It’s four below at the moment. Eh. Could be worse. Could be five below. Not that there’s a great difference between the two, but once the temp slips below zero I want it to go down as far as possible. If it’s going to be four below, it might as well be ten. Or twenty. People who live in toasty climes have no idea what four below feels like, and it’s almost comforting to know that you can take it with a shrug. Without the wind it’s not that bad; wind makes the cold cruel and malevolent, a ravenous thing that sticks its fingers down your collar and up your cuffs. Without the wind, the air feels vast and vacant; the world is a great empty room, waiting to be furnished by the sun.

Ah: it’s five below. Let’s go outside and see if we can tell the difference.

Back: hah. Went to the gazebo, which I decided not to knock down for the season, and have a small cigar. I sat down in a chair. The cushion, it seems, has a hard frozen nodule embedded in the foam; it felt like I was sitting on a shard sloughed off by a glacier. Then the wind came up, but just a little; it caught in the door and moaned something horrible. Our caveman predecessors no doubt thought the wind was a living creature before their descendants decided it was the voice of the dead. Now it’s just wind. I’d use this as an example of how the intellect ruins magic, but I went inside and turned on the wall-fire with the remote – I know how that works, but I don’t, really.

How did I spend the coldest damn day of the year thus far? Ran errands with the Giant Swede. First: car wash. It was he who told me to sign up for the unlimited pass at Mister Car Wash, and it was good advice; the idea that a certain set sum is automatically deducted from your bank account compels you to get the salt and grit and slurt and grot scoured from your car on a regular basis. He subscribes to the Ultimate Option, which means he gets to enjoy complimentary popcorn in the heated waiting room while 67 recent legal immigrants swarm over the interior of his vehicle. Me, I have the exterior-only option, which means I sit in the car while it’s blasted. As a long-time official claustrophobe, the first few trips gave me a minor gut-jangle, but now it’s nothing. Even when the line shuts down and the car stops, I don’t care. I imagine many people are a bit claustrophobic about car washes, though; there’s a big sign over the entrance that tells us to RELAX AND ENJOY THE HOT SHINE PROCESS. For a seasoned claustrophobe this looks like ARBEIT MACHT FREI, frankly. But I do relax and I do enjoy, and every time I pull out of the car wash I note the old motel across the street, where I first laid my head on a Minneapolis pillow 40 + years ago. They ripped down the HoJo office, but the motel remains.

We had coffee at Caribou – rather, we bought coffee at Caribou and took it next door to the bagel shop, since all the tables were occupied. The clerk assured us that they didn’t mind. The trivial question: what was the price of Life magazine on November 23, 1936?

If you answered it correctly you got a dime off your bill. (Which, ha ha, was the answer to the question.) I asked the clerk: what was the picture on the cover, and who took it? She didn’t know. Can’t blame her; hardly important. I only know because – as I have mentioned so very many times before – I fell in love with old Life magazines at the Fargo Public Library while in high school, and had a mystical moment when I laid my hands on an actual copy of the first issue of Life. I mean, I touched it. I touched something from 1936. Somehow that was different from shaking hands with your dad. Completely different. So many things in my life have changed since then, but I have the same emotions when I open the old magazines. They’re yelling at ghosts. They’re talking to someone who isn’t there. They’re not talking to me. I hear what they’re saying, and I want to join the conversation, but they’re all dead, and these are just echoes, just wind in the door.

After coffee we went to Shinders, the magazine store in the strip mall. The stock was rather thin. The last time I visited Shinders I noted that the magazines seemed fewer in number, and my favorite titles weren’t available. Okay, well, it’s possible they sold out of Gum Chewers Quarterly, I guess. This time the shelves had signs: the company was reorganizing, and consolidating its distribution channels, and they apologized for the inconvenience.

Uh oh.

Shinders is a local periodical chain, but it’s much more. They hav comics. They have thick expensive gorgeous useless Euroglossies, every possible Pokeman card ever printed, sports memorabilia, action figures, calendars (they had a few copies of “Construction Babes” calendar, which featured tousle-haired sweaty blondes with puffy lips and bowling-ball boobs with ripped t-shirts and tool belts), paperback books, every comic printed last week, soda gum choco-rations, D&D books, and a back room Wanker’s Cove accessible by swinging doors. The entire store is like the Internet in physical form – and today was the first time I’d realized that this, too, shall pass.

