Geek culture is so much more interesting than fashion culture. If only the people in the former were as pretty as the people in the latter. But if they were prettier, they wouldn’t be geeks, I suppose. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course - but you’ll never mistake a science fiction convention for a Fairchild publication party. Lack of instant beauty makes people burrow inside for other attributes. Who digs for gold on a white-sand beach? No one.

So which do I wish my daughter to be? Geek or fashionista, Brainiac or beauty queen? Both. Neither. If she has her mother’s ability to look smashing without a jot of makeup and my ability to improvise intellectually - i.e., talk with confidence about things you know nothing about by combining elements from a well-stuffed chest of half-truths, anecdotes and facts too obscure to be challenged - then she’ll be fine.

I was thinking about this tonight for two reasons:

1. This week’s issue of New York magazine validates my decision not to resubscribe - it’s another fashion issue, full of ridiculous clothes no one will ever wear, worn by pouty emaciated children. It’s saturated in the 70s - not just the clothes, but the style of photography, too. Having lived through it once I am dismayed to see it again; this has to be the fifth 70s revival I’ve endured. And NOT ONE 80s revival. They owe me. They owe all of us. Come on! Stubbled chins & pastel jackets! Polo collars UP, everyone, and THAT’S AN ORDER.

It has a little story in the shopping section that sums up everything I hate about trend-oriented journalism. It has a cliche headline that exists for no other reason than it’s a cliche: “Pretty in Pink.” It has a BS lead: “Gerald Nixon admits he suffers from an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder - collecting vintage drinking glasses.” Really? Gerald Nixon needs to get out of New York more often. And then, more BS: “It all began when he was a kid in Oklahoma and his mom would drag him to Dairy Queen every night just so she could get a full set of Pepsi glasses.”

It has all the makings of a New York Fashionista rags-t’-riches-dahling story, right down to the gawdawful upbringing. (Oklahoma, can you believe someone as talented and DIFFERENT as me was born in Oklahoma?) But it has one clanging false note - the idea that a child needs to be dragged to Dairy Queen.

Tasty cold ice cream, again? Awww, Mom.

We go on: “But Mr. Nixon’s neurosis is our gain - a fabulous, pink-ceilinged, confetti-tiled store called Mr. Pink.”


The magazine also contains another piece of genuflection towards the 60s, the Most Important Decade in Human Civilization; it’s a review of the biopic on Abbie Hoffman. I interviewed him once in the late 80s, when he was touring for the tiresomely named “Steal This Urine Sample.” He was a jerk, and he smelled. I wish I could remember more about the interview - for that matter, I wish I could remember more about other people I’ve interviewed. Sometimes when I sit down and draw up a list, I’m amazed at the people I’ve spent an hour talking to. The Mayflower Madam, Dick Clark, Abbie Hoffman, Jessica Hahn - not that she was difficult to get as a radio guest - Sen. Paul Simon, Bill Griffith, Vladimir Posner - and oh, that was fun; we sat and had a big argument about Communism over Johnny Walkers. I could go on. It’s an interesting list, and also a good way of reminding one’s self of one’s place in the food chain: while I remember talking to all these people, I guarantee none of them remember talking to me.

Where was I? Right: the fleeting nature of fame, fashion and beauty. What counts is happiness, in substantial unstinting quantities.

She was one month old yesterday. Since she was one month early, this means she was, for a brief time, Zero. So far she has utterly failed to earn her keep. Contributions to household finances: nil. Number of chores performed: none. On the contrary. Catch phrases invented, bon mots dropped, neologisms coined: nada, niente, nulla.

Curious how none of this matters.

We had an interesting night. She slept. For hours. Since I was expecting her to wake up and drop into WA! mode at any time, I was awake for the usual duration. The evening movie: “Sid and Nancy,” which I hadn’t seen since it was in the theaters. I was astonished to find Courtney Love in the film as Nancy’s girlfriend - for heaven’s sake, talk about NOT GETTING THE POINT. Hmm, I’ve just been in a movie about a damaged woman who ends up sharing a hideous all-consuming drug addiction with a rock star, and they both end up dead. Sounds great! That’s for me! I wanted to point Gnat at the TV: do not do this. Scrawny pimple-assed Brits who spit at the Queen are not necessarily good life partners. Watch and learn. But she was asleep, which complicated matters. The longer she slept, the longer I would have to be awake, waiting for her to wake. Three AM passed. Movie ended. Three thirty AM: time for the Jetsons. A correspondent had recently praised the Jetsons theme for its difficulty, and I gave it a listen: my God, it’s virtually untranscribable. I’ve listened to it all my life, and made fun of it all my life: his boy Elroy ! Jane, his wife! but it’s quite a nifty piece of music.

