As a handyman, I am not. I am a cataract-hobbbled troll with ten thumbs, each of which is red and throbbing from the last blow of the hammer. I can’t do a $(%#$%’ thing. It’s taken me three weeks to put up a mailbox - Swambo took her custom box, and I can’t blame her; it was nice. Finding a replacement took two weeks. Then it sat on the steps for a week, marinating in the effluvial aromas of my laziness. Tonight - as the planes came over, one after the other I attempted to drill holes in the railing and put the fargin’ thing up. I succeeded in stripping the screws, of course, and the box hung off like the head of a weary soldier after ten days’ march. So. Do we drive the screws deeper into the wood, expending the last few slivers of the - the - the screwdriver groove things, whatever they’re called - or do we attempt to back the screws out at the risk of making them utterly unscrewable? The latter, of course. So now I’m pushing against the screw as I attempt to get it out, which just ruins the screws even more. I ended up taking a pliers to the screws to get them out - but halfway through that job I realized this would mean no more mailbox, and the mailman seems peeved that I haven’t finished this yet. So it will hang, dejected, for another week. Or two. Or three.

Fine weekend. Warm, full of duties, with a small amount of relaxation. Last night we watched a movie (and yes, you can tell that life has returned to normal: it’s back to the post-weekend pattern of discussing movies everyone’s seen, with comments on music and pop culture gleaned from driving around on Saturday listening to the radio)

We watched “A Castaway FedEx Middle Manager,” starring Tom Fedexhanks. One of those movies you watch in contented pleasure, after which you’re left with nothing but the conviction that you’ve just watched an agreeable movie. You hit rewind and think no more of it. For those who don’t know, it’s about a FedEx employee who crash lands in a FedEx plane and washes up on the island of Fedexia, where he amuses himself for several years, dining on Fedexenuts, until he is able to escape and return to FedExilization. He has some problems readjusting, but FedEx is there to help.

It’s an unusual movie that puts its hero on a desert island and manages to include TWO product placements.

Also played some games this weekend, including the new Half-Life expansion pack, Blue Shift. My tagline for the ads: if you loved Half-Life, you’ll probably buy Blue Shift! Too bad. So far, it’s lame, tame, and more of the same. Brilliant decision by the designers: you spend the first quarter in tunnels. Rusty tunnels. Rusty underground tunnels. Yes, we’ve never been there before. Sure get that Barton Fink feeling running around in a twisty maze of rusty underground tunnels.

Now, some observations of pop music! Two old songs on the old-song channel, back to back, each of which summed up an era without even trying. One was the much maligned “Love Will Find a Way” by Pablo Cruise, which drove me nuts at the time - why, modern life demanded hard jangly nervous music, not this laid-back soft-sell drivel. In retrospect, you can see why it was successful; it’s smooth and happy and genially stupid. To my surprise I could whistle the entire guitar solo - it’s been locked in my brain all these years, waiting. The bass guitar sound was typical for the era - round & fluid & effortless. Sort of like farting in the tub, to be blunt. The next tune was the utterly horrible “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” by Aretha Franklin. There’s no song there, just a series of blocks that connect the iterations of the lackluster chorus. But it had two defining-moment sounds: this strange glissando that can’t quite be described; it’s like someone has wrapped a gigantic caterpillar in burlap and rubbed it up and down the uppermost bass string. The bass sound itself is synthetic, tight and trebly, a product of the keyboard, not a real bass. When you listen to songs like this you remember that everything, briefly, sounded like this.

My point being? This: sometimes a musical period is defined by a artists, and sometimes by producers. There was a period in the 80s when the machinery took over. I’m a great fan of synth pop, when done right, but this was just dross, severed from any actual performance, reconstructed into a cynical pastiche that had all the necessary componants to be A Hit. (And it usually was.)

I turned the channel and found “Surfin’ USA.” I usually don’t like the Beach Boys, but sometimes it’s the right song for the right moment. At the time it was 84 degrees, sunny, and I was driving down a long broad street - I turned it up, rolled down the window, and played the bass drum part on the car door; everybody’s surf (bum bum bum bum) surfin’ USA.

