MAY 1997 Part 3
Got caught in a hailstorm today. Small hail; felt like a flurry of pencil points inscribing periods on my skin. I was wearing the ridiculous headphone-radio, and the sound of the hail pattering off the plastic was like a centipede in high heels doing a Cossack dance. I looked down at Jasper, and saw buckets of hail bouncing off his head; his ears, which have more positions that you'll find in a semaphore handbook, were arrayed in the position that spells Beleagurement. But I have taken his attitude towards weather: it's there, and that's it. Nothing can be done, so ignore it until you have to get out of it.

Watched an interesting boxing match last night. I was barely able to stay awake, but the heavyweight fight looked interesting: former world champ and current paunchy palooka Buster Douglas against a steroid-fed wrecking machine who looked to made out of compressed tractor tires. Buster was supposed to win, experience over raw strength, but when the first round began I looked at the clock and noticed that only seven minutes of the show remained. Hmm. Something catastrophic was bound to happen. Sure enough, at the end of the first round, the bell sounds - and then the young flailing 'roid-enraged rookie cold-cocks Mr. Douglas. Down he goes face first in the streams of Lethe. When he got to his feet - a task akin to making a froze turkey walk around on legs comprised of wet twine - he was given five minutes to compose himself. For the next five minutes the camera hung around his corner, and recorded the comments of his trainers and flunkies; their dialogue consisted entirely of the word Boosheet. I have never heard the word Boosheet said so many times on live television. I strained to hear a fugginboosheet, but the credits rolled and it was time to go to bed.

In a related note of high culture, I watched "When Stunts Go Bad" on Fox, a carefully selected array of snuff films featuring death-defying daredevils carom through the air and land head-first on the pavement. Most of them were alive afterwards, and gave commentary on their accidents. They were all sitting down. Two of them attempted to recreate Houdini's buried-alive trick, and ended up entombed under 14,000 pounds of concrete. At least they got the trick half right.

Tonight's audience questions revolved around the original name for Vaseline, the last movie made by a director whose first movie was about Jack the Ripper (I brought up Jack to contradict a story Paul Harvey had told earlier in the day; to my delight and amazement one caller said she'd also heard the tale, thought it was wrong, and "I thought Oh, I hope James hears this and says something about it." ) Also questions about who did the music for Silent Running. (Starring the man who acted in the last film by the aforementioned director.) All questions were answered promptly and correctly by the audience. Got a call from an old gym-mate from 1986; discussed lawn edging and milk-carton trademarks. The usual mix. Heard the promos a few times today; it feels weird to be walking through the woods, hail banging off your head, and hear your own voice coming through the headphones sounding jaunty.

The sun did come out today, incidentally. Friday it will be warm and sunny, and the paving stones arrive for my new patio project. Hell will result. Pure hell. I tried to put up a shelf today, and even though I'd measured three times I still screwed it up. Someone bangs a cupboard door across the street, this shelf will fall. The patio should be a disaster on a grand scale. But I enjoy changing the retail value of my house.

Not enhancing it. Just changing it.

 

The patio stone arrived this morning, 52 slabs with a wavy pattern that cannot possibly match up once I install them. Since tomorrow's temps are supposed to be normal, as opposed to the 10-15 degrees cooler-than-average that we've been cursed with, I plan to labor in the fields, stripped to the waist, honest sweat pouring from my noble brow. Once I spade up the turf I will transplant it to the bare spots, like Elton John taking hair from his buttocks and slapping it where it will be seen by paying customers.

The hard part will be the leveling, and the sand, which comes tomorrow morning. I have to rent a big drum, which you fill with water and roll over the dirt until it's level. Then comes the sand. The Giant Swede, who is also installing patio stone this weekend, has estimated that he needs three-quarters of a ton of sand. I think this rules out a trip in the Saab to the sand store. I found a supplier who will deliver a score of 50-lb bags, meaning I'm getting a half-ton myself. That just seems like a lot of sand. A half-ton. I've never bought a half-ton of anything. I feel important, just knowing I can pick up the phone, snap my fingers and a half-ton of sand will be delivered, just like that.

