An all-Jasper Bleat:

On Sunday morning, we were paid a visit by the Dark Chef, his charming lass-mate, and their three-ounce dog. Understand that the Dark Chef is a big, big fellow - not with fat, nay; he burned that off during his coma. He finds it vastly amusing that he has a comma of a dog to go with his Tolstoi dimensions, and he’s right. The dog consisted entirely of nerves, springs and moxie, and brought out the puppy in Jasper Dog. My Jasp hasn’t had a good romp & tussle in a long while, and it was a delight to see them run around and be dogs. To quiet them both down I handed out rawhides to all, and Jasper helped himself to both. Periodically Kipling, the other dog, would just . . . vibrate into another dimension, then reappear on the other side of the room. Or so it seemed.

The Chef brought me the season finale of Voyager - I’d seen the rough version, but had stopped 2/3rds of the way through; it looked too good to see without FX. I gave them a table and shelf in return. The entire week has been like this - I’ve distributed tables, chairs, desks, lamps, books, et al to all and sundry. They’re all pieces of the Old Ways, and they won’t fit in the New Place - by which I mean they’re too New for the Old style of the new house

Ahh, screw it. You know what I mean. We’ve been so focussed on stripping the house that there’s no time for telling the tales of this chair or that picture, remembering what we were doing or how things were when first we got that piece. The kitchen table, though, was a hardy friend over the years. It wobbled from day one, which did not endear it to me, but the colored chairs in our monochrome kitchen gave the room merry hues, warmed it up, and gave it that Crate & Barrel catalog-photo aspect so important to an urbanite’s self-image.! I have the right chairs! Now I will have great witty parties and light, imaginative meals!

Where we’re going, we don’t need . . . chairs. We need stools. But that’s another bleat.

Kipling and co. left; life returned to a sedate pace. A few hours later, however, Jasper began to bark frantically, the sort of bark that indicates a dog is not only passing but straying close. I looked down out the window, and saw Ron from the end of the block. He was alone, which meant that his uber-Dobermensch, Raina, was ranging freely in Jasper’s land. In clear violation of Jasper’s urine markings! I went downstairs, opened the door to chat with Ron - and Raina burst into the house. She made one full circle - dining room, kitchen, sun room, living room - and marched back out the door. I saw she had Jasper’s new hedgehog in her jaws. Amazing: she’d been in the house 4.9 seconds, and managed to steal 50% of Jasper’s toys. Jasp bolted out, barking, and Raina kicked his ass in under a second. As a matter of course. For fun. Just to keep in practice.

I rescued the hedgehog and gave it back to Jasper. Raina loped on down the block.

Later that afternoon I saw Gnat playing with Jasper’s other toy, a Lobster sent by a generous Bleat patron. I took it away and said no, this is Jasper’s. A few minutes later I watched her crawl into the hallway to Jasper’s food dish. She had a handful of kibble by the time I whisked her away.

They get along, these two, but Jasper gets the least out of the relationship. She pulls his ears and pats his fur and grabs his paw, and he takes it and takes it as long as he can. Then he gives an irritated whine and goes elsewhere. At dinnertime, he’ll wolf up a mouthful of kibble, go to her playmat, dump it on her mat, sit, and eat it all. When she was in a Moses basket, he sat in the basket when it wasn’t in use. I allow him his small victories.

Tonight we went for a walk. Just the two of us. We sat in a field of dandelion ghosts; we traced the edge of the swollen creek for blocks and blocks, and I let him go in and stand in the water up to his nose. When we got home he had his fourth stick of the day.

And Gnat took that away, too. She crawled over, took it out of his mouth, and waved it around in triumph. (I have trained Jasper to surrender any and all food items at any time, so this unfolding scene didn’t worry me.) He waited, watched, then gingerly retrieved the stick from her hand, and started chewing it again. She took it away. He looked at me, whined slightly, then took it away by the tippermost of its tippity tip, then he put it on the carpet and put his head down on it. She made a move - he gave a snort of annoyance, picked it up, went to the corner of the room and ate it facing away from everyone.

Later we played rope, and he got his nightly Frosty Paw. Now he’s on the sofa, paws hanging over the edge, snoring.

It goes without saying that I love my wife, and I know I write miles of type about how much I love my daughter, but it needs to be stated now and then: I love my dog.
.. ..
The return of spring meant the return of the birds - the chirpy, happy, stupid babbling birds who commenced their idiot chatter a good hour before the sun got out of bed. They don’t shut up. They cheep and tweet in such numbers that you’re awakened well in advance of the alarm, and it makes one think vile, vile thoughts about our feathered friends. Noisy little bastards. We try to drown them out with the fan of the air conditioner, but you can still hear them. If you sleep downstairs on the sofa, you’ll hear the ones on the other side of the house. We’re surrounded. Every morning when I get the paper I expect to find Susanne Pleshette on the steps with her eyes pecked out.

