good dog.


Last year we had ten dozen trick-or-treaters, at least; they came in great waves, like costumed armies, and they were notable for their gruff and thankless behavior. Little sods. You’d see them get into a van at the end of the block, and think: carpetbaggers! Locusts! This year we had half as many, and they were all a cheerful lot. Nearly everyone said thank you, and if they didn’t, they said it after I strongly suggested they should. None of them took my advice on the candy, either. I had six options, and the kids kept going for the Hershey’s Crisped Rice Bar. It had a chocolate base and a caramel drizzle, but it tasted like stale puffed spackle. I kept recommending the NutRageous bars; no one bit. They probably figured I wanted to dump the NutRageouses on them and save the Hershey’s for myself. Or they just protested the coinage of a stupid word such as NutRageous, in which case I salute their tastes.

The Butterfinger BBs, having been endorsed by the Simpsons, went instantly, as did the Nestles’ Crunch Nodules, or whatever they’re called. But since I’d planned for twice as many children, I have a huge backlog of candy, including a few varieties that somehow, mysteriously, never were offered as an option at all.

I can’t imagine how that happened.

As usual, Jasper barked his head off when the kids rang the door, so I took him for a walk and let Sara and Gnat dole out the treats. It was in the upper fifties or lower sixties tonight, and I’d say it was unseasonable but it was just as warm last year. (Of course, nine years ago Minneapolis got 30 inches of snow in a day.) The traffic seemed less elsewhere. One house - and every neighborhood has one - boasted an elaborate lawn show, complete with Gregorian chants and a mad shambling monk in a robe, strobe-lit, offering maggots to the children. Real maggots, too. That’s the spirit!

My pumpkins looked okay. Sara’s was a big smiling face; mine consisted of two eyeslits, a nose, a long flat thin mouth and several Zs cut in the gourd to indicate sleep. If it hadn’t been for the Zs, my pumpkin would have looked stoned.

When I do something these days I’m usually doing something else. Last night I put up two light fixtures while making supper. (Wait for water to boil: first light. Hear sizzle of water over lip of pot hitting the burner - go upstairs, dump pasta in the water, go downstairs to put up the second light. Today I hung a few pictures while eating lunch. Tonight I scanned a chapter of the 70s decor site while cleaning the room. Right now, as I’m writing, I’m ripping an old Eno CD.

Someone shoot me, please. Just wing me in the shin. Make me sit down and do one thing, and one thing only, and one thing well. Namely, bleed.

This afternoon I carved the pumpkins while writing some checks with my toes. Old sideshow trick. It’s good to be limber. Of course, I did nothing of the sort; pumpkin carving is an act that defies multitasking. My pumpkins looked okay. I don’t do those elaborate pumpkins that use templates and special saws - I’m an old-school traditionalist. Triangle eyes and gap-tooth grins. I did a big smiling face for Sara’s pumpkin; mine consisted of two eyeslits, a nose, a long flat thin mouth and several Zs cut in the gourd to indicate unconsciousness.

If it hadn’t been for the Zs, my pumpkin would have looked stoned.

I just went downstairs to unplug the electric pumpkin, the one Sara found in the creek last week. There’s always a certain small sadness to the moment when you end a holiday. There’s really no reason I can’t get another candle and put it in the pumpkin outside, let it burn for a few more hours, the only smiling soul on the block. No reason at all.

And so I will.


Went to Target tonight. Again. I had to return an item. Standing in the Returns Area, I noted a few things: 1) restocking has to be the lowest job here. I saw a redshirt fill a cart with items that spanned every concept, aspect, product line, and department of the store. You’d either think

- I should do this job so well they give me a better one soon
- I hate this job and I will quit soon, bum around for a while, then get another crappy job
- I hate this, but it provides money while I learn a skill that will allow me to vault out of this employment paradigm altogether

That’s about it. Or, of course:

- (dial tone)

They were training in a new guy. He was immense. He was about six feet tall, 400 pounds - sloped shoulders, Fat-Albert man-breasts, profuse stubble, and a look of unsettling serenity. I was helped by a woman who looked like Frank Gorshin in a mullet hairdo. The other clerk was helping an elderly woman who could not understand why there was a $40 charge on her statement. She’d bought something that was $39.99. But it wasn’t $40. Above us all was a smiling picture of smiling people having smiley moments at Target, including a picture of a guy clasping a CD to his chest. Next to the image was the return policy. It didn’t include CDs.

But I love Target. It’s the sharpest, smartest mass-retailer in the country. They have what you need. And they have the ability to make you need what they have. It’s so good-looking and cheap you walk out with a cartload of stuff and feel richer than when you went in. It’s just brilliant.

Tonight’s trip netted a few more items for the Unfinishable Basement. I’ve decided not to see a movie in the U. B. until it’s, well, finished. Those who know me, or who’ve been following the basement tale, will no doubt have a good long laugh at that one, since the Unfinishable Basement is one of the constants of the latter 90s. It began one winter night when I was in the basement regarding the rubble and heaps of Stuff, and I wondered: gee, what’s behind this cork? I gave it a tug. Hmm - wallboard. Why, I could take the paneling off, plaster it, and make a room of this place.

No, it’s not done. But tonight I was installing light fixtures, speaker brackets and a rug, so it’s obviously close. It feels more like a room, too, not just a cave with a Ridiculously Large TV. It’s ready for Rumpusing. Were it not for the duties of the weekend, I’d have it done by Saturday. For a movie!

But! No! It’s the irony of ironies: I committed to the Ridiculous TV because I was watching so many movies - one a night, as I stayed up with the Gnat. But those days are long gone. She’s in a different nocturnal pattern now, which is why she sleeps in the bed and I sleep on the sofa. And in a few months when Sara goes back to work, we’ll all be going to bed at normal hours and waking up at normal hours, which means my opportunities to stay up until three watching a movie will drop to exactly zero.

