JUNE Part 4
I hate this printer and I want it to die. It has this obsessive start-up routine that lasts about half a day, as it cleans its nozzles, aligns the print heads, moves the carts around:

Ticktick, ticktick, ticktick
Weh-weh- whehhhh, weh-weh-wehhhhh.
Ticktick, ticktick, ticktick
Weh-weh- whehhhh, weh-weh-wehhhhh.
Ticktick, ticktick, ticktick
Weh-weh- whehhhh, weh-weh-wehhhhh.

And so forth. It’s like the soundtrack for a Warhol movie that consists of eight hours of film of a cat licking its hindquarters. Or, as they say in the print biz, cleaning its nozzles.

It’s odd how you remember these sounds, though - I printed off many copies of two books on an old hardy Apple printer, and to this day I remember the particular whine it made when loading a sheet. (For some reason, nearly every printer-related action sounds like some sort of excretory function. Man, do I have to clean the nozzles! Holy cow do I have to load a sheet.) But these strange sounds aren’t limited to printers - for a long, long time I would, when busy or distracted, make this strange little sound to myself, a sort of clucking-click, repeated three times. When I caught myself doing it, I’d wonder: where the hell have I heard that sound before, and why did I remember it?

And then one day I remembered: it was the sound of the security gate at Tower Records in Washington, in the building where I worked. When you entered the store you pushed aside this brushed-metal bar, and it made a soft click-cluck sound.

Once I realized what the sound was, of course, I stopped making it.

The new camera arrived today. Could I fire it up, start snapping shots? Of course not. First I had to charge the batteries, since it doesn’t take any old normal batteries. And the charging takes 12-14 hours. Sigh. But it looks cool; I walked around with it ducked in one of the many pockets of my many-pocketed shorts, and it’s feather light.

It can store 248 shots on the little memory card. That’s just incredible. Of course, that’s the lowest resolution; if I want the best possible shot, it’ll hold nine pictures. But it will also hold 90 seconds of video. Amazing. I regard this as the Zapruder function: in case something really, really bad happens while you’re snapping an innocuous picture, you can shoot a movie, too.

The list of warnings with this thing is incredible . . . but that’s Sunday’s newspaper column. The manual is depressingly thick, and the setup instructions came in pamphlet at PDF format. As usual: ten pages for Windows, one page for Mac. The CD also had an amusing warning: do not put this in a sound system, or damage to your hearing may result.

Makes you want to give it a try. Can’t be worse than the works of Otwar Pendergrast.

Anyway - I’ll be using this camera tomorrow when I tour the new US Bancorp building. They called me up and invited me to the Private Opening, based on - get this - the Minneapolis web site. “We see you have an interest in our buildings,” said the voice on the answering machine. And I’d also expressed, on the site, my early review of the new building: yawn.  But after chatting with the delightful woman who’s setting up the tour, and yukking it up about this and that, I’m now inclined to like the building a little more.

From independent thinker to Harry Knowles - and it only took me a day!

Oh, great: the neighbors’ oldest daughter has discovered rap. Busta Rhymes is playing - I think that’s him, at least. The lyrics seem to encourage someone to, ah, hoover the gephardt, if you know what I mean. That seems to be the main point of this stanza, anyway. God, I hate this stuff. I just detest it. Walking downtown today I passed an SUV, and it sounded as if someone was detonating timpani inside the passenger compartment. It was painful to the pedestrian; one can only imagine what the people inside the vehicle thought - but when I looked in the window I could tell they thought nothing. Four stoned individuals staring straight ahead. And now I have this crap coming from next door. Well, let’s fight back.

Windows up -

Screen open -

Stereo on - deploying . . . . CAB CALLOWAY, singing “The Man From Harlem.” It’s essentially a song about waiting for your weed dealer, but lo and behold, younguns, listen carefully to those strange sounds in the background. They’re called “musical instruments,” and they are playing something the old folks call “a tune.” What’s Cab doing, you ask? Well, surely you recognize that he’s declaiming lyrics in a brisk quick style - bustin mad dope rimes, cuz, you might say. But he’s also singing. What’s singing? Well . . . it’s when you modulate your tone and pitch to produce a melody. What’s that you ask? No, Slim Shady does not kill anyone in this song. Sorry.

So very, very sorry.

Went to US Bancorp’s open house tonight. I had decided ahead of time to be completely co-opted. They want to let me see behind the scenes? Then I’ll post a good review of their building. Simple as that.

