MAY 1997 Part 4
I wrote today's Bleat sitting at the coffee shop, believing that was the highlight for the day. It wasn't. The real highlight came at 10:55 PM tonight, on the air. Previously I'd been amazed when a guy called and said he had a 1968 issue of Jack & Jill magazine with my picture: "Our Readers Write." What are the odds, I figured? Well, tonight I was discussing my lawn mower, kept in the basement these many months, propping open a swinging door. I mentioned that I had no idea why there were swinging doors in my basement, but there they were. Forty minutes later a caller asks:

"Is your basement floor painted yellow?"

I thought a moment. Mentally removed the carpet. "Yes," I said. "Yes it is."

"Okay, I think I know why you have swinging doors in your basement."

And indeed he did. The basement - where I am sitting now - was once the bedroom of his childhood friend. (He gave the correct last name of the previous owners.) They put in the doors to make it more, I don't know, bedroomy. (It is the basement, after all.)

What do you say to that? What are the odds?

And then it was on to the usual topics: Hoagy Carmicheal, Flying Wing aircraft, German prototype aircraft used in the first Indiana Jones movie, the legislature, Leroy Nieman, my life as an elected politician, and Gerry Anderson science-fiction TV shows.


Now, today's planned Bleat.




And here it is, pure perfection. Of course, I'm so starved for summer and sun I'll strip naked and caper around the lake when the temp hits 60. But the sun is strong today, the breeze is minding its own business, and the sky is empty of clouds. Not bad considering that the temperature a couple of nights ago was seven degrees above the temperature on Mars.

Yes, Mars. I was reading in the NYTimes today that Martian weather is more complex than believed, and that the new birds we have dropping in on Mars this summer will beam back pictures of a blue sky with white clouds. It all depends on the time of year, apparently; when Mars is closest to the sun, the temperature is 30 F. I hope this doesn't mean there's life on Mars. I've changed my view on that matter. If there are microbes in the soil, mindlessly excreting methane, then there's no chance we'll ever terraform the joint. If making Mars habitable for humans meant wiping out a species of microbes, PETA would stop it. They'd blow up the rockets if they could.

I am looking forward to tonight's show, but looking forward even more to what waits at the other end: Borg on Voyager. It beats last night's post-show 2 AM entertainment, which consisted of boxing. Your standard matchup of a slugger vs. a boxer. The slugger - a Maori hewn from solid granite, with a nose as flat as a trilobite - had been favored, simply because he was capable of knocking down a house with a single blow. (Strengths: great power, stamina. Weaknesses: Cannot move around. Easily confused. Bites his nails.) The opponant was a lithe, focused fellow (Strengths: great boxing skill, superior reach. Weaknesses: no power. Glass jaw. Tends to lose all the time) who outboxed him for five rounds and then knocked him out. The slugger fell face first and bounced. You just don't see that in normal life, which is probably why I watch boxing. In the old days, you couldn't walk down the street or into a tavern without watching someone fall face first into the furniture. Now it's a treat.

I also watched a little of "Desperately Seeking Susan," the movie that gave birth to a hundred hideous headlines in the 80s. The Adverbly Seeking Something syndrome. The movie made me homesick for the 80s, for thriftstore chic, skinny ties, actual music instead of people hollering over syncopated cannon fire. I am suspicious of nostalgia for the recent past - it often means you've just gotten lazy and cranky, and prone to mutter Kids Today. I would be perfectly content to ignore the 90s and keep up with the times if the times made an effort to be worth keeping up with. This isn't just nascient old-fogeyism - although I'm sure there's a hint of that in the back of my grousing. But having spent most of the 90s resisting the culture's attempts to relieve the goddamn 70s, I regard the entire decade as a lost opportunity. Of course, the 70s is where this whole retro nonsense began anyway. The culture spent the first part of the decade conflating the 20s and 30s into a nonsense Art Deco world of Al Capone, Paper Moon, Gatsby et al, and then the second half was spent mooning over a candy-colored vision of the 50s. Meanwhile skinny Brits with messy dentition were poking safety pins in their shirts and shrieking three-chord rants, and they changed everything. Beer drinkers vs the cokeheads. Ahh, the memories.


Monday night, sunset: two birds in two trees, singing the same song to each other, something between an echo and a duet. Sara is working on tomorrow's court cases by candlelight, very 19th century; I'm tapping at the laptop and enjoying a small glass of Peach Stoli. We're in the porch, surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers and a long bright garland of Christmas lights. The end of May, and we can't see our breath: this is cause for celebration.

