More adventures from the retail trade: I’m at the computer store. I go to the counter where they keep all the precious recordable media behind locked cases. There’s a kid standing in front of the case that contains Zip discs, as well as Jaz, Clics, SuperDrives, and recordable DVDs.

“DVDs,” I say with a smile, expecting him to turn around, open the cabinet, and get me a DVD. He looks uncertain.


“DVD.” I say.


“No, DVDs.” I hold out my hand with the fingers grasping an imaginary disk. He believes I am about to give him the Vulcan Mind Meld, perhaps.

“Oh. Movies. By the checkout.”

“No. D - V - Ds. For burning.”

He looks at me as though I am mad. What, create your own DVD? Such a thing has only been rumored! Surely man dare not tempt the Gods with such hubristic overreaching -

“They’re down there,” I say, pointing to the cabinet. “D -V -Ds.”


He gets one. I look at it: capacity, 2.6 gig. That’s not enough.

“I’m looking for a larger size - my Mac takes 4 gig, and I don’t think these are compatible.”

“That’s why I don’t have a Mac,” he says. “I wouldn’t even buy one of these PCs. I build my own.”

I am tempted to tell him how terribly, terribly helpful he’s been so far, but I chew my tongue and ask if I could take this disk over to the Mac department and ask a Mac rep. He says he’ll have to come with me. He can’t let me take the disc.

We don’t find a Mac rep. We stand in the Mac area for a few minutes until I finally tell him I’ll order them from Apple.

Later that day I got to the video store, which I detest. It’s always a mess - although less so lately - and the clerks are often peculiar. There’s one nice fellow who’s been there a long time, but everyone else last about two weeks before drifting off to another job. This kid just creeped me out - picture Macauley Caulkin as a young serial-killer drifter. Dead flat eyes. He’s got a cold. He’s hacking into his hand. The hand he’s using to give you your money and your video. After he blows a lungful of ebola into his palm, he holds out my change, and I ask him to put it on the counter, thinking I’ll pull the bills from the corner and put them in the bag. Seriously. I’m not paranoid about these things, but this is just disgusting. He looks at me with flat incomprehension. I tell him, sotto voce: look, you’re coughing in front of the customers, and no one wants to touch your hand or what’s in it after you’ve hacked in -

Oh, he says, and turns away.

And once again I vow! Never! Again! Never again will I go there!

Of course, I will. Can’t beat that five-day rental policy.

Fine weekend. Dad and Doris came down to see the house; they drove down from Fargo, had lunch, played with Gnat, and drove back to Fargo. That’s a lot of driving. But he likes to drive. Last summer he called me from a loading dock; he was waiting to fill up the tanker truck, and called me on his cell. It was about midnight. “Where are you?” I asked. “East St. Louis,” he said.

He just turned 75. Whatta guy. War hero, businessman, employer, philanthropist (to all those families who couldn’t pay their heating bill but got oil anyway) and all-around fine fellow.
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I am such a bad parent. This afternoon I was driving Gnat around for an hour while she slept, keeping the vehicle moving so she could slumber. She woke while I was threading through an East Bloomington parking lot, and since we had a little time to kill I looked for a store to visit: ah. Toys ‘ R’ us. She was wide-eyed through every aisle, but she’s wide-eyed at Home Depot and the Likker Barn, so this wasn’t anything new. I tried to shield her eyes from the Pink Girly Stuff - no need to rush that. We went to the Action Figures department, where I found what I was looking for: Simpsons figurines - OKAY, DOLLS - that I didn’t have. There were two: Lennie and Selma. There were many Selmas. There were only two Lennies. This was fine. I didn’t want Selma. I wanted Lennie. But not Carl. It’s interesting how you make these distinctions when money’s at stake. (Yes! I know about roadtospringfield.com.) Willie, not the milky-white purple twins. Hans Moleman, not the drunk with the gimme cap at Moe’s. Bart’s teacher, not Lisa’s.

Lenny, not Selma.

It has the ring of some eternal truth.

Well, no, it doesn’t. Anyway. I was heading for the check-out when I realized I had a toy for me, but not my daughter. Not that she needs any - she’s at the stage where the box in which an item arrived is more fascinating than the item itself. And we call this stage “disconcerting evidence of idiocy.” Just kidding. But I’m not going to buy her these noisy plastic toys that purport to teach her phonics, because they don’t. You want your kid to learn A B C? Teach her. I don’t believe that any of these pull-the-cord-and-hear-a-sound toys accomplishes anything. They may reassure the parent that the child is not just playing, but playing Constructively. Eh.

