JANUARY 1999 Part 2
Lost a pair of gloves today. That makes two for the season. Given that the gloves season has only been with us a few weeks, I'm ahead of schedule. Since I was right by Daytons' department store, I stopped in, found the glove counter - unmanned, of course; why station a clerk at the gloves counter in December - and pawed through the racks until I found something I would not be ashamed to wear and not too heartsick to lose. There was another fellow looking for gloves as well, and he joined me at the counter a minute after I'd taken up residence. We both periscoped the store for a clerk. He was well-dressed, about my height, ten years older,a nd I thought: if the clerk comes and waits on him first, he won't correct her.

A clerk showed up a few minutes later, and took him first. He didn't correct her.

I gave him a long, blank look; he met my gaze and then turned away, straight-faced by abashed.

I tapped my credit card on the glass of the display case. Slow taps: one. Two. Three. Nothing that could be mistaken for anger or impatience. He looked at me again to see if I was looking at him. I was. He looked away. I shifted my gaze but not my head. Tapped the card: one. Two. Three. He looked again, furtively, looked away. I saw a red blush in his cheeks. Victory!

The phone rang, and the clerk took the call, of course; people who ring up always take precedence over customers who are standing there with money in their hands. With each extra second the transaction took, the fellow seemed to sweat a little more. He now looked like a man buying a copy of Juggs from a young female clerk with a nun behind him in line: please get this over please hurry up.

I had not said a word, made a bad face, sighed, growled, or done anything but give him a look as blank as an unplugged television. But because he had a residual nubbin of conscience, and because my neutral look said: I am neither the sort of person to do what you do nor call you on it somehow I made him ashamed of himself.

Then I followed him out of the store and outside, where I produced a walking stick and caned him to a moaning pulp.

I say that because nowadays it seems no court in the land would convict anyone of anything.

Another cold day - the air is just godless, vacant, empty; every breath feels like you're sucking the very vacuum of space. I had no hat, of course, and the wind shot up my pants legs. It was zero when I got to work. For those Bleat readers not familiar with this part of the country, well, zero is cold even to us. I regretted not wearing a sweater; that's how cold it was. All day I groaned when I thought of the drive home, how the first ten minutes in the cold dark car idling behind one traffic light after another was pure misery, absolute torture. But to my delight today I discovered that I had set the interior controls of my Defiant incorrectly; one flip of a switch and the temperature from the blowers increased by a dozen lovely degrees, and I luxuriated in a blast of 59 degree air. Like the kiss of a tropical breeze, it was.

Stopped at the grocery store for chili. It was a day for chili. It was not a day for making it, just for eating it. Bought a can of the stuff and some Twisty Cornbread Twists or something equally stupid in name; made it, choked it all down sweating like the first Englishman to ever taste curry. By God, when Hormel says the chili is hot, they actually mean it. The old days when "hot" meant "tending towards tepid" are gone. I toweled off, fed the dog, and hit the sack for a nap. I'd been utterly unable to sleep last night - tossed and turned until I feared the windows would glow with dawn. I don't know why - I had so many things ricocheting around my head and they were all hard and round as pool balls, clicking as they struck each other, rattling in the pocket. Going to sleep was as hard as gargling dominoes. Jasper woke me this morning with some pointless barking, and I dragged myself through the day as if I was made of lead bricks and sodden potatoes. The nap restored me, but it only means I'll thrash in place again tonight.

Woke, read some Ellroy, had coffee; my wife came home while Jasper was in the backyard, so there was much leaping and barking. Dogs are just the most peculiar creatures; the way they order the world is so different from our own. As soon as my wife had laid her hands on his muzzle he danced away, ran to me, jammed his snout in my crotch, and then ran back to her. Ancient instinctual imperative: establish the pack scent. then reassert hierarchy - he grabbed a toy and demanded I play tug-of-war. I won, of course; I always win at the start and at the end. In between it's a toss-up. Then he settled down to await a scrap of food. I went upstairs, did the BBC interview - passable job - and now I'm here.

And now I'm gone.

