Okay, okay, indulge me. I don’t know where this particular design came from, other than I was doodling on the Mac while Gnat arranged her stuffed menagerie in a row, and this is what I came up with. (Later I noticed that all her stuffed friends were sitting, except for Tigger, who was flat on his back, sightless eyes staring at the ceiling fan. Awww! She’s grasped the concept of decimation!) Believe it or not, the idea for these little graphical subheads - Bliss and Vinegar for domestic anecdotage, Culture for ill-informed tendentious lectures, WWIII for bloodthirsty baying, and others - is meant to give people the opportunity to skip what they don’t want and head for the meat. Or the spume. Or whatever you enjoy in a Bleat. And yes, it’s dull, but it loads fast and reduces the bandwidth drain. And believe me: I’m going to need it . . . but that’s another story. (cough Institute redesign and update)

Anyway. Right now it’s Sunday night, and I should just stop now - why, there’s fresh Flotsam and Matchbook-O-Rama, and a new feature for those with high-speed modems I’ll discuss Tuesday. But I should really stop because the time would be better spent calling Arizona realtors and prospective employers. Remember last week: ninety degrees. In the evening. Blaring sun in the day, warm zephyrs at night; we’d been yanked from dim drizzly spring and kicked straight into the furnace of summer, and I loved it. I felt unsure about donning shorts in April, but I could go outside and read by the white of my shins at night: no small boon.

Things have changed.

This morning I woke up, grabbed Gnat, let my wife go back to sleep. As we walked down the stairs I looked out the window on the landing: a fine white line on the fence. It had snowed during the night. A few flakes were still drifting down, too. Well, I thought, the green of the lawn will shame the clouds; they’ll slink away abashed and let the sun burn off the snow. We’ll forget and forgive this time. No charges filed.

By noon an inch had fallen. By one o’clock, another. It came down in thick white clumps and smothered the lawn. The sidewalks had enough residual heat to boil the flakes as soon as they landed, but the lawn was helpless, and the daffodils - oh, God, the daffodils! I ran outside to look, and of course they’d folded like Frenchmen, their shriveled heads bent to the ground. Two o’clock: snow. Three o’clock: snow.

You cannot imagine the despair. The land hates us! The sky hates us! The slow-moving weather system wishes we would die!

The new glasses arrived Saturday. Two immediate consequences:

1. I can see again. I can read without holding the book in my feet, cocking my head back like someone enduring dental extraction, and staring through lens perched on the precipice of my nose. They said it would take a month to adjust - oh, wonderful. Four weeks toppling down stairs like a dressmaker’s dummy, walking into walls, watching TV from a distance of three inches. But so far I seem to have adapted quickly. The frames are quite slight, and sit so close to my skull that I am not really aware of wearing glasses at all. Except when I look to the side, and everything is blurry and slurry. Drunk-O-Vision, on demand.

2. I look hot. I mean, I got it going on. I’m all that. You look at me now, you think “he’s a playah.” I feel 37 again!

Well, no. No. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but these glasses do give me a different aspect. They make me look like Action Scientist. Like the head of some cool sleek lab . On the wall, a bank of archaic computers with whirring spools of magnetic tape; at desks, worried young scientists in sharp white labcoats and black-rimmed eyewear, peering into microscopes. They say things like “I’ve discovered the antidote,” to which I respond “and not a moment too soon.” And then I feed punchcards into a slot with an expression that says I pray to God we're not too late.
I also got a pair of sunglasses, which make me look like a Frenchman circa 1964. But you can’t have everything.

Forgot to mention a movie we saw last weekend. I had to chose the movie for five disparate people - Mr. and Mrs. Giant Swede, channeling their inner Vikings, wanted to see "Blade 2," and while I enjoyed Blade 1 a good deal I knew my wife wasn’t up for two hours of kinetic swordplay and arterial sprays. I did not want a Sensitive Character Study. I knew that Wes would see anything, cinephile that he is. So I chose “Frailty,” based on blurbs from Cameron and S. King and. S. Raimi, three people I’ll trust on the matter of Gripping Psychological Horror. And the reviews I read noted the absence of gore - this was one of those creepy films that didn’t have to show you an axe in the head.

No, the sound of an axe in a head would be sufficient.

