Back! But it hasn’t felt like a vacation at all. The Fourth in particular was hell-mell action – my wife volunteered to help coordinate the neighborhood park picnic, and that meant I was on duty for strange and curious chores heretofore not experienced. With my French brother-in-law I manned the big inflatable slide for an hour, taking tickets and sending kids up the big wobbly wall. They never stopped. One after the other, groups of two, knots of three, tots in parent’s arms, gangly tweens. But that was the end of the festival duties, after set-up, after kid-sitting, after a back-busting job getting kegs of root beer out of a guy’s trunk, after the great & fabled Parade of Bikes. It stretched from the high school, across busy 50th – a police escort held traffic – down to Jasperwood territory, up the hill around the tall concrete watertower surrounded with glowering crusaders protecting our vital essences, back across the busy street, ending in the park. Face painting, hot dogs grilled to the consistency of brine-soaked dowels, bean-bag tossing. Many dogs alert for new exotic canine apertures; a million kids, a few flags. There was a band, and the closest they got to an actual “American” song was Springsteeen’s “My Home Town,” a sad hymn to deindustrialization. Happy Fourth!

Ah well. None of the kids in the band was alive when the song was released; for them, it’s Woody Guthrie.  This synth kills fascists. After the park, home to prepare for the Jasperwood gathering; that went until late. Of course I saved some fireworks for later, so I could sit on the lawn in the dark with Gnat and watch them together. Jasper bore it well this year; he tore apart an entire closet trying to hide, but at least he didn’t walk around crying for three hours. I think he snuck an entire Polish off someone’s plate, and given the size and spice quotient he may have tottered off with the dog-equivalent of a college freshman who ate an entire peyote button.

That was the Fourth. Like all fine holidays, it pales in the retelling; what counts is the rituals, the friends, the measured pace of the day, the blissful moment when the adults are chatting around cocktails and sodas while the kids scamper in the gloaming. Eventually the adults start slapping themselves when the skeeters attack, and we all look like some strange slo-mo folk dance routine, slapping the leg, the arm, the leg again, the neck the arm the leg the neck. Film it, speed it up, set it to music, and you have the Upper Midwest Riverdance.

The day before the Fourth I took Gnat to the Mall of America. She wanted to visit the amusement park; my wife was getting everything ready for the picnic and the party, so off we went. In the parking ramp I discovered that I’d forgotten my glasses. I only brought sunglasses. I’d be walking around inside all day with sunglasses on. This works if you are A) blind, or B) Roy Orbison.

I told Gnat that people would think I was famous.

“Teenagers won’t,” she said.

“How do you know?”

She just shrugged. They’d know.

I hadn’t been to the MOA since they deSnoopified the amusement area. Charlie Brown was replaced by . . . nothing. But the thrill-theater now sports a Hanna-Barbera attire. You strap into a chair and stare helpless at an IMAX-sized cartoon while the chair jerks around from side to side, simulating the action. Premise: Dastardly and Muttley, two lousy characters from the crapedy-arsed H-B “Wacky Races / Penelope Pitstop” series, have kidnapped Elroy Jetson, and they’re leading you and Yogi through the Hanna-Barbera universe. Which consists mostly of tired characters in vehicles attempting to get out of your way.  First you’re in Bedrock, but it’s the cleaned-up version; no Ann Marg-rock, no Fred and Barney sucking back a Winston after a hard day in the quarry. Then you’re in Scooby-Doo land, which inherently generates such a sucktitude field people’s shirt-buttons detach and ping off the screen, and then  -

Oh holy uniblab, it’s the Jetsons level.

I don’t particularly care for the Jetsons show – most of it is drivel, like most of HB – but the look off the show was another matter. When you splash up that early-60s futurism on the giant screen and blare out that manic frenzied intro to the Jetsons theme, you get a Happy Me.  In a dark theater. With sunglasses.

