JUNE 1997 Part 4
I now have two panting beasts at my feet. Twice the hot breath, twice the number of clicking toenails on the floor, twice the slobbering maws. Jasper's friend Else - the dog of the Giant Swedes - has come to stay for the week. Jasper, usually a close-mouthed dog, has picked up Else's panting habits. He wants to be just like her. She's so big, so jam-packed with pure untrammeled Dog Essence; she's his idol. Usually at the time of night when I've been out back writing for a day, Jasper will be on the floor, convinced no more treats are forthcoming, resigned to a dark quiet night. But Else is up and moving around, restless, out of whack, and Jasper must follow. Two dogs bring out the dog in each other. So I've had to write tonight's newspaper column while these two canines pace, pant, woof, pace, snap at bugs, and in general make a nuisance of themselves.

A good day. Steaming heat, pounding sun - 91 degrees today and torporous DC-style humidity. I took the Defiant to the dealership to check on a peculiar clicking sound in the clutch, and sure enough, it's not my imagination: it's not normal. They'll fix it Wednesday and pound out the small ding in the hood. God knows how that got there. I went to Target to buy car things - polishes, wheel brightener, a chamois, etc. It's astonishing how many products are devoted to making tires look wet. I never thought of this before, but now I need - indeed, I crave - wheels that constantly shine. I checked the abrasion level of the sponges as though I would be using them to swab a newborn's butt. Bought a bottle of something devoted to keeping my interior look just like new, but I'm hampered by the fact that it is actually new, and hence has no need of these potions. But I'm planning ahead.

The salesman at the dealership called to tell me he had an aluminum mug for me, and I thought: great! How nice. A cool brushed-aluminum mug with the Mitsubishi logo, a lovely parting gift. When I showed up he handed me a dinged-up cup, dusty and scratched, the rubber backing on the bottom peeled away. I tried to mask my disappointment and surprise - it seemed an awfully cheap thing to give me, but it was free, and it was a gift, so I said thanks, like you do when an aged relative gift-wraps an old pair of pinking shears as a wedding present.

Later I realized that this was my mug, and I'd left it in the car I traded in.

Casual show tonight, touching on the usual mix: Taco Bell placemats, swastikas, Charles Lindbergh, Clockwork Orange, Russian words, Cockney slang, the Ukraine, Roswell, Surge pop, dogs, snakes as pets, the Myst sequel and handwriting fonts based on Jack the Ripper letters. Tomorrow: a rainy day with the dogs. The walk around the lake should be extra fun. Else knows there's no point in listening to my commands; who am I that I should tell her to heel? But she's a good dog. They're all good dogs. And yea, my newspaper column is finished and I am dead beat tired. Kennel, everyone. Kennel.

06/24/97

Another ordinary show: start out with the Ethel Merman Alarm Clock, proceed through the sorry tale of the Little Dutch Boy's fall from grace, and end up in Roswell.

Day two of two dogs. Today began with two snouts poking over the bedsheets. It was a wet day from the start, with piddling drizzle interspersed with bough-shaking gusts, so I figured there'd be no walk. Just me and two dogs on a humid dark day in the house. Then the rain stopped for a while, and I headed out with both beasts, steeling myself for an hour of constant aggravation. I was not disappointed. Else does not regard me as any authority figure of note, so my imprecations to heel and move along went nowhere. Jasper was likewise inclined to wander at the end of the leash, so managing the two of them was like flying lead kites in a hurricane. And then it started to rain again - and of course the rain began precisely halfway through the journey. But it was a hot day, and the rain was warm, so it felt good. Had the lake to myself, though. Not even the desperate joggers were out.

I spent the afternoon in Uptown. Now that I have a workable car I can fly anywhere without fear that the car will die at the farthest point of the journey. And now that I have many jobs I can actually buy something from time to time without feeling as though I am heading for penury at Mach 2. It's a nice combination. Naturally, what I went to purchase wasn't there. I wanted to get a big fat book on New York architecture circa 1900, to go with the big fat 1930 and 1960 books. The 1930 book is really the highlight of NY building; the 1960 book is one blank abomination after the other, each a dilution of the old Miesian ideal, each a heartless machine for extracting rents from gullible clients. Giant sixty-store collectivist shafts. One Seagrams Building is nice, but a city full of them is a disaster. The 1900 book, I suppose, is mostly squat filigreed palaces of the burghers and Tammany barons, with a few bulbous proto-skyscrapers sprouting in lower Manhattan. I still want it.