Today the Giant Swede helped me take out the upstairs air conditioner, one of three useless ten-ton chillers whose icy blood is freon-poor, and unable to do the job anymore. (Where we’re going, we don’t need window units: Clairemont has central AC.) (I find myself usig that Back-to-the-future line every day: where we’re going, we don’t need . . . [fill in item that will not be needed where we’re going.]) When we pulled the air conditioner out we discovered that there was a nest built in one of the support struts. Birds! Whoa! Birds! he said, and sure enough we were dragging a nest into the bedroom. Sticks and twigs and bird-fluff everywhere. Four baby birds.

He used a stick to pull the nest on to a towel, which we set on the sill; I closed the window and cut the towel off so the window could close completely. Then we crossed our fingers to see if Mama Bird would save her chicks.

Mama Bird and a few others were on the roof of the house next door, cheeping with distress. The chicks were cheeping as well. I felt horrible - in the past, the birds have built nests in the ivy, not the strut. You couldn’t see the nest from below, either.

Well. We crossed our fingers and went about the rest of the day’s tasks.

And yea, they were many. A few electrical repairs. The GS is an engineer by training, so he has the tools and know-how for complex, dangerous tasks like replacing a light switch. He has a device that measures whether the wires are hot, for example, which is better than my method of dashing water on the wires and waiting for sparks and smoke. There was an ancient piece of dead wiring & busted ceramic fixtures in the ancient garage; it needed a face plate. Done. Off to the hardware store to see if they could duplicate a window; they could not. It had some wierd-ass springy things to close it tight (that’s the technical term, I believe) and the clerk explained that the company that made it was probably out of business, and even if they weren’t, he couldn’t very well stock every window-springy-thing closure device. He was apologetic. I let him make replacements anyway, because so far my total purchase was two screws - 17 cents - and I’d taken up more than 17 cents of his time.

Off to the far-flung burbs to grab processed meat discs and fried potato wands, then back to work hauling stuff and fixing things. It was raining, of course. It has been raining for a year. Last night I ran an errand in the pounding torrent, and usually I’d be hideously depressed that May was so wet and dank and cold - but this year, I don’t care. Too much going on to care, and it’ll be warm enough soon enough. I actually popped the Gene Kelly version of “Singin’ in the Rain” in the CD player and sang along. One of the great moments of America cinema, that - brilliantly cheerful and boundlessly optimistic. I have a version from the early 30s, done in the style of music you associate with black and white cartoons full of barnyard animals gyrating up and down. It has a few extra verses with a different melody; they cut it from the 50s version, and thank God. It even has a spo-de-oh-do scat done in Caucasian falsetto: shudder.

Anyway. Back to the house; thanked the GS and went back on additional errands. Bought boxes. About sixty bucks worth. I was wrangling them through the door of the store in the cart, having a tough go of it - a complete stranger smiled and said “you can put this in your column” as she passed.

This is why I always comb my hair and check for blemishes before I leave the house.

Went to Byerly’s for foodstuffs. Everything this week will be microwaved. After a year of actually learning to actually cook, I was stunned to look at all this microwave crap and think: yecch. But it must be done.

Home. Sara had a sad expression. “I think the birds are gone,” she said.

“Good! The Mama chick took them, then.”

“I don’t think so.” She explained she’d been upstairs, heard a cheepcheepcheep as usual, then THUMP. No cheep. She went outside, and saw a crow flying away.

No more birds in the nest.

I took a nap a while later. For once, finally, it was quiet in the room. For once I could sleep.

No cheeps. I thought about the crow. I put the pillow over my head to drown out the silence.
.. ..
Today Gnat is on the floor beside my chair, and she pulls herself up to stand. She does this all the time, teetering on those puffy little limbs, swaying unsteadily until she collapses on her butt. I look down; she smiles up. I put a hand down to keep her from banging her head into the chair; she bangs her head on my hand. Then I get down on the floor and watch her. Today I watched her stand, teeter, and collapse head first onto a strut on the chair, right in the eyebrow. I wince thinking about it, now, hours later. Big tears. I use all the means at my disposal to placate her, and they work - for a second. The funny sounds make her laugh - but then the sobs return. The funny face, the funny walk, the jumping up and down and shouting Boo! - all get a smile, a little laugh, and then we return you to your regularly scheduled fit of justified misery. Finally she calms down. We go back to playing. I’m tickling her stomach, which usually makes her collapse forward and giggle, but this time she decides to throw herself back, and she hits the rug, clipping her little computer keyboard. Big tears. And I’m thinking: could I do any worse? Why don’t I just tape bobby pins to her hands and put her in a room full of electrical sockets? Why not grease her butt with Crisco and put her at the top of the stairs?

