DECEMBER 1999 Part 4
Monday night: one column down, two to go, one LARGE IMPORTANT essay on the Millllennnium yet to write; this is a desperate week. It’s another egg-timer Bleat, with 12 minutes to write: go:

Went to the mall tonight to do some clean-up shopping. Went to Southdale, which is my Preferred Mall; everyone has a mall to which they pledge some sort of loose fealty, and this one is mine. In my student days it was Roseville, but that place was renovated out of recognition years ago, and I have no loyalty to it now. Southdale is actually the nation’s first mall, the first enclosed shopping complex, and on a day like today one easily realizes why Minnesotans pioneered the idea. It was just furiously, hideously cold. I parked my car at the edge of the lot (two years into ownership of the Defiant, and I still have new-car instincts) and I left my gloves in the car, figuring I’d lose them in the mall. Well. My hands were dead chunks of ham by the time I got halfway to the mall, and the cords of my headphones froze. I’ve never seen this before - the cords froze, solid, like cooked spaghetti strands left in the colander. Stiff, rigid, easy to snap. This morning when I took Jasper for a walk, I thought: my, it’s nippy. Very nippy. Uber-nippy. I was worried that the spell of warm weather had weakened me somehow, made me think that a 15-degree morning was cold. When I got back home the radio said the temp, with wind-chill, was forty below. I was relieved. So it really was cold. I wasn’t just imagining it.

It’s always heartening to see Minnesotans pour out of the mall, heading for their cars, devoid of hats and gloves. Good for them. Good for us.

Shopped, bought, trudged with heavy step. Made the mistake of wandering into Spencer Gifts. Every time I go to Spencer Gifts - which isn’t often; they’re like Archie McFee without the irony or humor - I am reminded that more than likely THIS is America, not me. I stood agog before a display of KISS merchandise - statues, posters, mugs, wine glasses with KISS members curled around the stem. If all these items were tracking devices for the truly stupid, and at some point a series of space-based lasers would vaporize the people who bought things at Spencer Gifts without an ironic subtext, I’d be happy. But what can you say about people who purchase remote-controlled fart-emitters and believe this is clever? Whyfore the wall of black-light art, the Bud Frog phones, the pornographic gummi-wangs? (Really: naughty candy. Gummi in the shapes of procreative organs. Guaranteed to break the ice at parties.) Near the door was a selection, and I use the word broadly, of Millennium merchandise, including a Millennium Lollipop. God help the Humbert (squared) of our age, as they watch some pert Lolita work her way through a Millennium sucker on which is emblazed the motto THE MILLENNIUM SUCKS. My God, we haven’t even gotten there yet, and a slab of swirled sucrose is proclaiming that the entire 1000-year interval ahead SUCKS. I took one to the counter, and when the clerk did not give me a look of naked contempt for purchasing such an item, I beat her deaf with it.

Well, no. I do wonder what sort of parent lets their kid work at that place, given the smarmy cheap nature of the goods.

Anyway. Bought what I needed to buy, walked back tothe car - headphone cord froze after 20 seconds. The car was completely frosted up; it was like driving inside an ice cube, but I made it home without mishap. Now I’m warm and merry and ready for tomorrow, which just might be the most writin’est scribblin’est day of this year. I toted up the number of pieces I’ve written in 1999, incidentally: 150 Backfences, 50 Newhouses, 50 misc. pieces (Computer reviews, book reviews, Science page pieces, etc) 200 Bleats, not that those count, 189 pages of fiction, and over 150 separate web pages.

And I’ll tell you this right now: none of it feels like I’ve done a damn thing.

DING

12-27-99

En route to cruising altitude right now, hurtling hard over Arizona, back to the cold deep north. It was a good vacation, a good Christmas. To be more succinct: it was 72 the other day.

Ah, good: a loud restless drunk with a head cold in the row ahead. He has laid down, sprawled his heavy head against the forgiving bosom of his travel partner, put his unshod feet into the aisle, and slams his leg into the seat every time he says something - whoa, now he’s done a 180 for no particular reason, and put his greasy head in the aisle . . . no, that didn’t work, we’re back to the original position.

At least when I’m three sheets to the wind on a plane, I keep still, and remind myself: I am three sheets to the wind. But those were the bad old white-knuckled days when I had to consume half of the output of Scottish distilleries to buy the ticket, let alone use it.

A good Christmas, then, and if the house is unmolested, not a pile of sad cold cinders when we return, it’ll be even better.

Oh, now his companion is getting up to use the can; this is going to require all sorts of turbulence. Remember the days when people regarded air travel as something special? I still wear a tie and good slacks on nearly every flight. Always remember the Guggenheim Creed, spoken on the deck of the Titanic: we have dressed in our evening clothes and are prepared to behave like gentlemen. A good rule, Even in the morning.

Now the girlfriend is sitting in front of me, and she is twitching around like a greased weasel with restless leg syndrome, Four restless legs. If I had a small grenade that could take both of them out but leave the windows and upholstery intact, I’d use it.

Anyway. A good vacation, as I was saying. Wrote this last night:

Christmas night, 1999, 10 PM. I am sitting in the kitchen of my in-laws in Arizona. This kitchen is roughly the size of the ground floor of my house. It is clean and empty, which is the exact opposite state of its condition only three hours ago. Everyone assembled for the holiday meal - seventeen people feasting on a perfect prime rib, each tender bit eased down the gullet with a red wine my father-in-law got in Majorca on one of his many globe-hopping jaunts. Among the celebrants was a Vietnamese doctor, who’s been staying with them for a while, and provides an exceptional filter though which to apprehend the American holiday. You need only put yourself in her shoes - 34, trained physician, monthly salary $100, brought up hearing horrible things about Uncle Sam, now sitting in this gargantuan house at the end of several days of an unbelievable demonstration of plenty, surrounded by Americans who are toasting her presence and calling her name with smiles. It’s all enough to make you have confidence in the future of the species.

It all began with snow and wind in Minneapolis - right before we left the city had a perfect Christmas winter day, with five inches of snow, cold winds. Miserable. I drove to the Georges’ household to drop off Jasper, and what should have been a 20-minute trip took an hour. Not a good hour, either. On the way back I got stuck in traffic again, stuck between semis and tall pickups; even though my car was low enough to shoot underneath the trucks, I waited, patiently. It was the rule of the day: wait, behave, don’t let the bile bolt up your throat, because we’re all going to be in this mess for many, many hours. Such was the mood until we got to the airport. Then all was fine, as far as I was concerned. Responsibilities melted away, and I was just a passenger for the next four days. Might as well put a big brass ring in my nose - from now on, I will go where I am supposed to go. My holiday motto: Bovine Compliance!

The flight was delayed, so we got some coffee. Caribou gave me a cup of cold coffee. I mean, stone cold. I took it back, and when the clerk came around, I said “I just got this cup. Behold, an amazing trick!” And I put my finger in the cup up to the second knuckle. The clerk gasped - then peered: is this a trick? “It’s cold,” I added.

She turned to the rest of the staff and said: Why are serving cold coffee?

Of course, no one could come up with an answer for that one.

Wheels up at 11 PM, arrival in ‘Zona at 1:15, blurrily off to the house and to bed. After that, I’ve nothing of interest to report - it was all much fun, with many meals and fine conversation, but there is nothing so boring as other people’s holiday stories. Unless something blows up or dishes get thrown, that is.

___

Here comes the stew, taking drink orders. I’ll ask for a brandy alexander en flambe, with a maraschino twist. Hah! Hah! Funny passengers! They love ‘em.
Anyway. There was one interesting twist to the trip: I am with laptop again. I bought an iBook for the express purpose of answering all my mail (the drunk in front just asked for a vodka orange, guaranteeing another round of merriment.) (Now his hand is draped over the seat, and i’s - touching - my - iBook. This is a violation non pariel of all CONCEPTS of personal space. I shall have him dealt with. I shall have him thown to the ground, wuffly.)

Now he got up to use the can. It appears he has some large metal insect attached to his leg. Some sort of brace. Great: Cyberdrunk. The Six Million Milliliter Man, People with debilitating medical devices ought not to appear hammered in public, because people tend to assume they got in that fix via a previous instance of drunkenness.

Now he’s gobbling some sort of pills - a little Percodan, perhaps, to go with the vodka.

Where was I? Right, Other people’s holiday stories aren’t interesting, and I bought an iBook. Right. The intention was to answer all my mail, and I’m happy to report I failed. I had 200 letters to answer, and I’ve 39 left, and that means I did not spend every free moment

HIS FARGIN’ HAND IS IN FRONT OF THE FARGIN’ SCREEN

I had to pick up the iBook and run the edge along his wrist, hoping there was some serrated part. Therewasn’t, but it got his attention.

Anyway, I did not spend every free moment writing letters. There were times I just went outside and stood by the water and stared at the mountains, and I will number those among the finest moments of 1999. But only because family and friends awaited the moment I turned around and headed indoors. And that includes all the names on the laptop mail program, as well.
I think he’s entering a coma now. Time to return to the mail. Two hours to Minneapolis. Looking forward to *everything.*

12-28-99

Monday night, as I always say at the start of Tuesday’s Bleat; but unlike most Mondays, tomorrow carries a treble whammy - I have to edit the millennium piece, finish the Newhouse piece and write a column. On the plus side of the ledger: the Newhouse piece is almost done. In fact it’s overdone - 825 words were I need but 750, and I still have stuff to add. And I’ve laid out the Tuesday Strib column. And the Millennium piece is mostly finished. But having them all orbiting my head in a state of uncompletedness, like bits of rock that haven’t quite accreted into moons, is worse than having nothing done at all.

