12. 03 . 01
You want to know the problem with sick people? They’re boring. They should be required to keep on hand a selection of pamphlets on interesting topics; when people come by to make conversation, the sick person should just hand over a little tract (“The Ottoman Question and Its Effect on Levantine Diaspora” or “Spicy Tales to Help Laugh Away the Spanish Grippe”) shuffle off to the corner, and curl up until the visitors leave. Sick people, after all, don’t want visitors. Take your rude health elsewhere. Take your limber limbs and clear eyes and petty concerns - oh, my, will there be a rotisserie chicken left at the market this late in the day? - and just go back to Happy Healthy Land, and leave us here to mutter among the dustballs and stale sheets. G’wan, git!

I’m about 63 % cured now, I think; I hope. I can make it through the day without requiring a nap every time I do something strenuous, like make soup. I have no cough, but I never had much of one anyway. Still have the night perspirations when the drugs all wear off, but they’re lighter and not accompanied by baroque nightmares - last night’s bout was accompanied by a dream about the Xbox vs. the Playstation, so I think that’s a good sign. I’ll never forget the moment the hallucinations first began - I was trying to sleep, thinking nice try-to-sleep thoughts, when along the left side of my inner vision a filmstrip of mummified mouse heads started to scroll. Uh oh, I thought. This can’t be good. All in all that general feeling of wrongness, or worse yet the feeling that wrongness is now horribly right and normal, has been replaced by bruised and dented normalcy. As long as I don’t overdo it for the next week I’ll be fine, I think, and not a damn moment to soon: I am eager for a good Christmas. A robust season with every single cliche turned up to eleven. Jasperwoode is the perfect house for the perfect Christmas, and I want the big tree, the promiscuous strewage of wreaths and bows, the incessant ting and ching of ormanents, the hideous crash of the tree coming down again because I did another piss-poor job of bracing it up, the aroma of cinnamon and fir and toasty clanky radiators. I want my NAT KING FRICKIN’ COLE and I want it now, more than ever, this year above all others.

All I did this weekend was sleep and work on the book proposal. It goes out tomorrow, providing I get enough done tonight. I hate it. By the time any book is ready to be sold, I hate it. This is the Interior Desecrators book, of course. I’ve distilled the website (which I HATE) down to three dozen pages; this time I don’t have to give them the entire book to sell, because this time they know what I can do. And this one will be an easier sell to the public, too; I have reasonable hopes for it.

I made two ventures into the outside world: once to get groceries, which seemed empty and lonely without Gnat in the cart examining items and giving me someone to talk to, and once to Home Depot for a pole. My wife wanted me to put up lights in the birch trees out front, and since they are A) on a hill, and B) tall I needed a pole, preferably that ten-foot pole you hear so much about. The hardware store had five foot poles. Apparently that’s the cut-off, the defining line between your Neighborhood Hardware Store and the Soulless Big-Box Chains. You want poles over 5’, it’s Home Depot. I asked a clerk where they kept the poles, and his gears whirred while he processed this inexact and amateurish term.

“You mean dowels?”

“If they’re as long as a pole.” He stared at me. “I mean, a dowel can be short, but a pole has to be longer than a short dowel to be a pole.”

He sent me to the dowel aisle. I found a very long, stout dowel that was obviously a member of the pole family as well. I got some hooks to tape to the end for hanging lights, and stood in line at the counter behind a woman who was buying a circular saw blade the size of a chariot wheel. I bought my dowel, went home, draped the lights over the trees and felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Celebrated with a nap. Dreamed of Elmo.

Really. Gnat watches Elmo in the morning now, with a certain wary fascination. I approve. Elmo’s okay. I met Elmo, or rather the voice of, at the Toy Fair a few years ago. He was there to promote Elmo’s Rockin’ Guitar, one of those bleeping extruded plastic devices that suck the joy from parents and teach kids to equate playtime with a barrage of pointless noise. All the toy buyers were eager to meet Elmo, since he was a Big Deal in the business; a few of the toy buyers actually had children, which made them curious what Elmo really looked like. Well, he was a very nice handsome Black man, which stunned half the crowd; they just didn’t expect Elmo to be black.

