PEEKABOO My VW’s muffler clean rusted off last month. I pulled over and examined it before putting it in my trunk: probably hadn’t functioned for months. Meanwhile warning indicators say I have no coolant, so I keep dumping it in, which you shouldn’t have to do. Over 60 mph, the car fills with an odor I call “ozone” but it could be smoldering engine wires. I don’t want to detect more problems, so I keep my windows open and the tape deck all the way cranked, a strategy I call “mystical ignorance.” I pray it will cover my ass until winter.

We squander our potential waiting for worthiness. Find a concept, however narrow or tedious, whatever dumb thing is your thing, and be faithful to it. Content has a shelf life of a nano-second. Recognition is all bought or self-awarded. Make it, flog it, take your couple Likes and move on. Even if you’re onto something, what the world wants will change while you’re sleeping. I guess I’m saying, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”

Contemplating a project on the Mississippi River next month—a public panoramic drawing to be made on the riverboat Padelford as it moves downstream. Like so much, it comes out of an invitation. Not a burning desire or even an Idea. Who needs those? Someone says they are making a mini golf documentary. And they want to interview the artists behind “Move Your Hole.” Who would come see that? I’ll be at the Walker at 3 Sunday to demo. Caring much will require some effort on both sides of the camera.

With love from outer space, via Detroit and mental illness.

I began drafting my will this week, and in a weird coincidence, I’m experiencing Old Man problems. Three weeks ago I started having back spasms that brought me to my knees. Only now am I coming to the end of the indignity: shuffling slowly, teeth gritted, clumsily grasping walls and chairs. I worked from the floor for days, searching for positions free of pain. At one point, I laid on the side of the road whimpering until Sarah (literally) picked me up.

When did Building Mode stop and Breaking Down start? 20 more years and the problems change from acute to terminal. My dad told me in June that he’s got Alzheimer’s—at 64, the Early Onset kind. He won’t spend the next 25 years growing old, gracefully or ungracefully, however he might have pictured it. He gets maybe 10, quite possibly fewer, without his memories to soothe him. Of all the ways to wind down a life, no one would pick this one. Here’s him in ’73, before bad backs and bad brains.

[fd][believer] 1972

40 years is no time at all. I’m learning this sooner than expected.


Screen shot 2014-03-01 at 7.04.17 AMONE UNDENIABLE JOY of having kids is seeing them discover the things you love. Johanna has found her way to drawing, word games, Vietnamese food and tacos with only gentle nudges from her father. There may be more Nurture than Nature at play here, but it’s not like everything takes. She shows no inclination toward long walks or PBS Frontline.

In the case of music, my own most persistent passion, Jo’s ardor has been slower to form. There was a Michael Jackson phase, an Abba dalliance (Sarah’s doing) and a handful of tunes that get her dancing. But true fanaticism—that intense yearning to collect, listen, decipher and crank the volume—has eluded her.

Until she discovered the Beatles. It started in Johanna’s 2nd grade classroom with a unit called “Beatle Mania!” (one of so many reasons her school rocks). She was coming home full of Fab Four trivia (You know how Ringo got his name? Did you know they had Mop Tops before they got into uniforms?) and inquiring who we thought was cutest.

Things went quickly from Teeny Bopper curiosity to full-blown obsession. By the time of her class performance this month—100 seven year olds talk-singing Yellow Submarine and Let It Be with a live band—she was collecting MP3s, dissecting lyrics, tracing record covers and making Paul paper dolls. More than one morning we’ve awakened to “Back in the USSR” or “Come Together” blaring through her wall. “The White Album is probably my favorite. Except for Wild Honey Pie.” “Is this a John song?” “Why are there so many songs about Sun and Sunshine?” Our budding Beatlologist.

I went to New York for a (unrelated) conference during the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America, remembered for their performance on Ed Sullivan, even booking the same hotel they stayed at by coincidence. Last week on George’s 71st birthday we gathered for an hour of Harrison deep cuts on Bop Street. Jo’s friend Rey got a homemade Yellow Submarine cake for his 8th birthday. Beatlemania enfolds us utterly. When hand-claps are called for in “8 Days a Week,” none of us can resist.

Any other wall-to-wall cultural phenomenon would make my eyes roll back in no time. But—and I’m only the hundred-millionth person to say this—the Beatles are different. Their catalog is so vast, their style so varied. Four months into Jo’s crazy love affair, I’m hearing it as if with virgin ears, finding new shading in familiar songs, even discovering stuff I overlooked. With the possible exception of “Hey Jude” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” it all feels strikingly fresh. I’m fan-boying out on the ultimate rock-and-roll cliché. For the sake of intergenerational harmony, I can’t stop.

