About the picture above: when do you think it was printed? World War Two, obviously. But when exactly? If this was 1942, she’d be looking at him, and he’d be staring off into the distance, contemplating Duty and the Job Ahead. There would be some trepidation in her face, but it would shine with Love and Hope, and her smile would say she was just happy he was here now. The tableaun would imply that the rest of the family was somewhere around; into the picture at any moment might stroll the Homefront Forties Mother, grain-sack solid with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, or Proud Father, with his brown suit and blue tie and pipe. (If he had tales of his own experience as a Curfew Warden, he knew enough to keep them to himself while the Boy was home.) That would have been the ad in 1942, when the end of the war was nowhere in sight.

But this was 1944. The great concatenation of flesh and metal had rolled East and West, punched and pounded and burned and died and staggered up and rolled on again. The war would be over soon, and here’s the payoff: the Man is looking to his sweetheart, who’s looking to the world to come. A house with a white fence and white kids and a kitchen where she make pie for the family supper. The husband will trade in one uniform for the other. Life will be wonderfully, gloriously ordinary again. That’s what she’s dreaming about.

Specifically, she’s dreaming about a Kelvinator.

Imagine living in a world where the war could be over, and you could dare to think about new appliances.

Tonight was Chuck E. Fargin’ night, and credit where credit be due: they’ve changed the pizza recipe. It’s at least 19% less inedible. It’s hotter, saucier, and no longer resembles a circular wad of damp newspaper colored in pizza hues with melted crayons. The perimeter of the crust is crisp. It was this way last time as well, but I didn’t see the point in mentioning it, since any bad kitchen can screw up and make something good. But two in a row? In a standardized environment like Chuck’s? They changed the recipe. I regard this an act of pure altruism, since they didn’t have to do it. Kids would demand to be taken to Chuck E. Cheese’s if the pizza consisted of Velveeta, Hunt’s ketchup and a melted Frisbee.

When we entered we went straight to the machine with the progressive jackpot. Catch the light between the goalposts, win the prize. I won the jackpot once before, and had developed a system; don’t look directly at the light. Infer its position with your peripheral vision. Use the Force, Luke. And I’ve done it this way for months, no matter how bystanders react: he’s turned off his targeting scanner! But I’ve never gotten the jackpot again. This time I put in a token, noted the jackpot - 114 tickets – and slapped it at random.

Ding ding ding ding ding ding.

Winner! But I already knew that. Gnat and I had the whole day together, because school was adjourned for teacher training. (You know, just like the newspaper doesn’t arrive some days because everyone’s in Newspaper training, or the electricity cuts out because they’re all getting lessons in power generation.) It’s adjourned Friday as well. She woke me up by bursting into the room and taunting me with a phrase I taught her last night: YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOSE. I was reminded at once how inaccurate the phrase truly is; there is so much to be gained by snoozing. “Let me lose some more, hon,” I said.


But I was up. She spent most of the morning constructing some imaginary tableau with the Barbie Brigades and the My Little Ponys; I wrote my column, made her lunch, and then we tested this cheap little game that plugs into your TV and lets you have Interactive Adventures with the Jaggy Pixel Twins. (I have to review the thing for the paper.) Then we went off to the Halloween store to get stuff for the Triangle party. I brought my camcorder, because I haven’t shot enough for this month’s movie, and getting footage of Gnat bouncing around the fake-wound aisle seemed like a seasonal thing.
“I’m sorry,” said the clerk, “you’re not supposed to take pictures in the store.”

I gave her the look that says “wha?” on every continent in every period of human history. A mild version of it, but still “wha?”

“It’s because of the competition,” she said, apologetically. I wanted to say “competition? Ma’am, this is a busted-down crap-shack in a 1950s strip mall, and anyone who sends secret agents to see if you’re beating their price on cheap Chinese-made plastic Freddy Krugar fedoras has more problems than an infinitesimal price disadvantage.”

But I just said “I’m not the competition. I’m a guy who wants to take pictures of his kid shopping for a costume.”

“Well, we don’t know that,” she said.

True. I could have rented the kid. She could be a robot I got from Q down in the supply room, and her eyes are actually scanning barcodes and uploading the data to HQ. Oy. There were three other customers, and two of them were talking on their cell phones. It’s possible they were also members of the CIA sent to infiltrate the PartyAmerica store. I was tempted to get out my phone and start reading off prices, just to see if they’d ask me to stop talking as well. I understand; it’s their store, and hence their rules. But jeez. Jeez.

Then we went to Target, where I shot miles of tape; then  home for piano practice. The goal this week was to get Gnat to play Twinkle Twinkle with both hands, which is not as easy as it sounds – the left hand accompaniment is tough. It’s taken a while, but she has the first part down. I took my nap – 18 blissful minutes, attained without effort – and off to Chuck’s. Now here. An interesting weekend ahead; my Dad is driving down for the NoDak Bison game at the Metrodome, after which we’ll have dinner.

It’ll be good to see him.  That was him in the picture above, in a way, and I suppose that was my mother. That was their world; that was their dream, and it came true.

That’ll happen sometimes, if you play it right. Oh: here's the Kelvinator text.


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c. 2006 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."