I was walking Jasper through the creek tonight - deep black dark, floes of snow adrift on the floor of the forest, planes gliding overhead through the fog with their lights looking like luminous spirits in migratory formation. Lovely. Listened to Whitley Streiber, that sonorous, credulous hack who sits in for Art Bell, talking to a “renowned” psychic. They were discussing how there’d just been so much misplaced emphasis on the year 2000. Why, even Nostradamus himself had given in to the millennial temptation. “The real changes,” said the psychic, “are going to happen in the next 30 years.”

And so it begins allll over again. The world did not end, but, well, we didn’t say it would, exactly. No, the great changes are beginning - have already begun! - and the future will unfold thusly. Trust me. Mark my words.

Sorry. Nostradamus, Cayce, and all the other frauds and charlatans who’ve caressed a crystal ball have proved only that psychics peddle bunkum, but that won’t stop people from giving their credit card number to the 900 lines. In fact, Art Bell and Streiber have already ginned up a new horror, worse than Y2K: the coming weather realignment. Naturally, they have a book about the subject. Available from Amazon.

I liked it better when Art talked about Roswell. Of course, we were supposed to learn all about the aliens by 2000, too. I learned nothing on New Year’s Eve. No - I take that back. I learned a lot. I learned that all things considering, it’s a fine time on the planet. There was something, well, uplifting about watching the new year sweep over the planet, and watching cities erupt in happiness whether or not they actually celebrated the Western calendar. Perhaps the Y2K bug - and the fear of the same - united us all, and the entire celebration was one big drunken WHEW. We spent it at home by the fire - had a fabulous dinner of cornish game hen, stuffing, potatoes, then opened the Christmas presents that had been waiting since we went to Arizona. Couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to the nineties.

Watched a few movies. Rented, for reasons I yet cannot fathom, “The Deep Blue.” Repeat after me in an Eastern European accent: Eet Ees KREP! Krep from start to finish. If I’d known it was a Renny Harlin film, I would have stayed away. People sure did git chomped up somethin’ bad, awright, but it confirmed my longstanding rule: movies that take place in the sea stink unless they take place on a boat. Waterworld: not enough boat. Titanic: Boat. Das Boot: ja. Leviathan: stinks. Abyss: almost, but all things considered, no. Lifeboat: yes. Deep Core Six, or whatever the hell that movie was - no boat. Stinks. People sloshing around in water just isn’t that interesting, or frightening. This movie stunk from stem to stern, mostly because every single character was Grim, or Sarcastic, or Bitchy, but mostly Grim. Not a smile in the bunch. Who cares about any of them? Let them get bisected by atavistic dentition; I couldn’t care less.

Also saw Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. I waited for the hype to crest and recede, and I expected a minor little humorous movie. I enjoyed it, but failed to laugh. Just didn’t do it for me, although in retrospect I liked a lot about it; Myer’s Dr. Evil character was a delightful bit of work, mostly because he’s so inconsistent; Myers obviously improvised the character as they shot the film, and he did so without really thinking whether the lines fit the character. That’s what makes it so endearing. The rest of the movie suffered from extreme slack - all the elements were there, the ideas were there, but it’s as if every scene was exactly 72% as funny as it could have been. But who am I to judge? I laughed out loud once, and that was during a scene featuring Tom Arnold.
Fine music - the credits read George S. Clinton, and I thought: Funkadelic George Clinton? If so, that was one of the better John Barry imitations I’ve heard.

The next day I listened to the director’s commentary track while doing some household chores. At one point the director was praising Robert Wagner - he played Robert Wagner in the movie - and noted “he has the most amazing sense of prop placement.” That’s when I decided that the director’s commentary could be safely skipped without lessening my knowledge of film history.

Let me tell you a story about a man named sshh! I’ll laugh at that for about ten years. It’s just funny.

A fine weekend; I worked Friday, so I won’t be going in Monday. I have to remind myself to take holidays. I will spend tomorrow working on the basement, taking down the tree and writing the computer column for next Saturday. I’m sure I’m missing something; I’m sure there’s some detail from the weekend that reminds me what an exciting time it was, what a thrilling world I inhabit . . .

Right! Sorry. Forget. Shoveled the walk right down to the concrete this weekend. Didn’t seem doing that on midnight in New Zealand.