At some point in every summer, everyone belongs to a Beach Boys song. And vice versa.
.. ..
I only have fifteen minutes here, since I have too much work to do and too little time in which to do it. But it’s been that kind of day, really: full of contrusions. Best moment: Gnat was playing with her blocks, attempting to discern the flavor of the letter B, and I decided to take the opportunity to marinade the pork chops for the evening meal. I poured the rich, garlic marinade over the tender fresh chops, piercing them deeply, saying a prayer to St. Sebastian (patron saint of this procedure) as I did so. Then I put a cover over the dish and put it in the fridge - zut alors, no room. Well. I rearranged a few things, fit the dish in - and spilled a cup of rich, garlic marinade into the fridge, thereby spilling rich, garlicky trichinosis juice all over the tops of the soda contingent on the shelf below. I was cleaning this up, and had my hands full of rich presumably poisonous marinade, when I noticed that Gnat had found a gigantic wad of lint, and was putting it in her mouth. So! Well! Let’s clean our hands as quickly as possible so we can put a presumably unpoisoned finger into the child’s mouth, and extract the linty goodness she found so delightful.

Great domestic drama. Took up three minutes of the morning.

One other note. I was at Southdale this afternoon, at Suncoast Video. I paused by the display of Simpsonalia, and noted a few new figurines; I have a batch of Springfieldians on the basement shelf, and I’m always on the lookout for others. There was a tall gaunt kid standing nearby. When I bent down to look at the figurines - okay, DOLLS - he seemed to take note of me; when I looked at the feet of the characte - okay, DOLLS! - to see if they had the tell-tale ridge that made them World of Springfield Interactive figures (dolls) he must have thought: ah. He knows his Simpsonalia, this one.

Do you like the Simpsons? he said, shyly. I said that I did. I have some drawings, he said, and he opened a notebook he had. I thought:

uh -oh.

It’s four o’clock on a Monday afternoon on the third floor of a shopping mall, and this guy just happens to have a notebook of drawings and just happens to be standing by the Simpsons doll kiosk.

Uh - oh.

The drawings had all the usual characters - Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Eric. And I was impressed: they were good. Not just line-drawings like you see on the TV show, but beautifully shaded drawings that gave the characters volume and dimension. I’m serious - they were very, very good.

And you’re thinking: Eric? Yes. He’s come up with a new sibling, and written a big long comic based on the Simpsons ten years hence. I asked if he wanted to be an animator; he said he wanted to go into web design.

Maggieanderic.com,” he said. “Check it out.” (He didn’t warn me about the popups.)

I looked at it when I got home, checked the "Comic" section. The lettering’s off, and the pictures don’t have the attention to detail of the pictures in his portfolio. But the splash page gives you an indication of what he’s capable of doing. There’s talent there; good luck to him. What strikes me about the endeavor - aside from the curious way in which I was introduced to it - was that someone has taken this much time on a piece of fan fiction which, in all likelihood, will never lead to reimbursement. It's one thing to develop your own characters and style, and do your best to make a living from it - but to spend this much time embellishing someone else's idea seems like absolute madness. What can come of it?

I should mention that when I was in grade school, I wrote a series of sequels to the Stuart Little books, and when I was in High school, I wrote dozens of comics based on movies I'd seen, and when I was in full adulthood, I started writing stories based on someone else's comic strip from the 1940s. In other words: it's good practice. Good luck to him.

And that’s the end of that chapter.
.. ..
Aphorism of the day: People who say the don’t like labels usually just don’t like the one that fits them the best.

Since I have nowhere to use that line, might as well dump it here, in the Bleat, the Landfill of Daily Life.

And I’ve nothing to say beyond that - no observations, no conclusions, no Broad Sweeping Insights. It was just a day of Doing Things. Gnat-care in the AM, dash to work, write column, pick up Gnat, cook up a delicious Indian curry while listening to Judge Judy give someone’s sense of ethics a chemical peel, then eat while the satellite music station played “light jazz,” i.e, music for young receptionists to listen to while primping for a night out on the town with the gals. It all sounds the same. Tasteful sax, insinuating bass. All very sophisticated and urbanely sexy, clean and boring as hell. Music to get a pedicure by. I can take about ten minutes of it, then I switch to the Heavy Jazz channel. Jazz as dense as neutron star matter! Jazz so dense that one teaspoon can crush Chuck Mangione's skull!