And I also want to get this Roswell book I heard about on Art Bell. I did a tour of duty as a Roswell believer in my younger and more vulnerable days, and while I am inclined to believe in UFOs, I am disinclined to believe anyone else who believes in them. So now is the time to balance my skepticism with a blast from a true acolyte at the EBE shrine, and this Jim Marrs book would seem to be the one. When I had a little sport with Roswell tonight, the lines lit up - too bad it was the end of the show.

Lots of police cars around tonight. As I left for the Diner, the grim triumvirate was parked in front of a house down the street - fire truck, police car, ambulance. No word on what happened. As I came home tonight, the same team turned down a street a few blocks away. I saw someone in the dim light of a doorway waving in the paramedics. Passed four cars stopped for speeding. Earlier today I passed a police car at the lake, and motioned for the officers to roll down the window. I wanted to ask them about the 2-1-Klick, which was described in a recent community newspaper as "an up and coming gang." The officer said they were a gang of 20 or so wannabees, white kids trying to be a gang. The officer assured me that the police were harassing them at every possible opportunity, arresting them for every minor violation. (I'm paraphrasing.) Good. Silly little vermin, spattering all the street signs with their tags, beating people with baseball bats to get props and "keep it real."

Morons. Six hours in a cold cell surrounded by hulking sodomites ought to make them rethink this whole gangsta bit.

06/26/97

Two pooches in the sunset, chomping on dried stick of animal hide. Birds in full cheep, the distant growl of a plane drawing a line of white overhead. A perfect day here in Minnesota, hot and bright and sweet. I got in the Defiant and just drove around today for the joy of it - did the circuit of the lakes, noting with relief that Lake of the Isles looks clean and well-clipped. A few years ago the solons of the park board decided to let the north end go wild, an experiment in natural landscaping, and of course it looked like a swamp. Ratty cattails and a billion skeeters. The people around that lake pay the highest property taxes on the surface of the earth, and I believe a little force was exerted on their behalf.

Tonight's show awaits, and it will no doubt be a let-down from last night's show. Any show where we have one of those communal confabulation sessions that comes up with some new piece of Diner mythology is inevitably followed by one where I try to build on the previous night, trying to shovel lightning into the bottle for a second time. Last night just about set a record for topic peregrination - began with Roswell, moved to Who's Who, traveled to George Orwell, had a question about Stanford White, talked about the Mad cartoonist Jack Davis, then did a bit on Jeremy's new superpower (he can scramble eggs simply by holding them) that led to calls suggesting what he should do, now that he has super powers. I named his arch enemy - a slinky female who calls herself Salmonella. The sidekick issue was raised, and my favorite was a fellow who called in, announced he was a Caublanasian like Tiger Woods, and wanted to be a sidekick named Hash Brown. This was interspersed with discussions on cliff diving, snorkeling, and whether Jacques Cousteau and Brian Keith were the same person. It was damn near exhausting keeping it all straight.

And I was exhausted, due to the double ration of dogs in the house. This morning was no better - Else started yipping for release from her kennel at 8:30, and when I woke, Jasper was standing by the bed, snout on the sheets, imploring me to wake and set her free from jail. So I did. I'd gone to sleep a little earlier, so I wasn't dead dead tired. Just close. Did another walk around the lake, hauling the beasts along, and then sat outside basking and reading "A Little Yellow Dog" by Walter Mosley. Excellent work, as usual.

Then the ride. Drove the highways, went back to old neighborhoods.

Stopped in Dinkytown, where the street renovation project has broadened University, installed a gorgeous footbridge over the railroad tracks (a suspension bridge, with the towers in the shape of big Ms for the University of Minnesota) and put new streetlights up. Quite nice. It's also killed all the businesses. The old corner Fanny Farmer is gone, the Kinko's is gone, the Record Store is gone. The Varsity theater is still closed. It looks small and sad and shabby. I suppose it was shabby when I lived there too, but it had so much more to offer. Everything you needed was right there in Dinkytown USA. That's what the T-shirts said: DINKYTOWN USA. WHERE IT'S AT.

