In some alternative universe, I’m dead. Of course, in the right alternative universe, we’re all dead. According to some wild theory of branching realities, every moment spawns an infinite number of possibilities, each of which spawns another infinite number of possibilities, and each inevitably ends the same way: heat death. The cosmos, lacking mass to regroup, spreads out until a billion lightyears stands between each elemental particle. Game over, man. Then God resets the clock and tries again, and an entirely new set of infinite infinities occurs, and comes to the same arid lifeless end. And then God does it again. Eventually, He gets a universe in which there is no Puff Daddy. That one He shellacs and puts over the mantle.

In one of these alternate universes, I was run down at Southdale on Monday afternoon by two juvies hotrodding diagonally through the middle of a parking lot. They didn’t see me, because I was walking behind a big SUV, and I emerged just as they blasted through. They cut off two cars, knocked me fifty feet in the air, and I died on impact. If only I’d tarried a few minutes in a store, they wouldn’t have hit me - or if I’d not been attracted to that pale peach shirt and had left the store early, I would have been at my car by the time they blasted through. Every action of every person I met that day would have contributed to that horrible moment -the clerk who was too slow because he was hungover, or too fast because he was giddy with love, having just stolen a kiss in the break room. The person who called me on the phone before I left the house delayed my exit -if they’d talked longer, or shorter, or not at all, I’d have lived.

These sorts of calculations can drive you mad.

These sorts of calculations are all I’d be thinking about in this world if I’d been 10 seconds earlier, because these souped-up hothead motherfuckers nearly hit Gnat’s baby carriage. I was walking down the middle of the row - against oncoming traffic - watching closely for cars that might just pull out - but there was no way I could have seen this car coming. Wrong direction - through the middle of a crowded lot - at high speed.

I would have blamed myself, of course. You can do otherwise, but you can’t not blame yourself. The more people tell you that you shouldn’t, the more you’d insist to yourself that you must.

Pardon my language.

This happened yesterday, and somewhere inside I’m still shaking. Because it’s a reminder that no matter what you do, you cannot protect yourself and your loved ones against some things. Gnat’s highchair has a five-point restraint, for heaven’s sake; you buckle the kids into their chairs and think somehow that this spirit of protectiveness expands and extends to the world at large, that you’ll always be able to do your part, see every angle, anticipate the worst. Vigilance. Diligent vigilance.

There is no Devil. There doesn’t need to be one. Evil happens of its own accord.

We had gone to the mall to have her photo taken with the Cheerful Non-Sectarian Solstice Symbol, aka The Bunny. The mall had set up a huge display with pastel eggs and flowers. But there was no Bunny. “He’s taking a long break,” said the attendant. “He’ll be back at three. Something in her manner suggested that she didn’t seem quite sure he’d ever come back. I looked at the pictures available for sale - the Bunny looked large and thin and cheap, frankly. Not fat and cheerful. He was Brutus Bunny, lean and hungry, and his wide empty eyes made me nervous. I shopped at a few other stores; the clerks oogled over Gnat, mistaking her as usual for a boy.

I explained to a clerk that we were here for the Bunny, but he’d disappeared. She made a face.

“His collar was like all sticking out and stuff, and I was like, tuck it in.”

Ah. I had him sized up now: some rummy hired to entertain tots on his pee-stained knee. He’d bolted. Shed his furs and whiskers, pulled off the feet and squirmed through a window to freedom . . . but where? There aren’t any windows in the mall. Maybe he’d just left in costume. Stamped his way along the frontage road muttering unBunny oaths.

In an alternate universe, he got hit by the car.

In another alternate universe, the two morons embark on a life of crime, and are sentenced to death. The case goes to the Supreme Court of the North American Federation. Chief Justice Gnat pauses as she reads the appeal, has the odd sense that she’s been spoken to by someone who never entered the room . . . then she stamps DENIED on the appeal and goes on to the next case.

The DENIED stamp was her idea.


Everyone in the house is coming down with something, which is considerably better than coming up with something. The last time we all got colds, no one had the time to be sick; no one noticed that they were sick, and the germs slunk away, abashed. This time seems different. Scratchy throats all around, weariness, low skulking fever, new aches on top of old aches. We all need a vacation. We all feel as though we’re an old troop transport halfway over the mountain range - three props are dead and the fourth is running on fumes from the spare tank.

But we stagger on; no choice, really. The month is already booked. I don’t know where the time goes. It shoots through us like quarks, swift and painless, leaving no trace. Note to self: build large lead tank in basement to collect quarks.

Gnat’s fine, though. Cheerful, eager to crawl, and getting smarter all the time. It’s quite a joy to watch, to see her put things together. Today she was on the floor playing with a toy - she held it in one hand and spun its wheel with her other hand. She had an expression of great concentration; this was quite a discovery, and could possibly rival the groundbreaking Discovery of the Two Feets, a breakthrough that had silenced those who believed that the body stopped below the rumbling stomach. Why, they’d even excommunicated a man who posited the existance of something he called “Bowels,” and while he recanted his beliefs, he was heard to mutter on the way out “but still they move.” The Discovery of the Two Feets vindicated him, of course. Now Gnat has discoverd Cause and Effect.

She’s got it figured out. From here on it’s all just elaboration.

Went to the Midwest Petroleum Jobbers convention today for lunch with my Dad; it’s the annual sign that spring is here. Didn’t tour the trade show this time, which I regretted - I like seeing what’s new in the gas station and convenience store world. I like talking to car-wash salesmen about the virtues of drag-throughs and passovers. Not today. But we sat at a table with five guys - same company, same last name. All brothers. Talk, as ever, concerned prices and competition. (Your gas prices are probably going to jump a bit soon, if I could decode the conversation correctly - stocks hadn’t firmed up, it seems.) Competition came from the usual sources - other indies, chain outfits, and now those bastards at Wal-Mart.

My choice of words. I hate Wal-Mart. I love Target, but I can’t stand Wal-Mart. They’ll put up pumps in their lots where they can, run them at a loss just to get people in the stores. Having neutron-bombed the downtowns of innumerable small towns, they’ll now take a whack at the guy who runs the corner gas station, the place with a sleepy dog in the office, a placard of Evergreen air fresheners and combs by the cash register, a patina of timeless grime over every surface in the station. I wonder sometimes if everything I knew as a child will be gone by the time I nod off into geezerhood. Everyone in the 20th century had to deal with change, constant change, endless ceaseless churning change, but it wasn’t always the sort of change that erased what had come before. The auto mechanic replaced the blacksmith, but it didn’t mean all the horses vanished.

Well. I have to start reading - got the new Ellroy novel, and it’s another thick jittery tome in his American Tabloid genre, so I’d better prepare for complete immersion. I also have to finish this game so I can review it - and let me just say that I hate Boss levels. I hate the final scene of nearly every game. By the end of the game I’m tired; tonight, after I’d been gored 40 times by the tenth wave of werebulls, I debated just calling it quits. If ever I write a game, the end will be simple: you get to Mr. Big’s hideout, and you give him a wedgie and throw him off a balcony. That’s it. The end.