My wife described it perfectly; I didn't sleep at all last night; I kept waking up. That's exactly how it feels. Obviously, to wake up you must be sleeping, but it doesn't feel that way. There is sleep, waking, and not-sleep, a condition characterized by A) semi-unconsciousness, and B) the conviction that you are actually awake. This morning, for example, the phone rang twice while I was sleeping. The first time was from my boss - one of three - asking me if it would be okay to give an hour of Saturday's Diner to the show that precedes me, since they're in DC for the Senate Trial. Of course it was, but it was so nice of her to ask. A bad boss lays down the law. A good boss asks your help in writing the law. (Even if it's already written.)

Back to sleep. The phone rang later: the BBC, an hour ahead of schedule, asking if I knew what I would talking about. I did not. I was blurry and uncooperative. Hung up and clambered back on the raft of sleep before it drifted out with the tide.

Woke up later, exhausted, and dragged myself off to work. Most of the column was already written - I had a burst of energy yesterday where I banged out most of the week's work. But this meant Tinkering, and Tinkering takes forever, and can be indefinitely delayed. You figure, the piece is mostly done, won't take too long to fix . . .and then five o'clock rolls around and it's a flat unfunny mess. In today's case, I had to finish by four to pick up my wife at the car dealership. So I futzed & fixed, hit the SEND button and went to the southernmost suburbs. I'd expected traffic to be bad, and it wasn't - so I had a 20 minute window to visit the postcard shop and get antiquarian on yo ass, as Quentin Tarantino would put it. Pawed through a million cards, decided that I would start collecting cards on the 1933 World's Fair, and bought a batch. Back in the car. Would my wife be there at five?

She was. And she was not pleased. She waved me outside and said "there's a problem," and that the service department was jerking her around. They had too many cars to fix, and even though she'd made this appointment a week ago, and even though they hadn't called her to cancel the appointment, they weren't going to accept her car. She was . . . peeved.

"What do you need me for?" I asked. I'm the last person you want in a dispute like this. I roll up like an inchworm poked with a pencil, whereas she can, if riled, remove the enamel from someone's teeth at ten paces with one well-aimed argument.

We went inside and got the manager. He explained that there was nothing they could do. She informed him in a tight clipped brisk set of instructions that this was unacceptable. No rancor, no fuming, but her manner spoke of the thunder to come were alternate arrangements not forthcoming. He saw the wisdom of his ways. I stood there chewing on a breath mint, happily useless, watching the fellow grind the gears as he backpedaled.

She got a loaner car out of him for as long as it takes to fix her vehicle.

Back home. Fixed a fast supper, and then everyone went prone for a nap. Naturally, the phone rang. It was the BBC, wanting to know what I wanted to talk about.

"The . . . the protean nature of hamburger," I said.


"Call me back in half an hour."

"Brilliant. Cheers."

I couldn't sleep after that. Laid on the sofa and thought about hamburger. So I got up, drank a hogshead of coffee, did the Beeb interview while fixing some crud on the web site, and then: voila! Release! It's over! Or at least that's how it feels now. I have two pieces to write tomorrow, but only one hour of Diner to do, and it feels like I'm way past the fulcrum of the week.

Be still my geek'd soul: I learned the other day that Kate Mulgrew is not leaving Voyger, which was nice, and learned that there will be another series, which is great. Odds are it'll be New Frontier, with Captain Calhoun and First Officer Thatbitch Shelby. Mark my words. All the decreptitude of DS9's first few seasons, with the out-of-range-of-Starfleet-help mood of Voyager, with a ship that looks like the original series' Enterprise. Can't miss.

I should, of course, be interested in contemporary pop culture, the new, the vital, the Now, but s I have come to learn each week by reading Entertainment Weekly, there's just so much I don't care about. The cover this week, for example, is Jewel. Straight part, balloony gazooms, and a brain so dim it makes a penlight look like a supernova. Precious mincing poetry as deep as a petri dish. I don't care. Article on Dawson's Creek: don't care. Article on Carmen Electra: don't care. Why would anyone want to read about Carmen Electra? The pictures suffice, because they can airbrush out the swarming miasma of Rodman cooties.

It's eleven PM - time to go finish scanning and futzing. I've been upgrading some of the crappier sites lately, refitting some of the more appalling design decisions. I'm sure I'll be equally appalled at the revisions in six months, but luckily - and this is heartening - I find that the mail about the sites concerns itself with content, and no one takes me to task for bad layout or crummy graphics. You're all too kind.

