This is a change: I’m at an entirely different coffee shop – in the evening. Really mixing it up here. Cuttin’ loose. Maybe tonight I’ll brush my teeth front to back. I’m here because I’ve been home for days and enjoy the occasional respite from Jasperwood, and because I had to go to Target to make the Christmas cards. Popped the card in the machine, chose a design – Santa gutting a Salvation Army bell-ringer like a deer – and punched in the text. The screen said they’d be ready at 6:48 PM. What a country. Since I had only 15 minutes of shopping to do, I got back in the car, drove to Taco Bell, had A Taco while reading, the paper’s new youth oriented tabloid. Same middle-aged writers as the regular paper, as far as I can tell. But I should talk. Finished the newspaper about the same time as the second taco, then read a little of the new Stephen King book. It’s perhaps the first in which neither the premise nor the characters have any particular hook. I don’t even know what the premise is, although I trust it will reveal itself. But it’s full of the usual ticks, including the Stock Phrases uttered by various characters. The widow passes some power-line towers and notes that her dead husband "liked to call (them) 'UFO refueling stations,'" and you wonder: did he really? How? "Honey, there' a kite stuck in the UFO refueling station." Or perhaps they were driving along, and he pointed to the power-lines and said "UFO refueling stations!" for the nine thousandth time, and she gritted her teeth: t'warn't funny the first time, pal.

I don’t know anyone who has a stock phrase, let alone repeats it or recalls it three times in the course of an afternoon. Sometimes that works; the creepy guy in “The Stand” (you know, that one) who said “How about that Happy Crappy?” still sticks in my mind, as does the deathless defication-related sobriquet that cranky old man used in “Christine.” But this book’s main character uses “Smuck” for its fricative twin – smuck you, smucking smuck, et cetera. I don’t like the narrator and her dead husband annoys me. We’ll see. (Insert written later: while assembling the Fargo update, I had cause to recall that my father called the Great Northern railroad the "Great Snortin'." So there's that. But did he always say it? No. Did he say it once, and it stuck? Perhaps. I should also note that if the book was that disappointing, I wouldn't be taking it outside to read by porch light while I had a cigar. So there's that.)

“Imperium” petered out as well – it was two! two! two novels in one, really,  a double-shot of law cases, and didn’t deal with Cicero’s later years. But it was still a fine read, and I was sad to see it go.

Then it was back to Target. Bought some wrapping paper and bows, because God knows we don’t have enough smucking bows, and picked up a few Easy-Bake items for complete gender-role reinforcement. Got coffee. It was on sale. I saved 50 cents on a pound. Then I came here and spent two dollars on one cup. Foolish’s the name! Penford Foolish. Call me Penny. I’m stuck in the back of the café by the only power outlet in the joint, a fact that really dates this Caribou: it was built before they presumed half the clientele would bring in laptops. The young kids in love at the adjacent table have a laptop, and they’re –


Oh, whew. I’ll explain in a second. They’re looking at photos for their Christmas card. Designing it by hand. The eCRAPulation above was due to the sudden conviction I’d forgotten my camera card in the Target machine, but no, it’s right here. I do wonder how many people leave the cards, and how many peculiar things the employees find. I image the image-reader’s cache file must have many amusing thumbnails, particularly if the camera was in the hands of a five year old. Any five-year old will take a picture of his butt. Put five-year olds in charge of the Hubble, and they’d find a way to photograph the dark side of all the planets.

It should be colder out; it was in the mid-50s today, and rained quite a bit. When the rain let up I fixed the lights that had fallen down the previous day and put up some more. I sorted all my wife’s photographs; she had fewer pictures than I did, which made it easy. I finished digitizing the 1997 Diners, which was an annoying job, but now I have 40 hours or so ready to be quietly released with no particular fanfare next year. Dating each episode was difficult; sometimes Jeremy put the show’s subject on the cart (one simply says “Satan”) but most of them have no dates. Most, however, have snippets of the news, and by getting the top-of-the-hour stories I could usually find the date. (Thank you Wikipedia, which has entries on the exact day a 1997 Hurricane was downgraded. What a wonderful world.) I listened to the 1944 playlist and tried not to read too much of the web, as it depresses the blood these days. Then I picked Gnat up from the bus stop, and we walked up the hill to the house. Piano practice, and homework; a Barbie dressed in a custom outfit send in by a Bleat reader sat on the sofa and watched as she did the last bit of academic busywork for the day. Then I napped.

