Scene: the Pier One store on 66th Av South. Time: 6:14. It’s a quiet evening in the store; the clerks have some time to chat and stock and clean away the stuff behind the register that accumulates during the shift. The Holiday stock is in, and my, wasn’t that a bear getting it all up? But they’re ready for the season, and ready for another slow Thursday night. Not as bad as Friday, although sometimes you get a rush; you never can tell.

Traffic is heavy outside – everyone heading home. A long parade of white lights and red. Seems just like the other day when it was dusk at this time, and it certainly doesn’t seem so long since it was bright and warm. Time goes so quickly, doesn’t it? Hard to tell the days apart, that’s the sad part. You look back and there’s hardly anything to distinguish one from the next. Oh, there’s the big days when there’s the sale, the hectic days when new stock comes in, but otherwise, it’s just a candle here, a pillow there.

One of the clerks is walking towards the door, and she notices a man running across the parking lot. Running? Who runs to Pier One?

He bursts in the door.

“I need a treasure box,” he says. “And I need some treasure.”

Earlier that day:

I woke late, aware something was wrong. My morning antennae are well-tuned, and if I’m not up by a certain time I know something’s off. Well, it was; my wife was laid down low by the cold, and overslept, which meant Gnat overslept, which means we had five minutes to get dressed, fed, and on the bus. (We made it.) My wife slumped off to the clinic, and I got to work on the various things that needed my attention. When Gnat came home from school we practiced her piece again, ten times; we’d done ten times a day for the last week, and sometimes I think that just makes the unalterable errors set in stone. Some things the fingers just will not do. But she had been terrified of the piece two weeks ago, and now had it down nicely, and with a certain amount of music feeling. I’d rather she made mistakes while playing music than banged it out like a 19th century clockwork automaton.

Then we played Tengos, read a Chuck E. Cheese comic book together (I did not know that he had an arch-enemy: Rot N. Rodent) and practiced some more. Then everyone got into ceremonial clothes and headed off to the school for the recital.

“Were you supposed to bring the book?” my wife asked. D’oh. Of course I was. One of the ensemble pieces used the sound-effects function of the keyboards, and the kids have to play certain keys; they’re denoted by symbols. I forgot the book with the symbols. I organized a spare in short notice – crisis averted. We took our seats, and the program began. I looked down the list to see where she was – near the end, a few places before the ensemble piece. Of course they would begin with a song, as usual; “Adventurous Kids.”

“We’re kids!
The Adventurous Kids!
The Ones!
Who Fly!” etc. It’s very cute, and when it comes to certain lyrics the kids act out with gestures or display a prop. One kid had a spyglass, another a volcano (over which the Adventurous Kids flew,) and Gnat had her little cedar chest from Treasure City, the one we filled with polished rocks at summer’s end en route to the lake. When the kids sang “All the treasures of the earth” she would open the tiny chest and grin; it was adorable.

That’s when I saw the chest, sitting at home on her desk.

“Were you supposed to bring the chest?” my wife asked.

Gnat’s eyes grew wide. “DAD!”

I stood. I put on my coat.

“I can make it,” I said. “I can.”

I ran down three flights of stairs, wondering if I could indeed make it. Of course I would. The concert lasted an hour. There were three groups. Two groups preceded hers, with an average of 12 kids per group. Figure in transit time getting kids to and from the piano, applause, teacher’s remarks – this was doable. After all, we’d made it to the school in 18 minutes . . .but that was going against the incoming traffic; I’d be stuck on 50th, unless I swung deep through Edina and looped up to the house. DRIVE! GO! FLOOR IT!

I learned one thing: the Element can corner. But after 10 minutes I realized this was no good – the average length of a recital pieces was 17 seconds, and they’d be finished with the first group by now. Then I had a brainstorm: Pier One. It was blocks away. They’d have something. I screeched into the parking lot and sprinted for the door. A clerk was crossing the entrance area just as I burst in.

“I need a treasure box,” I panted. “And I need some treasure.”

I explained the story as quickly as I could. She understood. We found the first in 20 seconds, located a bag of gold-painted stones in 20 more seconds, and headed to the register.

“Can I have your phone number and area code?” she said. Slowly. All of a sudden she was made of official molasses. One of the items didn’t scan, so she tried to enter the SKU manually . . .which required getting out some glasses on a pendant . . . and reading three numbers then typing them in . . . then reading three more . . . then typing them . . . in, and at this point I was tempted to toss a hundred dollar bill at her and bolt out the door. But I was out in another minute, back in the Element, and charging back to the school.

I made it with three minutes to spare. I had neglected to consider that the box of rocks was as heavy as, well, a box of rocks, so while the last kid played his piece I dumped the rocks into my lap, scrunched the plastic bag in which they came, pushed it in the box and covered it with rocks. The rest of the rocks went into my pocket, where I will no doubt find them two weeks hence when I wear the coat again. Up she went to the front of the room, Treasure Box in hand. On cue, she opened it up, and the rocks shone in the light. Mission accomplished.

I love being a dad; I really do.

New today: Bolivian money, which I scribbled out at high speed after the recital, and brand-new spanking Diner. Art-embedded link below; plain-vanilla MP3 here.

One more boring note:

Because of the recital I wasn’t able to do my regular spot on the show run by Christianist gasbag Spew Spewitt – as his friends call him – so I’ll be appearing tomorrow at 6:40 CST, with guest host Mark Steyn. That should be fun. I don’t think the Kerry flap will be current then, but it does have legs – I noted today on Little Green Futbols that Charles, the proprietor, disagreed with my take, and even stooped so low as to call me “Mr. Genial.” Hey! Cycle up to Minnesota and say that, pal. At the risk of adding to the Great Polarization that has riven the blogosphere in twain, I do have something else to add – and do so only because I know a little something about speechifying. Again, this is just my take. I fully admit that I might be waaaaay off base here, but:

The fact that the prepared text differed greatly from what Sen. Kerry actually said doesn’t surprise me. If he was reading from a TelePrompter, I’d be surprised, because you are the slave of the scrolling text. But when you have prepared remarks on paper you frequently depart, paraphrase, improvise. I will be the MC for the Minnesota Youth Symphonies concert on Sunday (my co-host: Miss Minnesota. Really) and I will have in my hand when I take the stage the remarks I intend to make. In nearly every instance I will say something else, something based on what’s before me on the page, something I may have changed at the last minute in my head. Sometimes you look at the block of text that’s coming next, and you download the gist in a second, then you look up and speak your impression of what you read. This is not an elaborate justification – I’m just telling you how it works sometimes. From my experience, anyway.

Subject closed. Let's see - five bleats, six newspaper columns, six pages of Fargo, eight pages of new Curious Lucre, a matchbook and a 32-minute radio show: I've done my part. Have a great weekend; enjoy the Diner, if so inclined. Thanks for the visits, and I’ll see you Monday.