Every day has these little tragedies, and they all pass quickly. You learn not to get too hysterical, and this means you have to stifle your instincts. When baby falls and bumps her head, you can either act hysterical , scoop her up and agree that a great calamity has occured, or you can calmly do your best to reassure her she’s safe, and you’re there, and it’s okay. Because she looks at me to see how bad it is. That’s the fascinating part. She bumps her head and looks at me before she starts to cry. If I smile and coo and move in, the crying isn’t as severe.

I know this is right, but you feel as though you’re training your kid to associate the daily concussion with parental amusement.

If you think I’m posting a Bleat tomorrow, you’ve never moved. You’ve never experienced the drama and delirium of packing your life into liquor-store boxes and watching sweaty fellows take it away. Tomorrow I will be packing, and fretting, and fracking, which is both packing and worrying combined, and then I’ll stay up late so I can be extra groggy when I go to two, count them TWO, highly complex closings.


Plus: the entire site is being moved to a new IP address, with the switchover happening Monday. This means that while I’m moving my life, I’m moving my site: how appropriate. And what fun it is to babysit a 165 MB site as it moves through my drinking-straw connection.

I’m so very tired, too. Gads. I just made a command decision: to hell with Sunday’s column. I’m taking a day off. Usually I abhor days off; I have Ted Baxter syndrome, wherein I fear people will instantly abandon me if I go away. (Ted took a forced vacation, went to a local hotel and watched his fill-in.) But I think moving is a reasonable rationale. Last time I took a day off was Christmas; before that, Gnat’s birth. So. I can do this, I think. I had had five fargin’ pieces in the paper last week, anyway.

To my regret, though, I had to censor myself once more in the column. I’ll always err on the side of safety in the paper. Things I could say in the Bleat I probably could say in the paper, but I’d rather not. I wrote once that my computer had a search engine so poor it couldn’t find a body in a clown’s crawl space, and oh, I got letters. Today I was writing about a Backfence advertiser who, for some reason, couldn’t get anyone to take their ads; they were a pro-beef industry group called the North American Man-Beef Lunch Association. For some reason this just made me laugh - for an organization to inadvertantly choose the same initials as the most abhorrent group on the planet just struck me as amusing. Only a small number might get it, and half of those would be outraged, but they walk around in a state of perpetual outrage, anyway.

So. One more day here in Lileks Manor. Sad? No. Suffused with nostalgia and bittersweetness? No. Tired of that crack in the ceiling? Yes. As much as I love this shack, it’s time to go, and I’m perfectly capable of cutting the cord and heading up the hill. I wish I could provide pictures of the new place, but I don’t think I will. It would seem boastful: hey, everyone admire my fireplace! Don’t you just love my fireplace? Huh? And besides that, two words:

Lindberg Baby.

Note to self: glue broken glass outside Gnat’s window. Also, have all itinerant German carpenters arrested. Just to be safe.

Just remembered something: when I was in high school, I used to read Liberty magazine. Reprints of old Liberty magazines, actually - there was a brief rerun of the publication to capitalize on the “nostalgia” craze that swept the nation in the early 70s - nostalgia for the 20s and the Depression, thanks to “The Sting,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Paper Moon,” et al. (It was soon swamped by the American Graffiti / Happy Days nostalgia craze.) Anyway: there was an article in Liberty by Bruno Hauptman, tiitled “Why Did You Kill Me?” My dad or mom came into my room to burn off a roll of film, take the last shot, and I held up the magazine and put on a tragic face. My exceptional memory tells me what I was wearing, too: a white shirt with blue sleeves and the U of Iowa logo, which would put it at post ‘74. (I went to debate camp in high school at the U of I.) That picture haunted me, since I always thought it would be Tragic and Ironic if someone killed me - why, this would be the photo that would be used in the newspaper. That sounds self-aggrandizing, but Fargo was, and is, the sort of town where the murder of a high school student gets big big play.

Anyway. Now we leave this house, the place I’ve lived longer than any other house except my childhood house. (Which my dad still inhabits - I’m lucky that way. When I go home, I go home. ) I’ve been planning this for a long time, anyway; I knew we’d leave. I knew it when I was looking at baby-gates for the stairs, and none of them fit our house. Of course, the previous owners raised three kids here, and none of them as far as I know were killed by tumbling ass-over-teakettle down the maple rapids, but this just isn’t the house where Gnat will grow up. I want her to have a big backyard and a big room to play in.

Carpeted. Thick, soft, carpet.



Okay, time to go. Goodbye tree I planted on the front yard; goodbye bushes and shrubs I put in all by myself a half a decade ago; goodbye bench, goodbye patio, goodbye nobody. Goodbye mush. Goodbye house.

Hello home.