As is my custom, he said pretentiously, I listened to the speech on the radio. I won’t hash the particulars here, since these speeches are usually like a waiter reading off a long bill of specials without bothering to note the price, after which you say “I’ll have the steak” or whatever you’d made up your mind to order. I thought the Social Security section was strong, but whether it built up a head of steam to blast through the headwinds to come I can’t say. If the AARP puts out ads showing the spats-clad Monopoly man yanking checks from the hands of seniors and lighting rotund cheroots, what was said last night will make little difference. The challenge to Syria was nice, a public echo of what I suspect has been said in private. And hello, Egypt! Welcome to the Axis of Damn Well Better Get Your Act Together! The moment between the survivors of the fallen soldier and the Iraqi would have impressed me more if I knew what was going on; that’s the problem with the radio. But once I knew what the sustained applause was all about, I got gooseflesh in retrospect. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to imagine, almost instantly, what people who hate this sort of thing might be thinking, and how their minds spin to cover such a moment with spittle and ash.

And speaking of ash: did you know that when you refill your Zippo, some butane might get on your shirt? And if minutes later you light a candle in the dining room to impart a nice pear scent throughout the kitchen, you may be surprised to find your shirt catch on fire? Just happened after I wrote the word “ash,” too. I got up, dimmed the lights, lit the candle, and hey presto my shirt got all flamey. Now the room smells like “burned shirt,” which is not an aroma I ha previously known.

Anyway. What impressed me, content aside, was the tone, and from bouncing around the intraweb I see I’m not entirely alone. I don’t think it was the President’s strongest speech; nothing will beat the 2002 SOTU, which was the equivalent of a scene in a boxing movie where the challenger – thumped hard in the first round – answers the bell and turns the champ’s face to hamburger. It’s amazing to realize now that the “Axis of Evil” speech just four months after 9/11, and we'd accomplished much. To recap:

We last met in an hour of shock and suffering. In four short months, our nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested, and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan's terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression.

The American flag flies again over our embassy in Kabul. Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo BayAnd terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own. America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We'll be partners in rebuilding that country. And this evening we welcome the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan: Chairman Hamid Karzai.

The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government. And we welcome the new Minister of Women's Affairs, Doctor Sima Samar.

And that was the start of the speech.

(Of course, the clever kids rolled their eyes at the Axis of Evil, but I loved it then and love it today. Partly because it’s, well, oh, what’s the word? TRUE. And partly because it has such a retro Captain America vibe so at odds with the interminably nuanced rhetoric of a Davosian struggling to find the right words to deplore Chinese infanticide without giving anyone the idea he’s acting from some sense of religious inspiration. That sort can be counted upon to claim we have a moral duty to do any number of things, but will rarely identify anything as immoral. Leave that word for the dopes who pack the buses to Branson.)

But I’m off topic. By “tone” I just mean the quality of the delivery, which was confident and grounded. No one will ever nominate Bush for a spot in the pantheon of orators, even though he’s delivered some well-written corkers. But I’ve never thought that the stumble-tongued public Bush was the same in private; he’s just one of those guys who gets frequently spooked by cameras and a roomful of guys with pens in hand and murder in mind. I mean, Ted Turner can hold forth like Castro, but it doesn’t mean I want him staring at the red button, wondering whether he should save us all the bother and just get it over with now. (Ah’ll hold you in the next world, Jane. Oh, right, Ah’m an atheist. Sheet.) I think we’re seeing the White House Bush here. The elections went the right way, as he saw them, and there’s been a general unclenching and unpuckering all around. As I suggested in my Newhouse column this week, we may see such progress in the world in the next three years the country will sweep Hillary / Obama into office with a 40-state landslide. Nineties! Nineties! Do-over! Do-Over! Without the grunge, if that’s okay.

At the office today I wrote one column with great haste, went upstairs to the cafeteria and wrote some other stuff, then checked my mail before I left. A note from the producer of Tracy Ullman’s upcoming HBO show – they wanted to use some pictures from “Interior Desecrations” as backdrops in some scenes. Well! I called the production company, had the director paged, gave my name.

The producer answered in a voice that was a absolutely dead-spot-on imitation of Tracy Ullman, and I wondered if everyone there spoke like her, British accents being contagious and all that, but then she said “This is Tracy,” and, well, whoa. She heard my name on the page and took the call. Gulp. Turns out she’s a fan, he said, preening. (She bought the Gallery of Regrettable Food, too.) We had a chat for ten minutes or so, and it quickly became a contest to see who could talk faster. Just delightful; made my day. Add that to yesterday’s news – I signed on as, get this, TV critic for a monthly mag; not one of the really big ones, but one of the great ones – and it’s been a good week. But I still have to finish the book, and I still have to show up Friday morning and be Parent Helper for two-year olds who couldn’t care less. So I need time and sleep. This six-hours-a-night stuff isn’t working anymore.

Hah: tried to take a nap at five, just ten minutes before we went to gymnastics class. Begged Gnat to go to her room and play. She did. Then she came back and changed the clock, snickering. I sent her away. Then she returned with six Hello Kittys to keep me company. I said they itched. “Just the ones with the fairy wings,” she said. Fine. She went away. Then she got a Jack in the Box and stood at the end of the bed, cranking the handle one note at a time. STOP IT. Okay. Then she got out her doctor kit and started giving me shots. STOP IT. Okay. Then I fell asleep, only to wake when she turned on the overhead fan on LOUD AND FAST. I got up, turned it off, fell asleep. When I woke she was passed out in the bed.

Get up, honey I said. Time for class. She didn’t stir. The Jack in the box did the trick, though. Eventually. It all depends on how loudly you shout POP GOES THE WEASEL.

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