JANUARY 1999 Part 1
Now this is winter. Why, it's as cold as an analogy outside. Wind-chills in the minus 40s, snow heaped up like heaped snow. Drowsy hibernation weather, a good time to crawl in the cave.

Which is what I've done all weekend. I've been working on the basement, alternating reconstruction efforts with an hour or two reading or working on various website projects. The book is "Dragonfly," the story of the Mir vs. NASA debacle. Entertainingly horrifying, or horrifyingly entertaining. Later tonight, X-Files, email, the same same routines of Sunday night. But it's been a three-day weekend (with no radio show - hockey preempted the Diner) and I feel as though I haven't been to work in weeks. This holiday season was actually relaxing; since the middle of the week before last, I've been at ease, or relatively so. The secret: don't go anywhere. We went to Fargo, yes, but that was just a day and a half. No big trips. No schlepping across country to run through five days of hectic togetherness. Just us, just here. Very nice.

Anyway, I did little this weekend that merits a report, even by the standards of this page, but here are some notes taken between basement project work:

I'm taking a break from destroying the sheetrock. Damn that Giant Swede: today he convinced me I'd be happier if I shaved all the glue off the sheetrock and gave it a smooth plaster coat, rather than the drunken three-inch slop I was planning on slapping up. So now I'm taking off the glue that held the paneling - yes, I got all the paneling off Friday - and the result is horrid. I fear for this project more than ever.

In the corner of the basement is the old old radio from the 60s, a solid graceless Lloyd full of ancient tubes; it's 80s night on KS95, and they're playing all the old stupid songs. Currently fouling the air: "We Built This City" by Starship, a true piece of self-congradulatory dreck. Lyrically insipid, musically bankrupt. I take great satisfaction in knowing that Grace Slick turns 60 this year. Sixty. At an age when vocalists should be crooning standards in the Rainbow Room, the best she can hope for is standing on a stage in front of wheezy hippies singing deathless lines like "Marconi plays the mambo" or "Feed your head."

New Year Eve was quiet and enjoyable - went over to the Giant Swedes' for pizza & movies. The new tradition: a bad movie then a good one. The bad movie was "Lost in Space," which would have been good if the script and the acting hadn't been so yawn-worthy. William Hurt turned in his usual Quaaluded performance. Mimi Rogers had a Mary Tyler Moore hairstyle and a face that looks like a novacained mudslide. I forgot she was in this film, thereby breaking my boycott of movies with $cientologists. The second movie was "Copland," which was very good. Stallone was good, holding his own against some true heavyweights. Of course, he didn't have any lines; he just looked stupid and wistful throughout the movie. But a fine script, crisp direction, bravura acting.

Went home and slept? No. Stayed up very late watching TV, just because I could. It's another blurry borderless weekend, and I love it.

Snow, and lots of it. Big powdery drifts. Spend the day inside slaving on the Gallery 2.0, devoted to one single purpose: finishing it. And I'm close. Another day and the damn thing is done. Folks, this thing is huge. One hundred pages of horrible food, including 15 subsites devoted to individual cookbooks. I am proud of it, even though it's not as clean or kitschy as I'd really like. Up until Friday night I was still toying with making the thing over AGAIN and attempting to include some version of my beloved old boomerang patterned Formica left-hand border, but no go. It just doesn't fit. I finally decided to live with what I'd done, and live wiht the monster index page - it's just huge, but it beats breaking everything up into subsections. The less to-and-fro, the better. Anyway, by tomorrow I should have finished it to my satisfaction, and thereby bought myself 15 weeks of uploads. That's right: it will be doled out one book at a time. Starting in March and ending in June, just in time for the third anniversary of the birth of the site.
And while it's going on, I'll be working on Fargo 1950, which no one is going to care about. But if I let that bother me this site would be updated once a month.
Incidentally, the addition of the Gallery and the other minor Mpls sites will bring this baby up to 60MB. Forty to go!

Sunday: All of the above and less. Another day shaving the walls. The device that held the razor blades did only two things well: break, and give me blisters. So now I'm just holding the blade in my hand and peeling off the glue inch by inch. Each piece of sheetrock has a big X made of glue; it looks like Mulder's Dungeon down here. Even with the glue shaved off, there's still a ghostly X on the wall. Six done; four to go.
Back to work.

Today's interesting Mir fact, gleaned from the book I'm reading about that cursed station: NASA was not only peeved that the cosmonauts drank vodka up there, but they had the occasional cigarette as well.

