Ladies and gentlemen, I has a bucket.

I did not think it would happen. Truly. For the last three weeks I’ve assumed I was dead. Zombie dead, walking around, grinning, my jaw hanging off, beetles in my cuffs. At any minute I expected temple maidens to paint me blue and lead me to the roof, where I would be sacrificed, my heart ripped out and held up before the ecstatic crowd (which is 2.1% smaller than last year, although the Sunday crowd numbers are still good and the online numbers are good) before being tossed to a brazier. The aromatic sacrificial lsmoke would curl upwards to appease the god Woltowin-Xhul, and beseech him to end this drought.

But I made it. When I was told I’d get the new job I smiled and nodded, when I really wanted to shout out SWEET FANCY MOSES and do a Cossack dance and whip out the cellphone, call home, and alternate a hellish ululation with a rough, gutteral barking sound.

I’m still not sure if I can announce the particulars, even if other media sites have made speculations – and how do they know these things? I said not a word to anyway, but I suppose clever reporters note who you’re talking to, who you’re walking around with, who you’ve struck with a paving stone and stuffed in the trunk of car in the parking lot. Which is visible from the windows of two metro columnists. So I was asking for it, I guess.

Anyway, it’ll be fun. It has to be fun, or it’s not worth the candle. I’ll just say that it involves blogging, and I’ve been handed a gigantic sandbox. Just in time, too.

How will it affect the Bleat?

Not at all.

Hold me to that.

There’s another side, though. I made it. Many didn’t, or were given jobs that changed their lives in ways they hadn’t expected. I know, I know: that’s life, that’s business. But this business has been insulated for so long from this sort of agita that it’s really like the Pope introducing merit pay into the College of Cardinals. There’s a reason they call it the Velvet Coffin, after all. There's something about the journalism profession that makes some of its members feel like secular academics, if you know what I mean. (The professorial class, now there's a priesthood.) The union confers a form of tenure. People expect to leave the craft before the craft leaves them. I don’t expect folks in more volatile fields to have sympathy, but you can imagine the effect this has on people. That’s all. It’s hard. Some adapted well, strode off to new things; others decided: eh. I’m going fishing. Some hunkered and stayed with it; some were bereft from the moment the news came down and changed the place for good.

And then there’s the ladies in the phone room.

Since I’ve worked from home for years, I’ve had to call the office now and then for this and that. I usually can’t find my company directory, so I’d dial the main number. It would be answered after four or five rings: Good day, Star Tribune. Even though I know they worked banks of phones with push buttons, you couldn’t help see them sitting before an old-style switchboard, yanking plugs and jamming them into the proper socket, one hand on the mouthpiece, legs crossed at the ankles, maintaining perfect concentration while their half-dozen colleagues handed their share of the spaghetti. They were old-league bedrock Minnesotans, those ladies, and everything about them said WCCO and hotdish Met Stadium and Hamm’s Beer and the nice place at the lake the husband bought in ’65 from his Ford plant salary. For all I know that’s completely inaccurate, and probably so, but their age – they were all gliding at a graceful pace towards retirement – and their patient manner made them seem like utterly typical Minnesota ladies of a certain era. They were the first to push a stroller down the Nicollet Mall, if you wish. Gravitas and good humor, and candy: they always had a dish out for the reporters who walked by the phone room.

When you called the paper, you got a person. That’s always a good way to start things off: Good day, Star Tribune.

The switchboard ladies were let go. The phone room, the first thing you see when you leave the elevator and head into the newsroom, is dark.

So good for me, huzzah, but I’ll never get back in the velvet coffin again. We’re all phone ladies in the end. “Good day” is a salutation, sure; it’s also a farewell.

That said: this is going to be a hoot & a half, and it doesn’t matter which part of the world you’re in. I hope you enjoy it. More to come as the week goes on. I am grateful and ridiculously enthused about this, and I feel very, very lucky.

Anyway, that’s all done. Drama’s over.





In the news today: kids don’t want a summer job. I can’t blame them; summer is for doing youthful things, like being part of the 78% of aimless youths of mediocre appearance envying the .05% who are having fun at the beach looking great. That leaves about 21.95% to do something productive with the summer, culminating in a late-season fling with someone who looks much better in August than  she did in April.

I originally wrote that as “he / she,” but it made it sound like the person’s upgraded attractiveness was due to a sex change. And we didn’t have many of those in Fargo in the middle seventies. No sir. Most we got was a minor augur accident. And even a minor augur accident is a major one. No one ever lost a fingernail to an augur, if you know what I mean; once they get interested in you, it’s difficult to break their concentration. Anyway: I had a few summer jobs, but mostly I laid around like the pampered dumpling I was. Two summers I was sent out on family business – once to paint a large fuel storage tank, in the sun, in July, next to an auto detailing shop, and once to run TBA (Tires, batteries, accessories) around to other stations. It helped cement my dislike for any sort of work that lacks fun. This is no small lesson, really; one of the reasons I had no problem waitering for all those years was the element of Fun. Free coffee, co-workers who ran the gamut from perky sassy lasses to gluey-eyed Reddi-whip-propellant huffers, a constant stream of customers to flatter in exchange for a tip – that’s fun.

