NOVEMBER 1999 Part 4
don’t know but I’ve been told
I don’t know but I’ve been told
Adobe Go Live writes sloppy code
Adobe Go Live writes sloppy code
Default borders four pixels wide
Default borders four pixels wide
That just looks so ‘95
That just looks so ‘95

Loads slow! Loads slow!
Is slow! Is slow!
Slow for you! Slow for you!
Slow for me! Slow for me!

I don’t know but I’ve been told
I don’t know but I’ve been told
Kim Kommando is really old
Kim Kommando is really old

Etc. Sorry. I watched “Full Metal Jacket” last night, and I still have Marine Corps cadences ringing through my head. I rented it because I’m on this inexplicable Kubrick jag, and I remembered it well from my first viewing in ‘88. I am less sure about it now. As propaganda goes, it has all the usual dishonest tricks of the trade. The first part of the movie - basic training - is just cold enough so that you are not entirely sure where the director’s sympathies lie, but of course that was Kubrick’s touch; stack the deck, frame the issues in your own way, then shoot is as coldly as possible so you just seem to be reporting on an event. Even after watching it again, I can’t tell whether he regards the DI as a comic figure, a horrible demon, or both, or neither. Perhaps I lack the viewpoint he presumed any Right-Thinking Person would bring to such a character. I have no military experience, so I can’t say whether the character was realistic or not. My friends who did serve have told stories that suggest the DI was not an exaggeration, at least not in his single-mindedness and nut-busting toughness. But even when the DI was marching down the barracks singing “Happy Birthday Dear Jesus” for Christmas, I could see the point; all these guys are going to war, and they’re all going to have to be the opposite of who they were before. Every bond with civilized behavior, every iota of individuality that might trump unit cohesion has to be snapped. Likewise, the DI beats the crap out of Pvt. Pyle, because Pvt. Pyle is the sort of person who can get everyone killed.

I liked it better than Platoon, and I still do. No slo-mo death scenes set to the Barber adagio.

When the movie was over, though, I realized I’d spend the next few months plowing through the Kubrick oeuvre, and at the end of every film I would feel as if I’d just spent two hours sucking a chrome popsicle.

Warm today, but today was the last warm day. Really! Really. I’ve been saying that for two and a half months, I know. But this is it. Snow tomorrow, they say. Which means rain. This afternoon the estimator showed up to evaluate the house for loan purposes, see what it’ll be worth after we’re done with this sickening addition. I say “sickening” because I get this roiling queasy feeling when I think about the 3d CAD designs I’ve been doing. Last night I had a sheet-thrashing dream about the program, trying to install arches in family room. And Idid it! In the dream! I woke up in the middle of the night anxious to turn on the program and see what I’d done . . . but of course I hadn’t done anything. Back to sleep.

It was a bad night - fitful, full of overplotted dreams. So I was bleary when the estimator came, and bleary when I went to work. Wrote a piece for the science page in 90 minutes, though: all hail Starbucks coffee, available in the Star-Tribune cafeteria. Home. Supper. Nap. Up: work. And now I return to labor - it's Monday, a Newhouse night, and no time for fun. Time for propaganda!

11-24-99 I got caught with a cheeseburger today. You’d think someone had caught me shooting heroin, or luring children into a pickup. Whoa! A Cheeseburger! People actually recoil in horror. I eat two cheeseburgers a month, and every time, same old grief. They wouldn’t say this if I was portly. No one ever critiques what portly people eat. Not to their face, anyway. When you’re behind someone who has two slices of pizza AND french fries AND a Dove bar - and I’ve seen such a combination - no one ever says jeez, how fat can you get?

It’s the same when I get a slice of pizza - people walk past the desk and cluck with mock concern. And then I spring to my feet and plunge a plastic knife into their neck. It snaps before it does damage, so there’s never any serious fall out. But every single day, nine out of ten, I have a chicken sandwich for lunch. Not a breaded chicken sandwich - just a thin sad grilled piece of chicken with onions. No buttered buns. No mayo. Some horseradish. And I have a banana and a box of raisins. Does anyone mention this?

