So last night I bang out a column on the Berger story, and I have fun with the AP story that had Sandy “sticking papers down his pants.” I send off the sked, which the syndicate sends off to alert other papers that this is another hunk of nonsense from this nutbat, be warned. This morning the desk calls: seems AP has revised its adjectives, and now the items were not stuck in the pants, but placed. So I rewrite. Finish column around noon, submit. The desk calls back later, and notes that AP has revised the story again: the leather document holder was not “inadvertently” taken, as reported the previous day; it was Berger’s all along. Crap. I’m looking at a 130 word section of the piece dependant on the concept of “inadvertently” taking a leather document holder that’s not yours. (As I see it, you can no more “inadvertently” pick up a strange leather document holder than you can “inadvertently” pick up a hooker.) We agree to remove the section; what else can I do? The column is now down to 570 words, the Black Knight hopping on one leg.

Four-thirty PM, an hour earlier DC time, and I see the home office number on Caller ID. Uh oh. It’s the boss. The bureau chief. We go way back; I owe her my career, so I tend to defer to her judgment about, oh, 100 percent of the time. She tells me that Berger has severed connections to the Kerry camp, thereby making the last 200 words of my piece rather superfluous. Oh, we could recast it, but by the time it hit the papers two days hence it would be old dead news. It would smell of Monday, and by Wednesday Monday is a dead fish that’s been in the sun for two days. So we spike the column. I’ve missed two columns since I started the job in 1990. I can live with the ratio.

Seven-hundred plus columns! Good Lord. Part of the misery I faced cleaning out the storage room was confronting the moldy stacks of clips from the early 90s, and I knew exactly what to do: farewell; goodbye, up the flue cracklecracklecrackle. If I was wrote something that turned out right, huzzah for me, and if I said something boneheaded – by which I mean the piece gave evidence that its author’s head was composed entirely of bone, instead of a layer of bone protecting the soft squishy smart part – then good riddance. If there’s a big gap in my collected works, it will be the part of my career where I proved I was a Great Disappointment to those who had enjoyed my earlier, funnier stuff. Fine by me. And I think the likelihood there will be a “collected works” to be about zero, at least in the traditional sense of a somber black-spined book with an introduction from a Valued Peer, given as a gift and rarely read. No, I will have my revenge by bequeathing everything to the University of Minnesota library, as I noted before. There will be enough interesting stuff to keep them from turning it down. I will be forgotten quickly, I think. The Irwin S. Cobb of Minnesota. If I’m lucky.

Anyway, I had begun the column thus:

Sandy Berger, Clinton-era National Security Advisor and “informal” advisor on the same to Senator Kerry, is under investigation for cramming his khakis with classified memos and taking them out of the National Archives. Hey, It’s happened to us all. You have an orange for lunch, your hands get sticky. Things happen. But let’s play everyone’s favorite game, What if He Was a Republican?” Imagine Dick Cheney caught filling his socks with documents on pre -9/11 security procedures. Imagine a hidden camera snapping shots of Condi slipping secret memos in her foundation garments. We wouldn’t be hearing about impeachment, we’d be debating the probity of rolling a guillotine towards the White House, and whether the heads should be arranged alphabetically on the fence spikes, or by seniority.

When I wrote that in the morning I was amused by the thought of Cheney stuffing memos in his socks – which I imagined would be those thin, black, translucent ones. Don’t know why. Turns out that socks were actually involved, maybe. This story changes too fast to be certain of anything. Just like the Syrian band of brothers, but I’ll leave that for “thurslday.”

I didn’t leave the house today, aside from the obligatory dog-walk. Gnat had karate camp in the morning, and I used the time to finish two columns. Frant-o-type, let me tell you. I have NO idea what Thursday’s Fence will be like, because I banged that thing out without heed for the usual rules of coherence. It made sense at the time, that’s all I can say. In the afternoon I whipped up the weekly site update while Gnat played “Barbie as Rapunzel,” and then we goofed around the house for three hours while the workmen finished the windows. Too hot to go to the lake or the pool –

- and here’s a little window into my soul, right here. I knew it was too hot because I have a little readout glued to the message center by the phone. Do you have a message center? They’re necessary in today’s Busy, Overscheduled Households, you know. A planner that tells you when and where you’re supposed to be, usually a whiteboard with jottings left over from six weeks before. I hate those things. So we have a metal board festooned with Post-It notes. Non-tacky items are affixed with magnets from a collection of retro dairy logos. The last time I was at Target I bought a cheap wireless Weather Center – you put the transmitter outside, and it beams the temperature to the Base Unit. Unfortunately, the readout also has a clock. This increased the number of clocks in the family / kitchen area to seven. The VCR, the mantle, the Caller ID, the weather station, the microwave, stove, and the main radio.

“Another clock,” my wife said when she saw it. I winced, because I had also purchased a shower clock at Target. It hung on the wall. It matched the towels. I waited.

“Another clock?” she said later that evening, after discovering the new addition.

“It’s sage,” I said. “Sage. Like the towels. And now you don’t have to worry if you’re going to be late.”

“I usually don’t,” she said.

And that’s when I realized that I have set up Jasperwood so there are clocks everywhere. Small ones, yes. But lots of them. Because I’m always checking the time. Always.

Even though there’s nowhere I have to be.

Hey, this is a no-bleat day. There’s supposed to be a link. Okay, here it is: photos from the new riverfront district of Minneapolis. Urban ruins and all that. Unfunny and boring to those disinclined to enjoy old crap from a foreign city. If nothing else, it’s this year’s sole Minneapolis section update. More tomorrow! See you then.


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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks