Saturday night, D’Amico’s restaurant. Well, it’s not really a restaurant, inasmuch as no one comes to your table and asks for your order. You place your order at the counter. They bring it to your table. So it’s half a restaurant. It’s mostly carryout, it would seem, and wretchedly designed; there’s no focal point for ordering. There’s a big display case of sandwiches and salads, and a rack with numbers. You wait for your number to be called. A deli, I guess. Geared for takeout. Not a restaurant.

Even though it has forty fargin’ tables, it’s not a restaurant, so you can’t really expect restaurant service. So you get counterboys who act is if they blew a joint the size of a mastiff turd five minutes before punching in.

We show up. The Giant Swedes, who got there first, hand us a number. It’s 37. We wait. A clerk says “who’s next” which rather would seem to defeat the purpose of having a number, eh? An old man who exudes confusion - you can almost smell it, like Old Spice - steps forward with his number. It’s ONE. The counterboy takes it, and asks what he would want. At this point, numbers 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 step forward at once, holding up their numbers. Thirty-five and thirty-six have a gusto to thier protest with such gusto it's clear they’re already peeved about something.

Finally, it’s our turn. I give our order to the counterboy. He writes nothing down. He stares. He doesn’t blink. He gives absolutely no indication that any of this has sunk in. When I’m done giving my wife’s order, he wheels away without explanation. Returns with a glass of wine, as per the order. I stop him and say that there’s more. He stares as I add two more items to the mix. He goes off again.

“No extra bread tonight,” I hear another counterman tell a customer. He points to a basket. “That’s all we have for tonight.” It’s six o’clock on Saturday night. It’s an Italian deli. They have six loaves of bread.

“EXCUSE ME?” I hear a lady saying to my right. “We’ve been waiting for the pot roast for twenty minutes. Everyone else is finished. We have a movie to see.”

The waitress mutters a sorry and slides past.

My counterdude returns with my wife’s salad. Now it’s time to enter it into the computer. “Uh . . . what did she have again?”

Needless to say, her entree arrived 14 minutes before mine.

The entire staff gives the impression that they are involved in some incredibly detailed, complex task, and by some annoying imposition of management they’re also being asked to run a restaurant at the same time. No one catches your eye. Everyone avoids you. It’s impossible to get dessert after you’ve finished, too - take another number! Stand in line! When a place irritates you like this, you start to hold everything against it. The paper on the floor in the bathroom. The empty coffee pot. The wobbly table. What might have been excused is now just more evidence that something is amiss. It’s the staff. They’ve decided that the customer is the enemy. They hate us. Eventually, the feeling’s mutual.

Afterwards we went to a silent auction at the preschool where the Giant Swedes send their tots, and where we’ll probably send Gnat. Small world: in the corner of the room, banjoing away in a Dixieland band, was a guy I work with. Played a mean clarinet, too. Amidst this cheerful racket we examined the items up for bid; I put in bids on two clocks. One was made from an old Columbia 78 rpm; the other was a DeSoto hubcab. Value: $25.00 That’s all? Sure, it was dented. Sure, it wasn’t easy to check the time - who cares? It was a chrome DeSoto hubcap! I wanted to put it to my ear like a conch shell and hear the roar of the open road. Where have you been? Where did you go? Did you one day fly off and spin off into a culvert while your brothers all sped away? Did you land face down, collecting rain for a summer, an incubator for a million mosquitos, until a kid found you and took you home to hang on the wall, because someday he’d have a DeSoto? Did that kid grow up, leave you behind when he went to Korea - Mom threw it out when cleaning your stuff a few years later, but the junkman fished it out because his brother had a DeSoto, might as well see if he needs this . . .

And so forth. Sometimes you wish you could hear these stories just by grabbing an item and closing your eyes, but perhaps it’s just as well that we can’t. Most of the stories would be too sad, eventually. And if we didn’t tire of the sadness, we’d just get used to it.

Better that they’re mute.

I hope I got the hubcap. There were four of them. When we left, I had the high bid.

I also had the only bid. I live among the blind.


There used to be an ad for a laxative that featured a cab driver, genus New Yawkus. In that classic cabbie accent, he described how much he valued predictability in a laxative. You could certainly understand why - particularly in New York, where traffic often becomes, well, costive. Backed up. You don’t want you passenger to announce it'll get out and walk, after all. When I heard the ad, I used to think: which planet still has a New York filled with opinionated world-weary street-smart wisenheimer gruff-but-loveable Bunkeresque white cabbies? The archetype lives on, even though they’ve vanished. Here in Minneapolis, nearly every cabbie seems to be Somali, for example. New York, it’s Indian & Pakistani - and some astonishingly ill-tempered Russians, now that I think of it. DC: Korean and various African countries.

Anyway. I gave the old cabbie voice to Louie the Lamb, one of Gnat's favorite stuffed toys. Around two I needed a break from writing & futzing; propped up the Gnat, get out a toy, grab the camcorder, and make a movie. Plot: Louie walks across the rug. Bumps into Gnat’s feet. Much hiliarity results.

After seven takes Jasper came up to see what we were doing. He stood in the doorway, watched, left, and came back with Hedgehog. Plopped down on the rug. Now my tightly scripted movie falls apart, and it’s improv from here on out. I’ll cut it tomorrow and add music. Something . . . sheep-and-cab related.

Snow. Six, seven, eight inches. So I worked at home. Usually on Mondays we go to the mall or Caribou Coffee, and Gnat sleeps while I type on the laptop. (Why did I have to mention “laptop?” Anyone think I drag an iMac along, or a big heavy humming Selectric?) But it would have been too much of a bother to trudge around today, so I just stayed home . . . all day . . . with a baby . . . a teething baby.

Maybe. She had her moments of surpassing crankiness today, but that’s normal. I was no particular joy, either. I had a computer meltdown yesterday, and I’ve come to blame iTunes. I don’t know why - other than I’ve heard a few whispers here and there that it flakes out your computer, and I had a big meltdown yesterday, one of those Catch-22 nightmares: computer freezes after booting up. Solution: boot from the CD. Catch-22: there’s a CD in the drive. Solution: remove CD once the computer boots up. Catch-22: moving the mouse or typing a command freezes the system. Finally got it to work, and reinstalled everything with ease, but it was still about as stable as Crispin Glover, so I spent a merry hour fixing & tweaking.

If I were Dennis Miller, I'd say "Stable as Crispin Glover in a meth lab on the San Andreas Fault," or something equally needless, but I'm not Dennis Miller. Sometimes you have to know when just saying Crispin Glover is enough. It's the understatement, bucko!

Anyway. Had to reinstall the mail program, Outlook Express, and discovered another happy funtime merriment moment: it won’t import data. It - just - won’t. Usually I solve this by swapping the database and a few other files, tricking the program into doing my bidding. No go. (I lost a few letters from last week: apologies.) So I had to reinstall this. Does anything match the brutal thrill, the breakneck excitement, the pulse-pounding hoorah whee-ha gusto of typin in SMTP addresses?

Reading about it, perhaps.

Everyone sell your Amazon stock. Now. Something is very, very wrong when Big Brain Comics, Shinders Read-Mor bookstore, Suncoast and every Target in town has the new Simpsons figurines, but Amazon / ToysRus doesn’t. Not a good sign.

Goes without saying that they don’t have any Space Ghost toys. I need Zorak, and Moltar. I just do. Last night my entire TV entertainment for the day consisted of 13 minutes of Space Ghost, and I was in one of those glowering moods that make me a poor target for comedy. I was healed in seconds. Maybe it’s just the time - I always see it late, late, late Sunday night, when I’m utterly beaten down from the weekend - but I always end up shaking my head in admiration. Funniest show on TV. Not for everyone, but it’s for me.

That’s all - it’s a column night, and I have work to do. There are three new ads in the old ad section, if that makes sense - head to the main menu for links.

Eight inches! In the middle of March! It’s like poking someone in the eye while they’re being catheterized, I tell you. It's like poking Crispin Glover in the eye while he's being catheterized! I’m sick of it, but at least there’s Mexico to look forward to.

Next year, anyway.



I’d been looking forward to watching “Rear Window,” but both nights I lacked that certain settled anticipation that’s necessary for a good movie. Didn’t feel like making popcorn, plumping the pillows, leaning back, prepared to enjoy. So I ended up watching “Diamonds Are Forever,” and was alarmed to find that I’d repressed, deeply, the extent to which this movie stinks. As a cultural document, however, it contained a big surprise - which you might know. If not: prepare for one of those meaningless “oh. gee” moments that might come in useful in seventeen years at a trivia contest.