Anyway. Woke from the nap, went to the store for supper. I felt better. I had an appetite. I wanted the Thanksgiving meal I’d been too sick to taste last time, so I got gravy, fresh buns, mashed potato mix, two small pumpkin pies, and headed to the deli section. Oh, my, will there be a rotisserie chicken left at the market this late in the day?

There was. And it was delicious.


I think I did something quite extraordinary tonight. In the history of workarounds, of inelegant patches, of utterly kludgy solutions to simple problems, I think I have set a new standard. It has to do with the heating system here at Jasperwood. (No extra E today.) There are three zones. Three little automatic valves control the zones. Two of them do not seem to work. That’s not a big problem, because when the main zone is cooking, the house attains New Orleans status in about seven minutes. It’s amazing how fast this pile heats up. But Gnat’s room upstairs has two walls of old windows as leaky as British secret service in the 30s, and it gets quite chilly. So I called in someone to Fix It All.

We learned that the little bronze Honeywell muffin in the family room controls that room and the room right above, i.e., Gnat’s room. Makes no sense, but it has to do with the way the pipes were put in during an addition many years ago. This Dead Zone (and I would have liked it if Christopher Walken had been the repairman, had gripped my hand, got a faraway look and said "this will cost you $257) doesn’t work because the electrical cord ‘twixt room and boiler has been severed somewhere, and the repairman could not bring it up through the wall. It’s stuck, now and for all eternity. Someday I’ll get an electrician to fix it, but for now, what to do about Gnat’s room? Simple: a new muffin downstairs in the furnace room which I can use to manually turn the heat on and off in her room. It’ll do for the season, I figure.

What the workman did not realize - and what I should have, but did not realize - was that the temperature in the boiler room would preclude the new thermostat from ever coming on at all. I went down there tonight to heat up her room; I turned it up to 90, and by the time the boiler kicked in and started to heat the water, the boiler room temp was hot enough TO TURN OFF THE NEW THERMOSTAT.

I kicked myself for not thinking of this, but hell, he’s the professional, right? That’s why I’m paying him, right? I’ll have to run the wire into a storage room where it’s 30 degrees cooler, but what am I going to do tonight to heat her room?

Hence my brilliant workaround. I got a nail. I got a hammer.

And I nailed a bag of ice to the wall over the thermostat.

Her room is toasty.

Well, I think I’m at 77% today. Still required a few naps - got clubbed in the head by exhaustion at 2 PM. Still some nighttime cheevers, alas, although nothing like last week when I was a white-hot rivet bobbing in a vat of molten lead. Tomorrow it’s back to the doc, and he’ll either give me another course of Levaquin - which I predict will be the next hot name for children born to single women - or he’ll pronounce me to be speeding down the road to recovery on the Segway of Drug-Enabled Health.

Had the courage to go to Target today with Gnat - an ordinary thing, but one I knew would be taxing in the end. We bought lights. There’s no way to effectively illuminate the front of Jasperwood, since it roams around a corner and it’s high on a hill. I know this: I will not have a wireframe Rudolph or Santa. I will not, God help me, have a projector that splashes Holiday Scenes against the side of the house. I will not have purple lights, no matter how much Target wants me to have purple lights - this is a Christmas display, not a marquee for a Prince-themed whorehouse. I will have a wall of white twinkling on the hill. I will have a smattering of gold lights in the bough that bends over the back staircase. I will have soft glowing red lights in the trees in the yard.

I will have a wife’s elbow in my side every night, asking me if I turned them off before bed.

I will have a timer.

