These strange, absurd, bizarre, and fitfully hilarious days have made me feel slightly unreal and unmoored, and I wrote something last night around 12:47 that nailed it for me: nothing seems true and everything seems plausible.

But that’s the world out there, beyond. Close to home, it fits and clicks. As I will now prove.

Took Daughter to the orthodontists’s today, for orthodontia. Makes you wonder why they just don’t call it the Dontist’s. The Dentist fills your cavities; the Dontist straightens your teeth. On the way out of the office, where I’d filled out all the forms for the Easy Terms, I saw this.


It amused me. Do you find it amusing? It’s not just “seasonal pencils,” a concept I understand well; I used to buy Seasonal Pencils for Daughter when she was young, so that everything could be fun and reflect the times. It meant we had dozens and dozens of unused Halloween pencils, because there’s a limited window for those.

No, it’s the exhortation to enjoy the pencils. One does not think of one’s self enjoying a pencil, like a drink or a steak. It’s a tool, and while there is pleasure to be found in good tools and their application, Enjoy this Seasonal Pencil is like something out of a society where everyone’s heavily medicated, and floats through the day on a cloud of contented banalities.

I mentioned this to the receptionist: I have not yet enjoyed a seasonal pencil. She nodded and went away, and returned with several of the seasonal pencils, and a Dontist-branded pen, which she spread out on the counter and said “here are these for you to enjoy” with an expression of pride and wonder. “You should enjoy them now, because next time you come they will be spring pencils.”

And it’s all said with the kind tones you’d use for a two-year old. People who are new to Minnesota don’t always get this, how we can be sweet and smiley while saying things that are bone-dry sarcastic and funny.

“Good bye! See you in March!” she said. “Enjoy your seasonal pencils!” Note to Heidi, if you’re reading this: you knew I would put this on the Bleat. It’s possible you were auditioning for a role in an entry. Well played.

Dropped daughter off at her music lesson and went to Taco Bell. Because I like Taco Bell, and hey, it’s healthy! All that lettuce and tomatoes and such. Today it was TA O BELL, because a light was out; I like that. The Tao of Bell. Reminds you of the Tao of Pooh, although you don’t really want to think about Pooh when you’re going to Taco Bell. They had a new item, because they always have new items, cobbled together from the same basic ingredients. This time: Sweet Habanero Bonus Taco Crunch System, or something. Also a Nacho Flav’r-Busted Jalapeno-Dusted Dub’l Wrap Extreme, whatever, they were a buck. I ordered one of each and a Chili Cheese Burrito, which is not on the menu. No one has ever said “what?” when I order it. Ever.

The price was wrong, and I asked the clerk if he got the Chili Cheese Burrito. He said no sorry and added it. When my order arrived there were three tacos.

I did not complain, because the tacos were a buck, and if I’d ordered two Crunchy Beef it would've been 3 bucks total, so, score, I guess. Upon examination the new tacos were, well, tacos, with a paper-thin tortilla on the outside and some sort of cheese-based adhesive holding it together. It wasn’t very appealing, but I realized that I had the raw materials for something good. Went to the condiments stand to get a spork, thinking: I will spoon the innards into a cast-off tortilla, and that will be absolutely edible.

At the condiments table I noted that they had the usual four bins of sauce - Mild, Hot, Fire, and Diablo, but no Verde; it’s gone, damn their eyes - and a bin of salt packets.

Salt. Because apparently some people take a bite of Taco Bell food and think “needs salt.”

OH I KNOW I could’ve gone to Chipotle next door, but the line is always long and it’s such a process, and you watch them glop everything on and roll it up until it’s the size of a wrestler’s thigh and you have to deal with the ethical halo of the workers who are quite aware that their pork is ethically sourced, thank you, and they’re better people for being around ethically sourced pork.

Went to Traders Joe, which was empty. There was one customer whose life motto actually was “dance like no one’s watching,” because she was standing by the hummus grooving to something while looking at her phone. Everyone actually was watching. When I see people who are alone, dancing by themselves, I wonder if I should find a tongue depressor. The music was nothing catchy; don't know why the muse moved her.

Went next door to Infinite Spirits or Total Wine or Complete Central Nervous System Depressants to get the ale my wife likes and see if there were any new whiskeys that came from the same spout of the Indiana distillery but were given a novel label. Why yes, and the price was right. Met a Bleatnik! (Waving at you and hoping you we can finish the story about our children’s Dontists.) Picked up daughter. We were talking about lyrics and for some reason she used the phrase “love cuts like a knife,” and I said that’s about the most banal lyric there is. Such a cliche.

And then I had a thought. Turned on radio. 70s channel.

Player: “Baby Come Back.” She knew the song. Found it affecting.

“Listen to the lyrics,” I said. “‘I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you.’ He screwed up, and now he wants her back because what he was doing didn’t work out and he’s alone and boo hoo.”

80s channel: Billy Idol. Hah: “Dancing With Myself.” She knew the song. I asked: what do you think he looked like?

“He has . . . long hair.”

