It’s a test, I think. A celestial test: can we feel “the Christmas spirit” without the requisite accumulation of crystallized precipitation? I went to Southdale tonight, and inside the high mall walls it certainly looked like Christmas. Holly and giant ornaments and Santa’s Castle and gigantic posters of Giselle coolly contemplating the promise of a good bra for a holiday gift. But no one wore a parka; the entryways didn’t have the usual gritty black pools of melted dirt-flecked snow; the pictures of snowmen sleds looked as peculiar as they’d look in Hawaii, because outside it was drizzly, foggy, and forty-two degrees.  It feels as if some council has convened and decided to forgo snow this year, and the decision will not be appealed.

And we’re fine with that.

Really. Most of us, anyway. The winter enthusiasts grumble, but everyone knows January will come down hard. It only takes a day. It only takes one storm and we’re locked in white for months. For those of us who don’t snowmobile or schuss it’s a boon, a gift: any month in which you don’t get snow down the back of your neck has something to be said in its favor.

The trip to the mall was not fruitful. Got a few things, including the vapors, at which point I recalled that I hadn’t had supper yet. I’d taken Gnat to choir, sat in the church basement and read while she had pizza with her chums, then driven to the Mall. I had thought about getting a taco, then I recalled the plague of blurtus eruptus striking down Taco Bell patrons, so I figured I’d eat at the Mall. But Southdale has a wretched food court – a Burger King staffed by blunt unfriendly clerks, a Great American Steak and Fry McGreasery that never, ever gets my order right, a Sbarro (our pizza is ironed flat every hour!) and an Asian place that serves up seven kinds of glop. Plus a Subway. Then I remembered: on the other end of the Mall, near Penney’s, there’s an Arby’s.

Call me one of those mad-bad-dangerous-to-know types, but I like Arby’s. And Wendy’s. And Dr. Pepper. A rebel. I had a Reuben, and it was decent enough. I read a Weekly Standard article on Philip Johnson, and for a moment I was completely content. Because all I really wanted to do at that moment was eat corned beef and read about Philip Johnson, and that’s exactly what I was doing. Twenty-five years ago it would have felt rather lonely, but I didn’t have a wife and child then. Twenty-five years ago I would have felt Noble And Alone, Thinking About Art, which somehow would’ve made the experience less pathetic.

A few rows away there was a young man slorking up soda from a cup. He was sprawled out with his legs in the aisle, and his demeanor said deprived of manners and intellectual pursuits, I must assert my individuality by assuming territorial control over a portion of a largely deserted food emporium. He did not having reading material. Just as I would hate to take a meal alone without something to read, I’m sure he would regard the necessity of a magazine or book as ridiculous, and a sign of dorktitude.

A young woman in Arby’s livery came along to mop the floor; he withdrew his legs quickly and sat up straight. He waited until she left, then he slid, ever so slowly, back into position.

I went to Penney’s, which has everything in Spanish as well. All the signs. Spanish. I’m surprised the marquee doesn’t say Penney’s / Pesos. I found nothing, and moved on. I hit Bath and Body Works, which provides the various Scent Profiles for my life, and discovered that the overpriced C. W. Bigelow line has added “Bay Rum” cologne and aftershave balm. I tried some. It’s manly. It’s damn manly. Makes Mr. Peepers feel like Hemingway, it does. It’s a real alpha-male smell, but in the old-school sense. At some point the alpha-aroma became associated with musky bilge or pungent Hai-Karate type scents that indicated dominance – but only because the possessor obviously had no subordinates or associations who dared point out the fact that he had overclocked his smell-chip.  Even those guys, however, respect the Bay Rum. It has that classic hats ‘n’ gats connotation. It’s the kind of smell that says “I shot a Marlin with Bogart then kissed Bacall when he wasn't looking. And she liked it.”

I bought some. Then I left the mall and headed to the Element, which waited under a fog-shrouded parking lot light. Drove around on some other errand, listening to Hugh Hewitt, who seemed depressed. It was about Iran and Israel, I gathered; another day, another speech threatening to wipe Israel off the map. It’s interesting: if the Holocaust “conference” decides that the Holocaust didn’t happen, well, then the justification for Israel is specious and founded on lies, and the mullahs are justified in redressing a mistake. I have the awful feeling that terms, conditions and justifications are being set right before our eyes, and the putative leaders seem unwilling to acknowledge what most canny observers infer.

It’ll all make horrible sense. In retrospect.

I have more, but I have to get to work. I signed up for an additional piece this week, which means I have 30 more inches of copy due for a Sunday section front in two days. Urgh. And it’s Chuck E. Cheese on Thursday, and I want to get in a Diner this week. So the “Money” section may take a hit. On the other hand: this week’s Fargo update has a poignant moment, in a way. Depends, I suppose. It’s here. Thanks for the visit, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

 (And you can still vote! Apparently you can vote daily. Remember, my goal isn’t to win for the sake of winning an award, it’s to beat a blog sponsored by Time, and get my own paper to consider running a link to my site. Thanks. )