Colder today than yesterday - the sun has all the warmth and power of a fliashlight signal projected on the wall. Had to get up to turn the car around this morning lest it be towed for plowing; the car made a horrible tortured groaning, a hollow metallic moan that sounded like a demon getting a Tabasco enema in a tin can. We're in the state of permanent cold now, where the snow in the floorboards of your car stays snow from day to day, never melting no matter how warm the car gets. Every parallel parking job includes driving your car into a thick compacted bank of snow, producing a sound akin to someone sawing styrofoam. And parking lots have all shrunk: whereas there used to be parking for two rows of cars in the lot at Walgreen's, it's now one row. And hence impossible to get in or out.

I had to go to Walgreen's for mouse traps. I was looking for the little boxes that capture them alive, so I could dispose of the mice down by the creek. They didn't have any. They had glue houses, where the mouse gets stuck and spends its last few hours terrified: no thanks. They had poison, and that strikes me as a colossally bad idea: where exactly does the mouse go after it's dead? Does it just shimmer out like a Borg drone? No: it devolves gradually, messily, smellily. So I got some traps - the classic old Victor traps. They no longer require cheese, I noticed: in fact, there's a wedge of cheese with the red circle-and-slash on the front. Ne pas de frommage! or something like that. There is instead something called a Cheese Pedal, a plastic yellow slab perforated like swiss. The mouse steps on it, and snick! Death. But the lack of bait tells me that mouse traps were never about bait, but happenstance. The mouse has to walk across this thing by accident. No mouse is going to see, or rather smell, a plastic wedge tilted up in the air and think Hmm, cheese.

We had a Mouse Drama last night when Jasper corner the creature in the kitchen. He was balled up in a tiny thumb of fluff, motionless under the baker's rack. Jasper couldn't get him, and of course wouldn't have gotten him if he could have gotten him. Too fast. (Jasper is on the hunt now; he spent an hour last night staring at the radiator, waiting for the mouse to reappear.) I tried to poke the mouse out, and he fled beneath the stove - bark!bark!bark! - I pulled the stove from the wall, knocking over some salt and pepper shakers. My wife came down wondering if we were fighting off an intruder. In a way, we were.

Finally downloaded the Star Wars trailer today. Took two tries. Now I have it. No sound. Can't figure out why. For that matter, I have modem sound but no system sound. Well, something else to ignore until tomorrow night: I've work to do now anyway. Can't sit around watching Star Wars trailers all night. I've things to write and sheetrock to scrape.

Yes, it's a new look, for no particular reason. I'm trying to learn the difference between "clean" and "dull." I think this strikes a nice balance. It took 27 minutes to create, so the investment is minimal. Today I visited a site touted as a landmark in personal web sites, something so evocative that you were instantly transported into the author's dreamy world . . . and I felt like some old squinty coot peering at a Pollack painting. I could not make heads or tails of the site. The layout was predicated on a particular browser size, so the frames had no scroll bars; every subarea linked to another gorgeous, blurry graphic with judiciously mixed fonts that told me absolutely nothing, except that this person has access to A) many fonts, and B) Bartlett's Book of Quotations. (Or, more likely, the Microsoft version of same.) Still, I always feel dowdy after visiting these sites. I always have the temptation to create some wondrous splash page with the Bleat just a click away . . . and then I think better of it, and resign myself to another big text-heavy page like this one.

Well, it's an experiment, and as long as I have this burst of energy, might as well do it. I don't know what's come over me lately. Ideas are just popping out every other minute. Not necessarily good ideas, but ideas. At night I vary between wall-scraping, site construction, and writing, an endless relay race that goes on until Hawaii 5-0 comes on: that's my signal to stop.

Speaking of which: today I saw an ad on the web for Authentic 5-0 badges. I simply must have one. Problem: it's a web ad. Problem two: the address is in Hawaii. I've absolutely no guarantee the guy hasn't put up a fake site and is sitting back, chuckling, waiting for gullible mainlanders to hand over the cash. It's a perfect scam. He even advertises silver-plated badges for a mere $250. Well, I do know a writer at the Honolulu Advertiser; I should call him and see if this is legit.

If it is, I'm buying. (Not the silver one, of course. I would not spend $250 for a Hawaii 5-0 badge. An original tricorder, yes, but not a badge.)

