What’s my problem? What’s so difficult about jotting a few notes here from time to time? I guess one problem is the new freelance lifestyle, which on the one hand theoretically gives you more free time (in the sense of time that isn’t planned for you), yes, but on the other hand it’s hard to let yourself not work. Not that I’m cracking the whip all the time, but, when you’re planning your own time, sometimes it’s hard to plan time for things that don’t feel productive.

Excuses, excuses. (Though, just for the sake of the record, I’ll point out that the involved diary entries I was doing in the spring and summer took about two hours a day, and I do have some other personal projects going. All right. Enough.)

I heard from my parents last night. They were sitting in the train station in Cumberland, Maryland, at the start of their old-world-style journey by train to San Francisco by way of Missoula and back again. They’ll arrive at the train station near Glacier National Park on Thursday, and A. and I will drive up to meet them and stay a night or two on the weekend. I’m not sure if A.’s and my difficulties with air travel this summer are their only inspiration for using the train, but it was ironic that, when they called, their train was delayed an hour and a half.

The fall has turned cool here, with temperatures dropping down into the thirties at night due to an influx of “cool, Pacific air.” Told you we’re really in the northwest, at least weather-wise. Yesterday we had the chimney cleaned, and, in the evening, I spent an hour driving around looking around for some place that sells bundled firewood. Turned out to be a little early in the season for this to be a feature of “every shopping center,” as I’d blithely assured A. would be the case, but I finally found some at the Albertson’s on Reserve, close to the highway.

Then we forgot to light the fire because The War was coming on, and we barely had time to heat up some soup and toast some bread before the first haunting strains of Wynton Marsalis’s theme music were coming over the television’s speakers. What a series, or “film,” as they insist on calling it. We missed the first three episodes, although it seems they will be replaying the series on Wednesdays for the rest of October. Does that start tonight? I’ll have to check. If you missed it, I recommend tuning in. Just think: you can become steeped in facts and sensory details from this important period without even having to crack a book. And there is something about the careful accounting of battle after battle – with casualty numbers – that helps you get past the cartoon of “the good war” and realize that one war does not vary much from another (though I was struck by the film’s final salute to the men and women “who fought and won this necessary war”; they do vary in that sense, but, as they say, “elections have consequences”). Yes, this would be a good series for the kids to watch, to get across the idea that war – even a “good” war – is still just about noise and terror and fire and blood and maggots everywhere, with no one knowing what’s going on (including, sadly often, the generals ordering their men into a meatgrinder). As my grandfather told my mother, you just hide and try to survive until the guy next to you gets shot and then you go berserk.

I will say that I don’t know how many more times I can stand to hear Tom Hanks (now settling comfortably into his incarnation as the personification of “greatest generation” smugness) intone, “Al McIntosh, Rock County Star-Herald.” The New Yorker compares Mr. McIntosh’s columns to “the monologues of the Stage Manager in Our Town,” but this is clearly just a bone the magazine is throwing to the red states out of a reflexive fear of being perceived as eastern and effete. (Too late!) I found most of the quotes from Mr. McIntosh’s columns to be pure self-satisfied country pabulum (particularly – and how apt! – his sneer at the exuberance with which New Yorkers reacted to the news of victory in Europe, as compared to the “dignity” with which Luverne residents simply closed up their shops and went home for the day). It’s like someone sent James Lileks back in time. Don’t get me wrong, I like me some James Lileks from time to time (I’d even point to his on-line diary as something of an inspiration for this one), but he’s not exactly the person you’d want making pronouncements for the ages sixty years from now. (As opposed to me, of course.)

We’re not the only ones with something to watch. A. finally hung her bird feeder near the deck, and I moved Zuzu the cat’s bed over to the sliding door so that she can recline in comfort while staring intently at the birds’ comings and goings, an activity that keeps her occupied for, seemingly, hours at a time, although no doubt with frequent nap breaks. This is in between episodes of howling mournfully as she wanders from room to room; then there is her frequent practice of thundering back and forth across the living-room floor, which is directly above my head when I’m sitting in my office. Who knew an eight-pound cat could make so much noise? I have no idea if these activities are new, or whether she always used to do this when the house was empty. But I’ll keep observing her, and you’ll be the first to hear what I find out.

Al McIntosh, Rock County Star-Herald.

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