It’s hot. Ninety-plus hot, sopping wet hot; a noontime stroll feels like you’re walking through a room stuffed with sodden cotton balls. If you hyperventilate, you drown.

The lawn is dead. The trees are drooping; the rose bushes have shed their petals with great swooning drama. The ground cover thrives, but ground cover is the catfish of the plant world, a bottom feeder that always makes it through hard times. It hasn’t rained in weeks, ever since the monsoons of June rumbled off and the jet stream wandered back to Canada. I’m keeping the backyard alive with a sprinkler, and the gardens get their share, but I’m not watering the southwest face of this mountain. No sir. It costs too much, and it’s a waste of water. Let the grass die, I say with a sneer. It’ll come crawling back just like before.

Watering is a bit of an embarassment here. Low water pressure. Pity: When I turn the shower on, I want to be pinned against the opposite side of the stall. The pressure here is adequate, which surprises me - I’m just a few blocks away from a water tower. I should get a concussion every morning, but noooo. Perhaps there’s some sort of California-inspired regulatory device attached to the pipes; I’ll have to see. It’s about the only point of contention I have with this house. Every day, twice or three times daily, I find myself just - stunned that I live here. Not because of its grandeur or appointments or Rich Corinthian Leather, but just because I’ve never loved a house so much as this one. And, like most love affairs, it’s also a process of discovery, which is a kind way of saying that I really wish the previous tenants had left a few notes on how things work. There are buttons that do nothing, for example. All the light switches are buttons. There’s one in the bathroom that does nothing. Perhaps it goes with the eight audio inputs in the bathroom closet that lead GOD KNOWS WHERE. The other day I realized that the bathroom floor is an inch higher than the surrounding rooms, and that this might mean it has heating coils built in beneath the tile; perhaps that’s what the button does. Perhaps that button electrifies the floor in the tool shed to kill any bums who’ve snuck in. I don’t know. I’ll never know. If in ten years I lean against a wall and it spins around and reveals a secret chamber, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Anyway. The adequate water pressure means that the sprinklers make a rather pathetic show - I bought a cheap yellow model at Target, which the box showed as a vigorous pole spraying its fecund gifts for a radius of three states; when I hooked it up it was like watching a flea spit through a drinking straw. My wife actually laughed, and not a kind laugh, either. More like one of those laughs from the first act of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe." So. Today I bought $35 worth of METAL SPRINKLER, the classic kind that waves back and forth. Not the brisk all-business chi-chi-chi-chi sprinker that hectors the lawn, stabs the air, sprays the sidewalk with friendly fire. I didn’t want one of those dizzy four-arm numbers that twirls and twists the water in goofy swirls. No, I want the classic. Back and forth. Side to side. A benediction, not a punishment.

I also got Gnat a big pool, as I mentioned last week. Blew it up today. Used an electric blowerupper; there’s no way any human could inflate this thing using mere lungs. While it rose to life, I read the warning labels: 20 languages. Including some African tongue. NGAWA! MDEBE DJE KLERK! Apparently this item is shipped all over the globe and imperils children on every available continent. When it was done I hauled it outside and filled it up from the hose. . .

Instant flashback to my own wee days. Or were they my sister’s? Probably the latter. A combination of tactile sensations that used to mean summertime - the squeaky and not altogether pleasent feel of the pool, the cool metal cuff of the hose. Combine with the inherent insufficiencies of the water - too cool, not enough of it - and the regrettable appearance of some stray grass in the pool. Add dad’s receeding annoyance at having failed to close the nozzles on the inflatables fast enough, which always meant a few cubic inches of precious air escaped, and you have the Timeless Backyard Pool Experience, now to be repeated by my beloved daughter.

She didn’t like it.

But she will. Summer’s just starting, after all. The dry season is here. The rains of August are a hundred miles away.