I was drawn to the movie not for the blurbs but for its director - Bill Paxton, who always seems to be a slightly dumber but much more decent Jeff Daniels. Of his performance in "Aliens," we can only fall silent and nod in respect. (And then burst into the sweaty terrified Hudson impersonations we have used over the last ten years.) “One False Move” showed his depth, his Quiet Resolve - so I was curious to see how he’d direct a movie, particularly one in which he’d invested a great deal of personal capital.


Let’s just say this: no one in our party enjoyed it. My wife, in fact, had to leave. I could see why. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how good it is. I’ll just say this: imagine you’re a boy on the edge of adolescence, and one night your Dad wakes you up all sweaty and shaking, and tells you that he’s just been visited by an Angel of God. The end times are upon us, he says, and we have to start killing demons. Everything seems normal the next day . . . until Dad tells you not to breathe a word of what he said last night.

Who are these demons? Well, Dad’s taken to making lists. Dad sits at the desk with a Hamm’s and a Marlboro and makes lists. And one night he comes home late. And there’s something in the trunk.

That could be the recipe for a bad stupid movie. This is not a bad stupid movie. Some people will hate"Frailty," because the dread and dismay you feel is channeled through the two young boys who have to help their father carry out God’s Will. There’s no joy in this movie - it just knots your guts tighter and tighter, but when you realize what the payoff means, you either shiver and snicker and leave the movie in the theater, or you carry it around for a week letting it whisper in your ear. Let’s just say that “Frailty” is to “The Sixth Sense” what the Old Testament is to the New. Rent it when it comes out; relish Powers Booth’s performance as an FBI agent; pay close attention to Paxton’s decent anguished father, and do not expect to sing show tunes when it’s done.

Also, finally, saw an episode of the Osbournes. I am an instant fan. This was the one where Mr. Osbourne rejoins the tour after cracking his leg - straight back into middle America. You don’t know how my little heart filled with blood when I saw the sign on I-29 that read FARGO. One of my high school buddies loved Black Sabbath - in addition to the Ohio Players, the Brothers Johnson, and Led Zep; he is now a professional jazz musician and instructor in Texas. He used to play me “Iron Man,” just so could groove on those demonic groaning chords. (No grooving ensued.) At the time I read Iron Man comic books. He did not. I tried to convince him of the merit of the comic books, and he wanted me to appreciate the song. Mutual failure. I imagine this conversation, or some variant, happened dozens of times in North Fargo in the early 70s, and that Ozzy drove through our town without possibly knowing how many schisms he’d wrought.

But I think “unawareness” is Ozzy’s default mode.

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but given recent events it bears repeating. Robert Blake will probably go to jail for his little act of summary divorce, and just might get the gas, too. It would be highly ironic for him to end up on Death Row, given that he played one of the most pathetic condemned killers in moviedom: Perry Smith, the sweaty gimpy Bayer-chomping gunman who touched our hearts, and blew off our heads, in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” You think such a role would make an impression on a fellow. Perhaps he believes it conferred some sort of indemnity - hey, they can’t execute me twice! Sure, it’s possible he’ll get off; the gun might have been his, but that’s based on forensic reconstruction of the filed-off serial numbers. (If the number’s filed, your verdict must be mild!) But I doubt it. He’ll die not for our sins, but for O. J.’s.

You wonder if Blake ever read “In Cold Blood,” and if so, whether he remembers how his character was obsessed with hidden gold, buried treasure. Perry’s favorite movie was “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” and as a young man he’d seen it over and over again. I was always haunted by that, given the strange and meaningless coincidence that anecdote revealed, but now it’s even more bizarre. If ever you see that movie again, look for a little boy with the familiar grin - a kid who grew up to play a Death Row killer, then became one himself. Little Bobby Blake.

At Target today with Gnat I was pushing the cart around and realized, to my dismay, that we had nothing to get. I’d stocked up so well the previous trips that we wanted for nothing . . . okay, a doormat. And some hand sanitizer. I’m not one of those paranoid moderns who thinks the world is covered in an invisible miasma of writhing disease; I know it is. I’m not worried about it, either. But earlier that day I’d dealt with some pea-related infant blurtage that - well, say no more.

