|JUNE 1999 Part 3|
|Unaccountably, unforgivably cool. Feels more like the first of October. Walked to the hardware store this afternoon to buy a can of primer paint, and I took Jasper Dog along. He is such a smart dog - by which I mean he does not romp through every new experience with a yowsah-whee-ha, here we are mood; in new contexts, he seems to understand that we are now someplace that he does not understand. The hardware store, being one of those true Neighborhood Institutions, had a supply of dog treats just for moments like these. Once hed had a crunchy delight, everything changed: this was GREAT. He put his paws on the counter and said HELLO BIG TREAT GIVERS.
Again, the perfect metaphor for human existence, for our place in the galaxy. We are all dogs in a big shop filled with devices, the technology and purpose of which we cannot begin to imagine. There are things out there as inscrutable to humans as spray-paint, sandpaper and batteries are to a dog. But there is the tether to a benevolent boss, the unexpected boon, the unfamiliar mystery of this room, the open door through which flows familiar aromas. And the dog lives his life according to indisputable certainties - home, food, play, toy, scratchy itchy spot to be scratched and itched, the smell of things that smell as they should smell, the irresolvable mystery of things that smell like they shouldnt, sleep.
Its the damnedest thing. I taught the dog to give silent barks when he gets a treat - he opens his mouth and his tongue comes out, and its almost like communion. Almost? Like? Is. I know some people who would be offended at the comparison, but thank God I know more who would understand completely. You cannot presume to know the mind of God, or what He was thinking when He made man in His image - what, does the creator of the universe have an appendix? - but if man made a lesser form in his own image, it would be the dog.
Anyway, I bought the paint. Spread out all the moldings and sprayed them in the garage. Waited a while, then painted them - whereupon I discovered that half the moldings are 1/8 inch shorter than the others. Meaning, back to Home Depot, back to the hardware store, more priming, more painting.
If I was half the god Jasper thinks I am, I could provide new wood with a wave of my hand, just I conjure morning bounty from the Cold Box of Food. But I am only mortal.
Dammit Jim, Im a corpse, not an actor: thats how my friend the Dark Chef broke the news. Given his myriad catastrophic health problems - the man has seen the black blade of the Reaper pass over his head a few times, only to bounce back with his cheer and spirit redoubled - I thought he was referring to himself. But he was talking about Bones, McCoy, DeForest Kelly.
This was not a death that took the Trek world by surprise, since everyone knew he was frail, riven by the moral fissure for many years. I think he was a smoker, one of those unfiltered fellows, in which case 79 is an accomplishment, and we salute him. I remember reading some article - TV Guide, perhaps, an interview done during the original Star Trek years; he was grinning in his living room with that sardonic smile (it was not a warm smile, but you knew the man behind it was kinder than the smile suggested. Some people have great smiles that mask their personality; his didnt seem to do his personality justice. But I may be wrong.) Anyway, he was sitting in his living room, surrounded by ghastly modern art, wearing a neck scarf, wife beside him, talking about his passion: roses. He said the usual kind words about the fans and the show, and the reader - however devout - must have known he being kind, since the stars of these shows never quite grasp the object of the fans devotion with the same fervor as the fan. Theyre like these odd gods who have a dim idea that a religion has been organized around them. They appreciate the attention, they like the offerings, but please, lets not sacrifice any goats.
When Star Trek went off the air I was bereft: this was the end. And I watched for all appearances of the actors on other shows. Bones did a Friday night drama a few months after Trek went off, and of course I watched it. You expected him to be, well, him; you wanted the actor to acknowledge his old character, inhabit it again. In fact you invested in the actor characteristics and qualities he didnt have. Thats natural when youre a kid, I suppose; you know grown-ups are all acting, but theyre acting roles in which they believe, roles that say something true about their essential character. As a kid one of my favorite shows was My World and Welcome To It, based on the work of James Thurber. I invested William Windom with all the Thurber qualities I gleaned from the books. (I missed the most essential Thurberian qualities, since I was only 12.) That Windom should intersect with Trek in my favorite all-time episode - well, you could ask for no more. (To this day when I see that episode, something in the back of my head says this is the episode where Thurber is driven mad by a giant steel cornucopia.) Likewise Bones. As an adult, you feel for these fellows, typecast forever, but acting is a job; jobs mean money; Trek wasnt just the wagon train to the stars, but the gravy train to the bank. DeForrest Kelley was in six movies that made a lot of money, and was loved by millions for one role only. Every ordinary good actor should be so lucky.