For your (re)consideration:

… and a charming novelty track:


Since a fierce tendril of frigid air arched over Canada earlier this month (said to be colder than Mars), Minnesota has been testy, if not from the black ice and dead batteries then about widespread school closures. While the 3-, 4- and 5-day weekends cured me of any impulse to home school, a lot of the reaction was mean and stupid—calling district leaders “wimpy” and even suggesting it was a conspiracy to drive mall traffic. I, for one, was glad to see kids in the workplace, twirling on office chairs, dry-erase coloring, and dispelling any illusion that the work we do is serious.

Polar vortex or no, January in Minnesota blows. Unless you’re working or living outside, the inconvenience is only a matter of degree(s). Below -10°, I confess I can’t feel the difference.
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Sarah awoke yesterday morning to hear NPR announce that China has expelled our friend Austin from the country after refusing to renew his visa, almost certainly because of his newspaper’s reporting on gross corruption in the family of former Chinese prime minister Wen Jiaobao. Austin’s in Taiwan for the indefinite future, despite high-level pleas to Chinese officials and even tough talk from Joe Biden. We are wishing the guy a swift resolution to his exile, but secretly hoping it means we’ll see him this year.
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I head to New York City Tuesday to attend the world’s largest gathering of legal technology professionals. I’m not one, but the immersion should help me better understand my newest client. As you would expect, the industry in question is dry, wonky, legalistic and dull to explain to almost anyone I know. Which is why making something really good from it feels like a worthy challenge.
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As of this week the hole in our home now has walls, windows, a wooden floor, can lights and wires poking out where appliances and outlets will be. The refrain of my inner monologue, and ultimate answer to all questions I face in life at the moment, is “March,” the month after which I will never again scrub dried oatmeal or degrease a skillet in my bathtub.

UBM7RENOVATION IS CRAZYTOWN. Chasms open and close without warning. There is constant noise and the ground shakes. As spatial realities dissolve, so do domestic comforts and norms. You struggle to do the bare minimum, a limbo bar that keeps lowering.

I was frustrated at first. Why is it so cold/hot/cold again? Did that light switch move? Do they have to listen to 93X FM? But this week something changed. I decided to loosen up and roll with it.

Right now that means exercise more, drink more and eat whatever I can find, be it raw, bagged or boxed. Give leftovers an über-generous grace period. Accept my family’s half-done projects and destroyed rooms; they’re coping with chaos their own way.

I cling to domestic chores like the last shreds of civilization. Recycling gets relentless attention, as do closets and beds. Twice a day I sweep the area for rubbish and material backups. There’s a continuous bucket brigade for dishes: dirty tubs go up to the bathroom and tubs of clean come down. No trip between floors is wasted. I work every angle. Could I shower and clean our cutlery at the same time? I contemplated it.

My mission: refine all systems, however trivial. Outside I locked down the compost bin using heavy bungies and bricks from an old chimney. It looks medieval. Whatever it is was ransacking our rotted cabbage and coffee filters has been vanquished. Be gone, wolverines and badgers! You will not sully my dirt pile.

Inside, the void is gradually becoming a room. Little imagination is needed to picture free-flowing spaces and roomy, accessible cupboards, me sashaying from sink to pantry to counter, imposing rigid and permanent order in the kingdom.

IMG_1838IMG_1628 IMG_1792IMG_1652 

I still have mixed feelings. About the privilege we’re flaunting and how cavalier we are getting about costly decisions. It’s only money! As long as you have enough of it! We are eating major cake and not sharing at all. Is our ability to do this what’s wrong with the world? How much does an already stupifyingly happy family deserve? Remodeling might be the least punk thing ever.


MY LOCAL HABITAT TURNED INHOSPITABLE OVERNIGHT with the kick off of a long-delayed kitchen renovation. The place where just last week I made toast is now a primitive, nail-strewn cave stripped of every amenity (water, stove, Nutella), accessed through an E.T.-like zippered facade. The contents of our pantry and cupboards are piled along all available walls. For the next 12 to 16 weeks we will not cook as much as warm things up. Dishes will be washed in the bathtub.

I don’t deserve pity. Remodeling pain is the bougiest gripe of all time (up there with Finding Good Help). But we are accepting dinner invitations.

Last month I rehabilitated a Polaroid Landcamera, a toy I hadn’t touched in years. While the original company is dead, off-brand peel-apart film is available on Amazon for no more than it cost in 2003.

My first rolls were mostly dark and blurry. I have to relearn how to compose carefully and shoot slow.



If there’s more mind-warping fun to be had with an iPhone than mis-use of panoramic stitching, show it to me.

