator at the radio station who sent the signal to the bird, the fellow behind the console in the theater who brought the spotlight up with practiced ease so the audience knew the show was starting? Excuse me, aren’t you that person who delivers the paper every morning?

You could go on and on and on. I could and I should, but I have a column to write and dang: almost midnight. Criminey.

Oh: yesterday at Southdale Gnat and I killed some time in the “Fun Shop,” which is a cut-rate Spencer Gifts, if you can imagine such a thing. Every kid loves Spencer Gifts; when you’re little there’s lots of cute stuff or novelties or bags of fake pup poo to amuse you. There’s sneeze powder – because we all know how humiliating it is to sneeze! In public! Flies in ice cubes, guaranteed to break the ice at parties. There’s a section of gift gags for adult birthdays that warn you early: growing old is going to suck, and it’s going to be lame, too: look at these cheap 60s style illustrations with short-haired guys in suits and bowties and bouffant-laden dames with tailfin boobs. All this and Smiley Face notepads.

“The Fun Shop” has more costumes than novelty items, but once I walked in I was pitched back 30 years. Thirty! I swear, nothing had changed: not the bad black-light posters with garish seascapes full of wise dolphins or trippy mushrooms or dead rock stars who gargled on a lungful of barbs and puke before giving up the ghost so his estate could license it unto eternity. The wizard statuettes with tall thin bearded sorcerors holding up sticks or crystal balls, calling on some dark god from a Conan short story to come forth and smite, etc., so be it. The incense. Oh, the incense; it never changes either, the same sickly smell of a million stoner basements, a smell that just drenches me with all the dread and failure of adolescence, the pathetic need to find some culture of your own, and your growing realization that the outsider / counterculture offered by Spencer Gifts is more moronic than your own by a factor of ten – except for the Farrah posters, those are wicked. Not that you’d dare buy one.

Child ™ went straight for the hats, and we put on various lids and had a pirate fight. That’s what I will think of in the future when I smell that Spencer Gift aroma. Or at least I’ll try.

After we left Office Depot tonight she demanded we put the windows down while we drove. I obliged, turned on the iPod; clicked around, found some bouncy 80s pop. There are times for “Whirly Girl,” and this was one of them. Reached Jasperwood at sundown, and marveled at the lush green lawn, the flowers, the roses: it looks like late May around here. A headstart on spring: the four finest words I can imagine. Besides “Bronx Cheer Whoopie Cushion.”

Yes, they still have those in the fun shops. Probably at Chuck E. Cheese’s prize section, if you take the clerk aside and ask to see the private stock.

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