(Note: I made up that part about the rains of August.)
. .
Okay, I have exactly nine minutes for this. Short Bleat - long column tonight, especially since I ripped up the column I was working on and started something entirely new. Usually that spells death, but this time I’m happy; the new idea gives me vim & vigor, and the old one just felt like a rote bitch.

Today was hot, again, and contained one of those long prowls through a half-dozen suburban parking lots to assemble various goods. This is not an indictment of the suburban shopping experience - nay, I was happy to be parking and walking and shopping and walking and driving and parking and walking, etc.. I had one errand to run in the compacted dense urban core - a trip to People’s Postal Center #54 - and since it was in the city, there was no parking. None. Well, there was a lot, with four spaces, all full. On the adjacent street the residents had successfully lobbied to have permit parking only, and who can blame them? But it meant that I had to park several blocks away on a busy street, schlep Gnat out of the carseat into the stroller, cross three intersections - each of which was filled with nutcases who believed that “red” means “six cars can now turn left against the light.”

I love the city; I will always live in the city (probably) but whenever I hear all these people singing the praises of city life, I wonder if any of them have small children.

Anyway. We went to Old Navy, a store I just detest for a dozen reasons. Thier stupid ads. Their other stupid ads. The ads before those. The clothing. The retro logos that have nothing to do with the style of the clothes. The cheapness of the material. And so on. We were in the Toddler section; I was looking for a cap to shield Gnat’s Tender Skin against the rays of evil Sol. The music was 70s: “Joy to the World.” Yech. Followed by some other piece of MOR dreck. Followed by “Magic Carpet Ride,” played at ear-splitting volume. I looked around at the wide-flared pants, the t-shirts with 70s fonts, the crappy Brady-patterned fabrics, and I thought: I am in hell. How many times will I have to live through the 70s again?

“Do you have any music from this century?” I asked the clerk, adding that I had experienced the 70s several times - once first hand, and then through several revivals - and I was interested in moving along. He seemed surprised that the store had 70s styled items. I pointed out the fonts on the signs, the happy-crappy selection of T-shirts, the color choices in the store, and I damn near grabbed him by his lapels and shouted IF JEREMIAH WAS A BULLFROG HE DID NOT HAVE ACCESS TO WINE. NOR WAS CAPABLE OF CONVERSATION. CAPISCE?

All I’m saying is that we’re 7 years overdue for skinny ties and narrow lapels. If y’all want to dress like Ed Asner in the Lou Grant show, be my guest, but frankly I’d like to have that crisp nervy early 60s vibe again. Maybe some day.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be walking Gnat up the aisle in a paisley-fargin’ tie and bell-bottoms as wide as the Saturn V rocket. Doomed: all of us. Doomed.
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Best Buy, the gigantic electronic retailer, has decided to build its world HQ in a suburb of Minneapolis. Problem: someone already had the land. There was a car dealership from the early days of the 494 strip, back when it was just a two-lane beltway . . . well, it’s still a two-lane beltway, but that’s another story. And there were blocks and blocks of houses and apartments, the occupants of which varied in their willingness to leave. No matter: when you’ve a go-go local government that wants a nice shiny corporate campus instead of simple single post-war homes, you just wake the Eminent Domain golem, inscribe the word “Progress” on his clay forehead, and watch the people flee.

I knew this was going on, but I didn’t know that it had gotten this far this fast. Three days ago when I drove past, the neighborhood was fenced off. Two days ago I drove through, and discovered a strange & sad terrain of empty houses, dead yards, tree stumps and busted driveways, all fenced off. Yesterday I took a few pictures. Tonight I returned and shot fifty in the sunset light. You don’t see this very often: an entire post-war development emptied out, condemned and destroyed.