Four o’clock. I tried to feed her. She wouldn’t wake. I could take no more. I put her down.


After this I lost consciousness; when I came to I was sleeping on the sofa, and the doorbell was buzzing. Guests! I’d had six hours of thin pathetic sleep; I had a cushion crease on my face.

So began another day of parenthood. Went to work; did the column, somehow; came home, picked up Gnat, who sort of smiled, stuck her hand in my shirt, grabbed a fistful of chest hair, pulled it, then threw up on me. This is the wonderful thing about parenthood: if anyone else threw up on me, I’d be pissed. But when she does it, I don’t care at all.

Napped, if you can call it that - had many lurid dreams, including one amusing sequence in which a Korean animator committed ritual suicide for clumsy work. I woke briefly, thought whadafug? and went back to sleep. Sara went for a walk, leaving me with Baby Gnat, who promptly went through the entire repertoire - the burps, rupes, blurts and tinkles, culminating in loud lusty cries of hunger. Never does a man feel more inadequate than when his child is banging its head against his pectorals in frustration. So I cooked up a bottle of Mother’s Vintage, and we watched “Dexter’s Laboratory.” Or rather I did.

She fell asleep, and I went upstairs to finish some work. Which leaves us here. Tomorrow: oy. A column and an Almanac appearance. Which means I have to write a column and an Almanac monologue.


Yikes: back to work.


Gnat on my chest, remote in one hand, dog tail in the other; another evening on the sofa, sponging up pop culture old and new. I had intended to work for a while at the machinery last night, but Sara collapsed around the time Natalie began her early morning arias. She’s feeding at night all the time now. Sleeps in the day, eats now and then, but cluster feeds at night. My Little Vampire. Last night I had a bottle of Mom Sauce all defrosted and ready to go at the first peep, so I was able to settle in to my chair for the night watch and not fear that she’d wake Sara with a cry. Put my wife in a bathysphere, pump in Kid Rock, drop the craft to the bottom of the ocean, put Gnat in a prop plane and send her up to 20,000 feet, and one mere peep from baby would wake my wife. My goal is to keep Nat silent. It’s horrible to hear her cry; her world is just . . . horrible at that moment - all faith broken, all gods shattered, all comfort fled and forgotten. There will NEVER be food again; this gas shall NEVER pass; this diaper will NEVER be dry; this coldness during changing will NEVER be replaced with the warmth of a blanket; this dog will NEVER stop chewing my leg, etc. (Oh, just kidding.)

Last night she woke - looked at me, frowned that priceless baby frown of professional concern; then she grabbed a handful of chest hair in her pink little talons, yanked hard and started banging her head on my chest. Luckily, having seen “Gattaca” the other night, I’d rigged up a series of tubes and pounces that enable me to Fool the Baby and express milk on the spot.

Well, no. I had the bottle ready to roll. In it went, and I returned to watching what seemed like the third Kevin Bacon movie of the last few weeks. This one was “Stir of Echoes” - it’s “Sixth Sense” meets “Footloose!” Actually, it’s “Sixth Sense” in fourth gear. As creepy as SS, and much scarier. As scary movies go, it’s better; as Cinema goes, it was more mass-market pop, but what’s wrong with that? After that, I encountered Scooby Doo, if only to reacquaint myself with the full horror. It was one of those “& Friends” episodes that featured washed-up actors voicing poorly animated versions of themselves - in this case, Don Adams in a brown leisure suit, crawling around with his body ass up in the air. “Let us not tarry here,” I said aloud, and changed channels.