"It" was never defined, but they didn't have to.

I drove on, hit the highway, went to the grocery store for popsicles. It just seemed like a day for popsicles. I found my favorite of all time: banana. Nothing else says summer like a banana popsicle. Nothing else, except for everything else today.

I just got a writing assignment from the Post - write a column in place of resident humor columnist Tony Kornheiser. It's been a few months since I wrote a piece of flat-out humor, so this should be fun, refreshing, and gratifying. Unless of course my skills have completely atrophied and there's nothing inside of me but careless talkshow blatheration.

Eight o'clock Friday night, and it's one of those evenings I really resent having to go to work. I'll love it once I get there, of course, but this is a night to sit on the porch and drink margueritas until you topple over backwards with a smile on your face. It was, and is, a perfect summer day by my standards: blast-furnace hot with a touch of humidity and the occasional stern cool breeze. I have been drinking can after can of Lipton Brisk Ice Tea - I bought it as a tribute to good marketing. They have an ad campaign featuring an alarmingly lifelike Frank Sinatra puppet. (Lifelike in that he resembles Classic ring-a-ding-ding Frank, not liverspotted forgetful mumbly old Frank) "Man, that's brisk," quoth the puppet, and that was enough to lodge the product in my brain. When it went on sale I tried it, and now I'm hooked. And thus does advertising accomplish its purpose.

Had a cup of coffee this afternoon at Bob's Java Hut, the coffee house some of my listeners have advised me to visit. I did not fit in, I think: insufficient piercing or tattoos. (I like to know that some of my listeners are people who do fit in at a cafe where many patrons are pierced, tattooed and goateed.) The place has a motorcycle theme, but not a hardcore Harley feel. Come to think of it, I did fit in: I was wearing a shirt from my dad's gas station, with a big Texaco emblem on the back. So I had a petroleum connotation to my outfit that matched the motorcycle theme.

They served the best cup of coffee I'd had in weeks. I would have had seconds but after one cup I could barely make out the words in the newspapers. They looked like ants in an earthquake.

One dog now. Sara has taken Jasper to Dog Heaven, leaving Elsa behind. She's going to be picked up any time now. This morning both dogs were good, and did not wake me at the morning the sun dribbled through the shades. I woke to find both dogs sprawled on the bedroom floor, waiting. Good dogs. Although last night when I crawled up to sleep I found Elsa sleeping by my side of bed, and I thought: isn't that sweet. She's starting to feel she belongs. Then I leaned over to give her a pat and was rewarded with a snarl and a curiously undoglike hiss. I told her to go to her kennel, and she went downstairs trailing sullen hostility. Went halfway into the kennel and stopped. This much and no more. I had to push her in. A little like putting toothpaste back in the tube except that toothpaste doesn't bare its fangs and growl.

Spent almost all of last night's show on whether water freezes faster when it's hot or cold. (Answer: cold.) The question was posed by a truck driver in Montana. I imagined him driving on for two more hours, amazed at what he set in motion. Call after call, back and forth. What tonight will be, I don't know. (LATER ADDENDUM: tattoos and Captain Kangaroo.)

Sorry for the insubstantial Bleat, but it's one of those days where I spend more time on the look of the page than the substance. These are the special Fourth of July graphics, available for a limited time only. I'd write more tonight but I have 40 more letters to answer. Tomorrow: Ninety degrees, muggy. I really can't wait. I have the fan, the ice cubes, and the limes. Eight days and freedom ends. Eight days until every day is Monday.

