At a party tonight I had an odd, fleeting thought: India is moving troops to the Pakistan border to match their counterpart’s actions; there are earthquakes under Yellowstone which probably won’t trigger the caldera and blot the sun with a mantle of Satan's dandruff but you never know; Israel is engaged in a major operation against Cynthia McKinney, and most of the domestic news is horrible economic stats – people are buying less jewelry! – or tales of shameless corruption about a governor with a large amount of black hay on his head. Yet here we are, crowded in the kitchen, laughing and talking and watching the kids run around, clinking our glasses and urging the new year to Bring It On. We’re a resilient people.

Or, we’re just not paying attention. But then my aunt-in-law asked what had gone on today; she hadn’t caught the news. She wanted to know what was going on in Israel. (She’s a flight attendant on a trans-Atlantic route.) Later I had a conversation with my realtor uncle-in-law, who exudes the ruddy cheer of the perpetual salesman, and he described the hideous situation in local foreclosures. Like lice on dogs are the profusion of for-sale signs in certain neighborhoods. We’re not talking about folks who hit a hard patch and couldn’t scrape up the jack – the majority of the houses had been occupied two years or less, the mortgages were about twice what the house was worth, and most he suspected were no-docs or pinky-swear loans or other creative financial instruments that got people into the house with a $12.95 mortgage payment. Of course, that only covered Monday from 8 AM to 10:45 AM, but you can refinance down the road.  He said the condition of the houses he’d visited was appalling. Garbage, holes in the wall, flagrant aromas. Given what it takes to bring some of these houses up to code, I suspect great swaths of Minneapolis will be unrentable, unoccupied, left for dead, and eventually razed. These are neighborhoods with 80+ year-old housing stock. It was all quite avoidable, but nearly everything is.

As a good realtor, he noted that there were also some excellent deals out there.  Nuclear missiles could be landing three miles out of town and realtors would tell you it's a fine buying opportunity.

His kids – both in their 20s – were confident and optimistic. Brother-in-law’s daughter wants to go to college in urban planning or advertising. (She came here from France a few years ago, speaking about six words of English; now she speaks it without accent or pause. She’s totally Americanized. The little girls – my daughter and her 6-year-old cousin, whose birthday it was – had a jumprope contest, and Natalie amazed me with her skill. She was so uncoordinated a year ago. (Then again, in karate class today she delivered such fine kicks she knocked the targets out of the hands of her opponent. HIYA!) We all sat down to dinner - four helpings of flank steak, so I feel logy and steakcentric at the moment.  It had been marinating since Coleman was up in the vote totals, and was so tender it wept if you put Piaf on the stereo. Wine from my French brother-in-law’s inexhaustible cellar. Talk of cars and New Zealand, Facebook and the airline merger. My aunt-in-law is taking the buyout, and will end a 37-year career in the air. Her kids expressed amazement at the very idea of a 37-year career. Doing one thing? For one company?

I grew up in the era where such things were expected, and I saw my father work his whole life for one company. Then again, it was his. I’ve never thought that would happen to me, yet oddly enough I’ve subconsciously sought it out. I’ve had a job in newspapers for 20 years, but ten years from now I expect to have no job, as such things are currently defined. Could be one year, of course. Which reminds me to get cracking on the books. The damned books. I should have worked on them tonight, but sometimes it’s more important to stand in a kitchen with relatives and laugh and toast and talk and kick the old year into the grave it dug with such industry. We got home late, and I’ve only time for this before bed.

Also, this. The Bygone World.

Today’s Minneapolis addition is the Milner Hotel, a long-forgotten heap that was part of a long-forgotten chain. I’ve pulled out a few details to provide the usual Bleat Teaser. The first shot is Nicollet and 4th street in the 20s; the tony commercial district had long ago shifted up the street, and the end of Nicollet was full of old thin buildings crammed close, signs jostling to catch the pedestrian’s eyes.

I love the old street lights.

A few years later, a man stands outside on a sunny day, looking sharp and feeling natty. Note the decorations on the top part of the window – like a proscenium arch for a small theater. Which is what they were, if a bit static and plotless.  Why did buildings have those diagonal entrances? They must have made for countless excuse-me / no-after-you moments as people negotiated a route around the corner pole.

Years later, same corner. Modernization has come and gone; the building is being stripped and prepped for demolition.

If you’re old enough, or know your commercial-culture history, those dark shapes are instantly recognizable.

Yes, it's Squatty McThrifty! Or whatever he was called; I don’t know. I do know that I once shook the hand of the man who started the Gold Bond company, so there’s a bit of history transmitted through the very typing of these words.

Not that much history, but some. The Milner site is here - six pages, old photos. Have a fine Wednesday, what with the holidays now on us once again with merciless power. See you at for a few posts, and of course the usual natterings on Twitter.