And found . . . the telethon. I used to watch the MDA telethon when I was a kid - it seemed, like the Johnny Carson show, the height of adult sophistication. The very idea of a TV show that was going on when you went to bed and was still going on when you woke up was extraordinary; just the thought that there was live programming taking place at 3 in the morning seemed exotic. Well. Last night I encountered something I surely saw in my early junior-high days: a 1973 appearance by Robert Goulet. He was wearing a shirt whose collar extended from his earlobes to his armpits. The quantity of smarm he exuded was astonishing, and made one wonder: if you scraped off the smarm from his skin and spread it on reasonable, sincere people, would they start snapping their fingers and winking at no one in particular? The entire act was ghastly - Jerry Lewis, hopped up on goofballs and sucking down Pall Mall straights, did his spastic schtick with the dancing girls while Bobby G., moist as the inside of a gangster’s pinky ring, squinted at the cue cards and flubbed the lyrics. The band looked like it was composed entirely of the Questionable Prostate Demographic, and when they kicked into “What the World Needs Now” to celebrate another million pledged, it was just rote joyless hackwork.

1973. It might well have been the low point of Western Civ.

2000: tuned in the Telethon this morning. Jerry was accepting a check from someone. He did the same faces and voices he’d done 27 years before. He asked for Ed McMahon to say something about the tote board. The band played “What the World Needs Now” with even less enthusiasm.

“We’re doing well,” Ed said, “but we have work to do.”

In 1973, I would have been worried. Will they break the previous year’s record? Huh? This year I knew: of course they would. It’s rigged. They always break the record. And Jerry always cries at the end, too. I’ll be sad when he’s not around, when the telethon stars some prefab android. He may be the last link to the old Borscht Belt comedians, the old Vegas, the old nightclubs and stage shows, the real swank days of lounge culture. Did it seem as empty and insincere then as it does today? Only if you were sober, probably. It’s all quite entertaining if you’re ten, or you’re drunk.


It’s not fall, but summer fades, summer reclines, summer grows indistinct and distracted. I was walking in the woods tonight when the second hour of the Mischke Broadcast came on - as a good & faithful KSTP lifer, I can tell the time by the theme music at the top of the hour - and I remembered not two months ago, walking Jasper along the creek at 9 PM, with the sun still strong in the sky. Tonight: absolute black. The creek made faces at the moon. Crickets. There was a moment when I could not see anything - not the walk, not the sky, not the creek, not the woods. But I knew the way. I kept walking. This dark is familiar dark, and I don’t fear this place at all, be it nine, or ten, or twelve or two.

Home to take out boxes for the garbage. And yea, there are many boxes. The box for the new stroller. The box for the Baby Bouncing Soothing Speak ‘n’ Spell ‘n’ Shriek ‘n’ Crap-in-fear Portable Bassinet. The box for Gnat’s new mirror, the box for Gnat’s new magazine & book rack. No, she can’t focus, but we have a rack for her books.

I can’t wait to read to her, or at least make up more stories. I still remember the story of the Little Girl Who Hiccuped Her Head Off, which has a certain Tim Burton charm to it. I made it up on the spot in the preemie ward, when it seemed as if she would never thrive and never come home. It has a bad cat and a good, if slightly addled, dog. Sara said it would give Gnat nightmares.

I intend on raising her so that it doesn’t. Also, if I raise her to enjoy the genially macabre, I can inoculate her against going Goth. She’ll rebel by becoming a cheerleader, then an IMF or World Bank administrator.

Putting the finishing touches on the Gateway Reconstruction Project, my humble attempt to bring back a forty-block chunk of downtown that was criminally destroyed in the late 50s & early 60s. I’d finished the site during a bout of intestinal flu a few months ago (too sick to go to work, but not too sick to resize graphics!) but I recently discovered a font that required I retweak everything. It’s a good font, and while the pages would do fine without it, this one is particularly poignant, since it’s based on - get this - one of the objects visible from the Gateway district. It’s a creation of master alphabetician Chank Diesel.

I called him up the other day to buy some fonts, and was surprised, as usual, to find that he answers his own phone. If you regard fonticians as the lowest form of artists, right above the fellows who paint grocery store window signs, then I suppose this sounds silly - why wouldn’t he answer his own phone? - but I hold typestylers in absolute awe. They make the tendons and connective tissue of the commercial culture; they can sum up a decade in the shape of a single letter. It’s the one craft, the one discipline, I know I’ll never attempt.