Truth be told, I’d come to like the building in the last month. Yeah, right. Sellout! No, really. I’ll go into the reasons when I post the site for the building next week, but it’s grown on me - particularly the plaza, which accomplishes something damn near miraculous. It might be one of the first plazas that people actually use for something other than cigarette breaks. Every big city has at least one empty wind-swept plaza with the obligatory fountain, or planter, or rusty hunk of Serra-dreck. Blame the Seagram building. Blame all those Mieses Pieces in Chicago. Straight tower, no set backs, planted in the middle of an empty plaza: how very modern. But this plaza works; people just want to be there. It actually lends a sense of urban density by opening up the corner.

So I like it. I headed off to the open house, figuring I’d just tag along with a tour group, see what I could see. On the way I realized I was hungry, and stopped, inexplicably, at Arby’s. And I was glad I did: great fries, savory chicken sandwich with “three-pepper sauce.” What that is, I don’t know. Pepper is pepper. If you have three peppers, the stronger of the three will rule; any three-pepper sauce is a one-pepper sauce.

But I like pepper.

Finished the meal, went to the building . . . and discovered a big party in the atrium, with liveried servants serving drinks and fine seafood.


The crowd was mostly financial sorts, the good-shoe and necktie boys fresh from work. I knew no one, and knew I’d know no one, so I went outside to take some pictures. The publicity who’d invited me spotted me, however, and brought out two fellows to be my guides for the tour. One of them was a fellow named Collin, the VP of the company that built the structure. The other was Scott, who designed it.

Not just this one, but the building next door, now rising, which replaces the old Physicians and Surgeons building, and the fabulous Target phase 2, rising the next block over.

Thrilled? I was a stammering idiot, probably.


And now it’s email time. The Fargo Forum did a story on my Fargo website, and it generated ten tons of mail - including a hallo from a fellow who has thousands and thousands of Fargo postcards. We spoke on the phone this afternoon, and within three minutes reached the same conclusion: we have to do a book. And so we shall.

Wonderful day. Could the evening get any better? Yes: after I do the mail, I’ll finish the director’s cut (with 60 extra frickin’ minutes) of the letterboxed German language version of Das Boot. Life is good.

Except for the Busta. Hah: I’ve a new weapon. I see it coming up in the MP3 Master Playlist, right after this Garbage track:

Rudy Vallee.

Take that!

And so begins a two-week period of short Bleats. Not because I tire of Bleating; not because I’ve nothing to say or have suddenly been overcome with a wave of ennui for all things web related. No. But I am finishing The Book, and Bleat time could be writing time. This weekend I finished a huge chunk of the Gallery book. Went through $50 worth of ink. I thought I’d be fine, but no - ran out today in mid-chapter. Headed off to the computer store. I found one cartridge of ink for my machine. I considered asking a clerk to get me another, then stopped, thought: let’s just buy a new machine. It might be cheaper.

Think of it: the cartridges are $25 a pop. I know I’m going to buy the Epson 870 printer to go with the digital camera; the printer is $300, and comes with a cartridge. If I get one more cartridge, I’ll have enough to finish the book. It actually makes fiscal sense to buy the new printer.

People who are capable of these calculations are often married to people who do not automatically see the logic. My wife, for example, was not exactly clicking her heels when she learned what I paid for the new camera. Especially since it broke over the weekend. Yes: it broke. The lens went out and stayed out. Won’t retract. ZOOM ERROR! messages. This is horrible - I had intended to head to Fargo Monday, and I can’t go back without the camera. The company from which I purchased the item staffs the weekend desk with people who have no power to make any decisions other than forwarding me to the voice mail of strangers. That’s another reason this is a short mail: I have to write a blistering, yet civil, email tonight to the company so I can GET A NEW FARGIN‘ CAMERA ~

Anyway. I explained to my wife that the camera would pay for itself, since we never had to buy film or pay for developing. (Just for ink and paper, both of which are priced by dead-hearted gonifs, but what can you do.) I’m proud to report that she didn’t buy it. I’d be disappointed if she did. Nothing is worse than having a clear, dead-eyed appraisal of one’s ability to shade and prevaricate, and find that it works on your loved ones. Everyone has my number. Whew.

So I’m printing, and printing, and printing. Ah WEEE ah WEEE ah WEE ah WEWEWEWEWEWE (that’s when it hits a narrow column of text.) I’m reading “Access,” which is Parade plus Wired, a mainstream Internet tabloid that appears in newspapers all over the country. I’m looking through the links section, and honest to God: I think, well, I’ll bet I’m in here.

