The surest proof that the worst is behind and the best of spring is ahead: the sound of water flowing down the stones of the Oak Island Water Feature.

Followed, fifteen minutes later, by the death-rictus gurgle.

But I expected that. I was just draining it, see? Hah! It won’t run out for real until I fill it all and settle back with a good book. I also replaced the lights, half of which had burned out. Which reminds me: the table lamp in the gazebo died at the hands of Cruel Gaia, which sent it to the bricks repeatedly for the Promethean-like sin of piercing the dark with its own feeble light. The last few weeks the wind seemed to make the lamp’s destruction a personal mission, and it wasn’t satisfled until it had cracked the ceramic base, ripped the shade from its wire frame, and broken the frame in three places. So. I went to a local store that sells nothing but patio furniture. Got that? Nothing but patio furniture.

“Can I help you?” asked the young man behind the counter.

“Yes,” I said. “Outdoor table lamp.”

“Outdoor table what?” he said.

Now. It’s possible he had been expecting a pleasantry before I stated my need; I should have said “I am looking for” to alert him that information specifically related to his query was en route. I admit all this, and if we had been conversing in, say, The Giant Store of Assorted Merchandise Devoid of Thematic Groupings, I would have understood. But we were in a store that sold only patio furniture. It was possible they had branched out into Indistinct Shapeless Masses, and he was thinking I might have asked for an outdoor table lump, or – and I have to be charitable and admit the possibility – he was in charge of selling ambulatory furniture that moved around the patio under its own power, and thought I might be complaining that my outdoor table had developed a limp.

“Outdoor table lamp,” I said, in the same intonation. Inflection, and volume.

“A table lamp,”  he said.

“For the outdoors,” I added.

“Yes! Well.” And he took me off to see six or seven items, all of which were hideous. Dirty Vegas’ “Days Go By” was playing on the speakers above, which gave the search a certain hip imperative it did not deserve. I thanked him for his time and headed for the door. On the way out I saw a Summer Grilling section, with America-flag themed merchandise, and I had instant summer’s end panic. It’s the Fourth soon! Which means it’ll be over! And then it’s fall! And then it’s Winter! Repeat at an ever-hastening pace until dead!

I shook it off and went to Home Depot for light bulbs, then went home to fix the lights. One spotlight was aimed at a tree that was no longer there, which was sad; it was like that story of the dog  who went to the train station every day for seven years, expecting his master to get off. Or return from his frozen state. Anyway, I moved the light, and gave it a new tree to adore. They seem happy.

I took Gnat to Subway for supper. She was inordinately chatty, which is fine with me. A chatty kid is a happy kid, and she was very happy, skipping along the sidewalk, holding my hand. We looked at the wallpaper of New York buildings while waiting.

I don’t know why, but I always feel as though I’m irritating the Subway Sandwich Artists somehow – either by not specifying my bread preference up front, perhaps. They’re always grumpy. And it always seems odd that it takes two of them to complete the sandwich, but that is the Subway Way, I guess. When the taller of the grumpier clerks was finishing the sandwich, I asked Gnat if she knew what that building was.

"The Empire State?"

No, it’s the Singer Building. I wanted to add a personal note, like “it was demolished long ago in an act of corporate vandalism, but one of the heiresses of the Singer fortune – made by providing mass-produced sewing machines for the women of America – married the man who bought the New Republic, which published Daddy’s first national piece," but instead I asked her to find the Empire State Building. She did.

“I don’t think they should build buildings that tall,” she said.

What? You are not my daughter. I cast thee out! Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, etc. “Why not?”

“I don’t know. Planes could hit them.”

I stiffened, slightly. “What made you think about that?”

She shrugged. “I heard about it.”

Artful misdirection time. “A plane did hit the Empire State Building,” I said. “A long time ago. And the building is still standing.”



“But they could fall down.”

What do you say. “They could, but there are a lot of planes and a lot of tall buildings and the pilots know where they are.”

“That’s good.”

And that was the end of that. For now.

Another week, another needless gadget. Say hello to “Finetune,” a service that lets you stream a playlist of forty-fricken’-five song on your site. They supply the music. Downside: you have to chose 45 songs, and that’s harder than it seems. On the other hand, they’ll autocomplete the playlist based on a few choices, which is what I did with this one after I'd hit 30 songs. I can't control the track order, alas, or I would have attempted to build some sort of Mood. So it just ends up being stuff I like, which is fine. Click on the albums in the margin of the player if you want to go backwards or ahead.