Note: I hate trivia. I don’t like disconnectd molecules of knowledge, which is all trivia is. Knowledge is useful when it relates to something else; the connections are what give it weight and utility, even if the connections themselves are relatively useless and gossamer thin.

Diamonds are Forever. Flat & flabby from start to finish, and can’t even muster the energy to lampoon its own corpulence. And I mean, corpulence; there’s a scene where Connery disrobes, and he really ought not to have done so - he hadn’t just let himself go, he’d had himself driven there. (I don’t know what that means, but it sounds right.) I’m in better shape now than he was. I lack the burr and the hair and the charisma, of course, but those will be available as implants in a few years.

Leonard Barri makes a brief appearance as a Vegas comedian, a performance whose rationale is probably lost on anyone under 30 - he’s just an ancient monotone crank with no comic ability whatsoever, playing . . . an ancient monotone crank with no comic ability! Why? Because he was Dean Martin’s uncle. Really. He was an old-style rat-a-tat Henny Youngman style gagman, and you could just imagine him on a stage in the waning days of vaudeville wearing a suit with oversized plaid pattern, a gigantic daisy and big shoes. He must have been the sort of comic more successful comics would credit as an old-style trailblazer. “Sure, Henny came up with Take My Wife, Please, but Lenny used to walk out there and just say Take My Wife. It would bring the house down. The man was classic.”

Perhaps. Or it’s more likely that by the end of his life he was an amusing relic. Vaudeville was dead; here was the corpse. He’d show up on Dean’s TV show, as well as the Tonight Show. He’d stand there and shoot bad jokes out of his pickle puss, and people laughed, because . . . because he was old! And ugly, too.

A Google search of the name came up with an account of an early Martin & Lewis show:

“The eccentric dance team of Barr and Estes is announced, but only Martin's uncle Leonard Barr performs. He does crazy leg steps to a Big Band standard, but even his most inventive contortions aren't as amusing as Lewis' average kneejerk reaction. Barr eventually became a fairly decent comic with a cynical edge ala Don Rickles and Henny Youngman. In later years, he made many appearances on Martin's hit variety series.”

We don’t have eccentric dance teams anymore. And no, Elton and Emimen don’t count. Mr. Barri’s appearance in the movie had a certain zing at the time, a certain correctness; audiences got it. But someone who’s 20 wouldn’t get it today, unless they were a student of justifiably neglected late 60s and early 70s TV culture. It makes you realize that movies are full of these little touches, and most of them die with the generation at which they were aimed. When I was young I had a Marvel comic called “Not Brand Ecch.” A parody comic for comic geeks. (If you’re of that demographic, chew on this: Marie Severn! Irving Forbush! FOOM! We now return you to the 21st century.) I remember a big splash panel of some Justice League-type headquarters, with a little guy in the corner selling some sort of superhero pill. Hotcha! he said. I got a million of ‘em.

This was ‘72, and the reference was already 30 years old. There was a time when nearly everyone knew what that meant. Now no one does. This is the peculiar power of mass culture - for a while, everyone knows the same thing, then no one does. In the old days, a meme would stick around for a while.

Back to the movie - and no, we’re not to the trivia yet. The opening sequence ought to warn you; it’s slackly directed, poorly edited, stupid and confusing, and leads to a title sequence that might as well have been preceeded by a small announcement: The Management Regrets To Inform you that Maurice Bender Has Run Out of Ideas. The plot is incomprehensible; the action is not “action” in the sense we understand it as “interesting things happening in a kinetic fashion.” The women all look like hookers - it is 1971 in Vegas, so you can understand that part - and the bad guys are laughable. Charles Gray is a cartoon Blofeld, and the gay hitmen are just stupid. Although it does remind us that there was a certain archetype walking the streets of America in great number in those days: tall, paunchy guys with Meathead posture, walrus moustaches, wispy long hair, bald heads, round wire-rim glasses, and leisure suits. Fully one fifth of American men looked like this. It’s a wonder we didn’t nuke ourselves.

The obligatory documentary had the usual suspects - a few words from my hero Ken Adam, who contributed the only worthwhile visual in the film - Willard Whyte’s ultra-cool office. Jimmy Dean - who gave the only worthwhile performance in the movie, mostly because he shouted - made a small appearance, looking a little like he’d had the Johnny Cash makeover. Not exactly Death warmed over, but death browned up a little in the pan, served with some nice biscuits and pork gravy. Mm, mm.