Recent movies in All-Nite Baby Placation Theatre:

The Arrival, with a doughy Charlie Sheen. Whoremonger and liquored-up weed fiend though he may be, I’ve always liked old Charlie. He was fine here, too. Ron Silver has aged in a peculiar fashion, and resembles an unnerved turtle. Nice special effects. It had small goals, small pretenses, and did everything efficiently. The other side of the disc had the sequel, which was pure KREP of the highest order - the credits looked like they were done on a 486 PC. The opening scene contained our hero heading off to his cubicle farm, and you know what? He was six minutes late for work! Because he’s a rebel! I could tell it was a cheap stupid stinker of a movie, and fled to cable.

Watched a documentary on Leni Reisenthal. Ah, yes: the Leni problem. Fabulous director. What an eye; what skill, what talent. What a poor choice of producers, shall we say. Nicely ambiguous documentary, too - didn’t let her off the hook for a second, didn’t screw horns on her skull, let her hang herself when she started making a noose, and ended with a long account of her Nubian fixation. Interesting for the history, and much more for the scenes from Olympiad.

Supernova: not hardly as bad as advertised. Not great - Angela Bassett was just boringly angry, everyone else was too blue and too buff, but I had expected a stinker of the Event Horizon variety, and was surprised that it wasn’t THAT bad. What really made the rental worth while was the DVD - the deleted scenes hinted at a movie that was far smarter and more interesting than the one released. I’d read all the stories about the director quitting, the battles with the studio, etc. - now I see what they were fighting about.

Gattaca: Almost as blue as Supernova. Sad, languorous film; proof that you can achieve sci-fi just with clever set design. Not the Cautionary Masterpiece some say, but a thoughtful movie. Uma Thurman looks peculiar, though. In some alternate reality where everyone is incredibly perfect, I think she will end up as their Shelley Duvall.

Ah - now it’s time to go downstairs for the night shift, for feeding and fussing and bonding time with dot Gnat. Could I be happier? Possible. Hardly likely.


Can you unscramble these tasty words?


Backstory: the first week of Gnat’s life she stayed at the hospital under observation. Sara stayed over a couple of nights for feeding; she got no sleep, and I got not much more. One afternoon in the breakroom I got some milk from the fridge - a little pink pint carton with the food-unscramble game printed on the back.

We were so blitheringly exhausted that it took us about ten minutes to figure them out. Oh, we breezed through six of them, but GRUSA really hung us up. The more I looked at the words, the more they became the actual names themselves, in some strange Slavic tongue spoken only by exhausted new parents. Has your limki let down yet?

Vlegetbesa sounds like a perfectly good word for vegetables; Truifs and Ecir sound French, but GRUSA has that Slavic crudity some mistake for bluntness. Or vice versa. Anyway: Sara was cleaning out the fridge tonight, and found a pint I lifted from the hospital. “Do you want this?” she said, and of course I did, if only to remember & memorialize that afternoon. Some limki with your dreab and tubter?

Peculiar day. Woke, as usual, five times in the middle of the night, convinced that Nat was in the bed, and we’d rolled over on her. KNOCK IT OFF! Sara said this morning. GET OVER IT! Then I woke five times convinced that I’d missed the photo shoot scheduled for eleven AM - but then I fell asleep again and dreamed I got an email from the photographer, telling me he’d be by at two.

And that’s when he came, wouldn’t you know. That was the time we’d set up. Who needs a Palm when you have a subconscious? The photo shoot was for Minnesota Monthly magazine; they’re doing local “celebs” and their dogs, and obviously the definition of a celeb is rather elastic. Although they are also doing Bobby “Don’t Worry, Be Annoying” McFerrin, who, it turns out, not lives in Minneapolis, but lives about 25 blocks north of here. (By annoying, I mean that gulpidy-cluck style of scat singing he has; some people like it - the Germans in particular, I understand - but I don’t. His conducting is a different matter, and for that I bow & applaud his talents.) The shoot was fun; made the neighbors wonder what was up, since the photog set up two gigantic lights on the lawn. Jasper, who is usually quite good when photographed, was addlepated this time. My fault. I tried to use treats as incentives, and that broke his concentration. He got so wound up that after half an hour of shooting he just quit. I mean, he quit: he walked off the porch and around the house. When I followed I saw he’d gone to the back gate and was standing there, looking straight ahead. Damnedest thing.