I’m writing this on two grand worth of high-powered computer. The capabilities of this machine are stunning - two, count them two MB of RAM, and a gargantuan 20 MB hard drive. It came preloaded with all sorts of programs - MacPaint, MacWrite, and, ah, MacPaint - plus a bev of exciting games such as Stunt Copter. That’s right, a bev of games. The one thing this machine doesn’t have is a keboard that can tpe a . . . how to put this? QUERT is a six letter word, except on this computer. But who needs that letter? Who needs arrow kes, for that matter? Who needs color? I have a Macintosh Plus!
Bought it this afternoon from George, collector and purveor of all things Interesting. He’s divesting himself of old Macs, and let me have the Plus for $25. I’m using it as an outdoor computer, an old appliance I can plug in when I want to write on the porch. (I can’t write at night, though; this keboard will keep the neighbors up. It has that dull-click thonk of movie computers circa “War Games,” and it’s loud as hell - sounds like I’m chopping wood, not tping.) I put the sstem folder on a single flopp disk, and there’s room left over for Simple Text, so I don’t even need the hard drive. Perhaps I could hook it up to the MegaMac upstairs and back up two or three TIFs.
Just think: when this machine was the height of technological fashion, there was no Internet for commoners, onl bulletin boards and bitmapped graphics. And that wasn’t even ten ears ago. I never did write a novel on the old SE/30; wrote the first on a Leading Edge and the second on the IIcx. But this machine makes me nostalgic for m first Mac, for the da when I stopped grousing at the C prompt and began to devote entire afternoons to lining up icons. I smile when I see it. It’s the computational equivalent of a VW Bug.

Wonderful weekend, reall. Frida was eight kinds of hell, starting with the column, and then Almanac. I’d written a monologue poking fun at the weather alert bulletins that monopolize so much screen real estate, leaving no space for the actors. Unfortunatel, we had severe weather that ver night - in fact, the storm was rolling in as I spoke. B the time the show ended, the were putting REAL warnings up on the screen. Ah well. Went home, prepared for the Diner show, went to bed.
The storm knocked KSTP off the power grid, so when I showed up Saturda morning everthing was on diesel. Big chuffing generators, and no air conditioning.The door to the studio was propped open, as was the back door - I could sit in m usual chair and see outside. I suddenl realized wh ever show begins with a faint tinge of anxiet: it’s claustrophobia. I sailed into the show with good spirits, and on a sunn summer afternoon I managed to fill the lines and never lack for someone to talk with. At the tail end of the Week of Work, I felt completel reenergized. A good wa to end.
Home to sit on the sofa and watch a little MST3K, then Sara and I went to supper. It had begun to rain again, of course. Later, when we went to the movie theater, an usher - if ou can call them that anmore - came out told us what to do if the power went out again, thus making everone wonder if we’d all end up sitting in a dark room waiting for someone to panic and bolt for the exits. On that note, the movie began: Fight the Future. I held m breath for the first 15 minutes, until I realized with amazement: this doesn’t, hasn’t, and in all probabilit will not suck. It was essentiall a two-hourTV episode, but since the TV episodes are one-hour movies, that’s a high enough standard for me. Some tremendous visual effects, doled out sparingl. Actual tension & surprises, too. Of course, I was leaning into this one, read to forgive and enjo. I wasn’t knocked out, but I soaked up ever moment with pleasure.
Sunda - sat in the sun, rode around with the Giant Swede, got the computer, took a quick trip to the loathed MegaMall, then we sat outside Caribou Coffee in Edina, as we do ever possible Sunda, and talked movies and histor and politics. Have to have one good solid conversation a week with someone that isn’t a co-worker or a household relation, and that’s the one for both of us.

There was one sad note on the show, and the sort of odd confluence that I’ve become used to finding on the Diner. One caller turned out to have worked for m Dad at the service station in the mid sixties. He praised him as an excellent boss, and devoted to keeping the restrooms clean. Said that if there were three people lined up to use the bathroom, the one in the middle would be dad, so he could clean it between customers. But then he said he remembered the dog at the gas station - a Basenji named Lad. (Remember the missing letter - that’s Lad, as in Lad and the Tramp.) This was the dog I had has a kid, when I was more interested in cats. Dad probabl bought me a dog because he thought it would encourage me to do more bo things, be less of a butterball bookworm. I liked the dog, but didn’t know what to do with it, and I was at school most of the da. Wasn’t the sort to go exploring with the dog - not when there were books and a chemistr set waiting. The dog spent a lot of time in the back ard before it went to the station to live, and it was there a car hit the dog and sent it to the Great Forest. I’ve felt bad about that for a long time. (For ears and ears, ou might sa.)
Well, Stu asked if I remembered the dog, and of course I did. He said - laughing - that once when the dog did something bad, the mechanics put it in an oil drum, closed the lid and banged on the side to teach the dog a lesson. Perhaps it did. But to me it sounded like a tale from a Dickensian orphanage - beatings administered to uncomprehending castoffs. Poor dog.
Jasper has just come up to me with a ball in his mouth: it’s time to make it up to dogs in general.