Then they interviewed the other half of the unconvincing gay assassin duo. He looked familiar, in an alarming way. The shape of his head. His squint. The way he seemed to be squinting with his eyes wide open. I noted the last name: Glover. I thought, with a chill: it’s Crispin Glover’s father.

And indeed it was.
I called up his credits on Bruce Helion Glover. (Crispin’s middle name is Hellion. Two Ls.) Dad’s bio reads like a criminal indictment against the culture of the 70s: “Father of Crispin the Mad, you stand accused of participating in Big Bad Mama 2, Walking Tall, Chicks ‘n Grits, Convoy Fever, Smokey and the Kleagle, and other sundry products of an exhausted, dispirited, dope-addled culture. How do you plead?”

“Guilty - but I was J. J. Giddes’ operative in ‘Chinatown.’”

The court will take that into consideration.


Gnat has another cold, the main proof of which is profuse rhinitis. That was the term the doc used, and it’s stuck in my mind: Profuse Rhinitis. Meaning, a runny nose. It sounds like a character from a sci-fi novel, perhaps one of the Dune books. Or perhaps a Pilgrim’s-Progress type book of moral instruction. Or one of the Mather brothers, if you accent the first syllable - Cotton, Increase, and Profuse. (Of the other Mathers, Zeppo and Sterno, we know little.)

The cold hasn’t affected her good cheer, or her galloping development; today she spent hours in unaccompanied babyplay, picking up things and throwing them down, then picking them up and studying them again. By “Unaccompanied” I mean she’s on the floor at my side; it’s not as if I put her in the crib and tape a rattle to her hand. But I no longer have to turn around every 90 seconds to see if she’s rolled off the rug, pulled her socks off and is face down on the hardwood.

To amuse her today I got out the small iDog I bought many months ago - a cheap ten-buck robotic dog in iMac Bondi Blue. Jasper had hated it when I activated it last year - he barked furiously at it, perhaps believing it was the M5 to his Captain Dunsel. (That’s your obscure Trek reference for the week.) Gnat liked it no more than he did. She seemed unnerved by its jerky walk and beepy bark; Jasper promply ran up the stairs, no doubt thinking I thought I got rid of that thing with my alpha noise a long time ago. He looked at it - barked - then positioned his snout behind its wagging plastic tail, and sniffed. There was nothing to sniff, of course. In dog terms, this was highly unnerving; it would be like meeting a man on the street who had no facial features whatsoever, or shaking hands with someone whose flesh was 72 degrees warm. Alive, but just so very, very wrong.

Of course, when we were playing with stuffed animals the other day, Jasper flipped over Louie the Lamb and investigated his crotch. Nada. To dogs, human caves must seem like zombie town.

Although zombies, I imagine, smell. A lot.

Sonny, don’t let your mama grow up to use Hotmail. Once again the Orphanage of Cast-Off Mascots was featured in some periodical, and I’ve gotten the usual responses from the Anykey Demographic. It’s a wonder some people can turn the computer on, let alone figure out an email program. Here’s my favorite so far:

where place in they job on the webtv like you do on conputer

That’s the subject line. The rest of the message, naturally, is blank. The main page for the Orphanage clearly states that I cannot send anyone mascots for their web pages. Well, I could, but I won’t - I hate to be cruel about this, but if someone cannot figure out how to save an image to their disk, they probably don’t have a website anyway. But this doesn’t stop people from sending messages like this:

hi send me the pig

Or this:

hey i would like to be your friend and adopt you to my email
please type me back but tell me who this is

To which I can only say: no. Or would, if I wrote back. I simply can’t.

Another Wednesday - a day with the absolute minimum of work obligations. You’d think I’d be happy, and just relax, but a day always feels misspent if I haven’t done SOMETHING to justify taking up space on this verdant jot of dirt. (Which reminds me. Don’t know if I mentioned this in a previous anti-Battlestar Galactica rant, but why did ANYONE follow Adama on his cross-galactic quest? He said ‘I am leading you all to the planet Earth’ - well, what is earth, really? Right: dirt. Let’s all fight our way across the inky void to the promised land of Planet Dirt! No thanks. I’ll stay right here in the Pinacolada nebula, if you don’t mind. Go on ahead. Write when you get there.) So today I finished the DVD of the second batch of family movies, printed off a nice glossy label, and began the long-planned conversion of Diner cassettes to MP3 format. They’ll be up next year, late next year, after I’ve set up the server here at home and the radio station’s up and running . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So that’s today’s accomplishments. That, and ignoring all the mail from people who didn’t get the point of the Orphanage. Sigh.