I came across many new promotional foodstuffs: SpiderMan cereal, Episode Two cereal, and “Attack of the Clones” Ruffles as well. If there isn’t any Yoda Soda (burp you will, yes) there will be soon. It would be possible, I think, to spend a day consuming nothing but Episode Two comestibles. But it’s all kid stuff. I want liquor tie-ins! Dark Side Stout. Skyywalker Vodka. Palpatine Port. (And let me just say that “Palpatine,” like most Lucas names, is stupid; it sounds like some 40s cream that slows your heart rate. “Is your heartbeat bouncing like a trampoline? Slow it right down with a dab of Palpatine!”) I applaud this, of course. Relentless marketing and the attendant desire to wring every dollar from a movie is one of those things that makes the good thinkers curse America and ball their small hands into tight sweaty fists, but I like it. Some hate endless branding and rebranding, this jostling for your dollars and your eyeballs, but what do they want? People’s Potato Chips? (“Comrades! Strive to look for the gray package with the black letters!”) Pop culture has come to be an alternate universe for me, a place that exists side by side with the real world. It’s a happier place. It’s full of drama and heroes. It’s certainly better scored and directed.

I heard some clips today from a rally held by the Washington Monument in support of the PLO and Hamas. Part of the merry anti-Globo puppet parade. It’s just so charming to hear rudely amplified voices calling for the death of the Jews again. It’s just so . . . bracing to hear a speaker take the mike beneath the two-toned obelisk named for America’s Cincinnatus, and demand the destruction of of a small democratic state in a sea of technocrat tyrannies. And it gives you such a warm feeling to hear the crowd bay their approval. A speaker demanded that the borders of the Middle East be returned to 1947; the crowd cheered.

Death to the Jews, death to Israel.

Stated and applauded.

In America. In Washington. On the Mall.

I had a sudden flash of Martin Luther King Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, beholding this rally, and thinking: I have a nightmare. And here it is.

One speaker called for the violent death of Sharon. Another insisted it was time to GLOBALIZE THE INTIFADA - an interesting remark coming from the anti-Globalization crowd, but if this recent rally proved anything it’s that they despise America itself, not America’s behavior. Whatever point they originally had about globalization - some of which I used to share - has been consumed by their adoration of fascism and political violence. When a speaker promised to bring the intifada to America, and use “whatever means necessary” - enunciating each word so the reference to St. Malcolm the X was welded to the current definition of “means” - then the point is naked and obvious: you have a movement that wants young people to blow themselves up at the Disney store in Times Square. Not that any of the people at the rally would do it, of course. Not that they would necessarily approve of it. But they would certainly understand it.

If they were struck dumb for a moment, their spirits would be lifted the moment someone reminded them that Davey Crockett = Genocide. Wow, that’s so true.

The irony, of course, is that someone blowing up the Disney store in Times Square to protest Israel and globalization would kill Japanese, Dutch, German, Swedish, Turkish, Mexican, French, Russian and Argentinean tourists, all of whom had willingly entered the store to buy toys for their children. Innocent? Not really. They’re bringing Ariel the Little Mermaid back home to Buenos Aires, and a Talking Buzz Lightyear back to Ankara. Collaborators in the act of cultural genocide. Sweatshop profiteers.

You have to see their deaths in the broader context.

You have to understand that no one is innocent anymore.

This is the apotheosis of the notion that the personal is the political: it gives the fascists a rationale for killing anyone.

Many of the people at the rally are just kids, and they have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s fun to go to Washington and chant. It’s fun to burn a flag, and it shows what a serious person you are. Serious, and brave! (Note how you never find one chap burning a flag outside a VFW hall; it’s the sort of thing you do only when you have police protection.) On one hand, they’re just silly - one story I read described how the same crowd that held up anti-Starbucks banners later queued up 20 deep to use the bathrooms of - you guessed it! Starbucks. (The Man didn’t provide a row of portable toilets for the demonstration, which just shows you how screwed up the system is.) But when the standard, predictable rebellion of pampered college youths becomes compatible with a group that doesn’t just want American changed but wants America dead, then we have a problem.

Or rather, they have a problem. They preach an end to war, but include in their number people who wish to destroy, violently, a democratic nation. They agitate against racism, but include in their number people who wish to exterminate the Jews of Israel. They rage against globalism, but support the work of terrorists who operate in every hemisphere. They are the useful fools who end up on the wrong side of concertina wire a year after the revolution; besotted by their communal self-regard, enchanted by the allure of the flame, they have thrown in their lot with the enemies of civilization. And this will be the death of their cause.

