Coast-to-coast & wall-to-wall, this one. It’s late, and I’ve much work to do, and blah, etc., evasion, excuse, whatever. It was a Chuck E. Fargin’ Cheese night, since my wife had the monthly hen-fest called Bunco. Not that I mind; I love our trips to CEFC, and today had a big surprise: new machines. Half the old creaky junk was gone, replaced with some impressive toys. The roller coaster simulator is excellent – big screen, chairs that really knock you around. (A fan comes on when you take a steep dive, and it’s so ineffective it’s almost sweet. You’re just glad they tried.) There was another simulator that looked cool, but when we returned to try it the giant screen showed a variety of incomprehensible Windows error messages. Ah well. We played skee-ball, and I was on fire; four consecutive 100-point rolls, which means a high score for certain. I looked up to see how many tickets I’d get for a high score:
Yes. One. I looked down the row to the other players, and saw a young man in his twenties rolling the ball with inhuman intensity; a stack of tickets a foot high was neatly heaped by his lane.
That was the merry highlight of the day. The rest was work. The paper wanted me to do an obit for Art Buchwald, and I banged out something in 25 minutes. It’s not hard to pull up an anecdote and remind everyone that he was a sweet & decent fellow. Around one PM I remembered that I had some bandwidth left, and could do a Diner, so I yammered into the microphone for a while – interrupted constantly by phone calls, including one from my agent (“Mommy Knows Worst” is still selling nicely. Thank you! Unless you haven’t bought it, in which case:
Then I picked up Gnat from the bus and went home for post-school school. We practiced the spelling test. We looked at her homework. (Yesterday’s concerned George Washington Carver; I remember studying him in school, too. I had the vague idea he invented the peanut.) We did piano. She took a break from the rigors of scales to show me two pieces she had written. Really. One was a fantasia on the Bingo Chords, and the other was a minor-key piece with vocal accompaniment on the subject of Spring. I was actually impressed, and not in that fakey oh-look-you-did toidy-in-the-toilet faux glee. Her practice pieces can tend towards the mechanical, since she’s working to get the notes right; these were actually quite expressive, with alternating dynamics and recurring themes. Each lasted about 9 minutes, but I wasn’t about to edit them at the moment. When your kid says “let me play you a piece I wrote” you shut up and you let it run its course.
She played “Viva Pinata” for a while, and I napped: 17 solid granite minutes of sleep, followed by a pot of coffee and two segments on the Hew Hughitt show. We talked about “24,” mostly. I’ve been impressed with this season, and think the grumbling about some PC renovations is mostly nonsense. I watched the last hour last night, and even though I knew what was coming, it was still horrible. Fantasy & revved-up Die Hard clone it may for some, but it still feels like an endless trailer for coming attractions.
When we got home from Chuck E. Cheese’s I saw a note on the table. My wife’s office is having a drive for the troops, and there was a list of things they needed. It galls you, really; they shouldn’t need anything. First item: hand-and-foot warmers. Well, I have plenty of those on hand. Second: Slim-Jims. I just bought a box the other day for the car’s emergency rations. You know, in case I get stranded on the way to the grocery store six blocks away. Hand wipes? I am the King of Hoarded Moist Towelettes. Disposable Razors: check. Recent “sports, hot rods, news and celebrity-type magazines.” Check: for some reason I get “Stuff” magazine for free, so off it went, with some Weekly Standards and Entertainment Weeklies. The note also said that the soldiers enjoyed getting notes from children, so I set Gnat to writing a letter.
Dear Mr. Soldier, she wrote, thank you for protecting us. She drew a big heart and signed it love. She was using a stubby little marker that made her handwriting look rather poor, but it's the thought that counts. I was finishing up the Diner as she worked on the floor, so I didn’t quite know what she was doing when she asked for the spelling of a few other words.
This is what she added:
Last week a letter in the paper ran off the usual list of oppressions and deletions of basic liberties, including “the coffins we are not allowed to see.” It reminded me of a conversation I had in Arizona with a Marine, whose family was also staying at my in-laws’ house. (Their daughter played with Gnat, and was one of the Ghosts of Christmas in the play.) He had just returned from accompanying the body of a Marine back to his home town for a memorial. Lance Cpl. Nick Palmer, 19, was killed by a sniper in Fallujah. The vehicle had stopped to defuse an IED, which had been placed to fix the Humvee in place. Flypaper. Lance Cpl. Palmer was manning a gun on the back of the Humvee when he was hit. The shot came from an industrial building a good distance away; whoever killed him had particular skill. It could have been one of those ordinary Iraqis so enraged by the occupation they quit their jobs as an insurance actuary or auto mechanic and went to sniper school, perhaps. Or maybe it was a Ba’athist “Minuteman.” Or an imported Iranian merc. You have to admit it’s possible.
The networks may not have shown footage of the coffin as it arrived, but it certainly had the opportunity to show the funeral and the ceremony that preceded it. The Marine, who was Lance Cpl. Palmer’s commanding officer, described the event: they arrived at night. Both sides of the street were filled with townspeople, gathered to greet the soldier. Every light in every window was on; every pole had a flag.
The church pews had no empty seats. “Amazing Grace” was played and the Purple Heart presented.
Everyone was allowed to see the coffin, and reflect on what it stood for.
The local TV station’s website has a video interview with the parents, which manages to work in Vietnam in the first six seconds. If the TV station filmed the homecoming, it doesn’t appear to be on the site. I can’t think of any reason why they wouldn’t have shown the homecoming, unless they regarded the interview with the grieving parents as the full measure they were required to give.
The Commanding Officer who appears on the phone call is the Marine who told me the story. It’s a very short part of the television story, but it was an intensely private moment and we need see no more. You might not get a sense of the CO's emotions from the voice on the other end. Trust me: it’s a wound, and it’s deep. He didn’t just make a phone call; he left his family at Christmas time to accompany the body and speak at the service – then drove a rental through a storm to get to the airpot to rejoin his family for the few days he had left stateside.
So the next time someone talks about the coffins we’re not allowed to see, consider all that.
I scissored Gnat’s question out of the bottom of the letter. Maybe that was wrong. Maybe I’m projecting, and making assumptions I’m not entitled to make, but I wouldn’t want to know a little girl thought about those things. There’s time enough for that.
New Diner! The MP4 itunes version is here, but it has no embedded art. I had to finish it tonight while Gnat was about, and had no time for extras. It’s a classic case of making the second half conform to the offhand comments made in the first half. And yes, this is leading up to something, and yes, this is all a reference to the Strib being sold, and if you are well-schooled in a particular brand of sci-fi nerdism, you might pick up the hints of things to come. If not, no matter. But if you’re a long-time Diner patron – going back to the original shows – the payoff will be tremendously satisfying. Again, if not, it’ll still be fun. I hope. The MP3 link is here at the new 07 Diner page.
Thanks for the patronage & letters this week – as ever, much appreciated. Have a fine weekend, and I’ll see you Monday. (New Quirk, and the Buchwald obit is somewhere on the www.startribune.com site as well.)