Well, no, that’s an utter lie. But it means I cannot rest and I cannot tarry.

Today I rewrote the Millennium column completely, because the earlier version just stunk up the joint. After looking at it with a cold hateful eye I decided the only way to salvage it was to kill it dead and start again. This meant typing 46 inches of fresh copy, knowing that if I failed I was really in the hole. The second version bites less than the first. I’m still nowhere happy with it, but I will get a chance to abuse it again tomorrow. I’m not hopeful. My only solace comes from the fact that it will run on a Saturday, and that paper is on the stands for about 90 minutes before the burly Sunday edition blows it off the racks.

In an idle moment today I was perusing the What’s New on Yahoo, and discovered a category previously unknown: Columbine > Memorials > Harris, Eric. Hmm. There were two entries for memorials to the Columbine jackals. Both were immensely depressing. The first - black background, red text, naturally - was a detailed tribute to honored fallen leaders who’d had the courage to act. It did not recommend that anyone follow their example, because that just creates more “swine” martyrs, but a sense of awe and admiration suffused the entire site. It had the requisite guestbook full of flames - except these were between people who warred for the mantle of the Columbine killers. Their main point seemed to be that anyone who picks on someone else in high school deserves killing. Self-hatred ran through every single word - and what made it more alarming was that people seemed to hate themselves for lacking the courage to kill a dozen people.

Well, you’ll have sites like that, particularly when you start a portal called internettrash and invite everyone in. Alarming as it was, it was nothing compared to a site that felt sorry for the Columbine boys as misunderstood, tender youth, and reminded us that there were 15 victims of the massacre. The site had roses and unicorns, just to demonstrate it was spiritual. The Memorial pages included all the dead, with the shooters mixed in. The banality of such a reaction just stuns you; it’s like putting a memorial to Hitler at Auschwitz because, well, he had to be pretty unhappy to do what he did, and we should feel sorry for unhappy people.

I don’t care what “misery” the Columbine shooters endured. It’s not as if they were taken daily to a concrete cell and had jumper cables attached to their testicles. Hardship? These kids had no idea. No idea. They were self-dramatizing sociopathic cowards who willfully emptied themselves until there was nothing left but ego and evil. You get that sort of person from time to time. What alarms me are the moral idiots who celebrate them - or worse, recoil at judgment. Harris and Kleibold didn’t make any sort of statement for anyone. They did what they did because there wasn’t a Khmer Rouge they could join. In the right situation, they would have been marching little girls to the pit and shooting them in the head for sport.

Well! Happy Happy Bleat! Sorry. It’s been on mymind all day. On a cheerier note: picked up Jasper from his vacation home. He remembered me, if dimly; things had changed, after all. He was now the big dog in four-dog pack. But he was happy to see me. We went home, and everything clicked back into place within an hour. He was back in his chair, lord of the sun room. Tonight after his walk he came right up the stairs to get me to play rope, as if nothing had changed. And nothing had. And nothing will. Until it changes again.

Enough; back to work.

12-29-99

A heat wave has gripped the city; the snow runs into the gutters and the sidewalks are clear. Even now at eleven PM the weather is clement. A good way to end the year - although I was hoping for freezing weather, so I could store all the frozen food outside when the power went out on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve made no Y2K preparations. Over the last few months I have whittled away at the list I made a year ago. Generator? Well . . . no. Canned goods for a month? Well . . . ten tubs of tuna. 100 gallons of drinking water? Well . . . a six-pack of Evian. Wind-up radio / flashlight? Well . . . new batteries. I know I’m taking a chance, but I trust the American infrastructure. I trust that they know they will have their buttocks chewed off by a million lawyers if they don’t come through. The prospect of being hanged at dawn concentrates the mind wonderfully, as Dr. Johnson said.

Hard day, inasmuch as they are all easy days. Concluded the millennium column, then wrote Wednesday’s Backfence. As usual, I stared at the screen for most of the afternoon, pecking out one tepid line after the other; around four, fighting a headache that had no discernible etiology, I started anew and finished the column in an hour. Previously I’d taken the daily walk downtown; stopped off at the comic book store, where the proprietor presented me with a T-Shirt he’s handing out to faithful customers. It says:

GEEK
Big Brain Comics

I wear it with pride. I stopped in to buy some Will Eisner comics, since I am going to interview the fellow in a week or so. I don’t know why I’m going to interview him - perhaps for the paper, perhaps not. This is just part of my Meet My Heroes project, an ongoing attempt to use my position to fall at the feet of my betters. Mr. Eisner is one of the rare characters whose work has amused me from high school to now; that’s a short list, believe me. Tastes change, and they should. But Eisner’s work in the 40s (the 40s!) was deeply impactful, and I if nothing else, I want to thank him.