Back outside, writing on the old little Mac. Now the right-hand shift ke] has given out. Well, I'm adaptive: I'm learning to use the left-hand one, just as I have compensated for the lack of a ] ke] b using the ] ke] in its stead, and doing a search-and-replace on the mother machine. And m] high-powered word-processing program? TeachText. This program came with ever]thing ]ou bought - it allowed people to read the READ ME files, which of course no one ever did. After a ear or two ou had a dozen versions on our hard drive, and periodicall ou'd clean them out like someone eradicating pests from the larder. Of course, when I went looking for TeachText, I couldn't find it anwhere - it's long been supplanted b SimpleText, which bombs on this old Mac. I eventuall found a cop on a long-retired old video capture program. It must feel like one of those elderl folks who gets a job as a Wal-Mart greeter, happ to be of service again.
The big chore has been getting the sstem folder down to something that will fit on a 800K flopp]. Just as last week's chore was getting the sstem folder down to something that will fit on a Zip.
I am sipping a Jack Daniel's Cactus Kicker Countr Cocktail. (Note: contains no Jack Daniel's.) I don't know wh I bought it. Probabl wanted something light and zing]. Well, it's like a margarita, onl sweeter. Has the color of a vitamin-abuser's urine, too.
An eas, quiet da]. Went to work to do some errands and some chores, then gave notice that I will be taking the first half of the week off. Tomorrow: actual vacation. Of course, it will start earl] in the morning when the Minnesgasco gu] shows up to install a batter] in their supersecret meter-reading device. Routine maintenance, the] call it, but I know better: that batter] went dead two ]ears ago, and I never set up an appointment to let them come and replace it. The device allows them to read the meter from their truck instead of going into the back]ard to check it. I understand wh this would be convenient for them, and I don't mind - but when the] can't come during evening hours and require someone to be absent from work so the] don't have to get out of the truck, I am less inclined to help out. Hmm: there's a column here.
After the meterperson leaves, I don't know what I'll do with m]self. I have not had a free guiltless workless da] since I began this job a ]ear ago. If I've been off, I've been elsewhere - on a famil] trip, or in Coz. Just having a da] to hang around the house and read books and be with Jasper will seem delicious and rare. Which of course it is.
Toda] I took Jasper to the dog baker]. Took along the Times, intending to sit in the sun and read the paper while he ate some sill] expensive dog cookie. (That's all the] sell at this place: coffee for humans, and baked goods for dogs. I give them another three months, tops.) He didn't want to go for a walk - too hot, too little shade, no creek to jump into. But I urged him on with promises of treats, and that word usuall] gets him moving. Finall] arrived: closed Monda]s. So we went down to the lake. He was in that odd contemplative mood I rarel] see in other dogs - just wants to sit on the shore and look, and smell things. Content to just face the wind and let the world flow into that brilliant schnozz. So I sat down and read the paper, watched the boats and the waves. Looked up at the sk]line be]ond the trees and mentall] subtracted all the buildings constructed since the boom times began; 30 ]ears ago, there was naught but the gre] finger of the Fosha] tower, barel] visible over the rolling contour of the treetops. I'll not see change of that magnitude in m] life, I'm sure; no one is going to build another 60-stor building here for a while, and even so, it would just be another big bruiser in a sk]line crowded with selfish structures. The]'d have to build a dozen 60-stor buildings to change the view as much as it's changed since 72. And the] probabl] never will. Unless someone nukes Chicago.

I'd sa more, but there's work to do now: the Newhouse column, and then a little more work for the Art Frahm site. ou'll be able to tell this one was done in a flurr] - not a lot of fanc] or pretentiousl] fanc] graphics, just pictures and text. But the pictures - o]. Or, as m] little Mac plus wants to sa it: o].