We got the last few shots by using peanut butter. I look like a complete stupe in the last shot, too, and I am absolutely sure that they’ll use that one. First time in my life there’s a chance I’ll be on the cover of a magazine, and I’m praying I won’t be.

Back to work on the Gateway pages. Here I thought it was done - ha! Hah, I say! It’s now a much bigger site than originally intended, and I’ve decided to do something called the Gateway Reconstruction Project, i.e., recreate as much of the area as I can, and link to individual buildings in the Long Gone site. Why, I even have a logo!

Coming soon. Now back to work - it’s not yet midnight, and I’ve a few minutes to answer mail and tweak stuff before the Baby Shift begins.

And how I love the Baby Shift. If only to see that satisfied smile after she gets her Limki. Sweet as grusa, she is.

Conversation shouted from one side of the house to the other:

What play did you see?
Uncle Vanya? Cherry Orchard?
Had a doctor.
Well, he was a doctor.
Wait. (Pause. Go to the same room with my wife for an actual conversation.) Okay, what was the play that had a doctor?
Not "had a doctor," Hedda Gabbler.
(Mutual pause, as we tote up the ways in which college educations can actually prove deleterious to conversations.)
So. . . Where’d you park?

Wife went to Guthrie, leaving me with Baby. Good old Gnat. So named not because she is annoying - far from it - or because she is a buzzing insect, but because it’s a diminutive of Natalie, and has Linux connotations. Or used to. I used to call her Guh-nat until I realized it sounded like Gannett, the media chain. Nein danke. So it’s Gnat, soft G. Occasionally Gnatenka, or Gnatokla. Never the Gnatster.

You know, I really never did like babies, that’s the amusing part. Never had the goo-goo reflex, the desire to chin-chuck and say ooblidoobity to a gauzy-eyed tot lolling in a pram. But before I got the dog I was not a dog man, either. I always figured the same thing would happen. I was betting on it, counting on it.

Tonight an entire hour evaporated in a curious swirl of duties: placation, feeding, butt-swabbing, clothes changing, drier emptying, burp-inducing, etc., etc., etc. Sara went to the Guthrie tonight and I had Gnat for the entire evening. Can you handle it? Will you be okay? Sure. Mind you, before Gnat, the idea of spending a night with a baby would have been cause for horror and ironic amusement. It would have been like handing a copy of Playgirl to Fran Lebowitz. You’d get some one-liners out of the experience, but everyone would be happy when it was over. But it was just a regular night. For example:

Spent at least five minutes attempting to get Gnat into a jumper. The feet went in with great difficulty, since she decided to morph into RigidGirl, Scourge of Footed Clothing. This was accompanied with a full-blown hunger & cold shriek - and to make it worse, hunger & cold without the Mom-aroma anywhere. Catastrophe! Despair! Waa! We got the feet in, then it was time to get the little Fists of Fury into the sleeves.

I am not a patient man.

Crying babies, for all my life, have gotten on my nerves like fingers on a blackboard while someone plays chopsticks during your worst nicotine fit. But. I patiently threaded arms and legs through the apt apertures, placated her with useless basso palaver, walked her around . . . and did it allllll again when she downloaded a recompiled version of supper into her Pampers. Thus did an hour pass. And another. And another. This was just the sort of thing I wondered about when we started Project Baby: would I endure this, or enjoy this, dread it - want to flee, regret it madly, take up Winstons and blasphemy?

It was a joy, it was. It felt normal. It felt correct; it felt overdue. Is this the pinnacle of Human Experience? That's a point to argue, and lose, and win, and argue again. It's the pinnacle of it for me right now, I'll tell you that.

Sara came home
at eleven PM. I described the fascinating details of the evening, leashed the Jaspster - sorry, Jasper Dog - and headed to the creek, so HE could poop on my watch. Made some late-night calls on the cellphone from the forest; I love just walking in the dark, talking to people. It’s like calling from a good dream. Back home - banged out this - mail to come - work to do. It’s 12:30, and I have 90 minutes to get stuff done. Then the weekend: it’s block party madness on Sunday. Beef, ceegars and late-night life, as we build a fire in the middle of the street and soak up the warmth for the winter to come. As usual, Jasper will be there, the jackal in the perimeter; it’s his favorite day. His fifth. My seventh. Gnat’s first. Everything’s a first around here nowadays. The invigorating effect of this I can't begin to describe.