Did you really think I used the word “impactful” seriously? Trust me: I would never use such a word. If ever the word occurs in the Bleat without immediate retraction, then this is being written by an impostor, and I’m probably tied up in another room, a hostage.

Anyway.

Eisner’s Sunday comic, the Spirit, remains one of my favorites; the Spirit had no powers, no rocket ships, no secret identity. He was just a big guy in a blue suit, a fedora, and a mask. He wore a tie and he fought crime. End of story. Eisner didn’t just churn out pulp crap,though - he had the eye of a cinematographer, and his best work looks like the storyboards from Citizen Kane. He’s not only still alive, but he’s still working, and his current work is just as sharp as it was forty years ago. Amazing.

I bought a collection of new stuff, and a collection of Christmas-themed Spirits.

GEEK.

Sure. But a well-dressed geek. My shirt matches my socks. And no, they’re not both white.

12-30-99

The last time I felt this way, I had the stomach flu. That was two months ago. There should be a law that forbids the stomach flu if you’ve had it within the last six months. Of course, such a law would be difficult to enforce; who would you charge? The flu itself? One can easily imagine the flu virus standing defiant: no jail will hold me, copper! And he’d be right.

Accomplished little of substance today. Wrote a review of a photo book called “Century,” a compendium of little-known but immediately identifiable pictures of the last 100 years. Fascinating stuff, but it gets less fascinating as the date approaches contemporary times. I don’t know if that’s a typical reaction; one never finds one’s own times as Heroic and Important as the eras that preceded it. And color photos make things seem more realistic, and hence less iconographic. The first half of the century was filmed in black and white, and that makes it seem foreign, exotic - a land we can recognize, yes, but a time that didn’t seem to need color. Scorned color. All the men wear black suits, as if to prove the point.

If this is the flu, that means fever dreams tonight, and since most fever dreams seem to come from whatever game I’m playing at the time, then I’ve a night of “Pharaoh” -related nightmares in store. While this surely will beat the Roller Coaster Tycoon dreams of the last bout - I still can’t even look at the game, let alone take it off my computer; my stomach churns just thinking about it - I do not look forward to dreaming of cat-gods and jugglers. Perhaps I should play some stupid game NOW just to ensure I can play Pharaoh post-flu. If I have the flu.

It was 54 degrees today, a new record. People seemed to take it in stride. Personally, I was hoping for brutal cold; if the power goes out on January 1, I was intending to use Outdoors as a backup freezer. No such luck. In fact, I’ve made no Y2K preparations. I had intended to build a nice little bunker downstairs, but of course I had intended to do many things with the basement, and that project has stalled, perhaps fatally. I try telling my wife that the basement is my version of a DaVinci painting; he could never bring himself to finish many of his greatest works, either, yet what he did was admired for centuries. Odd how that doesn’t seem to impress her. In any case, I’ve no generator, no stored water. I have a six-pack of fizzy water and some chili; that ought to get us through a day. And some tuna. I talked to a friend today about preparations, and he was similarly unready. “I’ve been so busy at work,” he said, “I haven’t had time to buy any shotgun shells.” Invaders will just have to be bludgeoned to death, I guess.

Of course I hope that nothing happens, if only to make sure that Art Bell has nothing to talk about for seven hours. He’s going live for most of New Year’s Eve night. Given that he’s spent the last year shilling for freeze-dried emergency rations, I’d love to hear him reduced to reporting that traffic lights are out in Buhmphuc, Vietnam, or that the water supply of the northwestern corner of south East Timor is experiencing intermittent problems.

It’s a curious week. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is always odd - things must be done, life goes on, but it’s as if we’re all trudging across a suspension bridge, and until we reach the second pier, nothing much matters. Until we have our feet on the other side, the bank of the new year, things feel aimless. Genial, slightly merry, but aimless. Me, I’m thinking that I should order the new computer rig NOW, so I can get the tax deduction. This means that if I get the flu, I will have to spend time tomorrow on the phone ordering computers, bent over the American Standard while I configure the order.

“You qualify for our complimentary game package, sir; would you like Pharaoh -”

(Sound of retching)

“Or Roller Coaster Tycoon-”

(Violent, hacking retching)

“Or Hasbro’s new Interactive Guide to combing Robin William’s Back Hair?”

(Pause.)

(Hideous, throat searing gouts of - )

Well, you get it. Now let’s hope I don’t have it.

.