They Break Your Heart

For Budd Rugg the world is one big unrequited crush

The tragedy of James Lileks is of an entirely different sort, and I almost wish C.J. would learn a few lessons from him. His "Backfence" column--which, full disclosure, I have tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate since its regrettable debut--is a cringing embarrassment, and, believe me, Budd Rugg knows a cringing embarrassment when he sees one. If I want to peruse the Reader's Digest, thank you very much, Anders Gyllenhaal, I can access 30 years of back issues at my mother's home in Falcon Heights. For those of you who don't pay proper attention, the "Backfence" inevitably features a waggish introduction that awkwardly segues into a plea for that most dreaded of newspaper fodder, the "reader's story." James will ramble on a bit about cartoons or Star Trek or some such thing, eventually inquiring of his readers: "What's the most humiliating episode of public regurgitation you've ever witnessed?" It's always something like that, but, to be honest, it's seldom that interesting. The whole charade is beneath him, and he knows it.

For truly voyeuristic thrills, however, nothing beats a visit to the Bleat, the website where James runs amok every day of the week. Budd Rugg can't start his day without it, and it's a generous and deeply personal offering full of equal parts droll domestic comedy, cultural criticism, and, increasingly, stiff polemics on world affairs. If that all sounds like a deliciously strange brew, well, welcome to Jasperwood, the Lileks enclave in Minneapolis that serves as the launching pad for the angry wag's daily excursion in cyberspace. The cast of characters includes Gnat, James's two-and-a-half-year-old 'puter-genius daughter who says peeeez daddee when she wants a hangiger (there are photos); James's fetching lawyer wife (there are photos); his loyal dog, Jasper (Jabber, in toddler parlance, and, yes, there are photos); and his trusty best pal, the Giant Swede (no photos yet that I've seen). Between the baby talk, the catalog of domestic banality, and the oddly strident conservative punditry, it's like the Tenth Circle of Hell meets Bill Keane's Family Circus, with little Billy and George Will taking turns behind the wheel.

I remember a trip I once made to the Como Zoo with my mother when I was a little child. A gorilla was gyrating perversely behind the glass and my mother remarked, "Why, you naughty little exhibitionist!" I asked, "Mommy, what's an exhibitionist?" And my mother answered, "That's a word for someone like Jim Klobuchar." And then she giggled like a schoolgirl. That charming exchange often returns to me when I read James Lileks'sBleat, and I can think of no higher praise.

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