I write for swag. At the paper my duties are well-defined - three columns a week, 52 weeks a year, with occasional absences for holidays and benders. Sometimes other sections ask for a piece, because they want me to give them that Barton Fink feeling - I usually oblige, but it’ll cost them. They’ll have to give me swag. You have no idea how much stuff pours into the average big-city daily; the amount of promotional material that’s disgorged on the loading dock every day would fill a Brobdignagian dumpster, and most of it is tossed after a glance. Just to pain all the collectors in the audience: every single Burger King / McDonald's promotional trinket series is sent, in full, to the paper; most are divvied up among the staff members. Tapes, videos, wine, food, games, books - it’s staggering. Perhaps four or five percent of the stuff is mentioned in the paper.

So when I agreed to write for the TV section, I expected TV swag, and I got it. Season 5 of the X-Files. I looked at the box with sadness and ground my teeth, thinking back to Sunday when I realized I not only don’t like the X-Files anymore, I hate it, and everyone connected with it. I was a great fan back in the innocent days of the late 90s, when the X-Files meshed perfectly with this odd Art-Bell / Roswell anniversary / millennial vibe that thrummed underneath the culture for a summer. I hung with the show even though its alien plots became knotty and incomprehensible, and it was obvious that the series’ creator had no idea where this was going. I bailed when Agent Monica, a character designed to make all the loyal fans get out the TV Guide, look up “X Files” and draw black magic marker lines through the listing, took center stage. But last Sunday I watched an ep, because it had the Lone Gunman. Never really watched their series, but I loved the characters. How could you not? Ramone-loving Gen-V hacker, bulldog-faced schlump, uptight super-rational paranoid in a trim black suit. Always loved the Gunman.

The episode was entitled “Jump the Shark,” which tells you how weary and contemptuous the writers have become - the very name is a sneering wink, an admission that the show needs to be dragged out back, propped up against a wall and shot. Nevermind the plot - some nonsense about shark implants that released deadly germs, fine, whatever. It was an excuse to get allll the old “Lone Gunman” second-string characters together, all of whom were lame, and tie up loose ends. From this I learned two important things:

1. Major hotels have airtight fire-doors in the service corridors. If you hit the fire alarm, airtight doors descend, but only within five feet of the triggered alarm. This is important if you’re chasing a man who’s suddenly fallen to the ground, started spasming like a chimp who ate a brick of crack, and is leaking blue fluid. Granted, one’s experience with fire alarms is usually minimal, but it’s odd that one would assume that airtight doors would descend. And it's odder still that one would look to one’s comrades and, in their meaningful expressions, share an unspoken realization - if I trigger this fire alarm, maybe - just maybe - airtight doors will seal us off, even though this runs contrary to everything we know. I'll take your wordless assent as agreement that airtight doors are, in fact, spaced every 4 yards in this hallway, and that they will surely be deployed.

2. The situation above was created with the sole purpose of putting the three characters - three fine, dearly beloved characters - into a room with a germ, and killing them. Next scene: the cemetery. That’s it! They’re dead! Thanks a lot! Why not blow up the Enterprise at the end of Star Trek? Have Magnum PI decapitated by a helicopter blade at the end of the series? Have Luke Skywalker take a hunk of shrapnel at the end of Return of the Jedi, and die screaming as he attempts to put his guts back into his abdomen? Look, Chris Carter: you don’t step on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger and you don’t kill the Lone Gunmen.

Of course, I channeled my inner seven year old, and thought: are they dead for real? Maybe this was a ruse. Maybe the caskets were shot off to the Genesis planet, and Kirk will rescue them from the clutches of Doc Brown. (Sorry; my pop culture databanks need to be defragged.) If not, count me out for the second X-Files movie, if such a thing ever happens. Hacks! Coelacanths! Bashi-Bazouks!

Now it’s personal. Even more than before.

The vulture is singing, and we don’t know if he’s making up the lyrics as he goes along. Abu “Zipidydoodah” Zubaydah, captured bin Laden aide, says an attack on an American shopping center is in the works. I tend not to believe it; seems like the sort of thing he’d say to sow fear among the pigdog infidels. (Unlike the noble martyrs, we value shopping more than death.) Since there are several thousand shopping malls in the country, it’s a nice way of putting an entire nation on edge - rather like saying they’re planning attacks on freestanding restaurants that serve meat. McDonalds! Taco Bell! Arby’s, too! White Castle - well, that’s debatable. Crusader Burgers - oh, definitely. Bob’s Dance on the Bones of the Caliphate Sub Shop - goes without saying.