I hope the explanation was valid, and soon the shelves will overflow with magazines again. If Shinders goes under, well – there’s always Barnes and Noble, I suppose. But Shinder’s has roots here. Shinder’s once held down two corners of Block E, a swath of downtown invariably described as “infamous” by the reformers and rehabbers. There was big Shinders and skinny Shinders. The latter had more than the former had; both smelled like old socks, and you suspected that both survived on the porno-and-cigarettes economic model. But they had everything else as well, and they were open late; many a sophisticate wobbling his way back from the bars stopped off for a paper from a far-flung city. In 1979, the idea of getting the  New York Times the day after it had been published was rather remarkable, and it made the Times seem all the more important.  You felt like you were getting the plans to the Death Star. A copy of the Times, a New Republic, a pack of Winston Lights, all purchased in a store that also had last month’s Paris Match – this was why you moved to the Big City.

When Block E came down Shinder’s moved to a space vacated by a Burger King – a space that had been a Snyder’s drug for decades before that. It’s still there, with a big window painting of Eisner’s Spirit reading a comic in the rain with Cerebus. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent in a Shinder’s. Every time I take my downtown walk – something I’ve done less and less over the last few years, alas, what with the pressing need to be a particular place to get Gnat – I end up at Shinder’s, perusing bizarre and peculiar and piquant journals. If it dies, it’s big news. It’s big and it’s bad –

But we’ll see. Next stop: likka stow. (Obscure movie reference. Obscure Prince movie reference.) They had the usual Saturday afternoon wine tasting. Offerings included a cruel South African red and a cheerfully abrasive Argentinian malbec. The Giant Swede bought the malbec. The sauce-hawker was a round cheerful lass from South Africa, and cautioned us not to chill the white too hard. “Americans want everything to be ice cold,” she chided. The Giant Swede engaged her in a conversation about conditions in South Africa, and she was upbeat and open: why, we’ve paid off all our external debt -  unlike the United States, she added.

Okay, so we overchill our white and sell a lot of bonds to China. But let’s not start with the lectures, my dear.  I was tempted to ask if she had any MoHiGro, which of course would have led to a reasonable question: What’s that?

Stands for Moral High Ground. You’re fresh out? Imagine.

In the interest of international comity and Not Being a Diq, I said nothing.

Dropped off the Swede, went home. Wife & Child were at the mall, getting Gnat a Build-a-bear as a reward for her stellar report card. Oh: forgot to mention. Friday was the weekly Spelling Test of Considerable Dread; the Super Challenge word was “fortunately.” I gave her a secret mnemonic code:

You build a fort. Who’s in it? U. What’s your name? Nat. Who’s your friend in the fort? Ely.

The report card was interesting – no As or Bs, of course. They have 4s, which means operating above grade level; 3s mean they get it all without teacher input; 2s indicate that the teacher must help, and after that it’s shift-characters. If you get a # in reading or a * in math, a conference is requested. She got 3s in everything. I was delighted and gave her hugs and smooches and made a special cup of Friday Hot chocolate, our wintertime ritual between school and piano lesson.  Then I discovered there was another sheet of grades: language, writing, reading, spelling, story telling, and so on. Straight fours.

That’s my girl.

We went to piano, the great Hinge of the Week. When Mrs. Mary Ellen plays the Goodbye Goodbye song and the kids all spaz out in a merry Friday dance, it’s the start of the most Perfect Time Ever. Work is done; Gnat’s educational obligations are done; I don’t have to write anything for immediate publication that night, and I don’t have to wake up early tomorrow, and Gnat knows tomorrow is a Mommy Day, and Daddy’s thinking ahead to Friday night which means old-time-radio shows and “The Office” and “Rome” and the really good greasy microwave popcorn instead of the Styrofoam nodes, and PIZZA. We left the classroom, headed down the hallway, down the elevator (it’s a Langquist, which means it was installed by a local firm in the 70s or 80s) then jumped in the Element and headed to Davanni’s. When we got home and sunk our teeth into the pizza – which was cold, since it was only 2 above outside – Gnat hugged herself and shuddered. Why? Because I have done that from time to time on a Friday when the pizza-enabled sanctification of Friday begins. Why? Because that’s what my dad did when he tasted something good: hugged himself and grinned. Why? Because he picked it up from a cartoon I watched, and thought it would make me smile to imitate that silly dog I liked. And now Gnat does it too.