Finally watched the end of Crime Story, which ended just as I remembered: noisy, cluttered, forced and boring. I know I’ve mentioned this show a great many times as if it was a Triumph of American TV - well, in a way, it was. It was short enough so it never jumped the shark, except at the end when it just shot it to death. Great characters, Vegas style, 60s Chicago, Dennis Farina at his absolute finest - a nifty little show, and when it ran every day you got to see it as a dense compacted “Casino”-style serial. But it went flying off the rails at the end, as everyone went down to An Unnamed Central American Country that felt like one of those banana republics the Mission: Impossible team was always heading off to topple: Plotivar (capital city El Fictionale). If the show had stayed in Vegas, killed off Luca, introduced new bad guys, it might have hung around, but it had the taint of the Serial to it, the feeling that you were always entering the story in the middle. Which, of course, you were. It’s what keeps me from watching a half-dozen shows, and I’m probably better off for it: the less network TV you watch, the better.

Last night I found a History channel show about WW2 - imagine that! What are the odds! And - get this - it was narrated by Peter Coyote! But it’s a fascinating show - essentially, the Wonderful World War Two of Color. Every shot, every scene is in color, and it makes a great deal of difference. All of a sudden you can smell the trenchfoot. You can hear the squish of the uniforms as the Marines walk through the jungles. The misery of war - not combat, just ordinary day-to-day service - is brought home in a way B&W can’t accomplish, and the sheer overwhelming horror of the Pacific Campaign in particular becomes apparent. Imagine spending an hour as your troop transport circles, waiting for fortuitous tides, listening to the gunships pound the Japanese positions, then getting out of the boat in full gear and wading through waist-high water over razor sharp coral to a beach where you cannot dig in, because the volcanic sand is too fine. Island by island. Island by island. Four week battles with 30 percent casualty figures. It all seems more real when you see how lovely the blue skies were.

We probably won’t have to do that again. Instead of dropping lots of bombs on dug-in enemies, you wait until night, find the heat signatures and send in precision munitions. That’s easier than just bombing cliffsides and hoping you hit something. But it always comes down to the guys who take and hold the ground, and that never changes. We’re going to have to do more of that in the next phase, particularly if it shifts to Africa, and if it’s urban warfare in Somalia it’s a whole different story. It’s always a different story and it’s always the same one: men in extraordinary discomfort and constant danger, battling boredom and terror. If we spend one week in Somalia and lose a lot of people, the media will be grimly relieved: ah, finally, quagmire. These people need to spend some time studying the war in the Pacific. Tens of thousands of dead. Years of miserable, grinding conflict. Brutal fights over flyspeck rocks. And not even that was a quagmire. It was done because it had to be done, and that was the law that drove the war forward. The majority of the American people didn’t flinch and sink back then, and I don’t think they will this time either.

Drag Marines through the street this time, and the fire called down on that prison uprising will look like kids playing with cap guns.

Hey! The old bloody-mindedness is back! I upgrade myself: 79% better.


Many folks have asked what I think of this American Taliban captured in Afghanistan - well, my immediate reaction upon seeing this fellow was My God! They’ve captured Jimmy Page! I was amused to learn his name: Johnny Walker. It has such civilized connotations - either the jaunty fellow on the liquor bottle, striding with the cheerful purpose of a man who’s off to get smashed at 3 PM without any consquences to career or fortune, or the storied mayor of New York in the 20s, who I always imagine as looking like Harold Gould. (He was perhaps the only mayor ever to write a popular song, “Will You Love Me in December as You Did in May.”) The name just didn’t fit this lice-infested fellow with matted hair that could not be unteased with a jackhamer. He has of course changed his name to something appropriately Islamic, which probably translates as “He Who Travels By Foot,” perhaps.

Today I’ve learned much about him, just by listening to the radio. He is from Fairfax, CA. He was converted to Islam when he read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” - a rather interesting spur to conversion, since it’s not the most ecumenical form of Islam. He went to Pakistan to help “build a pure Islamic state,” and then his parents presume he got caught up in all this madness. (The parents were all over the news, as were friends and neighbors.) Well, hold the phone. Building “a pure Islamic state” is described as though he wanted to bring clean water to the province of
Dysentaria, or weave schoolbooks for poor kids, or give the poor Palm pilots so they can keep better track of their poppy yields, or any other Peace-Corps-type behavior. “Building a pure Islamic state” as a goal indicates that he’d already run raving off the rails, and had renounced democracy, pluralism, tolerance, and a code of law that does not lop off hands for the sin of snapping your fingers to Sinatra. His friends may well describe him as a pacifist, but these ideals point to the peace of the grave, not any sort harmonious hand-holding buy-the-world-a-Coke peace.