If such an attack is planned, they’d be fools not to hit the Mall of America. (Where I am going tomorrow. Screw ‘em.) The juicy symbolism would be obvious to all, of course, and media commentators would yank the Teat of Irony for days on end. Some would imply that merely naming this dry-goods panopticon the MALL OF AMERICA was like hanging a BOMB ME sign on its backside. Just as the Twin Towers were the totems of economic imperialism, so this apotheosis of American consumerism is a symbol of our ghastly plenty in a world awash in poverty. Why, we are only 5 percent of the population but consume 96% of the Beanie Babies, etc.

There’s your Thinking People Talking Point for the weeks that follow the attack. The slaughter of forty moms and tots by a nail bomb would be horrible at first, but this rude clay would be shaped into the proper contours. Eventually. A British columnist would probably make the point: There is no Gap in Jenin, therefore you can see why someone would blow up the Gap in Minnesota. Globalize the Intifada! as the DC protesters demanded. Why should the Mall be free when the West Bank is occupied?

Granted, I’m imagining what people might say. But how wrong do I sound? Suicide bombing has become to many an existential concept - the acte splatuite, if you will - and some people invest it with meanings it simply does not have.

Those in the West who detest their culture take grim pleasure in the destruction of its symbols. For them the toppling of the Twin Towers had a pedagogical context - enough of these lessons, and the West will change its behavior. A posture of cultural prostration before militant Islam will satisfy the West’s enemies, and once we all hate ourselves as much as the militants hate us, we can move forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding. There are limits to the amount of destruction these people will countenance - the destruction of Notre Dame, for example, would be inexcusable, but it would be seen as an attack on architecture first, and Christianity last.

To these people, the Mall symbolizes the great gross gobbling appetites of the crass American mob. Since America needs instruction on the consequences of those appetites, blowing up floor three on the south wing on behalf of Islamic fascism would be transformed into a critique of capitalism - even though that had nothing to do with the bomber’s intentions. Even though it was done on behalf of a mystical creed, it would be symbolically correct in the larger sense.

The bomber says: never mind humanity, I do this for God.

The (
cough EUROPEAN cough) intellectual says: never mind God. They do this for humanity.

Those of us in the West who deign to examine the Arab world are accused of “Orientalism” and other racist conceits - but isn’t it peculiar that many of the apologists for terror have no interest in the terrorists’ actual objectives and rationales, but prefer to see them through the prism of their own ideologies?

Yes, the people who would make these arguments are small in number - but they clutter the debate, and move the topic off into their own fiefdoms. That’s their goal, because they are unnerved by anyone who finds clarity in the debate. Why, Hitler had clarity! LePen has clarity! (So did Lenin, but nevermind that.) The apologists provide the moral high ground from which bitter cynics can watch fools fight over flag and creed. They think they’ll never have to chose sides, because they regard the very idea as mad, as proof of an exclusionary delusion that objectifies the “other” side. But people who don’t choose sides usually have their side chosen on their behalf. And they don’t end up in the camp of friendlies.

Should the Mall get bombed, you’ll need to know a few things. It will be held up as a symbol of Urban Sprawl, the relentless Malling of virgin farmland on which goats gamboled and bees buzzed in bowers of sweet hyacinths. Actually, it was a hockey arena, a baseball stadium and a parking lot. Before the Mall the land generated few tax dollars, since the stadium was unused and the hockey team had left town. Now it’s home to a dense, multipurpose, taxpaying business well-served by public transit, which is supposedly what New Urbanists want.

Two: one of the Mall’s main investors, if I remember correctly, was the pension fund for the teacher’s union. So if anyone criticizes the Mall and hopes it fails, ask them why they want schoolteachers to eat cat food when they get old.

Three: entry to the Mall is still voluntary. People actually enjoy going there. Kids seem to love it. You can spend an entire afternoon wandering around the gigantic Camp Snoopy without ever spending a dime. I’m not crazy about the place, frankly. But I wasn’t too fond of the World Trade Center either.


Problem is - for the terrorists - the Mall makes it hard to get a good body count. There are lots of open spaces to dissipate the blast, and even on a good day the most heavily trafficked areas are still lightly populated, because the place is so damned big. Not to say it wouldn’t be horrible; it would. It would also radicalize millions of otherwise moderate American moms, who thereafter wouldn’t give a tin fig if Damascus was turned into a rubble-heap that redlined Geiger counters in Norway.