Monday night, an egg-timer Bleat. Twelve minutes, then it’s back to work on the column. Go:

Took down the tree today. It went without a struggle. Some trees fight their fate; others meekly submit. The past few years we’ve bought body bags, plastic sheaths that allow you to remove the trees without getting needles everywhere. Nice idea, but it never works; there will always be needles everywhere. There will always be needles in places where there was never a tree. They hide, they migrate, they pop up in July to pierce an unshod foot. This year I had no bag, so I just manhandled the thing out the door. As I took it through the first door to the back hallway, it grabbed onto the frame and wept a bushel of needles, but that was it. The tree accepted its fate and went quietly. Propped it in the alley and thanked it. Well, it’s the least you can do.

The alley is full of trees now, all prone, boughs empty, ornaments stripped, cast out without regard for their previous role as guest of honor. Walking down the alley, looking at the heaps of dead firs, it seems a little callous. Makes me understand my dad’s decision to just have a standard fake tree, pre-decorated, which he brings up and takes downstairs as the season requires. But that means you don’t have the pleasure of adorning the tree, or the season-ending finality of returning the ornaments to their boxes. The pressure’s off at this point. Artifice and care are gone. Box it up and get on with January: things to do.

At the end of the job, the living room looks bare. Empty. It will take a few days for the room to look right again, but it will, and that sight - the undecorated, unadorned, ordinary living room - points straight to spring. Already the days are longer; already the sun seems to linger just a few seconds more each night.

But. But this isn’t any sort of winter, really. Oh, it’s cold; quite cold tonight. It lacks snow, though; heaps, mounds, mountains. We need a blizzard. We need to have the world shut down andforced to sleep by the smothering hand of snow, silent, incessant. Have to have that; have to earn our spring.

Stayed home today and did the tree, then rearranged boxes in the basement. That took most of the day. Went to the grocery store for the wallet-busting purchase of one onion and some orange juice; ran into a co-worker who also didn’t go to work today. (He’d workedMonday, too.) We agreed we both had a good job. Went home, made a magnificent yet unsurprising dinner from ground-up turkey bodies, then indulged myself with a little mid-evening TV. Watched part of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which I hadn’t seen since it came out. At the time, it seemed . . . loud. Really, really loud. Dolby loud. THX loud, as if it was trying to head off any critical thought and bludgeon it into submission. With the volume turned down, it’s much better than I remember. For one thing, it’s not a children’s movie; people drink, smoke, and say “son of a bitch.” I approve. The conclusion awaits me after I finish the column, which I must do now; twelve minutes are UP. Ding.


Meeting the boss for lunch tomorrow. Not just the boss, but the Boss boss. Corporate life is like a video game; eventually, there’s always a boss level. But there are no cheat codes. It would be nice if I could drop down a console and type in GIVE_RAISE during lunch, but that’s not an option.

I’m reading, for review purposes, “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.” (Someday I want to write a book called “Subtitle Overkill: the Pointless Elongation of Book Titles and the Difficulty of Remembering All the Words.”) I face the same conundrum every time I grapple with the New Urbanist model - I agree with every argument about the aesthetics of suburban development; I deplore the barren landscape of post-war suburban America, and I completely, utterly distrust anyone else who agrees with me.

This book regards suburbia as the equivalent of a Chemlawn gulag, a vapid archipelago into which Americans have mutely filed like sheep to the abbatoir. The authors hold up Alexandria, Virginia as a model for urban living - everything’s pedestrian-accessible, human-scaled, with mixed-use blocks and definable urban centers. All true. But I remember the apartment we looked at in Alexandria. It was twice the size of the room in which I now sit. And that included the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room, the bedroom, and a back porch. The ceilings were low, the stairs as narrow as a gnat’s urethra. I recall a friend’s apartment - the bedroom had room for the bed. That was it. A bed. Two people could not live in that place - well, they could, but only if no one wore nappy fabrics, because you’d get rugburn from rubbing against each other all the time. Now, if you want that - and it had its charm, once you stepped outside - then fine. It’s yours. But not everyone wants that. And here’s the dilemma: if the suburbs are such a horror, and inner-city life a clearly superior option, why do people live in the burbs?

I was thinking of this as I watched the end of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” last night; at the end, the movie turns into an anti-sprawl tract, of all things. In the curious mythology of our freedom-encumbered age, the post-war vision of freeways and big back yards has curdled into a dark plot imposed on people, not an option freely chosen. It all goes back to the streetcars, of course; once the shadowy forces of evil did away with loveable old Thomas the Tank Engine and poked us into autos , it’s been all downhill, Toontown traded for Toys ‘R Us. (Sniff.)

“The problem with suburbia,” says this book, “is that it is not functional: it does not serve society or preserve the environment.”

