Once again, it’s the end of the week and I’m all written out.  Not one night this week have I hit the sofa for some quality TV before bed; each night I’ve had to content myself with the most meager of TV rations, usually a Simpsons I’ve seen 96 times already. (Interesting how the episodes that seemed proof of the Steep Decline look good, now that the Decline truly showed itself for real, and made the lackluster efforts look like heartfelt models of sparkling wit.) Last night, after all that blather, I finished something I’d started earlier in the day at the office. Actually, something I started last year. I’ve had a cliffhanger hanging out there for too long, and if I wanted to get the project going again I had to figure out what to do, how to end it. Once I realized what I loved about the project in the first place, it all came back – but I also credit the surroundings. I was in the room where I’d written the episodes before, and for some reason that worked.

So, yes: he returns next week. For a limited engagement or a regular daily feature again, I can’t say. And if you don’t know what I mean, then it doesn’t matter, and you needn’t feel bad for not caring.

Still no sign of snow. Never thought I’d root for snow. Beg for it. Cry to the hard steel skies to loosen its grip. I should be grateful; it’ll come, and it will take its time leaving, and in that interval almost half a year of my mortal allotment will pass. I’m disappointed in this year’s accomplishments, but I think I needed a year off. (And by “year off” I mean 400 columns, plus this site.) I have two book projects for next year, one already sold, the other a long-cooking idea I can’t shake.

It’s a murder mystery, set in 1947, the year the newspaper opened its new building:

Of all the ideas I’ve had in the last several years, it’s the only one that returns and asks to be written. The rest drift away of their own accord, chastened. But a post-war, cusp-of-the-fifties newspaper crime novel? Been working up to that for a long time.

Oh, crap: forgot to take out the recycling. Be right back.

There. Rest easy, dear Earth; I have done my part.

Had a moment of very bad parenting tonight. Gnat has a big spelling test tomorrow, and asked what would happen if she didn’t get all the answers right. Always a tricky question; you want to strike the right balance between encouragement and acceptance. In the past I’ve always told her I would be slightly disappointed if I thought she could get them right, and didn’t. It’s a weekly test, and she flies through the first ten words on the list. But they usually have “Super challenge Words,” and those are tougher – aquarium, perseverance, philtrum, antediluvian, et  cetera. (She got et cetera last week: that’s my girl.) Actually, only aquarium was a super-challenge word. This week it’s “presents” and “Celebration.” The latter is hard, what with the soft C and the counterintuitive “tion” spelling for “shun.” To say nothing of that second E, which could be any vowel. E is the trickster, it is.

Anyway, she asked what the consequences would be, and I said she’d go to her room for nine days. I said it with mock seriousness, of course. “No you wouldn’t,” she said. Oh, but I would. “What else?” You’d be in there with . . . snakes! “And what else?” Spiders. A room full of spiders. “Tarantulas?” Dozens. “We don’t have any tarantulas.” Well, I’ll have to order them. “So order them.” I will.

I picked up the phone.

Really call,” she said. So I pushed buttons. I faked a very good conversation with a tarantula supply house, if I may say so.

“Order two,” Gnat said. I waved her off: not now, hon, I’m on the phone.

“Credit card,” I said. “American Express.” I took out my wallet and read the numbers, complete with expiration date.

In retrospect, it was the expiration date that did it. Her shoulders shook and she got that look: what if it's true? And I could see this had suddenly turned REAL. I put the phone down and assured her I was not buying tarantulas for a nine-day imprisonment in her room if she failed to spell celebration. I assured her that my job was to save her from tarantulas, not have them delivered. I would throw myself into a swimming pool full of tarantulas to protect her.

“They’re just so hairy,” she said. I apologized again and we played the spider game, wherein my hand is a spider and her hand is a spider but my hand has no powers and her hand has all the powers including lightning.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done the fake-phone-call routine. It’s a standard bit. I’ve called the president to report that she didn’t finish her spaghetti. She never believed me – not because she doesn’t think I don’t have a line to the White House, but because she doesn’t think I’d use it for that. I always drop the bit when she says “no, Dad, really,” or “be serious!” But this time it the combination of .7% extra realism with 300X phobia struck with powerful force, and it turned wrong with sudden and horrible force. But hugs fixed it fast. Hugs, and tickling. And apologies. Never underestimate the power a heartfelt sorry has on a little heart.

They lose their power as the heart ages, as they should. It’s not a magic word.

Listening to the “Lost Highway” soundtrack now; never saw the movie – one of David Lynch’s more confusing efforts, I understand, and that’s saying quite a lot – but I will listen to anything by Angelo Badalamenti. He scores most of Lynch’s work, and it’s one of those perfect collaborations. Herrman / Hitchcock, John Barry / James Bond, John Williams / Lucas-Speilberg axis.

Just had to pass that along, for whatever reason. Anyway: week’s done, Bleatwise. New Quirk, and new Diner. (That's the MP3 link.) I’m not posting this to iTunes, since it’s an off-week number, and I’m weighing new hosting options. It’s the first of a three-parter, more or less, and contains some extreme violence done to holiday standard. Yes, that’s me, and no, it’s not a real guitar, but a keyboard version.

One more thing: it seems I’m up for a weblog award. You can vote here. I would love to beat Andrew Sullivan, not because I have any animus towards him, but because he’s backed by Time magazine, and this is a go-it-alone operation paid for by yours truly. Heck, if I win, I might even get listed on the Star-Tribune’s page of staff blogs. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head.

Have a fine weekend! See you Monday.