Man! Parenting sucks! This is getting old, fast. Friday night we had a two-hour bout with the Knives of Gas, and of course it began just as Gnat and I were settling down to our evening movie. Since the film was “Virus,” a delicate philosophical treatise starring Jamie Lee Curtis’s teeth and bosom, an assorted Baldwin, and large poorly-lit robots with red eyes, I didn’t want to miss a line of dialogue. I had to hit reverse to make sure I got every bon mot:

Sniveling first-to-go Character: Stevie, this is stupid! This is stupid, maaan. Stevie, this is stupid.

Strong-jawed White Man Stevie: man, this is bulzhit.

They maintained this level of repartee for the entire film, too.

Anyway: Gnat suffered the Knives of Gas, and morphed from a doughy placid baby-blob into an iron doll with limbs as straight as rebars. I could track the progress of the offending globule - 3 minutes of WAAAH, then a minute or two of peace and relief. Then WAAAAH. Then the sweet beatific babyface for a minute. It made it difficult to concentrate on the nuances of Donald Sutherland’s performance as a drunken captain who suffered from Random Accent Syndrome. It made it hard to appreciate the staggering originality of the film’s concept: a rag-tag band trapped in an isolated vehicle confronts a omnivorous menace from outer space. Whoa. Someday they ought to set this movie in, like, you know, a spaceship or something. Like a big ore carrier. It’s like Alien, only it’s in space!

Everything reached a happy conclusion at 2:17 AM, when a series of explosions in the movie coincided with a series of explosions in the diaper. I got up, swabbed the glutes, deposited the diaper in the Genie. Took 3 minutes to solve that problem.

Whereas I have to drive to the video store, park, get out of the vehicle and put VIRUS in a slot to accomplish the same thing.

New Bleat standard for movies: Peezashite. This replaces the old term, KREP. Having seen too much Hollywood KREP in the last month, I realize that the term is inadequate to describe these movies. It’s a peezashite. And thank goodness for DVDs - sometimes they help you see what the directors were thinking. The “extra features” included outtakes, which sometimes show you how bad the movie truly wanted to be. This outtake consisted of the White Guy talking to the Ethnic Guy and then the Spunky Woman Crewmember. Anyone who’s seen enough peezashites knows exactly how this scene plays: Hunky White Guy insults the Ethnic Guy (in this case, a Maori, although the fellow looked half-Brit, half-Pakistani), prompting Ethnic Guy to get really, really ethnic - in this case, he did one of those my people believe speeches that set him up as a spiritual man. No white character can ever say “my people believe,” because it would make no sense - what people? French? Poles? Newfoundlanders? Alabamans, what? But any Ethnic Guy in a movie can instantly produce the entire collective folk wisdom of his tribe on demand. And, in this instance, produce an Ethnic Weapon. Bonus points: the weapon was handed down from his grandfather! Whoa! Stuff from Old Ethnic Dudes is particularly meaningful.

These characters always die - they’re usually the second to the last to go. Last to go is always the Paul Reiser character, the accommodator. The Ethnic Guy goes out with Great Warrior Valor, screaming and channeling ancestor spirits.

After this delightfully enlightened scene was concluded, Hunky White Guy has a sexually-charged speech with Spunky Woman Crewmember. We learn that HWG has a problem with women on the ship. We learn that SWC hates men like HWG, because they have a problem with women on the ship. It goes without saying that they’ll be tongue-kissing in two hours, because nothing makes women hornier than spending a day with a complete dickhead fighting robots covered with dead human meat.

I’m not impressed that they took this scene out. It’s instructive that they filmed it in the first place.

Fed her at 4:25 AM, went to bed at 4:50, got up six hours later, walked dog, had breakfast, got in car and drove to the Postcard Convention. I have the nerdiest hobbies. But you have to get your ephemera where you can. Bought too many cards for too much money, went home at warp speed so Sara could go to a wedding and leave me with Gnat for -

The Block Party! Which we’ll get to tomorrow.


One of the better block parties, and they’ve all been good. My seventh, Sara’s sixth (she was in DC for the first one) Jasper’s fifth and Gnat’s first. Time passes - not at a gallop, not yet, but swifter than perhaps I’d like. The other night I was standing in the kitchen with the baby in my arm; Jasper was looking up at me, and I suddenly saw mortality’s timetable. First you, Jasp, then me, then my wife, then this little little infant, waaay in the future. And that’s if everything goes well. It’s a cruel business, this life. Meat loses and stones win. Every time.