So, that was today. That, and an hour spent driving around town, driving along the twisty fifty-mile Memory Lane that runs through this city. It worked like this:

Picked up Gnat from her Nana’s house, clicked the carseat into its docking base; she was out before I’d pulled out of the driveway. And it was deep deep baby sleep, too - I could play Brian Setzer records at high volume and she’d sleep right through it. I wanted her to sleep, so I decided just to drive around, give her a good long nap. Highway to the University. Got off on Fourth st, right by my old apartment, past the convenience store where I used to work, past the other old apartment where I lived for a few years. It’s a potent block, thick with history - nearly every good friend I had in the college years lived in that apartment, or worked at the convenience store, or patronized it. And these connections still exist - the apartment I had used to belong to the girlfriend of the Crazy Ukranian, who got me the mortgage for this house; my neighbor was the Giant Swede, whose house I visited Sunday for the birthday party of his son. And there’s more! The Crazy Ukranian and the Giant Swede, who were childhood friends, are now brothers-in-law.

And that’s just the history of one block in this town.

I turned right, went to 8th, drove past another house where I lived in 83 (it was built by the Crazy Ukranian’s father, of course) and turned north on Central. Drove and drove and drove north, past the Ideal Diner, past the old Northrup King Seed company where I worked for a summer. Drove slow past the old commercial strips, then swung through the neighborhoods, threaded through downtown, took Hennepin south to my old neighborhood of Uptown. Gnat’s still out. Not a peep. As I passed each building I noted what was there and thought of what was there once; tipped my hat to the billboard for the realtor who’d represented the seller of my new house. Swung off Hennepin, headed into Kenwood, drove past the house where I sat on the porch with Dave Barry last month, then past the house where, years ago, I ran through the snow to get to an outdoor hot tub for an interview with Barbara Carlson, future mayoral candidate. (Of this we will speak no more forever.) Past the apartments where my old friend Victoria, now a diplomat in Estonia, lived. Back around Lake of the Isles, past my old apartment on Irving. In 1986 we shot a TV show for KTCA, a mock documentary about the Mary Tyler Moore show; they’d used duct tape to hold the floodlight power cables to the windows, and the duct tape was up for years. When I went away to DC the duct tape was up. When I came back four years later the duct tape was up; I nearly wept. It’s gone now, but as long as I still look for it, it’ll be there.

In a “not there anymore” sort of way, of course.

Drove to Linden Hills, past the ice cream store I used to scooter to in ‘96. Drove to France, past the 40s era diner where we had hamburgers after buying the house in ‘94. Drove past Southdale, my first stop in Minneapolis as a tot in 65, and stopped at Byerly’s to get some chutney for supper. By now Gnat was awake, smiling at the world, grabbing her toes. I was studying the range of chutney options when a woman walked up, looked at Gnat, and said:

“That’s all you need, isn’t it? What else could you want?”

Sweet sentiments. But WRONG. Of course, the Gnat is enough. But it’s good to have history. It’s good to have a city where you can drive for an hour with no plan, no objective, and not only not get lost, but end up home. It might just be this sense of overwhelming accrued significance that makes Gnat flee to another city when she grows up; after all, I’m not driving around Fargo. I’d like to hope that she makes this home, too, and finds a thousand reasons to call it hers. But sometimes you have to make your own connections. I did. If she does, someone PLEASE remind me not to be a grump and complain how dirty and old everything looks.