Did all sorts of outdoor project today. Well, one. I screwed in the hinges in the porch door, so it doesn't hang like something from an Okie shack. This means the door is now in its usual binary mode, open or not open. Before it was just . . . undecided. It was open enough so that Jasper could pass either way. Now that it's a real door again, we have problems. As someone once said, a door is what a dog is always on the wrong side of. So now whenever I am in the porch he barks for entrance, and when I let him in he barks desiring egress.

Read a dead dog story on the air tonight. Someone had sent me e-mail describing the passing of his beloved mutt, and I read a graf on the air Monday. He wrote again, thanking me, and asked for a tape so he could bury it with the ashes of his dog. So tonight I read the whole letter, to make a proper eulogy of it. It struck me that dogs don't mourn their own oncoming demise, so it's left to humans to take up the slack. I understood his request.

The next caller sighed, and said Great. It's one thing to follow an animal, but to follow a dead dog. So I put him on hold and read something merry to recalibrate our collective mood, and we continued. It's been a good week on the air - it's starting to feel normal, as opposed to extraordinary. My pulse rate does not spike when the hour approaches. This is good. My deep secret fear - long arid patches without callers or things to say - has not come to pass.

But here I am now, banging out a few words before I can get on to Condensed Enjoyment - a little computer work and a little TV followed by 100 push-ups and Bed. I was jolted from a deep sleep this morning by the phone; Sara took a business call, and conducted the conversation in a volume that seemed to me to be a voice appropriate for announcing a boxing match. I groaned and put my head under the covers. It was still there a few hours later, except when I opened my eyes there was a dog head under the covers too. I fell back asleep - and that's when the patio-stone delivery me rang the bell, for Jasper barked right in my ear.

I don't need alarm clocks. When the world needs me, it lets me know. Tomorrow should be fun: for a change, the Sandman will wake me up.

 

The weekend concluded with two vexations: I can't get the patio stones level, and I can't kill the Borg that's invaded the bridge of the USS Righteous. I called tech support to describe my problem: the cursor splits in two and sticks in the upper corners of the monitor, and cannot be coaxed down by any means. The voice on the other end of the line was a humorless drone who had no idea what I was talking about, and suggested I reinstall the game. That's his answer for everything, probably. When he takes something out of the microwave and it isn't done yet, he probably throws it away, buys a new one and reinstalls the meal. I explained that I had reinstalled it, and I'd downloaded a patch that was supposed to correct cursor problems; he still claimed ignorance. I checked the number to see if I had indeed called tech SUPPORT, as opposed to Tech Abandonment. He then came up with a new suggestion: play the game from the beginning, and see if it happens.

"But I'm at the end," I said with a piteous moan. "This started happening at the last thing I have to do to win, and now all the saved games have the problem."

"Then it's your saved-game file," he said.

He was making it up as he went along, I saw now.

"I opened the save game file," I said. "It's nothing but disc coordinates."

"Then I don't know what to tell you."

I thanked him, hung up with extreme prejudice, and started playing over.

I didn't have the chance to ask him how to make the patio stones level. THAT he might have known.

Because I don't. I dug out half a ton of dirt and put in half a ton of sand. Saturday I rented a sod roller, got it home, and started to fill the tank with water. Then I noticed there was no plug to keep the water from leaking out. Called the rental place. Oops, you got the one with no plug. Bring it back. I hauled it back into the car, drove back to Paul's Rentals ("Renting Incomplete Lawn-Care Items for 40 Years") and met a pair of reefer-addled handymen at the loading doc. Cletus and Abner, I dubbed them. Cletus, who had given me the incomplete item, scratched his head, perhaps feeling the unaccustomed stirring of a thought, and Abner spat and flicked his cigarette towards the propane tanks. (I can presume now they were empty, since I'm here and not staring at the world through a gauzy scrim of bandages.) "That one's screwed," said Abner, and bade Cletus to fetch the unscrewed one.