Hmm. Well, leave aside the environmental issue. Serve society? It serves the people who make up society, or they wouldn’t live there. People make rational decisions: I will give up X amount of hours in travel time to live in a place where I have a big yard, easy access to a wide variety of goods and services, and personal safety. As for me, I live in the city because I prefer to live around history, around scenic beauty, and because I am comfortable with this level of density. DC had history and scenic beauty, but it was too fargin’ dense for me; I left. Do I judge those who stay, who like it? No. Do I regard that particular model, with tall buildings full of people who don’t know each other, as “good for society?” Not necessarily. It all depends.

But I’m not going to pass laws to prohibit people from living in apartment buildings. Nor would I object to a municipality changing its zoning codes to prohibit large-lot developments, if that’s what the citizens of that town desire. Likewise, let them ban dense developments. I don’t care. I have no right to impose my urban standards on someone else - even though I'm generally right. As with all wedge issues: better to persuade through example.

The book frowns on gated communities, of course, because they’re exclusionary. Conversely, they praise urban developments with dense housing - which include, I presume, apartment buildings with doormen and security systems. Driving past a guard booth or getting buzzed up via intercom - what’s the difference? “The unity of society is threatened not by the use of gates, but by the uniformity and exclusivity of the people behind them.” Oh, blow it out your ass. Doctors will never live next to janitors. The streets of New York are full of people from all walks, races, creeds, colors; they are the antithesis of a gated sprawling suburban development. Does this mean that doctors invite their housekeepers to their parties? Or that racist morons cannot be forged in a big city? “A child growing up in such a homogeneous environment is less likely to develop a sense of empathy for people from other walks of life, and is ill prepared to live in a diverse society.” Boolsheet! If this is the case, then we’d best forcibly integrate North Dakota, right now. And Cabrini Green, as long as we’re at it. Make them more like Brooklyn. Why, everyone who was ever raised in Brooklyn is perfectly prepared to live in a diverse society; naught but harmony reigns in the boroughs.

This sort of fatuous moralizing can be found at the heart of most anti-suburban tracts, and it’s why I distrust the general idea. There are millions of Americans living happy lives in affluent comfort,never troubled by the aroma of cabbage wafting in from a neighbor’s window, never knowing the communal experience of being awakened at 4 AM by a siren and knowing that everyone else in the building is up as well, and this fact just galls some people. All that space . . . all that room . . . all those things! It just can’t be right.

In the authors’ “Eight Steps of Regional Planning,” the first step is: “Admit that growth will occur.”

Yes, friends, bite down and swallow hard: growth will occur. Admit it. In the future we can institute a one-child policy, but not yet. Think I’m exaggerating? I just discovered the title of chapter 11 in this book: “What is to be done.” Surely they know who made that phrase famous. Surely they know the author of that particular tract. You don't sling that phrase around unless you're confident the audience will appreciate the reference.

Let me count to ten, upload, and go watch a stupid movie.

01/06Snow today; snow. Lots of snow. Everyone’s happy. We need it, the way penitent monks need the lash of the whip on their backs; spring means nothing without snow, and winter denuded is just bleak, brown and dead. I was heartened to see true brave Minnesotans walking around downtown without hats, gloves, or even coats, wearing no more than office clothes and wry wince. A good long snowfall makes the world feel close and cozy; you feel safe when you look out the window and see snow. Silent, peaceable, lovely.

I still have the Christmas lights up. The neighbors across the street have their lights up too. Perhaps they’re waiting for me to go first. I’m waiting for them. Same as last year. Usually we just turn them off in February.

Worked on the Dorcus site tonight; that’s the next addition to the Institute of Official Cheer. It’s devoted to men’s fashions of the 60s and 70s. True horrors. I’ll get it done this weekend and slap it up Monday - no more endless futzing. I have so many site additions that are 93% complete, and it’s driving me nuts. This isn’t a term project. This isn’t a book, this isn’t my career. Lower standards ought to apply. But they don’t. Of all the places I have to be a perfectionist, it’s this site; could my priorities be any more askew?

Tonight’s movie: Metropolis, which I got on DVD for mere pennies. I hope it’s a good transfer; also hope it has a good musical score. There was a “rock” soundtrack done a few years ago - I didn’t see it, but I can state with confidence that it was utter KREP. Of course, if the soundtrack consists of hokey organ emoting, that’s no better. I first saw Metropolis at a film festival in Fargo in 75; it made a deep impression, and was one of the reasons I became fascinated with the 20s at an early age.