Imagine if he’d popped up in Idaho in a compound with a shaved head gripping a shotgun on behalf of a pure Christian state. I don’t think we’d be spending a lot of time wondering about his spiritual journey, since it would be quite clear: troubled boy fell in with God-bothering brutes who presented him with a simple worldview, one that explained everything from the roots of evil to why he didn’t get a bike on his eleventh birthday.

I bring this all up just for comparison’s sake:

1. Johnny Spann, the CIA agent who was killed - where was he from?
2. What book changed his life?
3. What sort of world did he want to bring about?
4. How does his family remember him? What were his personal spiritual beliefs?

I listen to the news 24/7, read the wires constantly. I’m sure there’s just as much info out there on Spann as on Walker. I must have just missed it. Sure, that’s it. I missed it. I’d hate to think that the story of Johnny Taliban was more interesting to news editors than the story of Johnny Spann.

Put up more lights tonight. It was almost 50 this evening - about as frequent an occurance in December as a plague of horned monkeys rampagaging down the streets and snapping off car antennae - so I strung more lights and did the wall of evergreens. I bought 125 feet, thinking they’d go the distance. They covered 1/4 the area needed. Why don’t I learn? Why don’t I bring a transatlantic cable spool to the store and have them roll it tight? It’s back to the store for more tomorrow, and I’ve no doubt I’ll end up at Walgreen’s at ten PM, buying more. But these are small complaints. I love putting up the lights, particularly on a night like this - warm, a light mist, vapor nimbii around the streetlights. And this year, of course, the view is spectacular, down into the gorge at the foot of Jasperwood. I stood on the cliff tonight and took it in, arms out in the standard Zorba-the-Czech posture I assume in these moods of surpassing joy. Next, the tree - which I intend to be a rafter-scratcher heaped with geegaws and trinkets. If I can only get it up the stairs without barfing out a lung, the season will be off to a fine start.

Speaking of which. It had to happen: finally got a complaint about my Deathwatch plot here in the Bleat. Never fails. Stop talking about your daughter. Stop talking about your dog. Enough of the war. No one cares about what you think of movies. Finally: stop talking about being sick, already! No one cares if you have a *$%# cold! If I took these things to heart, I would be paralyzed on a daily basis, wondering what I should and should not write about - but the fact is I can’t think that way, or nothing gets done. I know I’ve dwelt on the matter these two weeks, the same way I would dwell on a second head that sprouted from my shoulder.

People get sick, and that’s nothing new. People feel consumed by their own maladies and find it difficult to see outside the gauzy, smeared coccoon of their cramped little life. I’ve tried to make this interesting, but mostly I’ve just tried to make it - if I don’t write, I feel worse, and if I write daily, even if it’s just to gurgle and twitch, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something.

That said: back to the doctor today for more X-rays. The lung is still cloudy, which was really dismaying. It’s less dense, which was good. The doctor is a capable chap, and I trust him, but he’s one of those fellows who will never tell you more than you need to know right now, and hence you have to fish. You also presume the worst, because he’s not saying “this is normal,” or “I’ve seen this before,” or similar words that place you in some sort of context. Today’s heartening words: “You may have some scarring on the lung,” and “it’ll be a few months before you get your strength back.” And if nothing’s clear in five months, then they stick tubes down the lung and “look for something, like a growth.” Oh, thanks! That’s just the word you want to hear in a speculative context, doc! Growth! Jesus!

But I don’t think it will come to that. I pass this along so you get an idea of the nature of things here. I know these Bleats have been flat and dull, but at least they’re here, eh? Sure, they’re bland - but such large portions!