But! This doesn’t bother me, really. Mortality focuses life. If humans were immortal we’d accomplish nothing. The Greek Gods did nothing screw and plot, because there was never any need to do anything else. When you’re immortal, everything can wait until tomorrow.

Which means all of us procrastinators have the spirits of the Gods in our veins.

Try that line with the credit-card company.

Anyway. A wonderful block party. There must have been fifty new children. They come out of the ground in this neighborhood, fall from the branches in spring. Every year a new crop of tottering little waifs, goggle-eyed cheerful little beasties in frocks and overalls. Gnat was the youngest of the tottage, so she got most of the coos and the oohs and the ahhs. It was difficult to really participate in the block party, since I had a baby in one hand all the time - Sara was at a wedding until 8, leaving me to make the food and tend to Gnat. At one point a few of the guys waved their cigars at me and hooted: hey, it’s different this year, ain’t it? (Their kids are in college now.) I was sitting down feeding Gnat while they hoisted beers and hooted out cigar rings. “It’s better,” I shouted.

I wasn’t lying. Another year of childlessness would have made me feel old, spindled, barren and blighted. Mr. Wilson. Most everyone on this block is Mister or Mrs. Dennis; I did not want to be Mr. Wilson, grousing at the neighborhood children but secretly fond of their innocent glee.

Why didn’t the Wilsons have children, anyway?

Maybe they did. Maybe there’s a story there that no one is supposed to ask about. Maybe everytime Mr. W. looked at Dennis, he saw the son who was lost on Iwo Jima -

But there’s that mortality thing again.

Eventually Gnat was so milk-sodden she could not stay awake, so I put her down just as everyone was firing up the grills. Made the hamburgers, and was just sitting down to eat when the baby monitor went off: waaah. Wah!

Exceptional timing, my dear. Do I rip you from the nipple when you’re feasting? No, I don’t.

Tended to her problems, put her back in the Soothing Sounds Bouncing Bassinet (set the sounds on Happy Chirpy Crickets), finished the meal, then thought: nap.

In the middle of the block party night, nap? Why not? It’s my secret weapon: the strategic nap. Makes me damn near bulletproof. So I slept for 11 minutes, no more, no less. By the time I made it back outside to the block party, the bonfire was going in the middle of the street. I handed her off to a neighbor, poured myself a beer from the Keg of Nectar (Summit beer: ahhhhh.), threw it back, then got a cup of coffee and a good cigar. It was dark by now; the fire was perfuming everyone’s hair and clothes with woodsmoke; the kids were still playing up and down the block, and if you listened really closely, you could hear Jasper heaving in the bushes.

Well, he must have. He must have gotten sick, because he ate about 47 pounds of junk. I gave him an entire hamburger patty for supper; everyone else fed him scraps, and he hoovered up anything that fell on the street. Usually at the block party he scampers around the perimeter of the firelight, a scavenging jackal with wary eyes. But by nine he was ill with happiness. Ill with meat. Ill with sweets. He sat down next to the woman who was holding Gnat, and there he stayed.

Sara joined the party around nine, to cheers and smiles; another round of baby congrats. I was now completely released from Watchful Dad mode, and gathered my reward: a cup of cold Summit and good company. Talked with everyone about anything. Around 11, lightning began to play in the sky. The strings of Xmas bulbs over the street swayed in the new cool breeze - but it was still 72 degrees, still summer. Reina the Doberman joined the party, and chased Jasper around and around and around until she pinned him and barked her victory. The beer ran out. The kids went to bed. We discovered a cooler of Grain Belt. Another log on the fire; more smores.

Then: bang. Cold wet fat drops of rain fell at midnight, and that was that. Inside; goodnight.

This morning I put on my shirt and smelled the smoke; when I took Jasper for a walk I realized it was warm again, humid again, another summer day. The block party is always the end of summer, but on a day like today, with the memory fresh and the new day just as good as the last, summer feels eternal, and you feel immortal yourself. You feel better than immortal. The old gods just sat around.

You’re going to cut the lawn.