Yes. Every day. The kitchen staff kids me about my unvarying menu. So I can either suffer their guff or get something forbidden, and suffer the guff of others.
It was just about the best cheeseburger I’ve had in a month. The only one, granted. But so good. Fresh fries, too. I had supper at work, which is rare - usually I’m up and out and gone by 5, but today I stayed late. I simply could not write a column. Damnedest thing. I wrote one yesterday, and wrote one last night; today I sat down at the office machinery, and nothing came. I did not want to do a typical Backfence column - for holidays I like to write a holiday essay. But everything I wrote was just hideously cynical. I liked it, but I think some people would have missed the point. This, however, was my mood; any attempt to write Heart-Warmingly would have failed. So I wrote a cynically heart-warming piece. By the time I was done it was seven, and since I’d mentioned last week I would stop by and visit Eric Webster on his fill-in gig for the long-lamented T. D. Mischke, I drove over to KSTP.

Practically got a body-cavity search from the security lady at the front desk. Hey! Lady! Take off the Lee Press-On Nails before you go there! Had to be escorted upstairs. Did the show, drove home in the snow, thinking: snow. I should be . . . moved, somehow. Snow! The season is here! The chirpy Menard’s commercials are on! Lauren Bacall is shilling for Arby’s once more! Mandatory Happiness Season is upon us!
But no. This morning when I came downstairs and saw snow outside for the first time, I was pleased. Life in this part of the world is like a reverse version of The Wizard of Oz - it starts with color, then abruptly changes to black and white. There’s great beauty and power in the sudden appearance of winter, wonder and majesty and mystery, etc. Not this morning. It just looked cold and wet. Jasper and I went for a walk. It felt cold and wet. Raw and sodden. The snow was short-timer snow, doomed to fade by noon. A good stern snowfall drapes the trees and smothers the earth, but this just looked like someone had spit half-chewed manna everywhere.
Well, aren’t we Mr. Cheerful tonight?

Actually, I am. I took a break to call the Dark Chef at the radio station, and we went off on an utterly filthy tangent concerning the Last Days of the Algonquin Round Table. Unrepeatable jokes were made, and when I hung up the phone my jaw ached from laughing. I’m not in a bad mood, just weary of words, weary of work, and unhappy with most of the stuff I’ve produced over thelast week.; just seems trivial and stupid. But this mood will eventually be replaced by delusions of genius, and I must remind myself to distrust those evaluations as well. Now I have to face the mail - my server has locked me out for 36 hours, and I’m sure it’s piled back up to the chimney. If there’s no Bleat for Thanksgiving - and it’s a 50-50 shot - have a fine, fine day. Do not forget the lefse. That is all.

11-26-99 Last night - the day before Thanksgiving - I had to run out for gravy fixings. We were lacking a few ingredients for the feast, and gravy being an indispensable element of the event, well, I made a late night run.

I mention that NO PARTICULAR REASON. Feel free to forget it.

The night before Thanksgiving I did this and that, and found myself slumped in front of the TV late at night watching a segment of “Casino Royale.” For some reason this movie has been playing every other night on cable, and I’ve been catching snatches here and there. It’s just horrible. It’s so fargin’ groovy it makes my teeth sing. It’s the original Austin Powers movie, but it doesn’t know it. The theme alone is a warning of imminent grooviness - Love-American-Style trumpets and harpsichord. (If anything sums up 1967, it’s swingin’ trumpets and harpsichord.) The film makes no sense whatsoever. Huge amounts of weed and blow must have been involved. A few people escape unscathed - David Niven, for example, but he could play the Swamp Thing and bring panache to the role. Peter Sellers merely grins. Woody Allen (?!) is just silly, and Orson Welles is bluff and fat; as usual in his post-Kane work, he is so immobile he just acts with his eyebrows. And to think John Huston directed! I have a vision of Noah Cross bent over the lens, croaking out directions on a Pop Art set, surrounded by Carnaby birds with flip-dos and thigh-high vinyl boots, everybody stoned silly, a few muttonchopped grips with square tinted-lens glasses running around -

The horror. The horror.