And I was. It was a review of the Gallery. Four mouse clicks.

It’s rare - no, nonexistent - to actually have one’s book reviewed while you’re finishing the final draft. Gives me strength and courage.

While I printed I checked the mail. Oy. Many, many requests for adoptions; I’ve gotten millions of these. Finally someone noted that they’d seen the site in an AARP magazine. Hah! That explains it. The recent mailing has been the most interesting flood in a long time - dozens of letters with long subject lines and no text in the message, MANY MANY ALL CAPS MESSAGES, a few churlish why-you-whippersnapper rants, but mostly kind, literate, merry letters. Interesting. I was replying to the letter when -

I was disconnected. The phone rang. It was a woman from Fargo who’d seen the article on the Fargo website and wanted to tell me about the man who painted the picture of the giant cowboy on the wall downtown, way back in the late 40s. “I have his brother sitting right here,” she said. And so she told the story. The cowboy was painted by Chuck Sellberg; he was 18 at the time. He went on to a career as a famous fencing instructor at Berkeley, and now he lives on a mountain in Oregon. Just thought you’d like to know. Okay. Goodbye.

No one wrote, or called, or wrote a piece on, the motel postcard site, so that’s what I’m updating today. Nyah.



Cusmuh assissan.

Filada ROA.

These are the four phrases that characterized the source of today’s agita. Today’s tsuris. Today’s aggravation. I called “PCWonders,” the branch of BuyItNow.com from whom I purchased the defective camera.

Ewuhnuh said the mush-mouthed receptionist.

“Is - is this PC Wonders?” I asked.


That one I understood: Please Hold.

While I was on hold I learned that PC Wonders is a part of EWonders. Ah: that’s what the receptionist had said when she answered the phone. Ewuhnuh.

Life in the marketplace today: the job market’s so tight that you’re forced to hire, as telephone operators, people who are incapable of enunciation, or disinclined to try.

After a period on hold the phone was answered by another mushmouther: cusmuh assissan, she said, and this might have made sense if the previous person had said “I’m transferring you to customer assistance,” but since I hadn’t asked for that it took a second or two of processing time to get it. I explained my situation: your company sold me a defective camera, and I need to get it exchanged as soon as possible.

Sir d’you have innanet agcess.

No, I placed my online order with your online company by using an Etch-A-Sketch with a kite attached to it. “Yes,” I said.

You needa goto repairs page an filada ROA reques.

And - what’s an ROA?

Return Order Authorization. This was said crisply, with bureaucratic disdain for the IDIOT who thought it was important for the little people to know these things.

You geddan ROA number bagwidin 48 ars.

No, no, I said. I can’t wait 48 hours to get the number. I need the camera in 48 hours.

And of course this ran smack up against the limit of her authority, so she sent me to the voice mail of someone who A) had more power, and B) never answered her phone. I called six times and left two messages, once when I was home, once when I was at the office. I explained my predicament in a civil fashion. Nothing. Not a call all day.

In the meantime I amused myself by calling Fuji to see if there was anything they could tell me. After waiting on hold for forty minutes, the phone was abruptly answered, and the operator seemed perturbed that I didn’t leap INSTANTLY into the question, but took a few seconds to reboot after FORTY FARGIN’ MINUTES of listening to classic 80s MOR. Please! Put me back on hold! More “Eye of the Tiger,” please!

I explained my situation. Lens will not retract. She suggested that I remove the batteries and the recording medium for 3 1/2 hours, and see if that worked. If not, it was broken.

I have no doubt that her entire day consists of saying the exact same thing to everyone who calls.

This is retail hell. This is why Internet shopping stinks. It’s good for a book or a CD or a DVD, but the minute it gets more complex it’s just not worth it. I’m actually tempted to return the camera for good, and buy it at Circuit City for $140 more - AND pay for the service contract rip -off package just so I know there’s a building I can go to, a door that’s open until nine, and a manager in a red shirt I can corner.

Tomorrow: we call Media Relations of this company, and see if THAT works.

Today I got camera satisfaction. Took a while. I had to plow through eight levels of people, and each time my blood boiled a little more, but I was finally able to get satisfaction. I’d get a new camera in two days. Finally. I hung up, and then the phone rang right away. Conversation. Bottom line: I needed a camera TOMORROW. Or else.

I'd have to buy one from a local supplier. CompUSA. Is this bad? Not necessarily - it costs more, but they’ll be around in a few years, whereas internet companies might well detonate next month.

