Apple Store window, Mall of America

Downtown, Sunday afternoon. Gnat is at a swimming party at the train station. (There’s something that wouldn’t have made much sense when the place was built. Or twenty years ago, for that matter.) The last surviving train station downtown sat empty for many years, as one development idea came and went. Farmer’s Market! Shopping Mall! International Bazaar! Hacky-Sack arena! Eventually they gathered the scratch to save the place; the waiting room was turned into a meeting hall, available for weddings and parties, and the great shed was converted into an ice-skating rink. Marriot put up a hotel next door, with a waterpark. I’d never been inside until today. I mean, I’d never been in the train station. I visited the Great Northern once before it was wrecked, but this one has particular meaning; this is where my dad laid over after leaving Fargo as a 15-year old, en route to the War. (Yes, 15.) The hotel has a wonderful interior, all done in Late Train. Huge posters from the Golden Era of Rail Travel line the walls; there’s an “interpretive center” that has a map of the routes from the 40s, and some dishes from the dining car:

It’s all very gorgeous, but it’s a centotaph, a marker for a dead thing. I still think travel was better when you entered a city at eye level instead of dropping down from God’s cellar. And I will also fly rather than take the train, because it just takes too long.

The next two weeks will see diminished posting, followed by a week off after Christmas; deadlines at the office means I will have to double production for a while, and that means I must turn in 12 columns next week. Sounds ridiculous? I suppose. But this means I will withhold crucial material, like Friday’s mishap (backed the car into the garage door again) and Saturday’s disaster (Gnat had a party; 10 little girls; toilet upstairs malfunctioned, water through the ceiling. Joy). Everything must be turned to Stakhonovite production demands.

Calm day downtown; no gunfire or riots or public beatings or armies of shambling drunks micturating on one another; imagine that. Although en route to downtown, I noticed something unusual over downtown: A MUSHROOM CLOUD.

Damn. I hate when that happens. (Usual steam from the downtown power plants, in case you’re curious.)

Watched “Fantastic Four.” What did I think? Well, you have to understand that I grew up with this comic. In the Kirby era. Spidey was my favorite, but I really couldn't argue that the FF was the "World's Greatest Comic," because it had a quality no other solo or team feature could match. Even though decades have passed I feel great kinship and affection for the characters, their adventures and histories.

So I’m not really the target market for the movie.

And if I can just say: Jessica Alba looks shiny and overinflated, like she’d fly around the room and end up as an empty bag of skin in the corner if she pricked her finger. Lousy job in this movie too. Everything was lousy, except for the Thing.

Oh, and EW has a Narnia cover this week, so nevermind. Off to get Gnat; later.

Later. Oh, my.

The birthday party had moved up to the arcade above the pool. Chuck E. Cheese’s without the fun or value. A small selection of token-operated machines, and the tokens cost three for a dollar; most machines took two, and spat out no more than three tickets for a high score. The items in the display case went for 500 tickets. Mind you, this is a hotel. As if kids are going to come back year after year attempting to get that cheap dead-eyed plastic doll for 500 tickets, which would cost your folks about $175. Jeez. On the other hand, they had air hockey, and Gnat was playing as I arrived. One of the dads remarked on Gnat’s eye-hand coordination. I credit the computer; I also credit the fact that we play air hockey at Chuck E. Fargin’, and I play to win. This way she learns how to play, and it’s more fun when she wins. (I also play to lose, but I try to hide that.)

The party was over, and I took Gnat off to see the rest of the train station. Earlier I’d discovered that main waiting room was open, and I’d entered – feeling as though I would be discovered and asked to leave – and took some pictures. (The image at the top of the page is the old waiting room. They'd cleared out the chairs by the time I went back with Gnat.)

But of course:
My dad walked through this room on the way to war; he walked through it on the way back. And now I stood in the middle, swinging his granddaughter around at the end of a year whose very name would have sounded like a pulp-fiction invention. 2005. He would have walked out that door I thought when I first went in the hall; he must have been with a pal, because someone took a picture of him, and got it to him later. The photo sat in a drawer in the living room, and I knew it by heart before I knew where it was taken. As a kid I thought it was Fargo; I thought any city picture was Fargo. Now I can fix the details in the background – the globe lights by the Federal Building, the Ritz-Minnesota hotel two blocks down. But I might have missed even that if he hadn’t told me he shipped out from this station – and as usual, it was one of those things Greatest Generation Dads mention only in passing. We were standing on an island in the middle of the Mississippi on my wedding day, and there was smoke rising from the area of the depot. I said I hoped it wasn’t the train station. He said that was the station where he’d changed trains en route to basic training. Later, when I saw the photo again, I knew what it meant.

Now here I was with Gnat. Had the room entirely to ourselves. Christmas music was playing overhead, and not at muzak level, either: it filled every corner of the grand space.

“Would you like to dance?”

She bit on her hair. “I’m kinda shy,” she said.

“There’s no one here. No one will see us.”

“Is it okay to be here?”

“Sure is. This is where Grandpa Lileks came when he was young, right here.”

“To dance?”

“Not exactly. C’mon. Let’s go.”

We walked to the middle of the waiting room, alone except for the ghosts, and danced.