So I get up this morning, late, and help out with what needs to be done. Floor washing, dog walking, vacuuming, straightening, neatening, dusting. The family arrives at 12:30 and disgorges ten tons of child-distracting detritus; videos, toys, playpens, monitors, etc. Good to see everyone; we all mill around, talk, catch up, coo at the baby and chat with the four-year old, all the while trying to get the meal ready. At two it’s good to go - the bird is done, the potatoes mashed, the stuffing hot, the relish sliced and arranged with artistic skill, the candles lit, the -

CHEEP went the CO detector, a single note that signaled its death. The radio fell silent and the microwave sighed and the oven clicked off, the coffee pot ceased to gurgle. Damn. Went downstairs to flip the circuit breakers.

Nothing had tripped. Nothing was red. I clicked them all anyway. Nothing.

Nothing. No juice to the house. I informed my wife. She was not entirely pleased. But: everything was done and ready to go.

Except the extra gravy I had bought the night before.

We’d do with drippings and juice, then.

I called NSP, and got a recording. The mechanical voice identified my house number (Caller ID: a true boon) and said a repair crew would be alerted. Thank you. I hung up with no confidence that anything would happen. Went upstairs - carved the bird, shooed everyone to the table with the age-old cry: it’s getting cold! Grace - amen - let’s eat.

The moment that everyone leaned back, sated, happy and sedate - well, of course that’s when the power came back on. EEP! cried the CO detector, signaling its return to life. The radio came on, the TV roared with a football game in the next room. All was well.

After dinner everyone staggered here and there; the men made brief attempts to pretend they wanted to help clean, then wandered over to the football game. I went outside to plug in the Christmas lights, since I don’t hook them up until the bird’s consumed. I discovered that I had put up all the lights backwards, with the plugs in the wrong places, so I rewired everything. Unfortunately, I was under the influence of turkey-drugs, so it took a while for my tryptophan-addled brain to figure it all out. Chatted with the neighbors while I worked. Went inside for pie. Then a few hours ofconversation until everyone began the long drive back to Fargo. I felt like my folks years ago: what, you’re leaving so soon?

I subtracted the leaves from the table, helped Sara move everything to the kitchen, and laid down . . . bang. Out. Cold. Woke later, and thought: hmm. More turkey?

Why, yes. And we’ve plenty of gravy. Two quarts, in fact.

11-29-99 I am dead beat and punchy, and would like nothing more than to crawl to the sofa and lap up a tepid dish of television for an hour . . . but no. I have to play a game, which I have to review in two days. I have to upload the weekend’s work. I spent some free hours on Saturday and Sunday revising the embarrassing corners of the site; I’ve often shuddered at the bad navigational aspects and shallow content of two of the sites in the Institute, so I thought I’d spiff them up a little. I ended up rescanning and rewriting both sites, so anyone who’s given them a casual look might profit from another visit. Both have been overhauled enough to qualify as this week’s new additions.

So, go there. No Bleat today, other than this . . .

Okay, a little Bleat, then.

Maggie the Dog came over from next door. She’s never done this before. The fence between our house and the neighbor’s yard has been down for 6 months, but Maggie just figured it out today. Maggie’s a big shaggy dog with a fearsome bark, but no particular interest in other dogs. Especially Jasper. She’s very sweet and kind, but somewhat dim. So I was surprised to see her in the backyard. I let her into the porch and gave her a jerky strip, but she expected no less of me; she knows I’m always good for a pat and a scratch. When I came home in the summer and fall, and it was still light out - people were still out, parading the kids, conversing with neighbors - Maggie always trotted over for a hug and a pat. She’s a good quiet dog in a two-baby household, and that means she doesn’t get all the attention she might enjoy. It’s not that she’s deprived; her needs are small. But I was always good for the extra scratch every dog needs.

When I gave Maggie the piece of Jerky, I had to give one to Jasper as well; they both stood still, frantically chewing, until both were done - quick check to see if the other had dropped anything? No? On to the next order of business. Which, according to Jasper, was play. It’s always play. He grabbed a stick and pranced into the yard, then bowed to invite some combat. Maggie just leaned up against my leg. Jasper barked: no! Mine! My Alpha! He did everything he could to get my attention.