Speaking of movie music: as part of my grim duty to watch as many bad recent films as possible, and thus be conversant in the general trends of popular culture, I watched the second Austin Powers movie last night. As noted in a previous Bleat, I laughed five times during the original, but enjoyed it more in retrospect. One of those curious movies where you like the film more if you never see it again. The sequel was a spiritless, desultory affair - a poorly edited, flatly directed retread. Just to kill some time tonight, I listened to some of the commentary track while doing housework, and was struck by something - Meyers talks about how much he loves and studies the old spy movies, but makes no reference to the music. Perhaps he did later; I haven’t the time or patience to find out. But during the opening scenes of the second movie, when the giant Big Boy spaceship looms over the space shuttle, the soundtrack does a perfect parody of the soundtrack from “You Only Live Twice,” when Blofeld’s spacecraft eats the US capsule. Same instrumentation, same tempo, etc. (The soundtrack’s composer even throws in a trademark of John Barry Bond scores - the trumpets that overshoot their mark by a third, but manage not to make it sound like a frack.)

Did anyone mention this in the reviews? Of course not. Did anyone involved with the movie ever notice? Possibly not. It’s yer basic pearls-before-swine situation. You can imagine the composer, invited to the opening night party, hearing Myers tell an E! reporter how much he studied the old films, and the composer thinks: if you know so much, how could you not appreciate the humor in my score?

Humorous music is difficult, anyway; parody amuses, but just reminds you that someone came up with the idea first. Music that is supposed to be humorous is usually dreadful - wah-wah wackytrumpets, xylophone glissandos, boinnnnng sound effects, fat-belly timpanis, etc. It ends up being the equivalent of 80 talented chefs farting in counterpoint - you’d rather they cooked a serious meal. But there is such a thing as humorous music, PDQ Bach being the perfect example. His music requires a certain intellectual aptitude to get the jokes. Which is why he’s not famous in the mass-culture sense, I guess.

Enough - back to the Dorcus line. It takes a certain mood to write these pages, and as long as I’m in that mood I’d best exploit it. Tomorrow: more snow. And this is good.


The contractors finally gave us the price. For the last two months we’ve been building the dream house, tweaking the plans, choosing materials, contemplating a few little indulgences, adding necessary touches - small windows in the bookcases! But of course. Frank Lloyd Wright-styled windows in the master bedroom? As you wish. A five-head shower with glass blocks? Make it so. In the back of my mind was a target price, the hideous sum the designers had first floated when we began this process. Tonight we got the estimated price.

It was one-third more than originally estimated.

To put this in perspective: the amount of money that “one third” constitutes is one third of the amount I paid for the house itself. The total price of the addition is much more than the house cost. Much more. And the total price does not include:

A new heating plant.
Frank Lloyd Wright-styled windows.
Kitchen appliances.

And then of course there are incidentals, such as:


In short: I would not only have the most expensive house on the block, I would have the most unresellable house on the block. Anyone who could afford to buy it would not buy it, because they could get twice the house elsewhere.

The deal was dead. Stone dead. Cold dead. Now what? Well, this had the effect of making us INSTANTLY dissatisfied with the house we now own. It suddenly felt shabby and small. We must move. But where? We cannot bear to leave this neighborhood, or for that matter this street . . . and any house we bought around here would probably have the same deficiencies, and wouldn’t have the porch, or a family room, or would require ruinously expensive upgrades . . . so we’re stuck. We could move to the suburbs and have everything right away, and for less money - but that’s not an option. What was our warm cozy beloved home is now a HELLISH TRAP, and this change in attitude was accomplished without anything happening. Options were discussed, features and benefits dangled before our eyes, and the mere exposure to the possibilities poisoned what had been perfectly acceptable just minutes before.

The contractor knew this was going to crater; I could see it on his face. And he could see it on mine.

So. What now? Incremental rehab with an eye to anything that might pop up in the neighborhood? Makes no sense to me; can’t see spending the long green to get the kitchen just right, when our definition of “just right” might be a prospective buyer’s idea of personal hell. I say we just keep the place clean and be ready to bolt.

I hate this; I really do. I have always loved this house, and now it annoys me. At some point you make a decision to move, and when that switch is thrown nothing is ever the same again. I had not expected to reach that point with this shack; when I planted the trees and bushes and shrubs out front, toiling the summer sun, I was putting down roots in my last best house. And now this. Back to my least favorite state, Flux. Even if nothing happens, and we stay, wewill always remember the time when we almost left. It’s like a single act of infidelity. You can accept, forgive, move on, but never forget, and whatever is sundered is never fully healed.

Great sadness.

On the other hand, I won’t have to put up the trim in the basement. Who’d notice? Who’d care? Hey! This is great! The basement’s DONE!

See, it’s all how you look at things.