Just realized that I have to move my car now, or wait for the morning. Parking regs in this town stipulate that you can’t park on the even side because of the excess snow. Except during a snow emergency, when you must park on the even side. Until you have to move, that is. Dang. I’m in my sweatpants and beach socks.

Well, I’ll be in my sweatpants and beach socks tomorrow, and I’ll be in a bigger hurry, too. Off we go, then.

Also just realized that I’ve had a tickle at the back of my throat all night. Hello Profuse; Hello Increase / now I do have / daughter’s disease. Nose is running / eyes are scratchy / Let I still must write a column for McClatchy.

I’m going to bed.


Cold not yet fully arrived. This means it’ll be a long time coming, a long time going. Just in time for the weekend: it’s disease! So it’s a short woozyheaded Bleat, probably. Let’s see.

The thaw has begun. So they say. Sure, it’s warmer; yes, the snowbanks have shrunk, and the creek ice cracks beneath your feet. But we’ll get snow yet again this year. It’ll be big snow, wet snow - doomed to die within a day, but that’ll be no consolation. We’ll stare out the window with vacant resignation, telling ourselves that this is it, this is the last time; just endure. Some late March storms seem to delight in their cruel potential - the wind spits grit and ice at you like a convict screaming threats at the jury as he’s hauled off to begin his sentence. Days like this, everyone wonders why the devil they live here. Days like this I understand entirely why Art Bell lives in a trailer in the middle of the desert. The older I get the less patience I have for winter . . . but I want Gnat to grow up with snow. It stiffens the spine a little. Not a lot. But a bit.

Not enough, in some cases; I’ve been watching Judge Judy this week, and half the cases are from Minneapolis or its suburbs. Nice to know we have as many selfish clods as other parts of the world. I’ve learned other things:

1. Never buy or sell a car from anyone but a dealer; you’ll lose your money or your friendship, and you’ll look like an idiot on syndicated TV when a tiny fireplug judge takes your head off with one glare.

2. Women who don’t know how to choose men capable of being good fathers seem to wind up pregnant by those very men with astonishing regularity. And they seem to regard this as an unavoidable fact of nature, as if they’d been impregnated when the earth passed through the tail of some gigantic Sperm Comet.

3. Many people in the Dirtball demographic have a remarkable faith in their ability to bamboozle a judge, and always seem stunned when someone with ten times their brainpower doesn’t buy it. You realize that this is the hallmark of true stupidity: you don’t even know that there are people smarter than you are.

The reason for Judge Judy’s success is obvious - people like me enjoy seeing damp creeps & smug thugs & nasty little vixens get judged, and judged correctly. No sad regret from the bench; no boo-hoo sighs over a court system that punishes when it could rehabilitate. It’s the only show on TV that actually judges people for being selfish little liars - something that never seems to happen in real life.

My house has a science-fiction twin, as Elvis Costello might say. I’ve mentioned it before - it’s an exact duplicate of Lileks Manor, except it’s in hideous disrepair. The windows are always closed; strange lights burn at strange hours; a human form is never seen in its windows. It’s the sort of house a child would automatically avoid on Halloween. Not even an issue. You’re not ringing that doorbell. Uh uh.

Saw someone in the house last night. I was walking Jasper, and I saw a light downstairs - and an open window! Since the house sits perpendicular to an alley, I could walk past & legally peer. Everyone’s house around here conforms to the same basic pattern - living room & dining room face the street, kitchen in the back, fireplace somewhere. It’s a question of size, of whether the dining room’s on the right or left. From what I saw of my house’s twin, it’s the same all right - except this one had a blob-man in a wife-beater tank top sitting at the living room table, chatting with some unseen guest. I’d thought the house was occupied by what we used to call a “shut-in.” Some elderly person who didn’t see the disrepair, and only saw the house as it was in 1950, full of kids and life and flowers. Now it appears that Newman from "Seinfeld" lives there.

Something about this place just trips all my Hardy Boys switches; I want to stage a midnight surveillance run. But we know how that ends - you’re in the garden, taking notes with your special Investigator’s Notepad, and suddenly there’s a rough hand on your shoulder, and a voice demands to know what you kids are up to.

So, no thanks.