I was watching TV with the headphones on, and I could still hear it:
I paused the tape, listened; nothing. Must have been on the tape, then. Back to the show.
Okay, that time I heard it. Took off the headphones, waited, waited . . .
Was it the ice maker? No, it groans. Groans like the damned, like an old man going up the stairs, creaking and moaning as it struggles to excrete another rack of cubes. Sometimes it screeches when its refilling. Of course, the other day Id heard something ticking in the back of the fridge, as if the expiration date was backed up by a small explosive. Id like that; it would save you the trouble of wondering whether something was still good. The item would give you a days grace period, then: bang.
I knew that sound; it was familiar. Of course! The basement smoke detector. The low-battery sound. It was located at the top of the stairs, and I knew better than to try and fix it then - you have to stand on tiptoe and lean out over the stairs, and I knew Id end up at the bottom of the stairs, neck broken, unable to cry out, listening all night to the mocking robot bird at the top of the flight:
Of course, I feigned ignorance. Dont know what youre talking about, honey. Could it be the ice maker? I played dumb through a few cycles; I even timed it so I was clanking a coffee cup, or moving a chair as the sound went off. But she knew she was hearing something. Whenever you try to convince someone theyre going mad, you just convince them youre stupid. After five or six chrps I admitted I heard it, and went to fix it. Like all smoke detectors, it is designed so it can never be opened without breaking it. No twist-off top, no easy-release lid - you have to use the jaws of life to open the damn things, and then you shower your face with a stream of loose radioactive particles. Argh. But I fixed it, which is to say I disconnected it. It chrps no more.
Somewhere in this city is an old man sitting at a card table in a cheap apartment, a glass of Mogen David at his side, radio on, a Pall Mall idling in an ashtray, a cat winding around his ankles. The old mans playing solitaire. Hes been playing it for an hour. Hell be playing it for another hour, maybe two. The cards arent his friend, but they arent his enemy, either; they take, they give, they play along. Theyre old and worn, and if he thought about it hed admit to himself that he knows that one with the bent corner is the Jack of Spades, but he tried not to think about it. When he shuffles them they all fit together like two old hands, soft and warm, the fingers interlacing with ancient ease. They also make a sound like a nice ripe bean-fart, a sound with which he is familiar these days. No one to complain if he lifts a cheek. No one around at all, except the cat, and the cat doesnt care either.
Perhaps this fellow looks out the window and sees someone coming up the street, a young kid - the streetlight glints in his eyebrow piercings, maybe. He thinks about the world this kid has before him, all these computers and such - why, you can talk to the other side of the world. They got machines thatll play solitaire with you all night, even make music when you win. A kid has youth, health, libido, smart boxes thatll keep you entertained when theres no one around. Imagine that.
Then he shuffles the cards again for another hand. And of course the cards comply.
You dont know how much I envy that old man.
I got the novel writing itch last night, and this time I think I have something. So if there are short Bleats or no Bleats, thats why. I get novel-writing urges all the time, but I usually take a deep breath and let them pass, because theres usually no point to it. None. Comic novels dont sell unless you are a marquee name, and theres only about two of those, and even those dont sell all that well. This leaves genre novels, like mysteries, and I have no desire to write a serial-killer book; they bore me. Straight detective novels are fun, but its not my style. Nevertheless I got an idea for a mystery, and I trust this one. Why not set a murder mystery in Fargo, North Dakota? I thought, and no compelling reason surfaced. It took about 30 seconds before the real kicker for the story hit me, and then I nearly clicked my heels. Reason: I GOT NAZIS. Yee hah. I read a story a while ago in the Fargo Forum about a contingent of Nazi POWs who spent the war in a Fargo camp, doing farm labor. Bingo. Hallelujah. You cant go wrong with Nazis; they sell books. So how do we bring this historical fact into the present, connect it to a murder, and drag in the main character?