I bought her some plastic beads that fit together, and come apart. Good for motor coordination. Also good for throwing and chewing. She can occupy herself for a good five minutes taking them apart and putting them carefully in the basket, which is this week’s new trick: things inside of other things. So she got a cheap plastic collection of beads, and I got a cool new Lenny toy. It fits into my Springfield Nuclear Reactor set, and lo: when the button is pressed, now Lenny’s voice emerges. His voice was locked in that set for months, unheard! Creepy, in a way.

Doubly extra creepy: TMC had a Jack Lemmon special line-up Sunday. The Classic threesome - Apartment, Wine & Noses, Some Like it Hot. All in tribute to Lemmon, who died last Thursday. The host said they had changed their programming to memorialize Lemmon’s passing, and his intros were not on the usual set - he was in a spotlit chair against a sea of black, as if to show the haste with which this tribute had been assembled. It was easy to record them, since TiVo knew that all three movies were playing in that order on that day on that channel.

Here’s the spooky part.

I don’t have TiVo hooked up to its own phone line. It doesn’t make a daily call. I have to connect the phone lines when it starts to remind me that it needs to phone home.

I hadn’t hooked it up to the phone line for two weeks.

Do you get what this means? TiVo knew before Jack Lemmon died that there would be a three-movie tribute to him on Sunday night. Either the movies had been scheduled anyway, or TMC knew in advance that Lemmon was very sick and likely to die soon.

I feel as if I caught them at something, and this knowledge is dangerous. As if I caught the one small mistake that puts it all to lie, that all actors are robots, that the entire entertainment industry, with its feuds and love affairs and splits and births and deaths, is all scripted out way in advance; it’s all a soap opera larger than you can possibly imagine.

And now that I know I am marked for death.

The Bleat returns Thursday.

I hope
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Brat-bloated, I can say nothing that isn’t a groan of distress. So, here’s a collection of notes on movies seen over the last week. I’ll be over here, in the corner, whimpering.

“Unbreakable,” by that Sixth Sense Guy. Similiar in tone; same pained hushed tenebrous mood, same performance by Willis. These are good things. I like Bruce Willis, and in this sort of movie he has an absolute granite presence that’s all heart, all the more for never showing it. I’ll give no details away, but I will say this: whereas I saw the 6th Sense twist coming about an hour away, the twist in this one hit me by complete surprise. It’s the sort of movie that ought to dissipate into silly fumes the next day, when you realize what it’s about, but it actually gains heft the more you think about it. It starts slow, and it takes a turn that involves comic books that might lose a few people. But I loved it. It’s not ashamed to be what it’s about, and given that every single movie in this particular genre is usually a noisy piece of drivel, its willingness to take its subject matter seriously hit me right where I live. I can’t be specific, nor can I say “trust me,” because I’m sure it’ll annoy many.

Also watched “Chaplin,” because I got a ten-buck DVD version, and I’m a silent film enthusiast. (I hate the term “buff.”) It manages to recreate in perfect detail every aspect of Chaplin’s physical world, his life and times, and then it just sits there like a wet piece of wood. Boring. Robert Downey Jr. IS Charlie Chaplin! though, as the ads would say. He doesn’t try to capture the onscreen persona, but gives a nice account of Chaplin’s civilian side - i.e., arrogant, impatient, self-assured, and talented enough to fill out his oversized notions of his own ability. As a biography, though, it’s dull and a bit dishonest - it makes him out to be some Great Political Conscience, and soft-pedals Chaplin’s unnerving need to sleep with very young women. Nice work by Kevin Kline as Fairbanks, and David Duchovny turns in another patented monotonal role, albeit one interspersed with monotonal smiles.

I’m less interested in Chaplin than I used to be. Some wonderful reels, and some brilliant gags, but he glugs on the syrup too often for my tastes. There’s a little too much of the arrested adolescent to his work. Having seen them all and duly worshipped his craft, I think I’ll move on to celebrating, and then becoming fashionably bored by, Buster Keaton. Eventually I’ll chose some extremely minor comic from the silent era, and extoll him above all others, and roll my eyes when people laud such obvious choices as Keaton or Chaplin.

It’s a such a burden when you have to analyze every second of your simple entertainments until no actual entertainment remains. But thus do we remain pure! Utterly dissatisfied, yea - but Pure!

