Bleg: the next Backfence concerns the other side of the going-back-in-time issue: instead of things you’d bring back from the past to sell at great profit or hold for your own private pleasure, what would you take back into the past to impress the goodfolk of 1950
Or 1900? It’s a subtler question; the obvious answers all depend on electrical outlets. Think on the matter, and send your replies to fence@ startribune.com. I appreciate the help – it makes Monday column night so much easier.

Note: Joe Ohio returns tomorrow.

The DVD player went south. I shoot in widescreen mode. But for some reason the DVD player took the widescreen information, read it as 4:3, then displayed it as 16:9. Uh –no. Everything was oddly mushed. I could live with this, I suppose, but the player had also begun to reject discs that had the slightest amount of abrasion. I’d test the discs on other machines: no problem. Time to retire the unit, then. Off to Best Buy.

I was prepared to buy a plain-vanilla unit when I saw a player whose box proclaimed it would enhance DVDs for HDTV. Wha? Called over a salesguy. How does this work?

It adds information, he said.

Where does it get the information from? Does it call Hollywood and download extra lines? I thought I had the state of the art with a progressive scan 3:2 drop down whatever; am I missing dozens of lines of resolution? Tell me! I cannot watch another movie until I know I am seeing all available lines that make up the rich tapestry “Hollywood Homicide!” He couldn’t quite explain it. But it was better. Whatever it was.

Fine, I said, shoulders slumped. I have to have the latest & best to see movies at home. Anything to prevent that recurring dream where Roger Ebert climbs through the window and relieves himself on my home theater remotes. There are six remotes! I cannot believe a man could contain so much urine, even in a dream!

At the checkout counter the clerk asked for my phone number. “Why?” I said. I hate this new wrinkle. I just hate it. I hate the fact that I can’t buy a frickin’ candy bar without a procedure that rivals a mortgage application. I’m always interested in the rationale they give.

“We need the phone number before we can let the merchandise leave the store,” the clerk said. Practiced response, right out of the employee handbook. Fine. Let me say no, and let the burly boys tackle me as I try to leave with my paid merchandise. Sir! I need an area code sir! Then she said “This DVD player has a two or a four year extended warranty. Which one would you like today?”

This isn’t upselling; this is deceit. “Which one” doesn’t include the option of “neither,” of course. And then she offered me a free 8-week subscription to a magazine, so they could have my address as well as my phone number. Jaysus! Let me buy the fargin’ thing and let me go! You want a stool sample too? Here!

I have no idea if Best Buy knows, or cares, but every annoying check-out interchange reminds me anew: buy online. If I hadn’t needed the DVD player that night to review some family movies I’d just cut (want to get them done now, since I’m wiping the drive to install Tiger nice and fresh next Friday) I would have ordered online. Not because I think my privacy is held in greater honor – they have my address, too – but because it’s just less of a pain in the arse. As it stands, you end your Best Buy transaction by saying NO, NO, and NO. They might consider ways to let people leave with the word “yes” fresh on their lips.

Such a good weekend: nothing to write about. (Obviously.) That’s the ideal. Slept well. Woke late. Read. Ate good food. Sipped fine scotch. Nothing vexed me, for once. Makes for a dull Bleat, alas. The most exciting thing on Friday, for example: tried to call the Marshall Field Salon to set up an appointment for my wife. She doesn’t have the time to do such things; I do.

No one answered. Three attempts. No answer. Call the main switchboard. I asked if they still had a salon downstairs – no one’s answering the phone.

“Moment,” she said. Click. Dumped back into the main phone menu. Sigh. Hit ZERO again.

“This is Jose.”

“Yes, I’m trying to reach the salon, and no one’s answering. Is it closed? If you could - ”

Silence. Click. Pause.

“If you’d like to make a call, please hang up the –“

Argh. Try again. Press ZERO. Hello! I’m trying to make an appointment for my wife at the salon. No one answers and the receptionists keep sending me into an unstable region of space claimed by the Tholians. Or words to that effect. “Could you tell me if the salon is still there?”