The owner appeared on the dock, said "Sorry 'bout that" but tendered no compensation. I waved a hand and drove off.

Pounded the sand down, then leveled it off by scraping it with a level. By now I was dead beat, having spent the day shoveling and hauling, so I hung it up for the day. Drained the rolled, drove it over to the Giant Swede's house, since he's doing the same patio project.

The best part of the day: we learned Jasper is not fatally allergic to bees. He ate a bee and it gave as good as it got on the way down. He spent half an hour emitting a series of burps and coughs; I gave him some dog ice cream to ease the pain, and then he crawled into the dirt and looked miserable. He grazed on grass, which dogs do when they have stomach aches; it serves as an emetic. Half an hour later he spat up the bee, much the worse for wear.

Ate a huge belly-rending supper at the Convention Grill and then watched a movie. Trees Lounge, written/directed/starring/focus-pulled/catered/etc by Steve Buschemi, noted Ugly Person in many indie films. I like him; he has a charismatic way of sniveling. The film was a little slack, pleasantly episodic, and not entirely gripping. But I'm glad I saw it; better that than some bang-boom Hollywood gobstopper with Steven Seagal and more smokebombs than good lines of dialogue. A thunderstorm rolled in, and we went outside and enjoyed the drama.

Today was cooler, cloudy with little mincing raindrops, but it was warm and dry enough in general to lay the rest of the patio stone. It now looks like the grave of someone who was not entirely dead when buried, and banged on the coffin lid for hours before finally giving up. I transplanted the sod to the dead spots, giving those areas a nice sewn-together look you find on Frankenstein's back, and then I fetched the roller from the Giant Swede. Took a long walk around the lake, ate a pizza; now I'm sitting outside, waiting for my wife to return from the office. Jasper has his head in my lap for reasons unknown. I must say the new patio does look great from here.

Of course, it's pitch dark outside. That helps. That helps a lot.

05 / 20

Absolutely nothing jumps up and shouts HEY as a topic for my syndicated column today; usually we have to wait until August for this sort of aimless ho-hummery to set in, but here it is.

Returned the sod roller today, and I was late. Two hours late. The owner said I owed him $1.93. I nodded, and said: I'm the guy who had to haul the roller back because your employees didn't check to see if it had a plug.

He instantly got a look that indicated he wanted to crawl inside of the cash register and close the drawer behind him.. "Right, right, right," he said. "No charge. No charge. A little light just went off. I get it. No charge."

Back to the car, where the dog had not yet thrown up. I have the only dog who hates to go for car rides. Can't stand it. Crawls in the back and puts his muzzle under the seat. Probably connects it with puppyhood, when a car trip meant he was off to the boarding kennel. Well, this happened once. With the exception of one mad dash to the emergency dog hospital two summers ago, every car trip has either ended at a friend's house or back home. But he still acts as if he's going to be dumped on a dirt road ten miles from town.

Just took a look through the Times. The article on Zaire jumps into oblivion. It says "continued on A6," but when you go to A6 it's not there. It got lost somehow. I look on other pages: nowhere in sight. I look back to the business pages; perhaps the story became disoriented and confused, an wandered away, and now it's trapped in a thicket of financial reports.

Next to me in this coffeehouse is a picture-perfect Edina housewife who is talking at a level usually found among people who work around jet engines. It's the old rule of thumb: the louder people talk, the less they have to say. If only interesting people were loud, it would be one thing, but she is shouting about her son's need for gas-permeable contact lens.

It is disheartening to hear someone in their 40s with a lot of money and nice clothes say "so he goes, what happened? And I go, well, like that's what happened, like right? I mean." She also has a Kathy Lee Gifford laugh. What compels people to sit next to someone tapping at a laptop and shout their painted gourds off?

