Conversation with my editor today. So! Holiday deadlines coming up; when is my Tuesday column due?

I’ll check . . . ah, Friday noon.

Same as ever. Fine. How about the Thursday column?

Looks like Friday, noon.

How about the Sunday column for the week after next?

Let me look . . . Friday, noon.

See what I mean? Jimmy Three Piece.

If I had any sense I would have written one this afternoon; had the time, since Gnat had a playdate. Oh how easily they walk out the door – bye Dad! – and head off to merriment, leaving you with naught but duty and chores. I could have written, could have tackled the email box for the day, but forgive me: I have an odd aversion to writing these days. Probably because I know I have a book due in, oh, MINUS 60 DAYS, and I will have to spend all of December whipping it into shape. This means no Bleat as such for next month – daily updates, yes, in the form of pictures and links and small comments, but I have to get the book out now so I can start on the next one. And that one will require more writing than scanning. Which is good and bad.

Warm day – who would have thought we’d have fifties in November? Good thing it’s dank and cloudy, because there’s something wrong and disturbing about warm sunny weather this late in the year. We’ve all made a mental turn towards Christmas, and if you haven’t, well, the stores are doing their part to taser any residual resistance. GET ON THE GROUND AND BE FESTIVE NOW! Yes sir. I’m trying sir. Please get your knee off my neck, Santa sir. By this time we often have snow, and lots of it; the world today seems cavalier and indifferent to the very notion of snow. Hah! Just try! The lawn guys came the other day to take away 9000 bushels of leaves, and before they left they mowed. The lawn is neat and green. The trees are empty; the sky a low lead lid. Odd. And hallelujah. But the foggy weather is hell on cheroots – leave them outside and they droop in your hands like Play-Doh. But they don’t taste like Play-Doh. I know this from recent experience; Gnat made a Play-Doh cookie for me, and I thanked her, examined it, bit off a chunk and pretended to swallow. Her expression was priceless, and rivaled her slack-jawed amazement that followed when the dog-food bag popped open on the conveyor at Target and I popped a nugget in my mouth. DADDEE! THAT’S FOR DOGS!

Tastes gooood, I said. Maybe we’ll have it for dinner.


With monkey brains!


And snake butt for dessert!


All a plot to make her cheer with relief when I served salmon, but it didn’t work.

Anyway. Tonight I noticed that the keyboard, the old Yamaha, is starting to die. The LEDs are winking out in the control panel, so you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t need 95% of what the thing does, so that’s not a problem, but it has some features to which I’ve become accustomed, and I’m unsure whether the next electronic piano will sound or perform the same. So I decided to record a few songs for posterity. Big mistake. I hate music. I hate making a perfect recording and screwing up the last chord. Again and again I tried. After an hour Gnat came downstairs, sat in her little chair and listened to me play – and to my amazement she picked up the melody and started to sing it. I wish I could provide her accompaniment, but children today lack the sort of digital output that works with Garageband.

The song is called “First Minnesota,” after the famed Civil War fighting force. I know little about mid 19th century music, but it had the flavor I ascribe for right or wrong to that period. As usual, my tempo is spazzed out, and there are portions where it goes all to hell because I’m hitting switches and turning dials. And I pound the hell out of it with my standard fists-o-ham style. But here it is. I could have added Banjo and Pennywhistle. Aren’t you glad I didn’t?

Side note: the tune used to have a tricky middle section I’ve completely forgotten, so I had to invent that rather obvious progression just to pad it out. Not very Civil Warlike, I’m afraid.

But what do I know. I’m so out of touch I saw that picture of the Marlboro Man soldier and did not instantly fire off a letter to the editor protesting this flagrant and unhelpful depiction of – what’s the word? - reality. Some did, of course. (One of many examples I've seen about.)

For God’s sake, if Patton were alive today he’d be slapping civilians. Granted, we’re talking about a select stratum of the population whose undies come pre-bunched, but even by their standards this is ridiculous. You get the sense that this was the last straw for some – it’s bad enough that we have soldiers in Iraq (if we have to have soldiers AT ALL) but to have conspicuously smoking soldiers just rubs their nose in it all. It’s stuff like this that makes the standard imagery of WW2 look like dispatches from an alternate dimension, and makes you wonder how the modern media might have covered WW2. You can well imagine the reports from Normandy: the reporter would have his back to the sea so the camera caught the wreckage, the metal flotsam, the blasted craft and bobbing bodies. The terrible toll of this horrible day. At the end of the report the camera might have swung around to see the beach we had secured, and the Nazi positions high above we’d taken, but that would be an asterisk to the Dreadful Cost that led Many to Wonder whether this Invasion was not a Gamble whose Final Cost was Yet to be Tallied, etc. Close-up on a soldier shivering on the sand, sucking down a Camel. Cue the letter to the Herald-Examiner from an anti-smoking activist: it is ironic that we continue to associate cigarettes with heroism and manliness, when that soldier faces far more danger from his cigarette than from the upcoming battles in the hedgerows, the attempt to take French villages, the desperate push to unite the front and deal with the German tanks held in reserve, the frigid hell of Bastogne and the messy sniper-salted drive to Berlin. And why do we have to show the soldiers with guns? What sort of message does this send? It should be no surprise that our children play Allies and Nazis these days, instead of Ministers and Diplomats.

It’s unthinkable. Now just imagine if every paper ran big photos of the grue-soaked murder rooms and torture holes the troops are finding in Fallujah. Half the letters to the editor would commend the paper for showing the face of the enemy; the other half would complain that we were demonizing Fair Fallujah, which of course only reverted to savagery and barbarity because of the US invasion. The Paris of Mesopotamia, it was. You can show these people video of the brutes shooting a female aid worker in the head, and they have the same angry response: well, how did you expect them to react?

This doesn’t mean the country is split 50-50, but for some reason newspapers feel compelled to give each side equal weight and imply we’re divided on the issue of Smoking Soldiers. It is helpful to remember that if 9/11 had never happened, and we had never invaded Iraq, these people would be bringing the same level of ire and outrage to the presence of irradiated beef on school menus. They are the squeaky wheels shrieking for grease.

Soy-based non-petroleum recycled post-consumer grease, please.

Anyway. Here’s the piano tune link again, if you scrolled past it. Laugh at my expense!

(Note: in the passage above about Normandy, I used the word "we" to stand for "us." That does still make sense, no?)


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