I’m screwed, in other words.

Another thing I discovered tonight: I can’t put the light fixtures too close to the wall, because they just illuminate my hideous plaster job. These walls make the face of Edward James Olmos look like Elle MacPherson’s butt. There’s no point calling in a professional, either, because the wallboard isn’t exactly . . . stable. Lean against it, and it gives. Any plaster would crack.


But. Yes: I love it. Tonight I was fixing this and that, and it struck me: for the first time, it actually looks like a room, a place where people might want to congregate. The basement door is no longer a bulwark against the must and dust and chaos of the nether regions. Success!

Eventually. Maybe next week.

Let’s see. Today: warm. Hot, by November standards: 60s. Heaven. Actually humid today, and with the low sodden clouds, empty trees and leaf-spattered streets, it made for a unique combination of late fall and early summer. Last night we had a thunderstorm, most of which took place directly overhead - God’s Instamatic going off every three seconds, ripe rippling peals promptly following, waves of angry rain ripping the leaves from the branches. Jasper came up to my studio and sat right by my chair, which he rarely does - only when he hears fireworks, really. And earlier that night we’d heard fireworks, too.

In the morning most of the neighborhood trees were empty; the leaves were on the ground. It looked like there’d been a riot. The wind had looted the woods. Whatever it took we won’t have again until spring.

The interesting thing about one’s forties: the seasons seem to progress at just the right pace. Summer is always too short here, no matter how old you are, but since it no longer has the imperatives of one’s 20s. Winter no longer seems interminable. As someone once explained to me, there’s a logical reason for this: every year is a smaller fraction of your life. When you’re four, a year is 25% of your life; it seems eternal. When you’re 20, a year is 1/20th. When you’re 42, it’s a smaller portion, 1/42nd.

Now that I think of it, let’s put it this way: Each year is a dose from the eyedropper, and they’re all equal in size, but the glass into which they fall is larger. I like that image. Age is just an expansion of your glass.

Then it falls off the counter onto the tile floor of mortality and you DIE!

Unless you’re Tupperware.

This metaphor isn’t holding up to scrutiny, really. That’s okay.

I’ll live.


Paul Harvey signed a ten year contract this week. He’s 82 now. It’s possible he’s just a head on a stick with nutrient tubes feeding his brain, but I doubt it. It’s possible he’s as spry and hale as his radio voice sounds, and I believe it - his appearance last year at a local convention, according to my friends, was the very picture of vigah and health. Good for him. He’s been a constant presence in the background of my entire life. He’s the last link to the Winchell days. He’s regarded by radio people as some sort of naturally occurring phenomenon - or, rather, a natural substance harnessed by mortals. Like water from the tap, there is Paul Harvey. And there will always be Paul Harvey.

Of course, there won’t always be Paul Harvey, and I will be damn sure I’m the one who writes his obit in our local paper. I know, I know: he’s an old flag-waving schmaltzy geez. So’s my dad. You want to step outside? Hmm?

Anyone going to be listening to Bill Maher’s News and Comments in 40 years? Didn’t think so.

Tonight I found myself
in a church basement again, after all these years. I’ve never been a churchy sort of fellow. Organized religion to me, frankly, is like joining NASA in order to look at the moon. But I want to give my daughter a framework for metaphysics, and the hot broth of Lutheranism is as good as start as any. Served me well, and whatever personal failings I have - no, amend that. What personal failings I certainly have are a result of ignoring the template of goodness I was handed as a youngun.

Of course, most of us color outside those lines. I have a certain amount of wariness for those who haven’t sinned - and an equal amount for those who take extra pride in the fact that they have sinned, and wear those old errors like a lacquered flower. Why, I cheated at Bingo when I was a girl, which just shows I’m Just As Human As Anyone! I’m put off by the rote lingo of liturgies, and I can never quite square the exceedingly European Jesus of my childhood lesson books with the physiognomy of the region.

I’m down with my main man St. Anselm, whose proof of God was simple and pure: God is greater than that which can be conceived. Any human social structure that arises around the concept is bound to get a few things wrong. For the human mind to conceptualize, accurately, the nature of divinity - it’s akin to figuring out the shape of a Nerf tetrahedron underneath a thick quilt, using tongs held in an oven mitt.

Let my daughter figure it out for herself, like we all do. I’m going to give her the same tools I had.

So I found myself in the church basement, at the new-members dinner. It’s a big church. If you’re Lutheran, it’s the fargin’ Vatican: it is the largest Lutheran church in the world. The amount of sermonizing in the evening’s program was almost nil - which is why I prefer this particular creed, to be frank. Its Scandinavian and German roots and Reformation pedigree give it an extremely practical and efficient approach. You pray at the start, and pray at the end, and in between come the good works. This church has an astonishing amount of Good Works. The list of volunteer programs fills a booklet. Meals on wheels, houses for the poor, food shelves, reading to the blind, driving the halt & lame around - that’s just the start. Those are just the basics. Want to help mentally retarded children? Great: they have an entire camp for them. Want to entertain seniors? Fine: here’s the address of the gigantic church-run nursing home. In short: here’s a thick book of options, yes, you’d best choose one, and no, you’re not going to get dime one for anything of this. Because you’d feel lousy if you got paid. And while you’ll feel good about doing this, you won’t feel so good that you feel good about how good you feel.

Quite amazing. I knew this was a big church, and a good church, but I had no idea how extraordinary its charitable work really was.

So, why this church, and why now? That’s Monday. That’s the punchline.

That is, as a fine Murcan radioman said, the rest of the story.