Went to the Mall of America today. Research. Really: there’s nothing deadlier in my line of work than ignorance of the modes of the day. It’s one thing to be a crank about modern culture, but you’d better be an informed crank. A with-it crank. A crank who’s in touch with the big wobbly blob of pop culture. You’ve got to get out and prod the zeitgeist’s buboes, I say. And having said it, I wish I hadn’t.

The Mall is a multi-level panopticon with a gigantic statue of Snoopy at the bottom; it would be highly apt if he was surrounded by a sheet of ice, chewing on Judas Ischariot. I try to hate the place, but I can’t. It just makes me feel beaten and exhausted, and there’s no energy left over for significant emotions. Gnat regards it with interest, but no more so than Southdale, or the backyard, or a car wreck. I took her to the petting zoo, which has tame goats to pet. She likes the goats. She likes the pigs. The goats are tiny and docile, and suffer well the pats and pokes of oversugared junior Americans. One of the beasts, true to goatish cliches, started gnawing on a plastic strap on her pram. (If the proprietors had a sense of humor the food dispenser would produce small tin cans.) When we were done with the animals we threaded our way through the crowds - mostly female, mostly moms with kids. A few guys. I saw one fellow with a tot - he had the expression of a novice dad who had been handed the kid while mom went off to investigate shoe options. Desperation. Fear. Now what?

Hah! I scoff. I do this every day. It’s a joy. For one thing, having a baby for company gives you the right to talk, out loud, in public, all the time. She doesn’t listen, but when I talk to myself I rarely listen, either.

We went to Cereal Adventure!, a General Mills attraction that attempts to stamp brand identification into malleable souls at the earliest possible age. Gnat stared, agog, at the gigantic statue of Lucky the Leprechaun, his happy Oirish maw open as though to swallow her whole. Green stars! Yellow moons! Pink infants! I thought she’d be scared; she smiled at Lucky. That’s my girl. I’d have Lucky Charms for breakfast every morning if I could. She was not so pleased in a DVD store, and for good reason. The clerk - a goat-bearded forty-something fellow who was suspiciously, loudly, promiscuously friendly to everyone in a loud voice - fastened his eyes on her, boomed “Who’s grabbing her toes? Who’s grabbing her toes?” and then he bent down and make a pinching gesture with thumb and index finger. Gnat burst into tears. I wheeled her away to another row, which turned out to be the Playboy DVD section - pink moons! blue stars! so we made a turn to leave - and there he was again! Pinch pinch pinch he he he. She burst into tears again.

Maybe it was him; maybe it was the Mall of America. Everyone, at some point, during some visit, wants to do the same: stop, sit, and wail. And everyone has a different reason. Exhaustion, greed, disappointment, despair, want, stomach ache, fear of cootie-filled bathrooms, lust athwarted, youth lost, keys misplaced, whatever. There should be a special place in the building just for that. A big cool room - inside one of the giant Snoopys - where you can go and scream. There’s a place for despair in your life: The Mall of America!

Incidentally, they’ve announced plans for a new addition. It’s going to be almost twice as big when they’re done.

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Should I say it? If it doesn’t happen, I’m going to look like a loser. Let me think about this.

I was going to give myself the birthday gift of a night off, but I have a few minutes here. No, I’m not fishing for birthday greetings; it’ll have passed by the time this is up, and while I surely thank anyone who might want to say happy birthday, my mailbox is starting to shame me - so many fine letters, all read but yet unanswered. I am vile. Not as vile as the SirCam virus inventor, though. The mail from Helen Burton has tailed off, as have the letters from Stan and Nori. Now I’m getting a dozen a day from Judy. The subject lines are fascinating - nearly all of Helen’s were titled SUMMER SALE BEACHES, which had an almost touching sense of robot emotion.

I was going to give myself the birthday gift of a DVD; after work I drove Gnat & Hammy the Alarmingly Lifelike Hamster to Circuit City, intending to pick up “Moonraker.” And why that piece of dreck? I can’t stand Roger Moore as Bond, but I this one had spaceships in it, and I seem to remember that it had an odd post Star-Wars / Battlestar Galactica feel to it. In my current state of advanced age, I’m even getting nostalgic for the sci-fi krep of my youth.

But not for 30 bucks. I am proud to say I have the Moonraker soundtrack, though. Got it last week. Most of it is boring, but every John Barry score has three treats: the main song, which is often ok and frequently better (in this case it’s sung by Miss Shirley Bassey, and it’s a good song), a cocktail lounge version of the main title, which is amusing, and then an exquisite strings-only version of the title song, fit for use in my home movies. The theme for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” for example, is a tidy masterwork of simple beauty. And while I feel stupid praising a selection called “Bond Meets Miss Goodhead” for its Mahlerian purity, it really is, well, Mahlerian. You could play it for any reasonably serious orchestral enthusiast, and they’d think it was the work of a real composer.