Between yesterday and today an entire block was demolished. By tomorrow most of what I shot today will be gone. If these were crummy old homes you could understand, but these were Brady-era homes. Standard ramblers, deluxe two-story homes with brick facades (when I was growing up in flat one-story Fargo, two-story homes were the height of luxury; I used to wonder what it would be like to have an entire floor above you! With its own bathroom!) and a house that obviously staked out the territory years before anyone else got there. It’s not old enough to die. You look at these houses and you know someone had Christmas there six months ago. Kids played on the lawn last summer. Dad fired up that bbq unit that’s sunk in the ground. Mom filled that screenporch with flowers. Everyone relaxed under the shade of the giant elms - and they were big; in front of every house was a stump as thick as an elephant’s foot; you could count the rings right back to the day when Hitler was still smouldering, probably.

As I took pictures, people drove past slowly, taking one last look. One fellow on his bike with his son asked me what happened here? and I could tell he suspected Ebola, or Indian Burial Ground, or something out of an airport novel. Tonight I came across a couple standing by a dead house, and I asked them if they were old residents. No: they’d come for the bunny. She pointed to a white rabbit in the middle of a fenced off lawn. “Someone left their rabbit behind,” she said. “We put out a live trap, and we’re just waiting for him to get in.” Another couple came by with a dog, who was intent on irrigating every metal pole that held up the fence. Another couple wandered by, stopped to pet the dog and look at the rabbit. Everyone looked up the street . . . and down the street . . . and towards the empty space where the big apartments used to be . . . then back at the houses, indistinguishable from the ones a block away, the ones that were still full of life and light, shaded by the vaulted arch of old tall trees. This made no sense.

It’s the first time we’ve seen neighborhoods of this vintage get ripped up and carted off, and it’s a jarring sight. It’s the first time I’ve seen a neighborhood that looked like the one in which I grew up turn to blight and fall apart - the busted windows, broken brick, hanging eaves, gas lines ripped out and laid on the lawn like arteries pulled out of comatose patient, the neat rows of tree stumps . . .it’s as if you suddenly realize that your life takes place on a stage someone else constructed.

Play’s over; strike the set.

I’ll post more pictures in the Minneapolis Modern site, which is coming this fall. For now, here’s a few.
.. ..
Yawn. I stayed up way too late last night. College-years late. Of course, I was keeping college hours until Gnat was born . . . and past her birth, now that I think of it; in the early years when she spent the night howling from the Knives of Gas, I would sit on the sofa holding her until three, three thirty AM, watching movies. Oh, the husband points I got for that one, even though my wife knew this was exactly what I wanted out of life: a legitimate reason to stay up until four AM watching movies.

No more. Now one AM is the border; cross it, and I’m assured of a craptacular day come the sunrise. But I couldn’t turn off the TV. I’d recorded the pilot episode of “Crime Story,” the long-lost 1986 two-hour movie that kicked off one of my favorite TV shows of all time. I thought it would be a nostalgic kick to watch it; I thought it would be a tad disappointing, like watching old Miami Vices and cringing slightly whenever Tubbs shows up in an electric blue suit and pink socks. But Crime Story still feels fresh, since it’s recreating a zeitgeist, not reflecting it. Tight direction (from Abel Ferrara, to my surprise) and crisp acting all around. It’s the last gasp of the era of hats; the lapels are Rat-Pack thin, the cars are lovely-ugly buckets of steel with mutant headlights and eyebrow tailfins. At the center of it all are two great characters - Dennis Farina’s no-BS cop, and Tony Dennison’s stone perfect Ray Luca. And every secondary character is done just right; there’s no one on screen you don’t want to watch.

I shut it off halfway, before we got to the old courtly-yet-vampiric Mafia boss; even though I haven’t seen the show in 14 years, I remembered that I used to do a pretty fair imitation of him. I tried it out, standing in the dark kitchen: not bad.

It’s a good show that gives you a character you can parody from memory a decade and a half later.

At least we all slept through the night. Gnat no longer wakes & wails at four AM, so everyone is a little less bleary these days. Everything’s looking up. The grass is dead and the trees are dying, but to everything there is a season, burn, burn, burn.