Okay, I tell myself when I’m at Target: one toy, young man, and that’s it. This time it was Pin Pal Homer, a Simpsons figurine. Quite the popular number: there weren’t any last week, and there was but one today. Cultural historians, note: Bart Simpson appears to be the least-popular item in the series. Everyone else sells out quickly, leaving a beached shoal of unsold Barts.

I bought a new coffeemaker from the Phillips collection of kitchen devices - a styled suite of tools that share the same curves, flares, colors, etc. They’ll all look dated in a few years, of course - but they’ll always look good. Unlike the crap foisted on Americans from, oh, ‘73 (when I got my first tear-drop Panasonic clock radio) to the mid 80s, when the designs of the Memphis and Archetectonica people started filtering down, these devices are designed by people who know what they’re doing. In fact, if you look through the aisles of Target, it’s amazing to see how much good product design there is. Exceptions: stereo equipment. Most boomboxes are bizarre devices that look like a tumor you’d take off a giant’s ass. The people who are fascinated by these ugly bulbous things always have shoes that look like boomboxes, too.) But in general, this is a golden age. In so many ways.

Today’s daaaaring manueover (I believe that’s the British spelling; they go in for those consecutive vowel-strings): applying a CD label without a stomper. Using only my wits and finely honed eye-hand coordination, I successfully affixed two labels. The new printer turns out exceptional labels, and that means I must redo all my CDs. Which means I have to get a new burner, since this wretched QUE! drive burns about as fast as a wet nun. (Whatever that means.) I also got 50 new slim-design CD cases - they take up half the space of the old cases, and that means a staggering 50% reduction! The Stuff Reduction Program marches on to its unnervingly thorough conclusion!

Pop Culture notes:

Watched “The Last Broadcast” the other night, mainly because the writer / actor had emailed me a while ago. He found my site by doing some utterly unrelated search, had enjoyed the stay. His sig was the website for the movie, and I figured: well, he probably had something to do with the film, since there’s probably not a lot of demand for a free e-mail account at lastbroadcast.com: takes too long to type. If you haven’t heard about the movie, well, it’s an account of some filmmakers who go into the woods to search for a legendary demon. They get killed. Years later, someone discovers the film of their expedition.

I enjoyed it better than the other filmmakers-go-into-the-woods-to search-for-a-legendary-demon-and-get killed movie. I was surprised at the end of Blair Witch how creepy the movie had become - I rolled my eyes through most of it, but the last five minutes were, I thought, as harrowing as anything I’d seen in the genre. “Last Broadcast” is a true shoestring production - it seems like I saw the scenes-in-the-woods repeated a few times too many. It took a while to get moving, and was hampered by a rather cold-fish narrator. But it gave me the creeps in a few spots, surprised me at the end, and provided far more entertainment than most of the dreck I’ve seen recently.

Example: last night saw “The Way of the Ghost Dog,” or "Ghost Dog Samurai," or "Scooby Doo: Lair of the Samurai" or whatever. Man: what a trial that was. I like Forrest Whittaker; sometimes he looks sorrowful, but sometimes he just looks as though he’s waiting for a burritto to take a corner in his digestive tract. He resembled Barry White in too many scenes. The Italian gangsters were the usual usuals - jiggle-bellied Guidos with tight thin polyester shirts stretched over their guts, run by one elegant old bastard who acted mostly by glaring. Nothing happened. Oh, there was some betrayal here and there, then much shooting, and voice-over blather about the Way of the Samurai.

The Samurai sometimes will find himself in the river. He must realize that it is wet, but that it will not always be so. This is a good time to pee in your pants. So it is in all things.

Bleh. That’s it for Jim Jarmush. No more. Off my list.

Short bleat, yes, but I’ve work to do - a limited window here before the evening shift begins. Last night I was up until 4:45 AM, and . . . it’s starting to wear on me. I slept on the sofa again - got up feeling as though I hadn’t slept a wink. It’ll be the same tonight. But that’s a Dad’s duty: do without for daughter’s sake.

But I’m keeping track. Cost of diapers, hours of sleep lost - she’s going to owe me, big time. But she already pays me back everytime she opens those eyes and looks out at the world. It is a world of milk and amazement.