At the light I googled Billy Idol and handed her the phone. She was surprised.
“He was a genuine punk and then they threw money at him and he was a popular tame punk. All about the snarl and the spikes.”

“I respect that look,” she said. I changed the channel. Bryan Adams.

“HAH. Okay, this guy, he had a hit song called ‘Cuts Like a Knife.’ I knew I could find an example of that cliche before we got to choir practice.”

“But it’s not this song?” No. “So technically”

Oh be quiet with your so technically.

Dropped her off at choir, went to Cub Foods. Or CUFBa, as I know it, since the original name was “Consumers United For Bargains.” CUFBa. I had a lot of time to kill, so I shopped very slowly, judging everyone else and their purchases. Stolid thick-necked grey-haired man buying canned chili: I salute you. Dude who asks his girlfriend if they need any Yogue, as they pass the Yogurt aisle, I wonder if this word is something between you, or something I don’t yet know. Scrawny guy who scooped up three boxes of bottom-shelf mac and cheese: been there.

A little boy was wandering the aisles with a toy car, something he’d got off the Toy Car display at the end of the freezer section. They put those there because they hate parents.

DAD? he said. He looked down the aisle. No Dad. Next aisle: DAD? No dad. And so on.

A woman looked at me, keeping a respectful but watchful distance, and said “are you Dad?”

No, I said, just making sure he doesn’t get scared.

“What’s your dad’s name?” the woman asked. The little boy said Tim.

I figured the most direct way to solve this problem was just to say TIM very loudly. Sure, the guy would be discombobulated, but he’d probably wonder what was up. Who should appear a few seconds later, but . . . Mom! She looked at the boy and said “you managed to get lost again.” And a few seconds after that, TIM emerged from another aisle.

Holding three boxes of bottom-shelf mac and cheese.

The entire evening knit itself together perfectly. The only part that didn’t fit came later, but I think I’ll save that for Monday.

In 2018!

Kidding. I plan ahead, but not that far ahead.


Pictures left behind in empty houses, found by my realtor uncle-in-law.

No name on the back:

She seems as if she was rescued from something, and cannot yet bring herself to be grateful.





This month we look at four towns, the Quad Cities of the Iron Range. Virginia was named after the state - many of the lumbermen who settled in the area were from Virginia, it seems. Almost nine thousand residents, down from 15K in 1960. It's the birthplace of Chris Pratt. whose father worked the mines until that business dwindled.

This would have been familiar to someone in 1950. Except for the emptiness.

There's still a Thrifty White Pharmacy in town. Reviews vary from "Awesome service!!!" to "horrid service bitch," which suggests you could actually have a really good Service Bitch.

The front:


An obit for Elder Metsa:

His father soon built the Log Cabin Tavern in Angora, which has survived the recent redesign of Highway 53. They lived for a short time in the attached residence, and then moved to Virginia when his father purchased the Roosevelt Bar on the 200 block of Chestnut Street. The windows of their four-room apartment today look out over Chestnut Street beneath the words, “Svea Block, 1900.” Adjacent to their apartment were a couple dozen small rooms that were rented out to boarders, for whom Elder’s mother cooked meals.

Who names a baby Elder?

The Roman Block, built in 1914:

From this account of Iron Range Jewish heritage:

Built in 1914 by Joseph Roman, it initially housed the Rex Theater, which was operated by his wife, Katherine Roman, and the Roman Clothing Store

A theater, eh? Does the city have any others?

Oh, just you wait.

A relic, a survivor, a wonderful piece of 30s style:

It had a website, but it seems to be gone. Some entries call it "cafe" and others "bar." No reason it can't be both, but the sign in the window says 'Rummage Sale" - which suggests it's neither.

From the height of the city's ambition and confidence: the First National Bank.

The ground floor was remodeled during the era of modern barbarity. There's a name on the ground floor, on the right: T Square.

The website's logo, and URL, calls it the T Squared.

Old pictures call it the Tini Square.

I'll bet people still call it The First National Bank. More here, with some lovely photos.

Somewhere you'll find a 60s storefront called the Shoery, selling boots:

That name was so popular for a while, but it dates back to the teens and early 20s. It had a post-war vogue, and then seemed to die along with downtowns.

This . . . is fantastic.

If you wanted to design a building for Hortas and their offspring, this would be perfect.

The mines aren't what they used to be.

Sights like these weigh on the hearts of people who remember what the facade used to say, and what they used to sell.

They didn't exactly committ to the idea, as you see when you turn the corner:

Note the old window - I doubt it was original. Might have been a 30s or 40s addition.

Wouldn't be a Main Street entry without a little Buckaroo Revival, eh?


Really brought something to the building, didn't it?

The building on the corner has no name; whatever was written on the cornice fell off, or was removed.


Man named TwoCrow got stabbed there in '10.

Now then: the theater.

Oh my yes. Liebenberg & Kaplan, 1938.

Interior photos here.

If you're curious about the name: Minnesota Amusement Corporation.

Want more? Here's Virginia.


That'll do! See you around. Almost Friday, and it seems as if the week's sped by. Odd for January. But not unwelcome.


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