Today a suicide bomber managed to kill only himself, much to the chagrin of those who sent him, and no doubt much to the chagrin of the bomber himself: he will not have 70+ black-eyed ones waiting him in Paradise, but three hundred Phyllis Dillers with smeared mascara and cigarette breath. I know it’s not a laughing matter over there now, if ever, but when I heard that the guy’s bomb went off too soon I had an instant vision of Nelson Munz on the sidelines, pointing: HA HA.

This morning at ten AM it was sixty degrees. This is about 40 degrees above normal. And the boiler was going full throttle. The house was an absolute INFERNO - Ninety-two degrees in Gnat’s room, 88 in the hallway; the needle was buried on all other thermometers. The boiler turned on and could not shut off. My God, I thought: it caught my pneumonia. My boiler has a fever. It was like this all night, too - unbearably hot, with every radiator glowing like Satan’s adenoids. (If Satan had infected adenoids.) (Which he should, the bastard. Eternally.) So this morning I’m at the kitchen island, sweating like I did when I was deep in the pneumonia, but this time it’s externally provoked! Hurrah!

Of course I called the company that has been causing these preposterous contrusions, and this time I detected a note of annoyance in their voice: will you never be satisfied? How many times must we do a shoddy, half-arsed job before you're content? They promised to send someone by, and this time Technician #4 comes up with a new diagnosis: of the three valves connected to the boiler, two are defective. In other words: exactly what I told the first guy on Monday. He's going to fix it tomorrow. Ninety-two! Criminey. It made for a lousy night for everyone - and since it rained around three AM, this meant that Jasper, O Dog of Great Courage, came into the bedroom to be safe from the assault of rain on the windows. He went into the closet, his favorite hiding place, and scratched on the carpet for about seven minutes to get it juuuust right. And then he fell silent. And then I drifted off to the sound of rain on the skylights.

And then Gnat woke up.

Soldiered through the day nonetheless - went down to the agent’s office to hand in the Interior Desecrators proposal. Gnat played on the floor and read some books - they surely have enough of them at the agency; they seem to represent every other children's book author in the universe, except for my hero William Joyce. It’s interesting to see the company I keep, although I manage a snarl at the Myst stuff when I pass, as well as the Al Franken books - his politics aside, I’ve never met a bigger putz in my life, or at least one whose putziness could not be justified by the size of his talent. I was dismayed to read a Paul Fussell story about Anthony Burgess, in which the great man demolished a dinner guest who simply wished to express admiration of Burgess’ work and perhaps chat a bit. Fussell later said the stories were partly fictional - gee, thanks. If true, I’d be peeved if I got that sort of treatment; I know how authors don’t always want to talk about their work, particularly if they’ve been pegged with one book they wrote 30 years and 20 books ago, but any author owes any reader a certain amount of civility. The gold standard in this field is a fellow I know who's sold about ten billion books; on a few occasions I’ve seen people just line up to say the same damn thing they all say, and every one of them was met with good cheer, and they all left happy. It takes so little - which is why Franken struck me as such a dork. We were standing in line for beers at the Dem convention in 96, and I made a few attempts at small talk based on two little intersections - we had a common friend and a common agent. I got grunts. I got the high hat. You know why? Because I couldn’t do anything for him.

Roast in hell!

Or my hallway! Same thing.

After the agent’s office, off to Target. Bought more lights. Almost bought Shrek, since I didn’t see it when I rented it and feel duty-bound to see it, given my love of animation and computer animation. But you know what? I realized that I really didn’t care to see it. Otherwise, I’d have seen it. I’m sure I will some day. But there’s just something about it that doesn’t make me pencil in a Shrek night, and it’s probably Eddie Murphy. Yes, yes, brilliant, effervescent, etc., but anachronistic jive donkeys don’t do much for me. I’ve seen clips, and I keep thinking; that’s Eddie Murphy. Never have that feeling in Toy Story or Bug’s Life; I just think: that’s Buzz, that’s Woody.