Highlight of the week: caught a fully-restored print of King Kong on AMC. It’s one of those movies everyone thinks they’ve seen. I think I saw it many years ago, in a scratchy print that looked goofy, amusing, and completely unbelievables. This time I watched it start to finish. Ladies & gents this is one brilliant piece of moviemaking: it does not stop. It makes modern thrillers look like slack little Beckett one-acts. And it’s amazingly violent; I don’t remember that many people getting stepped on, or eaten. The famous scene in which Kong derails a subway is exceedingly nasty - quick cuts of spotlit faces shrieking in horror as they tumble to the corner of the car, then an exterior shot of Kong pounding the car flat. Everyone remembers the shot of Kong on top of the Empire State Building, but the shots of Kong climbing the building are more impressive - the ESB, a new icon on the cultural landscape in ‘33, looks like a ladder to heaven, and it brings to mind the impossible structures of “Metropolis” - but it’s real. At the time, this movie must have seemed like an entirely new thing, a movie that completely changes your expectations of the genre. Like “Alien,” or “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

Okay, maybe not that last one.
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Warning! This is disgusting.

Yesterday Jasper snuck a bone, which he usually doesn’t do. There aren’t lots of bones around here anyway. I’m odd that way, but I try to run a bone-free household. Let them pile up in the corner, and people ask. But my wife had made some baked beans, and that required Hock of Ham, and a big bone was left over. Somehow Jasper got this bone. He also got some hamburger crumbled in his food. And he snuck a polish sausage, I fear.

So I could infer the general composition of that . . . aggregate clump by the fireplace, but I’ll be switched if I know its point of origin. Fore or aft; could be either. I mention this not to disgust - although it surely does that - but to praise my dog. Of all the places downstairs he could have chosen while I was out this afternoon, he chose the bricks around the fireplace. Not the rugs. Not the freshly cleaned floor. The fireplace. And he was deeply ashamed, too. When I came home I gave him a chewstick, as usual, but he wouldn’t eat it. He followed me around with the stick in his mouth, but he would drop it and sit there looking at me. An hour and a half later when I went into the living room I spied the mess, and I was dumbfounded: oy. That’s a lot of . . . stuff. Of course at the time I was en route to change Gnat’s diaper. So up I went to change one sack o’ soil, knowing that a horror far less tidy waited after this one.

Jasper stood in the doorway while I cleaned it up, ears back, tail between his legs. I assured him it was okay.

When I was done he picked up his stick and began to chew.

I could ascribe all sorts of things to his behavior, but I resist; how I resist. I don’t want to be one of those people who believes that widdle snookums is so smart yes he is! when he’s just a dog. Dogs have a certain level of smarts, and while there’s wide variance within that range, there are certain things they don’t know. That they can’t know. I don’t want to ascribe human reactions to my dog, because that spoils the joy of seeing things from a dog perspective.

Still, he’s a damn smart dog. And a decent fellow to boot.

The Fourth is always hard on the little coyote - fireworks terrify him, and of course there were some Damn Fool Kids lighting off strings down in the gorge after eleven. He spent the night in the master bedroom closet, which was the absolute center of the house. He felt safe, and it smelled like his pack.

Likewise, I don’t want to make my baby the Smartest Baby Ever, because that way lies madness. I’d be happy if she’s normal. As long as she doesn’t end up on the cover of Rolling Stone in 17 years, yanking down her pants to display a pierced hipbone and a gigantic tattoo of Lenin, I’ll be happy. But she’s ten months old, biologically, and she has many words: Baby, which refers to a doll with an unnervingly BorgQueen skull; Pep-pee, which is Jasper; Dut, which is any number of her plastic ducks; and others. Tell her to Kiss Baby, and she puts her mouth up to the little baby’s head, and she says “bee bee.” Every day it seems as if a new series of circuits in that tiny brain goes online, and she comes into sharper focus compared with the day before.

I just asked her where her puppy was, and she lit up and said Pupee! and spun around to look for Jasper.

You get used to communicating with smiles and nonsense talk, and then when you get actual words - well, there’s nothing like it.

Anyway. I would never have picked BeBe as the favorite toy; my money was on Winky, the Happy Sheep from Happy Sleep Land - so named because it was her first crib toy during a period when she was never Happy to be in the crib, and showed no signs of ever spending more than 20 minutes in Happy Sleep Land. Hence the name, spoken through gritted teeth. There was Louie the Lamb, who was larger, but his main job now is to be part of Mealtime Trickery: one spoonful for Louie, one spoonful for Daddy, one for Gnat. Anything to get her to eat. Note: she does not want to eat anything. Baby food now makes her gag, as if she’d been fed - well, baby food. I’ve tasted that stuff, and man, it’s rough. Soylent Puce. Carroty Chunk-Gruel. Yam Spew. No thanks. So now we’re on mac & cheese, which must be diced to exacting standards, and Cheerios. The basics. The two sturdy legs of the modern child’s diet. We’ve fed her veggies and pure juices and tofu and multi-grained organic this & that, but some internal voice says nay: Mac & Cheese & Cheerios, little girl. Because you’re an American.

Daddy is so proud.