Watched the Star Wars trailer last night. Finally. Only about three months behind that cultural moment. I nearly wept at the end. It looked utterly different and completely the same as its predecessors - clearly a part of the SW look, but with a mature sort of grandeur I hadn't expected. It wasn't until I'd watched it three times that I realized that this movie is, in essence, The Omen. But it gave me shivvers: I could just see myself standing in line on a warm spring evening, about to reenter the big myth. I am neutral in the war between SW and Trek; one is epic drama, the other is Western technocracy, and each has its values, and each is geekily insuperior to its antecedents as well as more rewarding on an immediate, visually gratifying level. The problem is that there's not enough Star Wars - eight hours by spring - and too much Trek. (400 hours.) I'd trade the third season of Star Trek, the first and seventh season of TNG, the first (maybe two) seasons of DS9 and the second of V'ger and a few movies for a hundred more hours of Star Wars. But if this was a just war there would have been a Buckaroo Banzai sequel, Elvis Costello would still be writing tight pop songs, and everything built by the firm of SOM between 1969-1979 would have fallen down and been buried.

Cold again today, and likely to remain so for the rest of the month. Powdery snow; you could shovel the walk by sneezing a few times. No sun. No warmth. But I caught sight of a TV in the newsroom today, playing shots of fish swirling around a coral reef, and I thought: ninety days and counting, and I'll be there.

In the meantime, I scrape drywall, make websites about dead buildings, and try to tell myself this short story I'm working on isn't a novel. Please, God, let it not be a novel. Things are going good. Don't curse me again.

Scrape, shiver, drive, shiver, write, walk, shiver, write, drive & shiver. Repeat until May. Today I was home for the morning and early afternoon, waiting for the garage door repairman. While waiting - he was an hour and a half late - I crouched in the cool dim basement and shaved the walls, razoring off long brown gobbets of glue, listening to the radio. Very much like the old days when I moved back home to Mpls (interesting how those are now the old days; back then DC wasn't even the old days, yet) except that now I have company - the dog - and a job to go to, eventually. This wasn't a column day, so I didn't have to be in front of the machinery at the usual time. But I composed the next column in my head while scraping. The repairman came - a bluff hearty beet-cheeked Minnesotan; he fixed the door, took the check and departed. Walked the dog: met a bear.

An actual bear. Or so it appeared from across the creek. Big as a small bear or a large cub, with the same rolling gait; black, shaggy, gamboling along. I thought: could a bear make it this far into the city? This bear was heading west, which was unlikely - a bear would have come south and east down the creek, so perhaps this was just a large dog. (It was, as I later learned: Bacchus, a Newfoundland.) We avoided the bear, stuck to our side of the creek. Jasper did what he needed to do and limped home, paws frozen. He went to his room to sit by the radiator, and I went to work.

It was three degrees. Almost hat weather. Certainly glove weather. Got to work, had coffee, and banged out most of the next column, then recalled that I'd gotten an email from the owner of Big Brain comics: the new Jimmy Corrigan was in. Well, that meant a walk, then. While I ran the errand the temperature dropped two degrees, until it was a mere lone One. Plus the wind. Fourteen below with the wind chill, said the radio. Now that's hat weather. Not that I had a hat.

Back to the office. Wrote the column, meaning tomorrow will be one of those long stupid days where I pick at the column all day, futzing and buffing, ripping it up at the last moment and bumping the letters to the next column. (I have one letter that's been bumped four four columns in a row.) Went home, shivering in the car, but not tooth-knocking full-body shivers. Ate. Napped. Woke, and read the new Jimmy Corrigan. The print is so small I have to take my glasses off to read it, and this is not a sign of age - it's not even 2 point type. It's .02 point. Then started reading the review copy of a new Ellroy book, most of which I've already read. Digitized a few photos. Shaved the wall again, and was shaving when my wife came home.

Ring: phone. Giant Swede needs a ride from the rental car lot. Off I went. It was now about four below, with wind. Surely hat weather. I had no hat. On the way home he was describing a radio show he'd been listening to: Bruce Williams, the genial yet utterly disinterested financial advisor syndicated on about 6000 stations. He always enjoyed Bruce - in fact, I recall sitting in his big blue junker car listening to Bruce, waiting for his girlfriend to get off work. This would have been about 1981. Well, the girlfriend is long married to someone else - but I had called her tonight to RSVP for an old-gang get-together she's hosting this weekend.

Everything changes and still remains constant.

Which is not to say, as the French do, that the more things change the more they stay the same. This is not so. Exhibit A: the earth before the meteor struck in the Yucatan basin. Exhibit B: after the meteor struck. I rest my case.