Lousy Vikings. I never thought this Super Bowl berth a dead-cert lock, or a dead-lock cert, or whatever colorful Runyanesque lingo the sports people love to throw around. Too many people seemed too sure of victory. When the Vikings fumbled at the end of th first half and Atlanta scored, cutting the margin to a single touchdown, I thought: that's it, right there, that's the momentum shift that's going to do it. And it did it. Of course, I don't really know what I'm talking about, and the experts will no doubt poke through the guts of the game for the next few days and prove it was lost during the coin toss, or perhaps the drive to the stadium.
I watched it over at the Giant Swede's house, and as predicted, the baby had to go down for a nap in the fourth quarter. So you had four guys enduring overtime under an enforced rule of silence. No whooping or weeping - instead, a detailed repertoire of gestures and grimaces. We looked like mimes afflicted with St. Vitus' Dance. But even when it was over and we went outside, free to speak, we just mumbled and shrugged and slumped our way home.
I drove to the computer store for no particular reason, looking to see if they had anything to beat the machine I planned to buy. They didn't. On the way home I noticed that the antique store on Penn & 66th was open - I'd never seen it open on Sunday, or never noticed, so I decided to stop. To my surprise I found a selection of exceptional postcards, including a rare, rare picture of the old Loeb arcade - which, by some happy coincidence, is next week's Long Gone web site addition. Also found some additions for the Gallery of Regrettable Food, which I bought with a heavy heart: another night of scanning in store. Gee. Whoopee. Big prize: two glass swizzle sticks from the fabled Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale. Best part about them: they can't be scanned.

Ordered my computer on the phone tonight. Endured a half-hour wait on hold. I would have done it online, but I couldn't arrange a configuration that did not give me speakers, and I don't want speakers. I have enough speakers. So a perky-voiced salesperson led me through the options, assembling my machine from the bare frame.
"Speakers?" she asked.
"No," I said. And then, being a guy, I felt compelled to add "I have great speakers." A vestige of old early college male belief that women are attracted to men with good - excuse me, primo sound systems.
A little later she was describing my choice of software packages, and I chose the one best suited for home office needs.
"That comes with speakers," she said.
"Why? It's Money 99 - I don't need speakers to balance my checkbook."
"It just does," she said. "I'm sorry."
That's America: I apologize for having to give you extra stereo speakers.
"Can you just make a note to leave them off?"
"It's $49 extra without the speakers."
That's America, too.

Friday: can't remember. Work, home, pizza, something or other. Oh yes: started ripping up the Gallery and redoing all 120 pages to clarify the design, which still sucks. Back and forth I go, forth and back: either I have a monster main index page that scrolls down three yards, or I break it up into subsite index pages that hinder brisk movement between the subsites. Man, I wish I really knew what I was doing.

Uh-oh. I just went upstairs for a refill, and I heard my wife singing at the keyboards. Which is good: she hasn't sung in weeks, probably months, and it's great to hear her relaxed enough to belt out some torch songs and standards. Problem is, I discovered that the keyboard's power cord was severed the other day. Actually, I discovered this a month ago, and haven't replaced it. The keyboard is running on batteries, and they're low. So it's only a matter of time before the thing runs down. Every time she wants to use one of the whizbang gadgets I've bought - keyboards, computer, whatever - it always manages to fail her at some point, which of course reflects directly on me. I can only hope she tires of singing before the batteries go dead.

Maybe if I set the sofa on fire.