Sometimes you have to wonder if the elderly are slow not because they're old, but because they've always been slow. Dim people don't get smarter as they age, after all. I was in the line at the grocey store today, behind a lady in her early 70s, who was utterly flummoxed by the debit card reader. It was like watching a man try to find his clitoris. She just didn't know where to start. After her a fellow ten years her junior wanted to buy a carton of smokes, which meant a search for the key and a trip to the cabinet, because Lord knows we can't let 65-year old men get their own smokes. The man paid with a hundred dollar bill. This meant a search for change. I'm still two people back, and I can feel my ice cream melting. He had the good sense to apologize to the rest of the people in line, but no one was particularly eager to accept it. One apologizes for choosing an item that will not scan, requiring someone to fetch the price. (Is there anything that makes you feel as weary and irritated as the sight of a grocery store clerk leaning into the microphone to ask for a price check? You know it’s going to take forever.)
Finally it's my turn. I put down my basket; the clerk gives me a weary and apologetic Hi.
"It's my fault," I said.
"No," says a voice behind me. "It's my fault." I turn around and see a silver-haired old coot with a big white beard. "I get in the line, it stops. My fault."
"I'm sorry," I say , "but I have ice cream, and that means the line must slow. It's my fault."
We argued in grave earnest voices for a few minutes. No one broke character or got disrespectful. Put me right back in a dandy mood.

Hard not to be dandy on a day off, even if it rains. Big clouds wandered in around two, and because they had nothing to do and were already here, they decided to rain - big heavy drops that plopped on the windshield like poop from some translucent bird. Since a walk around the lake was off, I went to Uptown to investigate some junk - ah, thrift - no, antique stores. Found a place called 15 Minutes, stuffed to the rafters with miserable dreck, all of it from the 70s. Games and toys and other junk. One heep teetered over a playpen - which happened to be occupied at the time. I left before I pricked m finger on some battered bit of Brady Bunch memoriabilia and got Legionaire's disease. Went to another shop and was glared at b a snooty proprietor, so to hell with that place. Went to the big antique complex - dozens of dealers - and found it closed. This was a message, I guess.

So I hung around Uptown, my old neighborhood. Like any place where you’ve spent a lot of time - I lived there three years - you feel connected without feeling close anymore. It’s like having coffee with a best friend from high school. But I renewed my bond to the place after I returned from DC; I rented a mail box in Uptown and went there weekly to check my mail, have coffee, get out of the snowbound house. I think of those days now when I return, not the days when I lived there. It’s still an interesting neighborhood, though - same mix of upscale residents, filthy punks, and sullen teens who had better hope no one ever takes a picture of them wearing those ridiculous high-heeled sneakers.
People make fun of 70s fashions, as well they should - God, what horrors. But picture the average kid standing on a streetcorner at Lake and Hennepin is wearing huge ragged dirty years, multiple piercings, pink hair with black roots, tattoos, a shirt designed to recall the worst of the 70s, platform tennis shoes, and a life-sux expression - it’s all I can do not to point and laugh.
Yes, in the 80s I dressed in thrift-store suits with narrow lapels and skinny ties, and later graduated to Miami Vice-hued shirts. You know what? I too may have been slavishly following the trends. But at least I got to look good doing it.

Had a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. It struck me as I looked at the street parade - dogs, punks, twittering men with perfect grooming, dumpy shorn women with a longshoreman’s gait, teen girls bouncing along like blow-up dolls OMIGODing and grabbing each other and OMIGODing again, more dogs, loners who’d come here in the 80s looking for a hip swingin’ life and wouldn’t leave until they found it, etc. etc. - looking at all this, I realized that I haven’t had a pure summer day like this since 1996. Nothing due tomorrow. No radio at night, like last summer. Just time to sit and watch.

I used to wonder what all the work was leading up to, whether there would be a moment when I thought: Ah. Made it. Relax; everything worked out. I think that moment was today, at 3:07 PM, at the corner of Lake and Hennepin.

At 3:08 my parking meter expired. The ticket says it was issued at 3:12.

.