14By now it’s old news that my sister had a baby. I’d say she’s doing okay with it.


We’ve had a lot of family visitors lately on account of ‘Lil Charley, including my half-sister Emily, seen here with my step-nephew-if-my-sister-were-married, Frank. Step-aunts, step-grandmas and multiple half-brothers also showed up. Johanna and her quasi-cousins need to be reminded Who is He (and What Is He to You)?


I’m in the middle of doing a video for my farm technology client. It involves hiring screen actors, but really only their legs. At the casting we picked five pairs from dozens of auditions, mostly ones whose shoes we liked.


There wasn’t much for Johanna to do when we said Go Outside and Play, so I and some Work & Company helpers put up a trapeze. It took a ridiculous amount of effort to anchor the rope in our massive oak. Overall it’s an engineering masterpiece, though Jo has to swing carefully to avoid smacking into trees and fences.


Took a field trip with Witt to the MCAD library, where you can freely paw artists books by legends like Sol Lewitt, Bruce Neumann and Ed Ruscha (though you gotta wear the Mickey gloves).

IMG_0598 IMG_0597

I topped off my Summer of Cycling with a balmy (100°+) camping ride to Afton State Park with Lucas. So wrung out were we by the heat and exertion that we barely drained our bourbon flasks. But having brought little food on account of weight, we needed the calories.


In exchange for helping make a website for his bobblehead empire (Phase 2), I’ve been immortalized by sculptor Bryan Guise. It’s like he’s revealed my essential self: part Eminem, part John Cusack, part graying guy with an over-familiar stare.


I’ve been binging on Lou Reed and V.U. (and tributes and photos) this week. Waiting for the right moment of cathartic dissolution to throw on Side B of White Light White Heat. Lou hits a deep vein.



Luges? Lugos!

Turns out “skitlls” are Johanna’s favorite candy. 

We hope Mrimeum/Miriam will appreciate the cursive signature.

More Skittles. The Mood Lamq is a vase filled with color-changing LEDs and liquid-filled plastic bubbles. Whatever’s in it is hazardous enough the package says, “do not dispose of bubbles in the sink or garbage.”

The diary was scientifically designed to make 7-year-old girls flip out: velvety exterior with celestial patterns, a giant neon initial “J” on the front, a quill topped with a hot pink feather, and secured with a flinky lock and key.

It took me a while to figure out this was a Fairy Crystal Light Catcher.

Dear “No one” (a/k/a Nanni).

“FurReal Friends” are a disturbing type of vibrating plush that startles when touched.

You know what’s big? Oversized novelty stuff.

Like a pencil the size of your forearm.

The ultimate Thank You note cop out. Sorry, Clara.

GOATSIS IT TOO EARLY TO LIVE IN THE PAST? When do new experiences start taking a back seat to commemorations? For me that point might be age 38. Around here nostalgia rules especially in years that end in “3.”

Not that this year’s new and notable column isn’t ample: MakeSh!t Mini Golf, Johanna learning to ride bike (over her strenuous objections), the departure of Grandpa Chuck and arrival of his namesake Charley, professional zigs, personal zags—death, birth and rebirth basically, with experiential inventory left to fill.

17But it’s all processed in light of history, each little milestone an excuse to look back. 10 years ago Sarah and I got married, an event we still talk about like it just happened and that we believe, secretly, earned us the All-Time-Fun-Party award (the marriage has been nice too). Is this our Linoleum Anniversary? Naugahyde? 

This summer I let my 20th high school reunion pass without fanfare (just peeking at the event on Facebook aged me a little). But Sarah’s 40th birthday got its due, sans black balloons or anything to do with a hill. We threw a party in the yard with bahn mi, this gin we like (almost too much), records, and a BYO-home movie screening.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 7.27.32 PMPeople brought the silly, shaky-handed footage we hoped for, plus standouts like Craig’s “Airbags for Men.” It was the world premier of Sarah’s “walking” vids, a series she’s shot over many years but that mesh surprisingly well. The locales are diverse but the subject is always her feet.

Also featured: a tribute vid I made to a YouTube I was fleetingly obsessed with in 2009: back-to-back intro sequences from Faerie Tale Theatre, a program hosted by Shelley Duvall from 1982-87. Having missed my window for meme relevance, I never posted it. But the paean played well to our friendly crowd.

 Here’s the original:

And the tribute:

My birthday gift to Sarah, in part, is to nudge her toward her true calling. I scoped her out a new startup that I’m calling LMDTFY. She already has a steady practice of non-paying customers, that being pretty much everyone she meets. 

Any direction can be forward.