I bent down to Maggie to say something, and she just put out a paw: hello. Here you are.

Maggie, go home, I said. She turned and lumbered through the bushes that form the border between our house and the neighbor’s.

The neighbors are moving away in a month. I will miss Maggie. I will shake hands with the neighbor guy, give the neighbor lady a nice hug, pat the kids on the head . . . at least I can give the dog a big embrace and get a good lick. The gesture that means the least to the recipient will mean the most to the giver.

I wish they weren’t moving.

Anyway - here's some stuff for your Monday amusement~

11-30-99 Off to Robbinsdale tonight to meet with the remodelers. It was nice to see their shop, since for all I know we could have been dealing with two con artists for the last few months. It would be a tidy scam: show up, design a house plan in some consumer-level 3D programs, take a check for 25 percent of the amount, and vanish. But no, it’s a substantial operation. And I am learning exactly how substantial the cost is going to be. I keep reining in the flights of fancy: No! to the Thermidor cooktop. No! to the SubZero fridge.

“I’d like to have a Thermidor cooktop with a motorized hood,” I said. “But I don’t think anyone will come over for dinner, marvel at the meal we’ve served and asked if it came from a Thermidor. I’d like a SubZero freezer, but I don’t believe it will make my beer any colder than a GE that blurts ice-cubes from a hole in the door. I’d like a full surround sound audio system for my TV, and I intend to have one. If you could hang the rear speakers here, and here, I’d be happy.”

To their credit, they got it, and had a little laugh. But I made my point - I do not want the brand names of my kitchen to Make A Statement. Anyone who is impressed by such a thing is no one I want to impress. Then we went through the plans for the porch, and haggled over door placement. I realized that there will be 15 feet between the new porch and the new garage.

Fifteen feet. I’m building an addition so I can sit in the back porch and look directly at a stucco wall. I moved from DC to have my own house, my own land, my own plot, and I’m about to sink a billion dollars into a house that will leave me with 15 feet of back yard?


I got the plans on disc, and they are compatible with the program I have. (Mainly because it’s the SAME DAMN PROGRAM.) I will futz with it for a few days and see what I can do. I have some ideas. That’s the problem: I have some ideas.

This just isn’t right. There’s just something wrong with the plans. I can feel it; I know it; I smell it, and at the same time I know we’re two tweaks away from perfection.

Cold day.
No: not cold, just chilly. Cold is yet to come. Walked Jasper through the woods tonight and shivered aplenty, but I had neither hat nor mittens. Of course, I rarely have either. In the deepest winter I’m always hatless, and generally without mittens. Save those for the times when it’s 10 below. Wrote a review at work, then left. Tomorrow I expect to open my mailbox and get hammered for my Sunday column, which slammed “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I saw it last Thursday, and was horrified - my God, what a dreadful, garish movie. Cheap, riddled with continuity errors, oozing off-handed contempt for its audience. Compare it with the movie we saw Friday, “Babe: Pig in the City.” I loved that movie - could have done without the slapsticky ending, but it really was a brilliant piece of work in spots. And I hate monkeys in movies: hate them. This, however, was dark and frightening and rich, and best of all they had the sense not to give Mickey Rooney any speaking lines. I remember reading all these reviews of the movie, slamming it for corrupting the Gentle Purity of the original, making it twisted and disturbing. I can’t agree. There were just too many moments of simple purity - a vision of a dog’s afterlife, a shot of a monkey contemplating his fishbowl. And it had a bull terrier that spoke like Sheldon Leonard quoting Runyon, something that flew over the heads of every single kid in the audience. For that matter, the poodle was Blanche DuBois. Et cetera. I was completelycharmed. Wonka? Feh.

Then Sunday, which I spent in the basement emptying and chopping boxes, Preparing for the Great Disruption. That night we watched the X-Files, and were treated to a nice kiss at the end of the Millennial zombified huggermugger. What more can you want in a weekend? I’m completely satisfied.

Except that I want 25 feet between porch and garage. No less. No less.