Well, I know that too, and for once its not contrived. For once the mechanics of plot dont seem like Im grinding the gears and hammering square pegs into round holes. So every night Im just going to peck away at this thing and see what happens. It may deflate upon contact tonight; well see. But this one might work.
Selling it is another matter, but you cant have everything.
No, India isnt the Orient. A subcontinent bakery.
Minneapolis, of course, has no such thing. Had a Sri Lankan deli for a week or two, but they learned their lesson.
Actually, its intended as a future playroom for Ifanderwen, our child. (So named because theres no guarantee we will conceive; Im used to saying If And Or When We Have Children, so Im just calling sprout #1 Ifanderwen.) This means I have to make a decision, now. I bought a batch of wood for the molding, and discovered - after Id painted it, of course - that one ten-foot section is 1/4 inch shorter than the rest. I can get around this if I install the heating units flush against the wall, and run the molding on either side. This strikes me as a bad idea, since one day the heaters will die, and Id have to take them out, leaving me with gaps in the molding. But it also means that future tots might roll against the heaters and injure themselves. So I can either go back for more wood, prime, paint, cut, install, or make do with the materials on hand.
The latter, being easy, is what I will probably do.
It felt like summer today, which is good, since it is. And true to form, all the bad weather of the last month was instantly forgotten. Took a walk to Dog Heaven, found no dogs; well, found one. A small button-eyed Scottie. She must have given off That Scent, because Jasper got the Phantom Humps - his hips take over his brain, and he does an impression of an accordion being vigorously pumped. Its the strangest thing. He cant control it, and just veers off in whatever direction he was facing when the Phantoms began. This time he humped himself right into a small American flag stuck on the boulevard, and for a moment I thought he would perform an act of unpatriotic sacrilege.
Also RIP: DIVX. Yay! Good to see an asinine concept get gutted in the marketplace. They didnt get the fundamental problem: when people buy something, when they own it, they dont want to have to pay to use it again. Plus, people just cant get used to throwing away CDs, unless they say AOL on them. And even then you hesitate. But it would have worked with VCR tapes. People are used to tossing videotapes; theyre cheap, theyre ubiquitous. If theyd sold videotapes that need never be returned, because they would self-erase after you broke the seal, they would have made millions. No more returns.
Also also RIP: half the stores in City Center. This is an interesting case, and its not good news in the short run. City Center is an urban mall in downtown Minneapolis, and the Limited Co. just yanked five stores. Id been expecting it. As a keen student of retail trends, I always noted that their big flagship stores were empty most of the time, and usually stuffed with crap. The entire chain is in trouble, closing down stores all over the country, but this decision drops a huge chunk of open retail space into City Center. Question: can the closing of stores that no one patronized hurt the rest of the complex? Yes. Its a retail variant of the broken-windows syndrome. Soaped-up windows and FOR LEASE signs spook people. They suggest that whatever was happening here isnt happening anymore and might well be happening somewhere else. After all, the Nankin, a venerable vendor of greasy, MSG-laden salty Chinese food, the last survivor of the chow-mein palaces that dotted downtown, closed a while ago in City Center. Monkey Wards City Center store cratered last year when they shut down most of their units. Portents?
In the long term, no. The churn in that business is incredible - the Montgomery Wards store occupied the space that used to be occupied by Carson Pirie Scott, which bought the Donaldsons store that occupied that space, which was built on the site of the old Grant, Kresge and Three Sisters stores. Theyre all gone.
I just wish theyd hang around a little longer.