They Break Your Heart

They'll make great pets: Budd dreams of a litter of li'l Stribbers

The real world is such a terrible nuisance, and it's a dirty, rotten shame that it's all most people seem to care about. It makes it awfully hard some days to be Budd Rugg. It seems like every week I get all lathered up about something so personally thrilling as seeing Mark Rosen pumping gas into his BMW at the Holiday station while jawing on his cell phone, or Tim Sherno drinking martinis and snoogling at the bar at Tiburón, only to have my enthusiastic contributions to City Pages summarily axed from the paper every Monday morning to make room for some story about diseased cattle or elder violence. Boring! Who gives a fig about the pedestrian crimes of politicians and police officers? Not Budd Rugg, certainly.

Like pretty much everybody else on this hobbled planet, some days I just don't know. It's too late to turn back now; though, and at this point I don't know how to do anything but desire. Budd Rugg desires. A different life. Different friends. A better, different world.

I fully realize that this sort of nonsense makes me sound like just another Dear Diary Gloomy Gus, but I can assure you that there's no cause for alarm. My misery knows the contentment that only self-knowledge can bring. Budd Rugg is reasonably happy in his skin, even if he wishes there were less of it. And though my enthusiasm for the beautiful people of the Twin Cities media may wax and wane on occasion, I know that I have a big, fat Clapper lamp buried in my chest, and all it takes to turn on my love light is the unexpected appearance at Patina of someone as diminutive but blindingly charismatic as Ed Heil.

Budd Rugg understands that when you have wholly unreciprocated crushes on people you don't really know there's going to be a weird little border territory where the weather is characterized by wild extremes. Too often, I know, my infatuation with many of the people I adore represents the very definition of the unhealthiest sort of love-hate relationship. I worship these beautiful creatures even as I not so secretly covet everything they have, and despise them for their cruel good fortune. I have terrible dreams of capturing these exotics and slowly and exquisitely suffocating them in the stale atmosphere of my boring existence.

If I could have my own little closet zoo in my apartment and I had to content myself with only two captives, I would without hesitation choose the two local media stars with whom I have had the longest and most volatile love-hate relationships: James Lileks and C.J.. It's unfortunate, I suppose, that both of my closet fantasy pets are Star Tribune employees, but infatuation doesn't play fair. If one of them were to die of starvation or some obscure brain swelling, I would replace him or her with Joe Soucheray, but he is a distant third on my list.

I still love James and Cheryl, but they have both consistently consternated me to such an extent that I have increasingly frequent dark pouts when my adoration is eclipsed by a festering displeasure. Some of my resentment is the product of their longevity; they have both managed to stick around long enough that their list of accomplishments has been steadily eroded by their laziness.

I have been a devoted reader of both of these local giants for many years. Nestled in my scrapbooks is a collection of clippings from C.J.'s early career as a staff reporter at the Star Tribune, before she was mysteriously transformed into a petulant and elusive gossip diva. The apparent severity of my delusions was perhaps best demonstrated when I once attempted (in a fit of regrettable pique) to sell these historic documents on eBay, only to discover that there were no interested bidders. Included in this stash are such Cheryl Johnson masterpieces as her accounts of waste disposal and traffic congestion in Blaine, a train derailment in Anoka County, and canine dentistry. These days, of course, she is holed up in a guarded Star Tribune office and reduced too often to writing about people I either do not know or do not care about.

While I envy C.J. her Rolodex, and am grateful for her vigilance in tracking the careers of such lamented prodigals as Brad Goodelookin' and Asha Blake, I have little patience for her babble about Ann Landers biographers or deservedly obscure rich people or some jeweler's son who landed a part as a dead person on some television program. I also find her fiercely guarded privacy utterly contemptible, and I abhor the extent to which it is respected by the local media. For God's sake, Cheryl, we can't love you if you won't let us in! Her accounts of celebrity labor pains, birthday parties, and nuptials are, of course, invaluable, but by and large these days, as I'm fond of saying, C.J. is about as fresh as Dollar-Store Massengill, and I can only imagine that she now keeps her once-feared teeth in a glass of water next to her bed.

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's Bleat, and I can think of no higher praise.

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