Unless she ends up in someplace dirty and old, in which case I reserve the right to grumble. And I get to change the radio station, too.
.. ..
Went to a warehouse grocery store today. I usually don’t like those places, because they don’t bag your groceries for you. As much as I pride myself on my bagboy skills, left over from my days at the corner store, it’s hard to frame & fill when you’ve a baby in one arm. And the bags are thin and rip easily. And they don't have handles. It's this peculiar class thing: if you have to buy pickles in bulk, you don't DESERVE handles. Plus, you’re out of luck if you want something exotic. Vindaloo sauce? Forget it. Olive Oil pressed by Greek Orthodox noviates? Hah. I never, ever buy the snooty olive oils at Lunds, but I like looking at the bottles, and wondering just who would pay $45 for this stuff, and why. Maybe this time you’ll see someone buy it! No such suspense here.

Anyway. I walk in, and there’s a big sign in the corner: STARBUCK’S COFFEE. The Lunds have Caribou Coffee shops, woody little nooks done up in an elegant northwoods cabin motif. This store has a Starbucks. But it says STARBUCK’S in gigantic letters: attack of the mis’placed apostrophe. The first sign I see in the bakery department says FRESH DANIHS. And now I start to feel a little woozy, as though I’ve entered the Dyslex-O-Mart. Then I note the motto that appears over all the produce: BEFORE IT GETS TO YOU, IT HAS TO GET PAST US. Which somehow seems to imply that the apples and kale and new potatoes are all trying to pull one over on the store, or escape, and that only produce that gets out of the gulag of the backroom by stealth or trickery or virtue of a compelling argument makes it into the bins.

I went to get one item: Louis Rich Italian Seasoned Grilled Chicken Strips. (Make pasta; in a sauce pan, add one can diced tomatoes, one can tomato paste, 1/2 tblspn basil, a ton of garlic, pepper; drain pasta, stir in pasta sauce, add microwaved LRISG Chicken Strips, garnish with fresh parsley, then leave on counter for ten minutes because Gnat just dumped a bowl of food on the floor and / or filled her Luvs with Gerber Guacamole.) They didn’t have any. I got the plain variety. We'd live.

Next door was a Target, the store where you WILL spend sixty dollars every time, thankyouverymuch. I needed a sprinkler, and a little pool for Gnat to splash around in. I got an Activity Pool with Interactive Learning Center; God forbid any spare moment should be devoid of interactivity, or learning. Actually, it was the only pool for her age group, and of course it was festooned with warnings not to leave her unattended, as though I'm going to put her face down in the water while I wander off and prune shrubs. Everything has that warning. I’m surprised the crib doesn’t have a big yellow sticker insisting that I handcuff myself to the rail and stay there all night.

So tonight we used the pool - not the APw IPC, but the neighborhood pool a few blocks away. It was filled with many happy children and one monotonally wailing child who just stood there and whined. Loudly. Without ceasing. The father had the expression of one whose life has become a long stay in the Whining Suite in Two-Year-Old Hell, and he seemed disinclined to quiet her or salve whatever emotional rash was causing this outburst. She was amazingly loud. She drowned out planes.

Sara & Gnat sat at the edge of the pool. Gnat is very tentative about big expanses of water, and I can understand why; the place was big, strange, and bedlamesque in its noise & activity level. I videotaped her First Pool Trip from the sidelines, thinking: it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up and accuses me of doing something perverted.

“But I’m filming my own daughter,” I’d say.

“That’s even sicker!” the busybody would say.

Then we walked home and now I’m here, typing. A grindingly dull Bleat, I know, but I’m A) dead beat tired and B) sick of the computer, having spent today’s small amount of Gnat-nap time finishing the Motel Postcards site. It’ll be up in the Fall, or maybe August. Whenever. It’s arranged by state, and is significantly less better looking than its predecessor. Couldn’t be helped: I could either come up with a template that I could fit into 40 different subdirectories, or use the old style and and hand-enter “../” 165 times to redirect the code out of the new folder. I opted for the former. But! Many nifty new signs and motels to come, all from the era when “Radio” was a selling point on the big roadside marquee.
.. ..
I’m at the kitchen table, watching Gnat play; the radio’s on. The top-of-the-hour news starts with a song, which always means someone’s dead. When Paul McCartney kicks, it’ll be Hey Jude. When Jagger expires, “Satisfaction.” A song at the top of the hour is always bad news. This time it was the theme from the Odd Couple, and swear to God, I thought: Neil Hefti died.