This period of baby-haze has one constant sound: ambient classical music. Since day one the radio in her room has been set to the classical station, and set at a barely audible level. During her birth, same thing; during labor, classical CDs in the boombox. When I remember this era, the purest moment will consist of me standing over the changing table at 3:57 AM, Beethoven’s 6th playing softly in the corner. Back then, 3:57 was a bit of a surprise. Even in the pre-baby days I regarded 3 AM as the cutoff. If I stayed up later than that, I felt naughty. Now four AM is standard, and I don’t mind. Haven’t slept in my own bed in three days; it’s been the sofa. Don’t mind. Get up in the clothes I wore to bed. Don’t mind.

I do mind some of the crap I’ve watched late at night, though. I’ve been watching bushels of dreck, mainly because there’s no point in watching delicate, nuanced pieces of art when a small human is screaming in your ear. Not that she screams much - she’s very good, really. Cries when she wants to be held: duh, she’s a baby. Wails when the Knives of Gas stab: duh, she’s a tot. But since you never know when she’ll wake and need feeding or consoling, there’s no point in watching fine cinema every night.

No, I don’t buy that excuse, either.

Watched Mission to Mars last night. It’s the sort of movie that makes me very angry. Missed opportunities and wretched execution. As a student of large failures, I had to see this one - particularly since a friend recommended it. Oh, he’ll never hear the end of this one. It stinks. Where to begin?

1. It’s a movie about the first two manned missions to Mars. Number of shots of rockets launching: ZERO. Number of shots of ships landing: ZERO. Why do we go to see movies like this? For rockets that launch and ships that land. For that white boot crunching into alien soil.

2. The score is dreadful - portentous without being in the least bit stirring. Jabs an elbow in your ribs every time something happened. Look, it’s time to be awed! Now it’s time to be scared! Of course, it didn’t help that the characters all studied at the Basil Exposition School of Acting, and described everything the music was describing; you expected subtitles just to ensure you didn't miss the point that THIS IS A VERY TENSE SCENE.

3. The science is just dreadful. Why? WHY? You can make a movie like this with accurate science, and make it BETTER. Why do the movies presume we know enough to know that it takes a spinning wheel to manufacture gravity, but other than that we’re blithering idiots? Do we honestly think people can live on Mars for a year in a leaky pup tent held together with bungie cords? As for how the astronauts get to the planet, well, let’s just say that it rivals Indy Jones’ submarine-stowaway sequence.

4. Dreadful script and acting to match. Gary Sinese, who I always like, was supposed to look Pained and Haunted, but he just looked irritated, as though everyone was farting when his back was turned and then pretending nothing had happened. He also had bags under his eyes the size of babushka bosoms. Don Cheadle turned in another fine performance as Don Cheadle; no one does Don Cheadle better. Tim Robbins, America’s Favorite Stalinist, did a nice impression of a glazed trivet. And so forth.

5. The ending. This was all old stuff to any Art Bell listener, and in that respect brought back fond memories of the old days of 97-98 when there was that delightful nexus of Roswell, the X-Files, Bell, and all sorts of stuff that seemed to suggest SOMETHING was going to happen . . . which of course it never did, but that’s another story. But this ending posits that the Martians were incredibly advanced - capable of interstellar travel, yet stupid enough to get coldcocked by a meteor. And when their planet goes dead, they flee to the reaches of the universe, even though there’s a perfectly good planet right down the block. They pause to pitooee a gobbet of DNA into the primordial murk, then off they go.

None of this really sums up what a brimming crapper this thing was, and how many finer films it ripped off. If Red Planet is this bad, I’ll be miserable. Movies like this don’t just set back the genre, they set back the entire space program. Thanks to “Armageddon” and “Space Cowboys,” people probably think the shuttle is still a bitchin’ piece of bleeding edge high tech.

End rant.

Not next week, or next month, or anytime soon, but: one day I’ll post a website on Minneapolis 50s and 60s design. Since I take my little camera everywhere, I snap pictures daily, little scenes and details doomed to vanish the next time someone decides to “improve” a storefront or building. Today on the way to work I decided to take a 30 minute detour, and do the Stardust Lanes before I forgot. Went inside, shot 30 picts. The place is looking a little shabby, but the details are still there - the backlit stars in the pillars, the Fiberglas lockers. I was shooting the entryway, which has stone walls and flame-red linoleum, and thought: back then, things resembled the Flintstones and the Jetsons simultaneously.