Yawn. Yesterday, from the columns to the latenight work on that Deadburb project, was one of the more productive days, And when I have days like today - ten miles of nothing - I feel hideously guilty, as if I haven’t justified my tenancy on the planet. So then I take a lot of pictures, and here’s one. Yes: she’s standing.
.. ..
Many loose dogs around here. Well, one. I saw him tonight - one of those puffy white toys, a bleached Ewok on all fours. Every night he comes over to the bottom of the hill, marks the trees, sniffs around, and trots across the street to do the same to another house. He thinks he owns the street. He thinks this is all his terrain, even though every tree he marks has markings from other dogs big enough to spray two feet above his pathetic little dribble.

Ah, we can learn much from our canine friends. Self-delusion, for example.

I watch him every night, because each night around eight I sit on the edge of the cliff and savor the sight of the neighborhood, the trees, the streetlight through the leaves. It’s the best part of the day: a crisp pale ale, sometimes a modest Partagas lit with my Shag-designed Zippo (it has a picture of three conjoined fez-bedecked Shriners drinking and smoking) and a book or magazine. Tonight I returned to “From Dawn to Decadence” by Jacques Barzun, a survey of post-Reformation history. I’d been reading it before the big move; now I have the time and frame of mind to return to it. The depth & breadth of the author’s erudition is daunting, but not bullying; some authors pile on the learning until you just say fine, whatever, and suspect that they’re attempting to bury any objections beneath the rolling avalanche of their knowledge. Not here: when the author discusses a particular point, or creed, or author, or idea, or era, he footnotes the very book you have in your hand, pointing you to another section of the book where the idea is discussed in greater detail, or placed in another context. Each night I have time for perhaps ten pages, and every night I learn something that seems terribly important to know, and useless in a daily context.

Useless, because I don’t have many Arguments anymore. No one has time for the great ranging disputes, and in one sense I’m glad - the old college late-night arguments at the Valli were often examples of maddening fatuity, because you’d always have one contrarian whose ignorance derailed the entire conversation. And lately most of my arguments have been with like-minded friends, and this bores me to tears. Or I try to argue with people who believe a certain way, live and act according to certain ideas, and constantly vote for people who are politically beholden to groups that hold these ideas in contempt. In any case these are mostly political debates, and center around small, noisy topics. No one has the time or the fortitude for the real debates, the ones that must begin by leaping off the cliff of your own personal convictions so that you may scale it foot by foot, point by point, until you’re standing, panting, remembering why you want to plant your flag here.

Anyway. Tonight’s tid-bits: since I’m still in the Reformation, the author spent a lot of time on Luther, who’s far more interesting than my Sunday School classes made him out to be. I read until the light faded, then went inside and called up the day’s Simpsons. Allright! The Poochie ep!

Balance. In all things, balance.

Last night I was finishing “Crime Story” when Jasper sat up, woofed a woof of surprise, and clicked over to the window. Since we moved here, he doesn’t bark at everything that passes by, simply because from the windows you can’t see anything that passes by. I followed him to the window - saw nothing. But he was worried; he whined, went from the front to side windows. I got an implement of defense and went outside. He sniffed the lawn, almost frantic to find the source of the aroma - we turned the corner -


Lone wolf, head down, ears up, backlit by the streetlight, standing in the garden.

Okay! Back in the house! Once inside I looked out the window, Jasper right beside me with his nose squeaking on the glass. It was another loose dog, a Husky or Shep perhaps. It made a few passes around the house, walking with a loose-limbed lope, and for a moment we were back five hundred years, quiet in the dark cottage while the wolf circled the house. He would have consumed the neighborhood Ewok like an appetizer, if they’d met.

Off he went down the hill, under the streetlight, into the dark, heading for the creek. There’s a story in his evening, and while I wish people wouldn’t let their dogs run loose, I hope he had a good time. His owners will never know what he did that night, and of course the dog’s not telling. They have to have some secrets from us.

Besides why it feels so good to roll in dead squirrel intestines.