But it was Jack. Damn. I have a friend, a director, who absolutely despised his acting; always thought Lemmon was a horrible twitchy ham, and I suppose he was. But his characters had a certain smart nervy neurotic quality that was as much a part of the 50s as Ozzie Nelson. (People tend to forget that eras always contain the opposites of whatever defines that era.) I enjoyed him when I saw him, and for The Odd Couple alone he’ll always be a favorite. His performance in that film shows up the Tony Randall version for what it really was - a prissy frilly silly version of a far more interesting and comic character. Tony Randall’s Felix was a Californian version. Jack Lemmon’s version was pure New York.

Worst telemarketer of the evening, with my responses in ital:

Is thees the ownar of the hoss?


I am calling from (unrecognizable company name.)


You recently purchased your proppady?


We are the manufagchers of a new pruduct.


It is veenyl sidding.



Worst telemarketer of the morning:

Hello, is this Mr. Licklees? I’m calling on behalf of Qwest Wireless, and -

What? Nothing annoys me more than a clumsy mispronunciation. I’ll take Lill-ex; that one I can understand. But that’s it. Who are you calling for?


How is that spelled?


And how do you pronounce that?


You have the wrong number.

Oh, I’m sorry.



Got a nasty letter today - well, actually, I’ve gotten them all week. I get some of the most inexplicably bilious emails; people extrapolate all sorts of things from what I write here and there. Some are kind and pained; some are vile, and some are just examples of smug arses with internet connections. I’ve been flamed at work over a column I wrote on cyclists who blow through red lights, and a number of people - who were silent or absent during all the columns in which I castigated stupid auto drivers - decided that I must be one of those evil SUV drivers who want to kill cyclists, so they emailed en masse. I’ve never gotten so many contemptuous & self-righteous letters since I started doing the column.
The letter that really annoyed me today, however, was from some guy who said he hadn’t read the column until someone pointed it out to him. He said he stopped reading me when I had the baby. “I’m about the same age as you, and some of us were getting laid in the 80s and having kids then, so hearing about how tired you are and sick of being spit up on is boring.”

Translation: he was a lousy, absent father.

It’s always a challenge to figure out how to write about these things; in the newspaper column, I am always trying to parody the standard domestic column, keep it out of the Saccharine Pits. I figure that if I do this, I’ll be permitted the occasional belly-flop into pure sentiment - and even then, I always leaven that with a little dash of bitters, just to assure everyone that I know when I’m being self-indulgent and sentimental. If people don’t pick up on that, well, fine. Go read the gossip page.

Here’s an example of something I’d never consider putting in a newspaper column, but would put in the Bleat. I would put it in the column if I was going 5 - 7 days a week, and could wildly vary my tone and subject matter, but not in a thrice-weekly Metro section general interest humor column.

What a needlessly long intro, eh? Well:

Gnat is speaking. It’s just amazing. Ten months; three words. That’s a better record than J. D. Salinger. We have the old standard MaMa, which has a variety of contexts that get honed and refined each day. BaeBe also seems to be liberally applied, but she has a doll that she loves, and when I give it to her she clutches it to her face and smiles and says BaeBe. Unlike the external referrer of MaMa, BaeBe is an internal referrer, as the speech theorists call it. (Actually, I just made that up, but it sounds right.) But there’s no mistaking PuhPee, which is specifically attributed to the presence of a dog - Jasper here, and Jackie the Lightweight Balsa-boned Dog at her Nana’s place. She points, she grins, she says it: PuhPee.

This incremental sophistication of communication skills is something I hadn’t counted on - I mean, I knew it was going to happen, but I wasn’t prepared for what it feels like to actually have verbal two-way chat with the Gnat. So far it’s been gestures and facial expressions and clicks and Bronx cheers, but actual words - well, it melts your heart and makes your day. I’m hearing a DahDee in there too, but I might just be making that up. If she says TeeVoh before DahDee, I’ll be disappointed. If she says, oh, Deeck Cheeney or Madeegassscar or some other far distant object before DahDee, I’ll really be sad.

If she says Veenel Seeding, I’m putting her to work as a telemarketer.