Did all the things you're supposed to do for Memorial Day weekend, except for attend to the grave of a hero; all the soldiers in our family are still alive. I mowed the lawn for the first time. The old Murray started on the third pull, like a horse out of the pen, raring to race. It had spent months in the basement, inert, dreaming of weeds; the last few weeks it could hear the grass grow with impunity, hear the patter of seeds from the tall grass in the back, and its bloodlust grew. It probably waited for the third pull just to keep me from taking it for granted.

We went to the Big Movie - in this year's case, it's Lost World. Good film, and in some ways I liked it better than Jurassic Park. No cute smart kids saving the day by deploying their Unix skills while screaming adults cower in the corner. The dinosaurs looked better, but perhaps that's because most of the film took place at night, and the dinos had the look of a horrid dream. The effects were so good that only about 5 percent of my attention was spent considering the animator's skills - by the time you've started to note how a distant light source is shining on the raptor's tail as it whips around, there's something else coming at you claw-first. There wasn't time to ask how because you were too busy winching your jaw back into place. Nice job.

Sunday, the first of the season's cookouts on the porch. No slaving over a charcoal grill this year: I bought a Weber gas grill. It's sitting on the new patio right now, shrouded in a black poncho like some holy relic that can only be revealed on High Holidays. (Like the Fourth of July.) I wasn't intending to get one, but when I went to the hardware store Saturday for motor oil there was an old bent man in a cook's apron waving a spatula at the passersby, entreating them to step up and consider the advantages of a Weber with the new Flavorizer Bar technology. He couldn't quite explain what they were, only that they weren't lava rocks. ("They can flare up on you there, those rocks," he said.) But he gave everything else a thorough description. I went inside and asked one of the Hardy Boys who runs the store what the devil the Flavorizer Bars were, and his brow furrowed slightly. "It's different than the lava rocks," he said. "Those will collect the grease and flare up on you." I didn't want lava rocks flaring up on me. So I bought it.

Then I haggled on the price - they had a thirty dollar charge that included a tank of gas, delivery and assembly. Since I was buying the assembled model, howzabout chopping ten bucks off the price? I hate haggling. It always seems impolite and miserly. On the one hand, I was paying more for the grill than had I bought one at Target, because this was a neighborhood store. On the other hand, I like to support the neighborhood store. On the other hand, what if my haggling wiped out their profit margin?

It was only ten bucks.

On the way out I told the old man that he'd sold me on the grill.

"Good job of selling," I said.

"Thanks!" he grinned and waggled the spatula at me. "I'm working my way through college, you see."

That alone was worth the extra money I no doubt paid.


Everyone came over on Sunday, ate their fill, talked long and loud. This is the fourth year of these porch gatherings, and nothing makes me happier than all my friends assembled outside, laughing, eating, banging back the coffee, sipping at beers. By the end of the evening the wind came up and the temperature nosed down hard, giving it the feel of the season's last party instead of the first. From grilling in shorts to turning up the heat and thanking the loomers for flannel sheets: that's this spring.


More of the same today, with a fickle wind and a sputtering sun. But if it doesn't feel like summer - and it will be summer in six days - it surely looks like it. Sara has most of the plants in, and the lilacs are almost out. (A miserly crop this year, but it's an old bush, and it does what it can.) It's not too bad now, and at 9:30 there's still light in the sky. A few shouts down the block from kids still dragging out the day, screaming to each other in the same voice - half echo, half duet, the impromptu song of the eternity they call summer. I know better, which is why I'll enjoy it all the more.


Yawn. Now that I'm back in the real world, with a real job to go to each working day, I'm recalling all the bad things about the rhythms of holidays. Joy on Friday, glee on Saturday, contentment on Sunday, mild regret on Monday turning to sullen growls on Tuesday morning as we slip the yoke back around your callused neck. . In radio the day after everyone goes back to work is usually a hard day - less so than the Friday preceding a show, but it still feels off, slightly tired and vacant. Which pretty much describes me and my show tonight. A few moments, but great arid stretches. Well, it happens.

Took a walk around the lake with the camcorder today, taking pictures for the new revised web page. I'm tired of these clean brisk pages - I want something that will chug through the pipelines like a grapefruit through a python, so I'm adding a rotating series of tiny pictures of the lake and the surrounding area. Carrying around a camera is cumbersome enough, even though this one in tiny and light, but having it in one hand and steering the dog with the other was an aggravation supreme. Drove me nuts. I had to keep removing my sunglasses to see anything through the viewfinder; the dog kept running away as I was lining up a shot, and the interference from the camera motors made my walkman shriek and whine. At one point Jasper bolted just as I was attempting to focus, just as a gust of wind nearly took my headphones off, and I felt like one of the characters in the Lacoon statue, entangled and tormented. Plus, the temperature took its usual 15 degree drops when the wind came up, so I'd go from feeling warm sun to feeling my skin erupt in innumerable goosebumps. I'm glad I don't have a gun, or I'd spend the afternoon firing rounds at the jet stream, trying to scare it back into place.