Saturday: did the Diner, but just an hour's worth. A curious hour. It's harder to do an hour than two; you can't get anything moving, and if you do, you have to whip it along like a balky mule. Went home and helped Sara prepare the evening's feast - we had a small goodbye party for the Dark Chef's girlfriend. (I should not that my "help" consisted of cleaning toilets and staying out of the way.) The meal was extraordinary, but so unbelievably filling (garlic soup, pan-seared tuna, risotto, a torte that weighed 40 pounds) that I had to excuse myself and put on looser clothes. By the time everyone left I had a flaming case of indigestion, but ah: we had Pepto. No, we didn't. It was a Walgreen's knockoff named Soothe. But it was pink and it did the job. I laid on the sofa and watched TV until 3 AM - what it was, I cannot remember, but I frequently caught bits of the Classic Country infomercial that seems to play nonstop around the cable cosmos. It had some fascinating images - old black and white videos from some old country show on TV. The set looked like someone's basement rumpus room, and the performers are either younger versions of the Heroes or one-hit wonders. Don Gibson, singing Lonesome Me, looking nonchalant and casual or hugely terrified - hard to tell. George Jones, with his buzz cut and serial-killer eyes. Johnny Cash, looking like Elvis crossed with an Old Testament prophet who'd killed a man in Memphis just to watch him pray. And my favorite, Ferlin Husky, who cannot keep his head from doing weird, uncomfortable things. His mouth slurs off to the side. His eyebrows twitch alarmingly. He looks possessed.

I'd order it, but why? I see it all every night on TV. Now, some writing for work, and then X-Files, which I'm sure all the fans will hate.

Ah: my wife has come downstairs, singing. The machinery didn't fail me. Saved. For now.

This morning began with great confusion and consternation. No alarm, but the doorbell. Or rather, doorbuzz. This usually sends the dog into fits of barking, but I heard only the door. I looked at the clock: I'd overslept by an hour. Damn! I looked out the window - two people at the door. No idea who. Another buzz. By the time I got downstairs they were gone, down the street, and I recognized a neighbor and her daughter.

No dog. Then I noticed that all my wife's stuff was still on the table. Odd: she'd had a meeting this morning, scheduled for 15 minutes from now. Looking out the window, I saw the show shovel stuck in bank out front. No wife. It was all clear: she'd been shoveling, the dog had run off, and she was out looking for him.

I put on shoes, went outside, and instantly slipped on the stairs: thud. Ouch. Another neighbor, passing by, asked if I was okay, and of course I said I was. I stood and looked around for a a few seconds.

"Looking for your dog?" she said.

"Have you seen him?"
She said she hadn't.

Damn. Went back inside, poured a cup of coffee.

At this point the smoke alarm went off.

It had been making peeping noises for a few days, ticking and beeping as though it was trying to work up the courage to tell us something. Now it exploded in a fit of shrieking beeps, and would only be mollified when I took it down and removed the battery. Which I did. Then there was a sound downstairs - my wife had returned, with the dog.

They'd been on a walk. Nothing more. Her meeting had been rescheduled.

Sometimes when you oversleep you're fully rested, but sometimes it just takes it out of you to sleep too long, and you can't wake up no matter how hard you try. The rest of the morning and afternoon I was blurry and washed-out, but that's generally how I am, anyway; I do best at night. I was outside shoveling at 2 AM last night - quietly, of course, but I wanted to get a start on reducing the effects of the avalanche that rolled off the porch roof. I also wanted to get some video of the Winter Wonderland we got after midnight - thick moist snow that coated everything in a cottony sleeve. Real fairyland stuff, except of course real fairies would have died of exposure, or at least lost their gossamer wings to frostbite.

Around two I went to an auto dealer to drive a Navigator. (Interesting that the big popular SUVs are called Navigator and Explorer; too bad they weren't preceded by the Spyglass, Mosaic or Lynx SUVs.) It's for a piece I'm doing on the governor's choice of official car. It was a large vehicle. A very, very large vehicle. I drove it around for a while until I got the hang of it, and then slipped back into my own low-slung car to go home: it was a rather jarring experience, to go from being Lord on High to skulking around at ground level.

By now I felt even lousier, having eaten almost nothing, so I bought supper, made it, and went back to sleep for a brief nap, what would be an afternoon siesta if I kept normal hours. It's always interesting to note the thoughts that pop up just before sleep takes over; first you try to turn the volume of your own thoughts down, thinking about less and less until you suddenly realize that you're thinking about something that came from nowhere, makes no sense, but is, or was until you ruined the moment, completely credible . . . and then, having grasped that you are now asleep, you are. It's the damnedest trick.

Anyway, the nap left me spry and renewed, and it's about damn time. For most people, it's now two hours to bedtime. For me, however, I've six hours left, and they're the most productive of the day. Many days I wish it was the other way around - I could get the work done first, and have the rest of the day for other things, but it's been that way as long as I've been writing, all the way back to college: the entire day is just one long wait until I write. Back then I went to classes. Now I go to the office.