And, to bring the Bleat full circle, who’s in Bug’s Life? Right. Direct from a run at the Clumsy Martyr’s Paradise, it’s Phyllis Diller!

Oh: within three hours of the temperature hitting 60, it had dropped thirty degrees. Then it rained. I’m finally ready for Christmas, and there’s not a jot of snow to be found.


Done: all the lights are up. Final touch was a big red halogen floodlight to illuminate the wreath on the porch. I stood back, admired the crimson-drenched tableau, and thought:

it looks like the gate to HELL.

And it’s worse inside the house: the wind blows the bushes around, and makes the light flicker and waver; the inside of the mud room looks like the entire world outside is engulfed in hellish flame. I wanted to check the package to see if I’d bought a Beelzebulb. I also finished stringing lights along the interminable row of evergreens that line the south cliff, fearing that the wind would topple me off to the sidewalk below. Hooked everything up to stout extension cords, plugged those into a three-outlet extension with a spike to anchor it in the ground, and attached that to a photoelectric timer. It’s lovely. It’s serene. It’s festive. It blew out the fuses when I turned it on.

Longtime readers of the Bleat know that there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good story of corporate self-destruction. The recent Enron story didn’t satisfy, because I couldn’t get interested in all the financial instruments that laid them low, and the name of the company sounded like L. Ron Hubbard’s brother. So I was salivating when I read today in the Wall Street Journal that the Gap has suffered 19 straight quarters of declining sales.


The company is busy trying to figure out why, of course, but any shopper could tell them why: YOUR CLOTHES ARE UGLY. As I noted before, Old Navy - their cheapo spin-off - is even worse; all the baby clothes are hideous 70s retreads, and I don’t want my daughter to look like a hooker from Starsky & Hutch. The Gap stuff isn’t as overtly seventies, but it’s had that Brady taint since the mid 90s, and it’s finally catching up with them. Their colors are infantile; their designs are either unimaginative or flat-out ugly, and they keep trying to tamp old bad ideas down the gullet of the American shopper. We don’t WANT to wear heavy corduroys that go skrr skrr when we walk. We don’t WANT to pay $125 for pleatherette jackets that were machine-made in Malaysia for a dollar ten a piece.

One of the shoppers interviewed said she started to dismiss the Gap when they came out with a West Side Story-themed ad campaign for red capri pants - and while that sounds like an inconsequential anecdote, it’s the company’s problem in a neat blue box. No one wanted cherry-red capri pants. But the Gap thought we would because the Gap was selling them. The moment a mass retailer loses that delicate balance of giving people what they want and steering them to new ideas, and decides its role is to make trends first and foremost, the company is toast. Its future falls into the hands of the Creatives, and they love to spend millions on West Side Story style commercials that impress all their friends and generate industry buzz. You can imagine the logic: Sharks and Jets = classic cool, Rita Moreno + capri pants = hip underside-of-Camelot streetwise zeitgeist. Trouble was, the target market had no idea what they were talking about.

The Gap isn’t going to go down, but it’s in trouble - and in this retail environment, that’s hard news. I’m old enough to remember when the chain actually had a certain cache - simple goods, simply presented, durable and not expensive, timeless styles alongside a few new ideas. The chain had a certain crispness. Now it’s just junk.

I spit on their grave! All 4,323 of them!

Or however many there are in the chain. And that’s the other problem: when a big chain starts to falter, the ripple effect is tremendous. When the Limited conglomorate (which included that wretched men’s store, Structure, purveyors of indistinguishable Cosbyesque sweaters) took a big hit a few years ago, it closed batches of stores in malls, not just one. Limited, Ltd. Express, Structure - three big stores, gone. (Took the retail clothing heart out of a downtown mall here in Mpls.) The Gap isn’t going anywhere, but the glory days of endless expansion are over, and in a year or two a new chain is going to eat their lunch. And it won’t be Abercrombie & Fitch - their image is tied too closely to the Buff Dullard demographic to woo the low 30s shopper.