Odd how they never threaten to bomb American universities.

Hectic day. Did a TV show in St. Paul about media old and new, which meant expounding on the Blogging Phenomenon. The show was 30 minutes long, no breaks, and it felt like it took five minutes. Lots of fun. But it busted up the day - I had to leave the office after an hour, spend two in St. Paul, then run back to finish the column in an hour. And of course the paper’s computer network screwed the pooch as soon as I started writing, so I had to drum my fingers and write the column in my head while the techs donned their robes, sacrificed virgin goats to the glowing idols in the basement and appeased the Lovecraftian horror that is our mainframe. I spit out the column and raced home, made dinner, greeted wife, and collapsed.

And was awakened by the phone. It was a stockbroker. Wanted to tell me of a great tip, an IPO. This wasn’t a sales call, he insisted. I should have replied “and this is not a disconnect” and hung up. But I told him we had a broker. He insisted that he didn’t want to intrude on that relationship, but this deal -

“We do all our investments with him,” I said, still a little groggy and Ozzily distracted.


Bastard. Would that the gonifs who toil in these boiler rooms developed actual boils.

Sunday I MC another concert at Orchestra Hall, the Minnesota Youth Symphonies. This is going to be hard, I think. The entire concert is dedicated to 9/11, and the playlist is amazing. Two movements from Mahler 3, “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams - after which I don’t think I will be capable of speaking, just gesturing. But to give you an idea of the steel at the heart of this event, they’re going to do “Duel of the Fates” from the Ep 1 soundtrack, with a 100+ person choir. I get to introduce it. How cool is that?

Speaking of the MYS! You’ll recall my rhapsodic description of that young man’s symphony a few months ago. Many wrote to request a copy; now that the disc has been pressed I’m forwarding the names to MYS, so they’ll be contacting you with payment info. Of course, you can say no. But for ten bucks you not only support the orchestra, you get a wonderful piece of music. I listen to it now and then, and it grows on me more each time. If you missed the original description, I’ll just say this: I’ve never heard a piece of music entrance an audience like this one did when premiered last year. When people learned they were about to hear the first symphony by a 23 year old composer, you could feel the entire room settling resignedly in their seats, prepared to have some gigantic cheese grater abuse their ears for 20 minutes. But from the start you could feel the entire audience sit up and pay attention, and by the time the symphony came to its unbelievable conclusion, the hall was ready to erupt. And erupt it did. For ten bucks YOU can say you were there, and ten years from now when you see this guy’s name scoring a movie, you can pat yourself on the back for your foresight. And it’s the only CD cover I’m ever likely to design, if that’s an enticement. Go get it here.

I’m a big fan of cross-branding. That’s the marketing ploy whereby one product borrows the goodwill of another, and synergistically combines to form an entirely new and useless substance. This is different from brand extension - that’s when Campbell’s Soup comes out with a line of boxed meals that have nothing to do with soup, but trade on Campbell’s reputation for hearty brothy goodness. (The boxes for these meals, incidentally, have pictures of highly regrettable food - the lemon chicken looks like the bedpan of someone who ate poisoned canaries, and the Hearty Biscuit Chicken Bake appears to be a slab of crumbly limestone slathered with mucilage.) No, Cross-branding is when you see a cereal announcing that its chocolate quotient has been boosted by the power of Hershey, or a canned-tomato label announces that it has been sanctified by the addition of Morton’s Salt. It comforts us; it makes us sure that we are not subjected to off-brand salt or chocolate with an uncertain pedigree.

But there are limits; there have to be.

Today I became very, very aware of Klondike bars. There was an ad on TV asking a famous golfer what he would do for a Klondike bar. Would he switch to miniature golf? Why yes, he would. Since I was reasonably certain he would not abandon a lucrative career in professional golf for the transitory pleasures of a frozen confection, I didn’t take the ad seriously. I’ve seen this sort of ad a dozen times. They want my attention, they’ll have to up the ante:

Say there, Steve Allen - what would you do for Oscar Meyer Meat Paste? “Why, I’d feed my child to a pack of baying curs, then spread her remains on the prong-phallused death-god of Antohep, assuring her damnation in the Trough of Beetles!”

These commercials makes the viewer realize that there is very little they would do for a Klondike bar - and besides, it’s not as if one has to do anything at all. They’re not handed out by Senate committees, fer chrissakes. You want one, go down to the store and buy one.