(Barry is a real composer, of course, just not one of the big boys.)

Okay. Heeeeeere’s the news. It’s a good thing I’ve been doing TV around here for a few years, because I have clips. Most authors don’t need clips, but now I’m in the position of having to prove that I’m not covered with boils and unable to speak without bursting into sweat and soiling myself. It all goes well, the Gallery of Regrettable Food World Domination Tour (don’t worry, I’ll find a better name) will start in New York and end in Los Angeles. . . .

On The Tonight Show.

And that was my birthday present. It’s easy to blow out the candles when you’re hyperventilating. If you get close.
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This is really a remarkable image - not for its compositional brilliance, of course, but for what it manages to capture. The faceted corner of the new Target store downtown reflected more than I thought - from left to right, you have the Young-Quinlan bldg across the street, the banded top of the Piper Tower, the crappy new hotel down the block, the Medical Arts building. The lower building in the middle is the old ‘CCO studio, once the great Minnesota theater; above it, an Embassy Suites hotel stuck atop the old LaSalle parking ramp, the blue LaSalle tower; to the right, the USBancorp building. Wow.

I forgot to mention an interesting visit last week - we went to a party held by the new owner of our old house. She’d redone everything. New landscaping fore and aft; goodbye scratchy bushes I cursed when putting up the screens, goodbye sheltering ivy. Goodbye old fence. Goodbye white rooms - everything had been painted a clever shade. The rooms upstairs were all filled with big beds; Gnat’s room had been stripped of its little-girl decorations. (The wallpaper border we put up that sweltering July afternoon was gone; the windowshades I put up while listening to GWBush’s acceptance speech at the GOP convention - which I’d been slated to cover before Gnat made her early appearance - was still there. The bathroom was still blue. The kitchen still had the light fixtures we chose; the cupboards I’d painted in the summer of 94 were still there.

It wasn’t our house. It was never our house. That was the peculiar feeling - it didn’t know us. When I looked at Gnat crawling on the floor, it was unnervingly familiar and foreign, as though I was glimpsing an alternate universe. I went to the basement, where I’d put the sofa and the Big TV, and found . . . a sofa and a Big TV, with two guys watching baseball.

The house felt 1/19th the size it had been before.

I walked out to the backyard - two dozen people on the porch, laughing and talking just has people had laughed & talked during any of our parties, but I didn’t know any of them.

Being a ghost must be damn confusing.

Went to dinner tonight at Pane Vino Dolce, a neighborhood restaurant so popular, so highly prized, that it doesn’t even have a sign outside. Very spare decor. Very spare tables. I had the stuff-encrusted chicken in adjective sauce; my wife had the grouper on a bed of fennel-infused napkins, or something like that. Hers came with shrimp, each of which did a masterful job of impersonating a common pencil eraser; a few bites into my entree I realized that it was, in essence, fried chicken. Except it was Fried Chicken reinterpreted by someone who believed that out of Col. Sanders’ 11 herbs and spices, ten of them was salt. (And the eleventh was sea salt.) I shouldn’t have been surprised, since the very name of the place - bread wine dessert - leaves out the main course, which ought to tell you something. Good bread.

We left half the dessert.

I was peeved, upon seeing the bill, to note that I’d paid three dollars of water for the bottle they’d uncorked without preamble when we sat down. Nice move - why not just crack open a Faberge egg and charge me a few hundred grand? Certainly help the bottom line.

The salads were nice. If a bit salty. Maybe we order the sodium-encrusted lettuce; can’t recall.

Movies: actually saw an entire film this weekend. “Thirteen Days.” I don’t much like Kevin Costner, and I’ve no time for Kennedy hagiography; JFK was an interesting politicians, but a great thinker, a brilliant statesman? No. RFK interests me, because he was clearly the smartest of the batch, and probably the meanest. The rest of them are just a series of diminished echoes of the originals. Given this - and the fact that I nearly barked up lunch when seeing YET ANOTHER Time magazine cover of JFK and Jackie (“Camelot” nostalgia, like mid-late 60s worship, is part of this interminable boomer mythos that just will - not - die) it’s surprising that I rented this movie at all. When I learned that Mr. Costnah would be subjecting us to a bad, bad Mass accent for the entiah 2 1/2 hours of the movie, I ah wanted to, ah, boff. But I stayed with it, and was rewarded. Good movie. Fairly straight. They even resisted the temptation to make Curtis LeMay into a frothing lunatic; they made him a rather composed, on-point lunatic, which is as good as you can expect from Hollywood. I was most gratified to see JFK portrayed in human terms, not some god descended to guide us through troubled times. This JFK was scared. Resolute, now and then, and furious, now and then, but overall you really got the sense of a man out of his depth, smart enough to gather counsel, strong enough to make a few decisions that had to be made but might have horrible results, and - most of all - (SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE JUST DISCOVERING HISTORY PRIOR TO THE ERA OF "ALF") incredibly lucky. Good movie.