I had a little time before bed last night, so I watched “Waiting for Guffman,” which I saw long ago and bought on DVD for the extras. I like Chris Guest’s films; that style of understated and affectionate comedy strikes me just right. But as I sat there with a faint and indulgent smile on my face, I realized something: with the exception of Spinal Tap, his movies aren’t that funny. “Best in Show” wasn’t that funny. I liked it; I’ll watch it again; it makes me smile, but it’s not THAT funny. “Spinal Tap,” I think, is one of the funniest movies ever made, so I know these guys have it in them. But the others all have Fred Willard Syndrome - they’re amusing, but everything is delivered at a peculiar angle that always deflects the energy of the joke off to the side. It’s a hard job Guest sets up for himself - we have to laugh at and with his characters, and they must be slight exaggerations, not parodies. Tap worked because the characters were by definition exaggerations, and he could exaggerate them even more. It’s hard to get a belly laugh out of a dentist who thinks he does a good Johnny Carson impersonation. Then again, both “Guffman” and “Best in Show” contain heapin’ helpings of the marvellously loathsome Catherine O’Hara - no one else is so good at playing that sort of brittle, shallow, self-satisfied and clueless woman. I’ll watch anything he does; like David Mamet, he’s one of the few filmmakers I’ll watch without question, whose work I will know backwards and forwards, and about whom I will feel no great passion.

But, well, I don’t find myself passionate about a lot of contemporary artists these days. Self-defense, I suppose, since most of my Heroes in my 20s ended up boring me, losing me, revolting me (paging Mr. Allen. Mr. Woody Allen to the front desk) or annoying me.

Or mystifying me. I had mentioned William Joyce yesterday - he’s the creator of Rollie Pollie Ollie, and some other childrens’ books. Do a google or Amazon search on his name, and you’ll find an extraordinary illustrator - his work has a unique retro-nostalgia feel, and its nostalgia for a world that never existed: a strange time of dirigibles and pre-jet-age technology, rendered in a way that makes it look like outtakes from the 20s and 30s on a planet slightly more advanced than this one. I watch Ollie every morning with Gnat - she’s too young to get the plots, but she loves the colors, calls out BOPPIE when Spot the Robot Dog appears, says BABY when the baby robot Zoe shows up. (As long as she doesn’t say DADDY when Pappy, the ancient grizzled robot appears, I’ll be happy.) There’s also Uncle Giz, who is a robot Elvis. And as I mentioned before, it’s set to great music - the theme makes Gnat dance, and the last few days she’s run over to me and put her hands out to dance with me. Life gets no better than that, friends. You don’t know it until it happens, but that’s the truth. Anyway: I ran across a quote from Joyce about Ollie: he said he wanted to combine “Ozzie and Harriet with ‘Bladerunner’ or ‘the Matrix.’”

????? I hope he was kidding; it’s difficult to see how an artist could misunderstand his own work that badly. There’s nothing Bladerunnery or Matrixish about Rollie Pollie Ollie. It has a very simple idea: all inanimate objects in our world are alive in Ollie’s, and the people in Ollie’s world are all mechanical. Simple and brilliant. And each episode bursts with cheer and enthusiasm - Ollie is a direct descendant of all the 50s sitcom boys, Dad is a kind bespectacled paterfamilias who always has time for the kids, and Mom is the font of milk, cookies, comfort and common sense. (Also a mean dancer.) It’s Ozzie and Harriet meet . . . . oh, I don’t know, Rossum’s Universal Robots, or The Tin Woodman’s province in Oz, or some such metal world. Whatever it is, each tidy tale contains unstinting visual inventiveness and small wise stories of ingenuity and imagination. Even though all the characters are metal and the whole damn show is made inside a computer, it has tremendous heart and warmth. Hearing Joyce’s comments were just odd. But authors are often the last person to know what their work is about, anyway.

I do know this about my work: the Gallery is about to go into ANOTHER printing on top of the second printing, and this one is bigger than the last. Who-hoo! And once again: thank you for that. As Uncle Giz would say: thanguvurymach. Thangu.

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