“I can’t, I’m not there,” the receptionist said.

“Where are you? Chicago?”


“So running downstairs is pretty much out of the question.”

“I can connect you to a supervisor.”

“In Minnesota?”

“In Missouri.”

Great. Give me a supervisor, then. Someone in a blue robe with a pointy hat bedecked with moons and stars, carrying a staff. She can make anything happen, thanks to that supervisor necromancy.

I repeated my problem. She said she’d try to connect me with someone who could help. And get this: I was forwarded to an actual receptionist at the store I’d originally called. Wow. I almost gave her my phone number and bought the service contract on the spot. This receptionist said she’d try to connect me with someone who could help; please hold.


I restated my plight and asked: who might you be, my dear?

“Actually, this is wedding gift registry. They send calls here when they don’t know what else to do.”

God bless her: she took my name and number and promised to walk down to the salon in person. So a call that began 41 minutes before with a simple series of numbers punched into the phone had to route its way through Missouri – sorry, MASSOURAH – only to be shot back to the store, where a nice young lady who had better things to do personally walked the info down to the salon.

They did call me back, and explained that they’d had problems with their phones, company-wide. Big problems.

And they didn’t have any appointments.

I opened the phone book, selected a salon I recognized from a radio ad. Small joint. Got right in.

Lesson: from Best Buy to Marshall Field’s, it’s the same problem. One day a company is responsive, quick, savvy. Then one day it’s one percent bigger than it was before, and something happens. They’re the IRS. They’re the Pentagon. They’re an organization slowly ground into ruin by a thick busy level of managers, some of whom are in charge of extracting point-of-sale contact info, others who are going to make their bones on a store-wide phone-system overall. Elephants playing patty-cake.

I geek, you geek, he / she / it geeks. We geek, y’all geek, they geek. Geek:

I feel sorry for people who sniffed at Enterprise early on and tuned out. Of course, they were probably the same people who rolled their eyes at Deep Space Nine, think that every episode of the Next Generation was as good as “Inner Light,” and regard the original show as some pure & perfect product that only dipped a toe into the shallow pool of sucktitude once or twice. I admit, there have been bad patches for the Trek franchise – the idea that Voyager lasted seven years seems in retrospect a cruel jape – but overall, it’s not entirely bad TV, and if you want a connection to your inner 12 year old it rarely fails. And sometimes it provides unexpected dividends. This weekend I saw the most recent episode, part of the show’s big fourth-season Gift to the Fans before it all ends for good. It’s all cheese, but such large portions. Why not throw in the mirror-universe guys? Why not throw us back in bearded-Spock land before it all ends? The show was not only done from the perspective of the Bad-Federation guys, they redid the credits in a martial style, as if you were living in the mirror 2005 world watching sci-fi for your brutal, militaristic, fascist culture. Nice touch! And let us be honest: there was something so unRoddenberry about the opening sequence you almost wanted to stand up and cheer. The Vulcans land on ravaged Earth, descend down the ramp, make the V-sign, and it’s all straight out of the end of “First Contact” movie, right down to the farmer from Babe as Zephram Cochrane. (Don’t get me started on the idiocy of that bit of casting.) And he pulls out a piece and shoots the Vulcan: this is not your father’s Trek. So it’s going to be fun.

But the payoff. Oy. They get deep into Tholian space, and there it is: the Defiant, the ship last seen as a cheap special effect in 1969. So that’s where it went. Of course. Of course! I half expected floaty Kirk in his crappy space suit doing the Marcel Marceau routine, but maybe that’s in the next episode. Point is, this was a payoff for longtime fans the likes of which no other show can really do. There’s so much Trek lore built up over the years, but the original show had all primary texts; these last few shows of “Enterprise” are like finding a cave next to the Dead Sea Scrolls with commentary tracks from the original authors. There really isn’t any pop culture parallel to this; very few things lasted this long, had consistent tutelage (for better or worse, alas) and ended by going back to the beginning in a fashion that presumed foreknowledge of the future by the viewers, and withheld it from the characters. Wow. And thanks. And (sob.) I will miss it.

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