But a good day, really. Woke early with great consternation - some noisy dream insisted that I get up now, NOW, because something HAD to be done IMMEDIATELY. Of course the moment I woke up the urgency evaporated, and there I was, completely awake ahead of schedule. But now rising at nine seems like rising at daybreak. I felt fresh and holy, and expected Grieg to waft in the windows. It didn't, of course, because the windows are closed to keep us from expiring of frostbite at night.

I spent the morning rejiggering my column - and there's another grim tale. There was nothing to write about yesterday, and I spent the entire night writing columns that sputtered out into ignorant blather. For a while I was actually writing about Kelly Flinn, but the uselessness of the endeavor overwhelmed me and I ended up writing about stupid parents who take little kids to see scary dinosaur movies. You can only write so many Clinton-scandals-have-no-effect columns - and I've banged out six years' worth - before you tire of the matter.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Next Monday finds the final disposition of the matter once known as the Other Opportunity, and it appears to be good. Thunderbirds are go. What sort of further hell this will bring, I can only guess; if it's all too much, I will do the radio show and bank those checks until they add up to a car, and then once again step away from the mike to rejoin the print world. I don't want it to come to that, but neither do I want to totter around with red eyes and a perpetual yawn all day, blather on the air to my dissatisfaction and then spend six hours face down in the thin gruel of bad sleep before starting it all over again.

Had brats for supper. Lots of brats left over from the weekend. I looked at the ingredients: pork, beer, salt, sugar.

Nature's perfect food.



Hmm. A Victoria's Secret catalog did not arrive today. Most unusual. A day rarely passes without a glossy slice of VS propaganda (and for what ideology? Come-hitherism, maybe.) They come in duplicates - one for my wife, who orders her business clothes from them, and one for me, who orders less vital items. The last one to arrive had a model with the body-fat of a butterfly, sitting splay-legged in a ghastly lime-green dress, looking at the camera with a frank challenge, as though daring anyone else to look this good in something so ugly. I saw an interview with this model while flipping through the channels, and she was actually rather articulate, in that deceptive finishing-school way. Some of the younger ninnies, though, look as though they are slightly distracted by the whistling sound in their head when they turn an ear towards the breeze. To say nothing of Stephanie Seymour, previously attached to a moody drunken rock star; she had that heroin-addict-with-pneumatic-additions look that's attractive to someone, but not me. To me she looks like they had to put more foundation on the crook of her arm than her face.


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,mkl9 (that's a comment from Jasper, who has put his head on the keyboard again looking for a biscuit)


But the mailbox was full of the usual arrivals - Entertainment Weekly, which has been redesigned to be harder to read. You can tell the movie reviews from the stories, because the former are printed entirely in boldface. It makes them stand out, yes, but so would printing them in pink against a red background. There was an issue of Time, which came as a free gift with my MPR subscription. I don't know why. It wasn't necessary. Time is for people who haven't been paying attention the rest of the week. If you have read a paper, then it's all old news. Kelly Flinn has an interview in Time, where she says she has now "lost her innocence." Yes that's what you want in a B-52 pilot: innocence. A dewy wide-eyed sense of wonder. There are copies of her love letters to Mark Zigo (I kept waiting for the writer to refer to him as a Zigopath, but it never happened) Her missives are depressing in their high-school gushy luv-ya banality; you want your B-52 pilots to have more grit. It's bad enough to have a nuclear bomb dropped on your head, but for the dropper to be someone who dots her i's with little circles is adding insult to vaporization.


There was the weekly Washington Post national edition: dull, dull, dull. I don't know why I get it. And the Wall Street Journal, always a good read. Today had a feature on the subculture of coonhounds. A good coonhound is prized for its barking ability. One man in the article payed $100,000 for 22 ampules fo seme from a dog capable of barking 100 times a minute. I'd pay that much, if only to make sure they were destroyed. Given the chance of destroying that vial and the last vial of smallpox, I'd have to flip a coin.

Jasper's barking can wake the dead and make the living wish he was not. It's his job, of course, to bark - to warn off other dogs who have the temerity to cross our turf, and to alert me to great threats such as the pizza delivery man. I will not break him of this; it's his nature. Every so often I come running to see what's up, and I pretend to act interested in the dogs that pass. If I don't, he will conclude I am an idiot who doesn't understand the situation. I want him to be the last one who figures that out.