(Sidenote: Lousy story today in the WSJ about boo.com - a few eye-rolling anecdotes, but too short to detail the stupendous idiocy that must have suffused that operation from top to bottom. And it made no mention whatsoever of the main reason boo failed: the moronic “A new window is being opened by your browser” message that greeted you when you entered the site. That was like entering the front door of a store and instantly being shoved through another smaller door off to the right for no apparent reason. [And for longtime gamers, it was like a message from Quake or Hexen: a door has opened elsewhere.] The rest of WSJ contained all sorts of bad news for etailers - 80% of available ad capacity is going unused, for example; click-thru on ad banners has dropped below one percent.)

So - should I buy from this company when I know they’re selling the camera for $50 below their wholesale cost? Hmm? Yes, yes, I know: they lose money on every item but make it up on volume.

I give them a year. If that. They’ve just merged with another company, so they might hang around. But my faith in this little camera has been shaken. If it breaks once, it might again, and I don’t want to suffer downtime. CompUSA is right down the street. Well, no - they're 10 mintues away, and if they don't have the camera, the closest one is 20 miles away, but I can go there in my car tonight. Spend the same amount of time I'd spend on hold going to actually GET THE PRODUCT, plus I get to listen to the music i want to hear, not hold music interspersed with cheery endorsements of the company's wonderfulness. Plus, if I buy the replacement policy package, I get a new one for ANY REASON for two years.

I called CompUSA, expecting to get the local store. No. I got some drone in some windowless office somewhere. Her greeting was simple:

“Your Area Code, please,” she said. I heart the murmurs of thousands of other operators in the background. I had an image of these people in a Matrix-like complex, hanging from the ceiling, feeding tubes snaking in and out of their limbless torsos, LCDs hung in front of their eyes, robots patrolling the aisles to vary the stimulant drips depending on the call volume.

I gave her my zip, and told her the name of the product I wanted info on. I was also staring at the CompUSA web page, which listed the area locations. “Roseville,” I added - it was closer to the office.

“Plezehol,” she said. So I holded. She came back and said that they had none. “Can I try another location for you,” she said.

“Could you try the Bloomington location?” I said.

What did I just ask,” she said to herself, sarcastically.

Oh, my. Oh. Bite tongue.

She said they had one. And Minnetonka had three. Who-hoo! That was it, then. I’d cancel the mailorder order, pay more for the security contract, and get peace of mind.

Called wife to see when she’d be home for supper; in the course of the conversation she asked if tomorrow was the day the Salvation Army was coming by to collect the old furniture from the spare room.

Completely forgot about that. “Yep,” I said.

“And you can get it all outside yourself?”

“Sure can.”

Hung up. Called the Giant Swede. He’d help me carry it out. But he was in Detroit. Hung up. Uh Oh.

Looked at the clock: 5 PM.

Looked at the screen: I hadn’t actually written a column yet.

I was . . .screwed. I stood, left the building, walked a few blocks to a downtown restaurant. Had a fast meal, reading the paper, thinking happy happy thoughts. Walked back to the paper. Cracked the knuckles. Taptaptap. One hour later: a column. Drove home. Fed dog; dog was happy. Disassembled all furniture, moved it to the porch. Took 14 trips. Some of it was . . . heavy; the mattress got away from me when I was talking it down the stairs. Whoa! I said. WHOA! WHOOOOAAA NELLIE and then it crashed into the wall, crumpled, laid flat. Why can’t you have structural integrity like the box spring? Got it all out, sweating like a sweating person, then: walk the dog! Enjoy woods! Savor evening! Back home, in car, out to Bloomington.

They didn’t have the camera after all!

In fact, the computers showed that NO ONE in the ENTIRE CHAIN had one.

Please, I said. Call Minnetonka. After seven minutes on hold, it turned out they did have one. The store was a ways away; if the metro area is a clock dial, Bloomington is the bottom of the hour, and Minnetonka is a quarter to. I got in the Defiant, and drove 84 MPH to Minnetonka. Arrived at 8:59:59. They let me in. They looked for the camera.

They didn’t have one.

No, wait a minute, here it is, they’d set aside.

Drove home slooowww, thinking: all I have to do now is explain to my wife why I bought a new camera before returning the old one.

Considered joining Foreign Legion. Decided against it.

Sand’s bad for the camera.