They're gone. Now the only other people here are two businessmen at the end of the row of tables. One is tall and casually dressed; the other is wee, nattily assembled and has a wary grin, as though he has spent his professional life being picked up by taller important men and dangled while his feet kicked helplessly. And of course there are the baristas, or coffee-makers, who begin each commercial transaction with the same irritating phrase: Can I start a coffee beverage for you?

Yes, and you can finish it, too.

No, but you can pour me a cup of coffee.

I don't know, can you?

There are two sizes of cups here: Large and Grande. Large, of course, is the small size. According to the script, I should saunter up, nostrils twitching slightly as I sample the delicate notes of ground arabica beans, and I should request a Grande Sumatra, for that is the coffee of the day. But I just won't, any more than I will ever use "supersize" as a verb. I just asked for a big cup of coffee, and that's what they gave me.

I could stay home, or go to someplace where the clientele doesn't consist of buck-flush doctor's wives. But then what would I complain about?

 

Someday; maybe tomorrow. It's going to happen soon: the morning when you wake up and it finally smells like summer - fresh-cut lawn, flowering trees, leaves, warm southern air. It's the scent of the first Saturday morning after the last day of school. It wasn't today. God no. The world is going through the motions - the trees have most of their leaves, the day is long and the sun leaves late. But you still have to wear a coat. sxxaxsasas (That's Jasper typing there; he put his muzzle on the keyboard, looking up for another charcoal cookie.) Tonight's forecast called for "scattered frost," and as I read that I said it actually meant that a once-popular British talk show host would be exploded at midnight, leaving scattered frost in the metro area.

Ate at Great-Aunt Lee's house tonight. I had small fears of old-lady food, but as usual it was delicious - chicken, sausages, gnocci, salad that was drenched in oil like a seagull after the Valdez accident. Lee is a long-time Minneapolitan, and can talk about What Used to Be, one of my favorite topics. Name a streetcorner downtown, and she can - with time and prodding - recall the stores and buildings, the old human-scaled structures that made up downtown before it was leveled and turned into a canyon of glass. For a while in the 80s, all they could build were mirrored buildings, structures with no character of their own, each reflecting its equally vapid neighbors. A convention of buildings with low self-esteem. It wasn't all fine in her day - by the 50s, everything was 25 years old, sooty and shabby around the edges. The tallest building was the Foshay tower, 30 stories built to look like the Washington Monument, constructed right before the 29 crash. Nothing like the glamorous town we have today. I wish I'd seen it. I would have liked to take a streetcar downtown, stop at a soda fountain, and wander to the downtown lake at night without fear of having my head caved in.

She lives in the suburbs now, in a condo. If you stand on the deck and lean out you can see a sliver of the sunset.

I have to mow the lawn tomorrow. You could lose a grandfather clock in the foliage I have out back. The mower is ready - it's been sitting downstairs since November, looking out of place; mowers don't belong in basements. But I'd nowhere else to put it. A few weeks ago I used it to prop open one of the doors down here in the basement, and it's been that way ever since - holding the door open, looking eager, as though it wants to get out and start eating its weekly meal of green. I never coordinate my mowing with my neighbors; they mow on weekends, I mow on Wednesday. For half the week my lawn looks better than theirs, and then for half a week I look like a slackard.

It will be a pleasure to run over the Creeping Charlie. That was one of tonight's radio topics: Weeds. Plus the swastika in Lindberg's plane, the occupation of Sam Wainwright in "It's a Wonderful Life," (and the annoyance factor of his "hee-haw" tic), tumbleweeds, my ongoing attempt to spread the word "contrude" as a viable verb (As in, "Don't contrude with my train of thought, I'm on to something here"), fixing rakes, and the troubles in Zaire. Typical Tuesday. Wednesdays are usually better.

Time to hang up the day and watch boxing. Then sun and mowing, and perhaps sleeping with the window cracked open, waiting for summer to make itself known before I've opened my eyes.

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