The last word I'd use to describe the Gallery of Regrettable Food 2.0 is "poignant," but I came across something today that tells me there's an entirely new purpose to the site:

Expose Institutional Sexism!

Really. Last night I was scanning this book of Swanson's Chicken recipes. Each recipe is accompanied by a disembodied head of the woman who sent in the dish, floating serene above a photo of rice and rendered poultry. One of them, I noticed, was from Minneapolis: Mrs. W. B. Henderson. Well, today at work I wandered back to the library to see if we had anything on a W. B. Henderson, Mr or Mrs, and to my surprise we did: a fellow with that name was the State Registrar of Statues for about a hundred years. When he died in the late 50s he was the oldest public servant in the state. Big stolid sober-looking fellow, well-fed. No word on his wife, though, so I went downstairs into the dusty morgue.

It's a frightening place, the morgue. Every time you open an envelope and take out a story, there's a few more puffs of dust, a few more bits of the paper disintegrating. Of course, we have microfiche copies of all the papers, but they're not indexed like the old morgue. There are thousands of people tucked in little beige envelopes, their lives reduced to a few stories - appointment, promotion, retirement, death - and should the envelope disappear, so do they, as far as the paper's concerned. Their history is recorded elsewhere, thank God - in the faces of descendants, old photo albums, notes scattered here and there. But sometimes I feel as if those file cabinets are a dike that keeps these people from washing away into history. And to think that 95 % of the people who lived in the Twin Cities in the old days don't even get an envelope.

Well, W. B. had a file three envelopes thick, and it was dry stuff. No mention of his wife, other than the fact that he had one. Then I found a typewritten biography: first wife died, second wife married in 1927, name of Helen Lawler. Could that be the face in the Swanson's cookbook?

One other step: check the reverse directories. We have phone books from the 50s, so I looked up Henderson, expecting dozens. And I got dozens.

Only one W. B. Henderson lived in Minneapolis in 53, 55, and 59. Next, I checked a bound edition of Sunday supplements, looking for Swanson's ads of the same style as the cookbook. I found an ad in seconds in the '55 edition. I think I can reasonably assume that the little tiny floating face in the tiny little cookbook belonged to Helen Lawler, wife of the Minnesota State Registrar of Statutes.

Couldn't find an obit on her, though. In fact, I found nothing under her maiden name - not even under Helen Henderson. That's when it struck me: most of the women in the cookbook were listed under their husband's names. In their one shot for some sort of fame on their own, they flew under the colors of the convoy.

So. I decided not to built the Swanson's site around the recipes or pictures, but make it a shrine to these women, ridiculous as that sounds. It's turning out to be one of my favorite sites in the whole project - a bit of a bandwidth hog, but they deserve it.

Warm day. Woke, walked pooch, got to work, discovered an envelope from Dog&Kennel magazine. I had no idea why they sent me the magazine until I paged through and found one of my columns. "Reprinted with permission," it said, and I certainly hope that's so. There was also an article about putting down the old family pet, and I could not read it without weeping right there in the office. I've said it before: I sit at the terminal and scroll through a couple dozen stories of murder & atrocity a day, and think: man is vile. And then I finish my sandwich. But one sad dead dog story makes me blubber. This one was written with restraint, which made it worse. At one point he described walking the dog to the car for the last trip to the vet, and the dog looked back at the house as if to -

Well, enough.

Wrote the column, went for a walk to revive flagging energy. Stopped at Shinder's magazine store to see if they had the new PC Accelerator magazine, which is an utterly juvenile rag I can't get enough of. They had it, but they only had the naked edition, i.e., no disk. I asked the clerk to see if the other Shinder's on Hennepin had the issue, and while he made the call I realized he had perhaps the most enormous case of BO I'd encountered in a while. Or did he? The entire store had BO, as did the Hennepin store, but in the latter case it seems like Institutional BO, the result of a million shabby Aqualungs shambling into the porno room and snorting over the wank mags; in this store, the BO seemed to come and go, depending on who was behind the counter. This clerk had a nose ring as thick as a bagel and several amateur tats; he was also kind and helpful, and did his best to find a mag with the disk. Ah, Minnesota.