Note: musical selections you find risible will be blamed on the autocomplete feature, unless it’s something I really love. Everyone has their own guilty pleasures, so back off, Jackson. And yes, I chose "To Step Aside." It's got a good beat and you can lament Western Privilege to it.

The player screwed up the spare design I’d planned for the week, so I made this version last night. Took a while, but it was fun. Why, some ask, do I change the graphics every week? Why bother? Because I would like to have a job as a graphic designer, but unfortunately I am not good enough to have a job as a graphic designer. So I amuse myself thus. I spent a lot of time on the site this weekend, and I think you’ll enjoy the new additions; thanks to the other embedded player, the thing, I’ll be presenting a Weekly Song and a Weekly Old Radio show for your amusement. Take ‘em or leave ‘em I suppose.

The picture above is the Statesman Bar in Frankfort, Kentucky, a rather grim-looking joint. I got it at the postcard show on Saturday. (And to the fellow who, while paging through a stack of cards, looking for that one perfect find that would give the day a small but pleasureable lilt, said “will these show up on the Bleat?” the answer, sir, is Yes.) It wasn’t the best show, alas; didn’t find a lot. But I found enough, and the inevitably 40-card Motel Update will be along this summer.

I drove home listening to an audiobook of “Red Harvest,” the pitch-perfect Dash Hammett novel that overstays its welcome around the 14th murder, but has its pleasures. I read it years ago, so I don’t feel bad about listening to it. I’m not quite sure what happened to the book 2/3rds of the way through; Hammett starts killing off everyone, and does it offstage every time, and the entire narrative collapses on itself in heap of intrigue, but it’s still a fun ride through the pulp sensibilities of the 20s. (See what I did? I justified listening to a potboiler I read but don’t remember by using the word “sensibilities.”) Why should you care? Well, it’s probably where the Coen Brothers lifted the title “Blood Simple” – the novel abounds in snappy noir dialogue, and almost eight decades later there’s not a word of the slang we don’t know today. That’s how influential that period was. If you have fifty citizens sitting around, I heartily recommend the audiobook, read by William Dufris – it’s wonderful. Period.


- is what I thought, or perhaps said, because the car in front of me on the highway had slowed then screeched then fought a fishtail as I did the same; the car made it to the shoulder, and the car to my left hit the brakes as well and then I saw a man in the middle of the interstate freeway, rolling.

He rolled once –

A large black motorcycle skidded a yard, two yards –

He rolled and his hands went to his head –

I checked the rear-view mirror, expecting to see cars piling into me, but no: the river had slowed; for a second, two seconds, I expected the chain-reaction crash, but it didn’t come. I threw the car in park and yanked the emergency brake and got out of the car. The man stood. He stood up. He had put down his bike in freeway traffic, somersaulted on the pavement, and he was up. He stood for a second looking at the traffic, which by now backed up around the bend a mile. He limped to the shoulder. A woman darted between my car with a cellphone; I got out, and the man in the next car got out, and half a dozen other people got out of their car. DID YOU CALL I yelled and the woman yelled I CALLED and she helped the man to the shoulder. All the other motorists ran to help the fellow as well, which lead to the most interesting and peculiar moment of Saturday Afternoon, April 14, 2007: your humble narrator standing in the middle of Interstate 94, facing three lanes of backed up traffic, shouting WE NEED TO MOVE THE BIKE to the other able-bodied men.

They ran over, and we picked up the iron. One hell of a Harley. The radio was still playing. EVERYBODY’S WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND. We got it up and rolled it to the side of the road.

The driver walked over and turned off the radio. He had a bloody scrape on his head and his leather were scuffed to hell, but he was standing. I confirmed that that ambulance was coming, which somehow released me. Back in the Element. For a moment -  a half second – I drank in the peculiar tableau, the likes of which I’d probably never see again. I was in my car on a highway I’d taken for 30 years. I was stopped. Dead calm. I’d never see this segment of the world like this again, if I was lucky, because for civvies and other mortals the highway is a hard fast river. Or something like that.

“Red Harvest” was still talking from my speakers. I dropped the parking brake and put her in gear and was back up to speed in seven seconds, the freeway empty, all mine.

Another little drama that’ll never make the paper.

New Quirk and Match! See you tomorrow.


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