“You can stop anytime,” my wife suggested. She was looking at the stack of the manuscript for the Gallery book. It’s thick. It’s very thick. It keeps getting thicker. Tonight I spent The Scanning Hour (6:30 - 7:30 PM) on a batch of miscellaneous items, building up the great backlog from which I will construct the next year of the site, and I found a few unscanned books I’d set aside as possible Gallery chapters. Well, it’s now 11:02, and the books have been scanned, resized, recut, laid out; the copy’s written and I printed them out. Twelve more pages.

I can stop anytime. Really, I can. I just don’t feel like stopping.

The Alcoholics Anonymous convention is in town tomorrow. As I came to work today I noticed a broad blue line painted on the sidewalk outside the Strib. “What’s this?” I said to one of the veteran smokers by the door.

“We figure it’s a line to help them find their way back to their hotel,” he said. “So we were thinking of painting it off at an angle and leading it over to the Wagon.”

It’s a common theme around town this week: somehow the appearance of the AA convention leads people to think that we’re about to get 50,000 top-flight boozers in full souse-me-up mode. On the contrary. It’s coffee and cigarettes for these folk, by the gallon and the carton. But when the fellow said “The Wagon,” I had to smile.

The Wagon is a bar in a parking ramp two blocks away. The ramp is new; so is the bar, but the original Wagon was just across the street from the paper. It was a serious bar, a bar where livers suffered on a colossal scale. A newspaper bar for the scribblers and the printers. The windows were always closed with heavy drapes. A small dusty wagon sat in the window. The name said it all: come on in and fall off the wagon. We’ll help push.

Got an interesting letter from someone the other day. He’d been to the Star-Tribune office to sell a photograph, and had walked past my desk. He thought it was sort of a nifty minor modern treat - read the web page, see the office desk. I was just glad I’d recently shoveled all the krep off. Offices are always disappointing anyway, and mine is especially so; it has all sorts of items that mean nothing to anyone, and just look stupid. Plastic toys - Nick Park characters, some Star Wars crap, Barbie with a cheese-wedge eraser on her head, Duke Nukem just to be unPC.
Some Coke ads, Jasper pix. A typical beige cog-box. But there are some bits of Strib history - a huge photo (35” X 20”) of Eisenhower driving past the building in the mid 50s. A copy of a watercolor of the building done in 1949 by the president of Northwestern Bank. A few in-house ads from the 50s. (A bald man is standing at a dinner table, declaiming pretentiously; in the foreground a fellow with a white-haired bouffant says “of course he knows his facts; he reads the Tribune.”) And, of course, a few of my prized Cedric Adams ads and photos.


Cedric Adams means zip to most folk nowadays, and means slightly more than zip to me; I never read his column, since he kicked off before my time. But there are certain parallels to our careers - he started out writing “college” humor, did a regular newspaper column, did radio, published a few books. The differences are more significant - he was hugely popular, massively beloved, a Minnesota cultural icon, and I should be so lucky. I am a better writer than he was - but writing skill wasn’t the reason he was popular, since he mostly peddled corn and sub-Winchell palaver.

Here’s an excerpt from a column written 50 years ago:
“Sad is the situation for the droll penguin. One penguin, it seems, just can’t recognize the sex of another . . . Revised definition, Matrimony: the one state that permits a woman to work 18 hours a day . . . A new raincoat fabric exhales heat and makes the wearer more comfortable on those hot or clammy days.
Give Away Department: CANARIES, HY 1049. . . .Part cocker Pup, MA 4934. . .”

I’m not kidding.
But. He had a magic genial ubiquity that endeared him to the vast merry middle, and from all accounts he was a splendid fellow who deserved every jot of love he got. I wish I’d met him.

The ad I have on my desk is a series of pictures of Cedric wondering what to write about. He’s lighting a smoke, peering into the distance. “I know!” he says in the last panel. “I’ll write about YOU!” It’s just what I do, really, except that while my column has a give & take with the audience, there’s no pretense that I’m here to pass along news about lost dogs, or Mrs. Anderson’s prize begonias. That sort of folksy schmaltz makes my teeth hurt, and I simply cannot pretend to be fascinated by unexamined inanities.

But I do trade in pointless minutia, and I enjoy it. I like to give it a twist, and occasionally give it as dark a spin as this mass-medium will bear. In 30 years I will be regarded as a bland wimp by whoever comes along afterwards, no doubt. So let me say this now: just mention my name in this list of columnists for the Star Tribune, and if they decide I was the last one of the 20th century, that’ll be fine with me.

No Bleat Friday. I need a day off to sit on the porch and rest. Last time I looked it was May - a month, gone. I’m not going to let this happen with July. I’m going to hang on to every lovely day we get.