Also found another British comedy show that made me laugh, out loud: “People Like Us.” An extreeemely lowkey satire of human-interest documentaries. I saw only two, but the second example - a look at the tribulations of new parents - was just a delight. Recommended, as well.

As if you care! God knows I’ve never taken the recommendation of anyone on any web page; sometimes a recommendation has steered me away from a quality product, just because of the banality or tiresome self-importance of the page’s author. What do I know?

Other than it’s time to upload and unwind? Now? Nothing. A big salt-encrusted nothing, resting on a bed of piquant certainty.
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So I’m at Barnes and Noble, looking through Gear Magazine (“The Craig Kilbourne issue!”), daughter babbling away in her stroller, and I feel like some pervy old guy oogling at the sweaty doxies in front of my innocent child. I take the magazine to the checkout stand, and the old man behind the register seems to have a certain . . . reserve. What can I say? “I’m in this issue.” In a way, that’s almost worse.

But I was. A friend at work said I was quoted in the latest issue of Gear, and I couldn’t remember giving them an interview. I gave an interview to Spin, which I don’t remember seeing the fruits of, but not Gear. Turns out I’m quoted in a little article about Atomic Magazine, where I was extensively quoted; Gear just lifted the quotes.

Elsewhere in the magazine is a nice little piece on “Let’s Bowl,” a Bleat-approved show on Comedy Central that originally ran on local cable access here in Minneapolis - one of its creators is Rich Kronfeld, known to some as the fellow in “Trekkies” who built his own Cap’t Pike chair, and known to locals as Dr. Sphincter, a character on a curious local talk show called “Tightline.” It was an exercize in uncomfortableness - Dr. S., dressed in a painfully tight suit, clutching a juice box, went through the motions of interviewing people he disliked and resented. I was on the show once, and it was great fun. And now we’re in the same issue of Gear. And the fellow who told me I was in Gear had recently interviewed Kronfeld. And this same fellow was on the phone today with the editor of Gear as I was leaving the office.

Small world, and a damned oddly populated one today, at that.

I’ve made periodic
references to Gnat’s bad sleeping patterns, but I’ve generally underplayed the matter. She doesn’t get enough sleep. I think she’s happy because half the time she’s hallucinating. Look! Pretty flowers eating ducks in the bubbles that come out of doggy! Everyone’s groggy and loopy; it’s been this way for 12 months. Well. Last night my wife slept in the basement, so her baby’s cries would not keep her from sleep. Mothers cannot sleep if they hear their babies dream about sharp objects, let alone actually cry as if they’d handled one. I took the Emergency Duty, meaning that I would respond if she was in trouble - i.e., cried hard enough to wake the uncaring bear in the adjacent cave.

End result: everyone slept. Mom slept. Dad slept. Baby slept more than ever, and took two big naps today too. But it’s all for naught if I don’t learn to avoid Step Number Three on the first flight leading downstairs; it creaks like the Titanic right before it split and sunk, and everytime I tread on it I wince, stop, fall silent, and stay motionless for six, seven minutes until I’m sure she’s not awake.

During which time the phone usually rings. Today it was someone offering a free furnace examination. I grabbed it on the sixth ring. When the fellow told me what he was offering, I just let a few seconds elapse, so the absurdity of it all could sink in. You’re calling strangers - bothering them, really - so you can send in a fellow to peer at my furnace. All out of the goodness of your heart.

“The furnace is brand new,” I said.

“Yes, but many furn-”

I hung up. Life is short, and the sentence for tracking these people down and strangling them is quite long. Today at CompUSA, for example, I bought Max Payne, the game. The clerk said “$49.99.”

“It’s $34.99,” I said.

“The computer says $49.99.”

Sigh. I hauled Gnat & stroller & Hammy the Unnervingly Accurate Hamster back to the display. Little signs that said 34.95 were plastered all over the Max Payne display. Back to the cash register. By now a manager had descended; she verified my assertion, and a complex procedure of voiding and re-ringing began. I had to sign the original receipt, which was wrong, so it could be voided and rerung. The transaction generated six pieces of paper, each as long as a jouster’s lance. This game had better be good, because I’m quite sure I paid $84.98 for it.
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