We stayed for four hours; we ate at Johnny Rockets, where perhaps my sunglasses fit in. Towards the end the deafening roar of the Mall – it’s omnipresent, incessant, like a tide that never recedes – had taken its toll, and I was in a bit of a sharp mood. So we hit the bumpercars. Daddy is good at bumpercars. The trick isn’t to aim for anyone . . . not right away. You spin away from the madding crowd, get some speed, and then head back into the surging strife, and WHAM, welcome to Whiplashville, population EVERYONE. We staggered out on Jell-O legs; she had a donut, and I had a cup of coffee. By now the bumpercars and the noise and the strain of looking through old prescription sunglasses and crowds and the meat-bolus in my gut and the CROWDS, the plodding lugubrious mass of Swollen-Americans, plus the noise, had erased my sense of self and place, and I could do nothing but follow Gnat to the ride she intended to cap our trip. Once in line, she discovered she didn’t have her wrist-band pass. Well, it’s probably in my camera bag.

Hello: where’s my camera bag?

With the nice fancy Canon camera?

And the HD camcorder?

It’s not around my shoulder.

Back we ran to the spot where I’d sat for coffee. There it was. God bless Minnesota: where luggage can be safely unattended. But her wrist-band pass wasn’t in the bag. Retrace: where else had we gone? The Apple Store, of course. They had it behind the counter. All was well. She did one last ride, and we staggered home. I took a brief nap, and the moment I laid face down on the bed I felt like Dastardly and Muttley were beating me with hammers.

That evening I wrote a column, then settled down to watch the HD broadcast of “2001.” It’s one of those odd-even movies – I watch it, I love it, I watch it again, I’m bored and impatient. I love Kubrick; he annoys me. I’m want to go back to his obits and see if his cause of death was a tracking shot. He moved the camera in the middle of a scene, and apparently, it did kill him.

This time I loved it, because I was seeing it as an Influence on subsequent sci-fi. You can trace everything back to the astro-porn of the early third, I think. And if you’re in the mood to see it all as sheer romantic beauty, that’s what it is. Next time I’m sure I’ll snark it to ribbons while I watch.

Speaking of revised opinions: the first Burton “Batman” movie hit the HD channels the other day, and of course I had to watch. Hadn’t seen it in a while. I think I’m closing in on a final verdict: a product of the times that doesn’t hold up in the end. The script has the fingerprints of a dozen confounding voices, and nearly every spoken word not uttered by the main characters clangs like a manhole cover. Keaton’s good, although his performance shrinks with time. Kim Basinger is all hair, but remarkably lovely; it’s an instant classic beauty, but not the sort of beauty you could have predicted anyone would have. Robert Wuhl is horrible, but I suspect that was a collaborative project with the director. Billy Dee Williams is in full Lando-grease mode. Horrible. Nicholson is Jack, but Famous Jack, not Actor Jack. Compare the Joker to Jake in “Chinatown” – it’s the difference between a jazz quartet and a whoopee cushion. Burton either lets him act stupid or makes him act stupid; in the end, it doesn’t matter. In the end it’s the art direction and Elfman’s score – that scene-killing belltower waltz aside - that keep the enterprise aloft. We ate it up at the time, of course, because it wasn’t camp. It wasn’t Batusi Batman.
But it’s almost camp now.

There are rumors Robin Williams might play the Joker in the next Batman movie. My initial instinct is to scream NO; that is also instincts 2 through 74, but if the same director handled the project, and made the Joker very rotten and very evil, it could work. But the minute the Joker puts on the Patch Adams nose and talks about the “healing power of laughter,” I’m out of there.

WHY AM I STILL WRITING? Good Lord, it’s late, and I have a column to write. About what, I’ve no idea, so I’d best get to it. See tomorrow, with more of the same and a new Diner. New Quirk today, for what it’s worth. Thanks for your patience this week, and I’ll see you on Friday.

Oh, and that British survey that showed how the English think we're crass and vulgar? I'll see your wager. And raise you. (NSFW.)