Why do you nap? she asked.

Because I can, I said. I could have said I stayed up too late and couldn’t sleep because, honest to God, I laid awake for ten minutes worrying about the Fate of Western Civilization, which feels both pointless and self-indulgent (me, not Western Civ, although now that I think of it . . . no, not yet) and then I had a bad dream in which I had two days left to live, and was weeping because you’d never remember me. But I said “I stayed up late and go up early, that’s why.”

“Watching a movie,” she said with a slight twist, a tone that will make a husband’s shoulders slump slightly 30 years from now, as he attempts to explain that it wasn’t a movie, and he didn’t watch the whole thing, but then he thinks better of it.

Now it’s time to go back home and finish other projects; this is not going to be a long night of endless work. Taking it easy: no writing after midnight. 


Later. Sixty-five minutes to midnight. I have made the coffee for tomorrow, made Gnat’s lunch to her exacting and ever-shifting specifications (crust is now acceptable; jelly is out, since it blobs up and gets gross) and finished the Fargo addition, such as it is. One more thing before I quit: according to a recent Doug Grow column, Porky’s drive-in wants to build a new location in Minneapolis, but residents are balking. As residents are wont to do. They fear noise, grafitti, litter, etc. Keep in mind that this is not a sylvan enclave in which the soft sound of butterfly wings can be heard at high noon. It’s Central and 19th. Anyone who moves into a neighborhood next to a street called CENTRAL ought to expect a certain amount of urban grit, no? Surely a business that hires people and dispenses hot savory meat-divots ought to be a good thing, especially since it’s not a McDonald’s, which as we know sends armies of red-and-yellow clowns into the Amazon to chop down rain forests.

You’d think it would be a case of a businessman buying some commercially zoned land and building a store, but no: the City Planning Commission had to rule on the matter, and they turned the owner down. The City Council overruled them, however. No, that’s not right: the planning and zoning committee of the City Council overruled them. Now the Council itself has to approve the drive-in. This should give you an idea of what it takes to start a business in this town; there’s an ice-cream shop in my neighborhood that missed its first summer because the city held up its signage approval. Because it is simply not possible for a bureaucrat to drive over on a nice June morning, look at the unobtrusive sign, say “oh, sure, that’s fine,” and let the store open before ice-cream season ends.

Anyway: in order for the drive-in to open, the owner – a fellow with the deeply resonant ur-Minnesota name of Trygve Truelson – must promise not to encourage classic car caravans to show up. That’s what got him in trouble in the St. Paul version of Porky’s, which was the last remaining embassy of the 50s drive-in chain. People drove classic cars to the place. Long gleaming parades of brilliant metal. Smooth hoods and put-your-eye-out tailfins, chrome trim, hand-scrubbed whitewalls, big American Deetroit engines chuffing and revving, roaring to life, and muttering into silence with the occasional ill-tuned KNOCK, the auto equivalent of the brash gunslinger stranger at the bar with the poorly-stitched britches shooting a wad of chaw-slop at the bright brass spittoon.

Can’t have that. Such things are fine, in context. Say, a book about classic cars. Say, a show at the State Fairgrounds once a year. Say, a director’s cut DVD of “American Graffiti.” The actual thing is too messy and loud and scary, and rather than ask them to shut down at midnight, let’s just ban it. Apparently the new model of urban living requires peace and quiet; the city is a not a communal endeavor that occasionally issues a great roiling yawp on a summer night, but a gentle thing, and if it has animalistic inclinations we must be there with the shushing finger: hush.

Odd that some of the most desirable neighborhoods are in the Southwest, where every minute of every day is conducted under the roar of airplanes growling down from on high.

Fie. If they wanted to build a Porky’s six blocks from Jasperwood – there’s a spot – I’d kill to get the honor to turn the first spade of dirt.

This is Porky’s:

And just to repeat, this is their creed:

Not EAT in your car; that would be barbaric. Dine in your car, with music pulled in from the ether through the silver pole on your hood. Or you can roll down your window, inhale the perfume of combustion, listen to the symphony of pistols, and chew your processed cow like God and George Washington meant you to do. I mean, damn, people. It’s a city.

New Fargo, which is also a city, and which also put in regulations about cruising past the neon marquees on Broadway during the weekend. And new Quirk, which is about something or other. I forget. Oh: flu news I ripped off from Instapundit.

Thanks for stopping by! More tomorrow.