Visited two pre-schools today, looking for New Educational Frontiers for Gnat. The first one made me slightly weak in the knees when I entered: a 1922 office building rehabbed for tots. Most of it had been gutted and done over, but the lobby had been restored to its original glory. As usual, the vandals had modernized the place in the fifties, putting a suspended ceiling the lobby over the gorgeous moldings. Woodwork? Paint it! Six coats! But now the lobby has been freed from bondage. The fountain doesn’t work, but the backsplash is bordered with tiles that show the original tenant’s many corporate logos. It was an insurance firm with several incarnations, one of which was the Safety Insurance Company – hence the typically 20s logo, which was a safe superimposed on a T. (Some of the doorknobs were originals, and had the Safe-T logo; I get the same thrill seeing that stuff James Cameron does when he peers at the rusticles on a light fixture in a Titanic stateroom.) A few boardrooms hadn’t been ruined – original woodwork, original fireplaces.

The building’s maintenance man drifted by, and my guide introduced us. I was looking at the rehab of the ground floor, trying to see where the original hallway had been. “So that’s a load-bearing column, right?” I asked, drawing on a small amount of engineering know-how.

“Are you an engineer?” the maintenance guy asked. No, just one of those annoying Building Nuts who loves these old beauts. I pointed to a light-colored rectangle on the stone wall – tenant directory? “Nope – the mail box,” he said. Then he said the magic words. “I got it upstairs. Want to see it?”

An original 1922 office building mailbox? Be still my thumping heart. So upstairs to his lair. There it was, glorious brass and copper, a big Cutler Mail Chute in perfect condition. It had the Heft and Majesty and Authority of the United States Government. You didn’t tamper with this thing. You would be loathe to say a bad word about Coolidge in its presence.

Went back to the room where wife and child were enjoying a sample of the school’s program. “She has to go here,” I whispered. It’s a history-drenched 1920s office building with some original fixtures!” But, fickle me – the next stop was the U, which has a preschool program as well, this time in a classic postwar building. The U’s program is somewhat different: you agree that they can experiment on your kid. I was assured no vivisection was involved. The program has been going on for 75 years, and since the world has not been ravaged by sociopathic superbeings birthed by the U’s nefarious experiement, I think it’s safe. The building is being modernized in fits and starts – look up and you see 55 year old hydraulic door closers; look down and you see the fiber-optic cable they’re running through the entire U.

I like the idea of Gnat going to the U. I could see my old dorm common room from the hallway window. I like the idea of coming back in the fall to drop her off, and walking across the diagonal sidewalk that cuts through the old campus. Every day I’d be reminded how good things are. How well it all turned out. That was then, this is today, and so far: so good.

Re: Gibson’s “Passion” – ran across this beauty of a story today.

Let’s set the stage:

Clay Steinman is a professor of media studies at Macalester College in St. Paul. He hadn't seen the movie yet, either, when I spoke with him Tuesday. But like most of us, he had already consumed plenty of pre-"Passion" hype.

"Journalists," said Steinman, "tend to treat most religious expressions as though they are legitimate.”

Imagine that.

Imagine that.

Here’s the full quote:

"Journalists," said Steinman, "tend to treat most religious expressions as though they are legitimate. Religion is almost never written about as if it is anything other than a historical fact." The risk to the impertinent interviewer is obvious, he says. "The country is very intolerant of people who say they are not believers." Never mind, in this case, that we're talking about a movie.

"Gibson could have made a different movie that would have made more money. Still, this is a business, and it's been talked about as if it is Mel Gibson's personal expression, only," he said. "I mean, it's not as if Gibson is saying he's going to turn the profits over to the Catholic Church to give to the poor."

Fair enough; we all remember how Clay and Brian hammered Michael Moore for not turning over his profits to Columbine victims. (I’ve no idea if they did such a thing, but I’m sure they insisted he did.) But it’s an interesting argument: when discussing religion and interviewing religious figures, journalists should challenge the believer’s faith and press for empirical proof. Lambert himself writes:

One brave and skeptical line of discussion would have been to ask Gibson, "How do you know any of this actually happened?" Journalists are supposed to be in the business of asking impertinent, uncomfortable questions. But I never heard or read anyone in any mainstream press organization wade into that one. Certainly not in the context of interviewing Gibson or in direct reference to "The Passion."

I have on hand a hundred dollar bill I keep for emergencies – why, I don’t know, but it gives a certain amount of comfort. I would hand it over immediately just to hear the exchange that would follow if Mr. Lambert asked Mel Gibson that impertinent, uncomfortable question.

My dad called tonight to see if my wife had gotten the job. He mentioned that he’d seen “The Passion” that afternoon. He thought it was good, but parts were very taxing. Still, he said, “it shows you what he went through.” And he said “he” as if he was referring to someone he’d known all his life. Which of course he had.

Trickle-down update: got the estimate for the roofing job on the garage. Gulp. Explanation: it’s a flat-roofed structure set in the hill below Jasperwood, and over the decades insidious water has found its way into the structure. A few years ago the owners put a rubber tarp over the top and installed a drain, but it doesn’t work very well. If we wish to finish the garage we have to waterproof it and install a new drainage system. Not cheap. The alternatives: do nothing, and let the water destroy the structure until it has to be replaced in ten years, or do something now. I prefer to fix it now, because I am reasonably certain my taxes will not go up in the next 18 months. If I knew my taxes were going up in a year I wouldn’t do it, because I wouldn’t know how much money I wouldn’t have. And that would mean no money to the contractor, his three employees, and the supply firm that sells him the bafflingly named items spelled out in the contract.

Of course this is just anecdotal evidence that proves nothing. But I mention it, and will mention it as the work progresses, to remind some: we never see the economic activity that doesn’t happen because taxes are raised. I’m going to spell out the activity that happens because the taxes were lowered somewhat. Draw your own conclusions.

And have a fine weekend! We are heading into the Last Weekend of the Unemployed Interregnum – my wife goes back to work on Monday, and life will do a 180. Me and Gnat again, M-F. We’re all just ridiculously happy around here these days, and that takes some doing – the world is bland and crusty. The streets are lined with filthy snowbanks. Winter is in retreat, but we know it deploys the scorpion tail in early March. This is the time of year that grinds your spirit down to pulp and dust. But I sold a book and my wife got a job, and these changes have expressed themselves quite simply: every five days one of us buys a new bouquet of flowers for the kitchen table. That’s the sign, that’s the symbol, that’s the proof.

I’m an optimist. So shoot me.
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