Driving around in a van delivering fan belts is not fun.

I know it seems self-evident, but it needs to be learned first hand, preferably with a hand that has innumerable cuts from detasseling corn or a welter of blisters earned when you tossed a frozen burger into the deep-fat fryer.


The great X-box-as-family-DVD-center experiment has failed, horribly. As the sysadmin for Jasperwood, I take complete responsibility, and it’s a necessary lesson: you can’t make people adapt to something that’s slightly more difficult, even if it’s much cooler, if the daily irritations are sufficient to make them want the old simple technology back. My plan, as originally conceived, was brilliant: eliminate the DVD player, use the X-box, and therefore piggyback on the Xbox’s HD-DVD feature to bring  . . . what sort of picture? Which adjective is invariably used in these situations? Right: STUNNING video. I see this word every time someone describes a new technology. Computers are always BLAZINGLY fast, and better video is invariably STUNNING. It’s a miracle forty-six people don’t perish each weekend as they leave Best Buy and wander into the parking lot, STUNNED, and are struck by cars. You could even use hi-res video as a means of assault: the victim had left the bus and was proceeding along 31st street when a man with a 17-inch HP Crisp-Vu ™ laptop stunned him with upscaled video, and made off with his wallet.

Well, they made off with my wallet. I’ll admit that the HD picture was indeed STUNNING, but .003% of the movies we rent are HD. Netflix doesn’t have enough, because there aren’t enough, and my wife & child go to Hollywood for the usual discs (prescratched for your convenience!) and they never bring back HD. Because there aren’t any. So they pop a disc in the Xbox, and what happens? Half the time, nothing. It just sits on my profile screen. I’ve taught everyone how to make it work most of the time – put the disk in the tray, then hit play, then push EJECT and then EJECT again, except this time it’s close tray, and then it should work. See? We’ve eliminated the need for a DVD player! Isn’t that great?

This was predicated on the assumption I’d be playing more Xbox than I play, too. That portion my life is done, it seems. Also, it’s white, and has non-standard contours.

So. Saturday I went to BestBuy to get a new cheap DVD player. And cheap they are: $69 for a Philips unit that plays every format on the planet and upscales a 28-line 1953 kinetescope to a 9000-line nausea-inducing UltraHiDef picture. Or something like that. There was an LG unit for $69 as well, and I thought: LG? They never sleep, those guys. They made my washer. They made my microwave. Now they’re making DVD players. Next week they will announce a lawnmower division, then bring out a line of wines, followed by some heart valves. There was a Panasonic that did the same things, and cost $30 more. I asked the salesman why: “it’s the brand,” he said.

Well, it was Philips for me, then.

What did I watch?

I hate to say. Because it’s been out a while. Because people have been asking me for a long time if I loved it as much as they thought I would. Because I’d heard lukewarm notices. Because the previews were underwhelming. But most of all – and I hate to say this  - because I had a hard time accepting the premise. Simply put: I did not think I could suspend disbelieve long enough to accept that self-aware automobiles could construct a complex industrial civilization.

But I knew I wanted to see it. So. Finally: I popped in “Cars” Friday night, and as with all Pixar movies, it took 17 seconds to buy the premise without reservations, 18 seconds to be dazzled – or rather stunned – and 19 seconds to love the dang thing without reservations.

I think these movies work better on the small screen than the big wide wall – there’s almost too much coming at you, and the shiny hard GCI surfaces look too real. You’re drinking from the firehose. Whenever I’ve seen a Pixar movie in a theater, I feel my brain spin up like my Mac when it’s rotating a 6000 pixel 2400 dpi image. On the small screen, or rather the larger small screen with a good resolution, it’s enchanting, and easier to take. I’m sure that’s a matter of taste. But I’m glad I saw it at home. I had no idea it was about the death of the small town; I knew it took place mostly in a backwater burb, but my Gawrsh, to quote Goofy, I had no idea it was an homage to the pre-interstate road culture. By the end of the movie I was looking around for a saw and some stamps, because maybe if I sawed off my right arm and mailed it to Pixar as a sign of what I’d be willing to give to work for them, they’d send me a cel.

Anyway, I rented another nice light comedy tonight, something called “Apocalypto” – some sort of mistaken-identity / bedroom farce, I understand, with lots of hilariously ironic unfortunate assumptions, conducted in a tropical resort of some kind. I’ll report on that later.

New Funnies. Oh, and a new bucket-related Diner. I cut it last week, left it open ended, then finished it up to reflect current events. ITunes version here. Flash version below. MP3 version here. This means there won’t be one on Friday, probably. But you never know. Enjoy, and again: thanks for all the support! It paid off. It all worked out. As Gnat put it when I said I’d kept my job:

“Does this mean we can go to Disneyworld again?”

Damn straight it does, kid.