Back to the mail. 172 letters in the inbox, and I’d better do something about them. I can understand why some postmen get overwhelmed and bury the sacks in their yard. Difference is, at least I read them first.


Got a call from an old friend this afternoon. Hadn’t seen her in five years. We caught up, swapped some anecdotes, had a laugh; when I hung up, I thought: well, that was nice. Then I went back to work.

And sometimes that’s all there is to it. But: if I were paid to find insight in this, I could. If my job consisted of taking small everyday occurrences and extracting emotional morphemes, I could have turned out 30 inches on the Changing Nature of Life, the Irony of Renewing an Old Bond in the Season of Turning Leaves, etc. “And as the leaves outside my window - fashionably brown, fragile as a wren’s esophagus - begin to detach from the branch that has nourished them, I am once again reminded that we are not leaves. We do not fall on schedule. Sometimes we hang on, because we want to. And that’s what makes us human, and not leaves.”

People make a living at this sort of stuff.

Last night Jasper was on the sofa when I turned in for the night; didn’t have the heart to dislodge him. We both fit, as it turned out. After I fell asleep I must have pushed him off the sofa; I heard a thunk! and an irritated grunt. Got up - felt around - in my sleepy state, I was convinced I’d been entrusted with the baby, and had lost the baby in the bed. Common dream these last few weeks. I felt around on the floor, and got a handful of fur. Somehow this was processed as ACCEPTABLE CONCLUSION and I went back to sleep. No dreams. A few nights ago I dreamed that Jasper was anointed as an Dog of Enlightenment - some smiling saffron-robed shaven-headed monks showed up and announced that Jasper was the Doggy Lama. Not their choice of words, but that was the message - he was the latest incarnation of canine divinity. They gave him a little headdress and led him away. We were proud but very sad, and wept as he trotted off.

Tonight in the video store a latter-middle-aged man (I’d have said elderly, ten years ago) stopped, stared, and declared Jasp to be the spit & image of a dog he had decades ago. We talked of his dog and mine, and Jasper - who knows damn well when he’s the subject of conversation - listened intently, sitting up and barking with periodic irritation. It was a delightful chat. It was one I could imagine having 20 years hence myself. I left the store without a movie; that was my movie for the day.

Gnat just woke up - it’s 2 to twelve. She’s “cluster feeding,” sipping and slurping just enough to quiet her hunger pains and give her gas. There’s a peculiar baby sound that’s quite amusing, and hardly lovable: the Grunt of Gaseous Annoyance.


It either results in a full rupe-spew on my shirt, or a Pamper-bomb. Nnrhr! Nnrhr! Nnrhr! It’s a gnomish sound, the sound you’d get if you sawed a hobbit’s leg. Nnrhr! She’s had trouble with gas lately, and lo the cries have blistered the plaster, but these bouts pass. Last night she went a few rounds with the Stabbing Knives of Gas while I watched “Broken Arrow,” but no matter how much she wailed, she still wasn’t as brayingly annoying as John Travolta. Let us all be honest: he made one good movie. It’s the one where he played a dumb sullen inarticulate Brooklyn paint-store clerk. Everything else is just grins and teeth.

Today: woke, walked dog, ate fat-free hot dog, regretted same, went to work. Laid out column. Looked at column. Ripped up column. Went walking. Lovely summer day; a bit of wind, but nothing spiteful. Just wind doing its job. Bought a small statue of Chief Wiggums at the comic book store. Back to the office. Bang: wrote column. Home; went for another disastrous family stroller walk. (We get about 10 feet out of the house before Gnat starts screaming, but that’s another Bleat.) Home. Cleaned house - relatives coming tomorrow to see Gnat. I think it would be amusing to just hide all the baby stuff and pretend we didn’t have a baby at all. Wait for them to bring it up. Then feign ignorance. Baby?

Whatever are you talking about?

And then, after they started to give each other worried looks, we smile, and say, oh, just having you on! And then Sara brings in a doll, and we coo and smile at the inert piece of plastic.

“Pull the cord!” I’ll say. “Baby says hello! Baby is sooo smart.”

I’m saving that for visitors I don’t want to see.