Hours later at the supermarket, I saw a row of Klondike bars whose package announced the glad tidings: Now with Planter’s Peanuts. Well, that’s nice. Planter’s does peddle a good legume. I have a small bag now and again from the office vending machine, and even though they’re the low-salt variety, they’re always fresh. They cannot compare to the fresh hot peanuts of my youth, of course - I remember warm bags of fresh-roasted peanuts at the Woolworth’s or the Ben Franklin, and they have the same relationship to prebagged Planters’ as canned carrots have to carrots pulled from the earth, rubbed on your pant leg and eaten on the spot. But here’s what really posed a philosophical conundrum: when does cross-branding dissolve a brand?

There was an Oreo Klondike Bar, you see. It consisted of two circular Oreo discs, between which rested an inch of Oreo ice cream.

Let us review the definition of a Klondike bar: a brick of vague aerated ice cream covered with a carapace of chocolate-flavored shellac.

The Oreo Klondike: Oreo cookies and Oreo ice-cream. No shiny coat of choco-varnish - indeed, the ice-cream is exposed as shamelessly as Britney’s abdomen. At this point the bar has ceased to be a Klondike by any definition of the term.

If long-standing brands can be diluted and distorted with such nonchalance, I fear for America.

Actually, I don’t. Brands come and go, yet we all manage to get fed, get cavities, get sauced. In the ads of my old 40s and 50s Life mags, the food brands are familiar to modern eyes. The beer brands still exist, because Life was a national rag and the local beers didn’t bother. But 98% of the hard liquor brands are gone. I can’t figure out why, but all the whiskey brands vanished in the mid-to-late 50s. Theory: men coming back from the war wanted the Beers of Home, and hence propped up prewar brands. But whiskey is an older man’s game. The younger demographic segment shunned the old dull bottles with their musty men’s-club messages - most of the men in the whiskey ads of the forties are, well, in their forties, and often have that white curly mustache of a plutocrat. The popular brands collapsed, and in their stead rose the Blended Whiskies of the Fifties and Sixties.

Same swill, different label.

Anyway, I seem to have written myself into a corner, so let’s move on.
A number of people sent along a news story with a dire message: men who stay at home with their kids keel over dead fast. Higher incidence of heart disease. They’ve no idea why. I don’t worry, since I do spend a small portion of three days in an office, so whatever healing effect fluorescent light and sound-baffling cubicles have on the heart, I get it. But listening to a radio host describe the story today I had to roll my eyes over and over and over again - he suggested that it was the lack of the competitive environment that did men in. We need stress, we need competition, we need to achieve. Again, this is heartening for me, since my day with Gnat includes much professional stress, achievement and competition, all done on the computer via the Internet. What I lack is the smothering hand of Meetings clamped on my face, or the crowd of ass-biting insects that complicate any large office, and I cannot see how either improve one’s cardiac health. I’ve never been unhappier than when I was chained to a terminal for nine hours a day. In fact, until I worked at the Strib in 97, I was unable to write in an office. True. I would write at home at night, ship it to the office mainframes, and spend all day tweaking and buffing. And this was before the Internet, so I had nothing to do with my computer but read the wires. Green text, black screen. For nine straight hours.

Today we went to the grocery store for fish. As I staggered out to the car with the bag, exhausted from the day, I got out the keys - and a loose five-dollar bill came out of my pocket and blew away. The winds gusted to 30MPH this afternoon, which can take an Abe note a fair distance. I gave chase. You want cardiac exercise? Chase a five-dollar bill across a parking lot while holding a 30-pound kid in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other.

I’ll be fine, thank you very much.

In the Galileo this morning I heard a commercial urging an end to strife in the Mideast. Uplifting music, deep-voiced announcer. Text: We only want peace, and we have a plan. Tagline: Saudi Arabia. Partners in Peace. I said a word I should not say with Gnat in the back seat.

If the House of Sod is taking ads in Midwestern talk radio stations they know they're in trouble. But it reminded me of how I used to view the House of Sod - cynical, corrupt, giving lip service to piety in public then going back to the palaces for cocktails and blondes. Shows what I knew. But when I learned that I was wrong, and mentioned this to others, I found that nearly everyone had the same impression I’d had - even people who were reasonably current on world matters. How did this happen? How did we all buy this notion of the Sod elite as secretly Western and sybaritic?

Incidentally, I mean Sod not in the grass sense. In the British sense. As in: Saud off.
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