That’s when I think: how good is life? This good.


Oh - it's a dam, photographed by Margaret Bourke-White.


Oh - there's this. A NYT review of the Super Bowl ads.

Super Bowl Ads of Cartoonish Violence, Perhaps Reflecting Toll of War

Or perhaps not. Says the author:

No commercial that appeared last night during Super Bowl XLI directly addressed Iraq, unlike a patriotic spot for Budweiser beer that ran during the game two years ago. But the ongoing war seemed to linger just below the surface of many of this year’s commercials.
More than a dozen spots celebrated violence in an exaggerated, cartoonlike vein that was intended to be humorous, but often came across as cruel or callous.

For instance, in a commercial for Bud Light beer, sold by Anheuser-Busch, one man beat the other at a game of rock, paper, scissors by throwing a rock at his opponent’s head.

In another Bud Light spot, face-slapping replaced fist-bumping as the cool way for people to show affection for one another. In a FedEx commercial, set on the moon, an astronaut was wiped out by a meteor. In a spot for Snickers candy, sold by Mars, two co-workers sought to prove their masculinity by tearing off patches of chest hair.

There was also a bank robbery (E*Trade Financial), fierce battles among office workers trapped in a jungle (CareerBuilder), menacing hitchhikers (Bud Light again) and a clash between a monster and a superhero reminiscent of a horror movie (Garmin).

I didn’t see the ads in question, but an ad in which an astronaut is struck by a meteor does not seem to reflect the toll of war; menacing hitchhikers do not reflect the toll of war, unless the feared Rutger Hauer Brigades have finally been unleashed by our godless foe. As Sigmund might have said, sometimes a clash between a monster and a superhero reminiscent of a horror movie  is just a clash between a monster and a superhero reminiscent of a horror movie. He continues:

It was as if Madison Avenue were channeling Doc in “West Side Story,” the gentle owner of the candy store in the neighborhood that the two street gangs, the Jets and Sharks, fight over. “Why do you kids live like there’s a war on?” Doc asks plaintively. (Well, Doc, this time, there is.)

Doc wasn’t plaintive in the movie version, if I remember correctly. As played by Ned Glass, Doc’s question was full of anguish and contempt. The kids squandered their lives getting stabby over the putative control of a few blocks. Doc, who had no doubt seen much worse in his day and regarded 1957 as a distinct improvement over the Depression, had no time for their juvenile beefs.  Second, if Madison Avenue is channeling Doc’s sentiments, it would be making ads that chided pointless free-floating aggression, instead of celebrating it. Who are the kids? Us? And why shouldn’t we live like there’s a war on, because after all this time there is?

Third, the Times piece has an interesting link for “The Jets.”

During other wars, Madison Avenue has appealed to a yearning for peace. That was expressed in several Super Bowl spots evocative of “Hilltop,” the classic Coca-Cola commercial from 1971, when the Vietnam War divided a world that needed to be taught to sing in perfect harmony.

We always hear how the Vietnam War divided the United States. Odd how few people mention the way the Vietnam War divided Vietnam. I wasn't aware that the war had divided THE WORLD; seems rather chauvinistic, but perhaps people in Namia and Guam and Tibet had bitter arguements over the subject. Anyway, ads in WW2 did not appeal to a yearning for peace. They appealed to a yearning for victory, after which peace would follow. The ads of World War Two were mostly martial, with sweaty stubbed dogfaces, cigars screwed in the corners of their grim-set mouths, dealt the lead. The ad was usually an encouragement to keep fighting so the war could be over and we could have refrigerators again. Towards the end of the war, the ads hinted at the day when Johnny came home – plans would be made, houses bought, appliances ordered, insurance purchased, girls turned into wives with the application of woo, and children produced to populate the new era of peace. But the ads were as cautionary as they were hopeful. Johnny couldn’t come home until the war was won, of course.

If Madison Av made a commercial about a homecoming vet, the Times piece didn't discuss it. And if they didn't make such an ad: I'm not a bit surprised.