Monday, May 30, 1994

Fractured Fairy Tale

One of my coworkers is soon to be married. Next week our office is having a little get together for the young couple. We all have been asked to bring a piece of advice on what it takes to make a marriage work. Who better than I to offer some worthwhile insight?

I recently had a conversation with my sister who asked me if I could name anyone who had a happy, successful and good marriage. Maybe it is a mere matter of perception, of how you define the terms, but neither one of us could come up with an example of a marriage that in actuality was successful on all levels. Maybe it is the years of isolation and solitude that has led me to believe that no matter how social a creature people are, and seem to need to be, maybe we are wisest when we are alone. Isn't that what most people are afraid of? Yet, no matter how much I try, I can't quite talk myself into actually believing that way of thinking. So the best advice I can come up with is this: to make such a commitment work, you have to learn how to compromise in the face of a society that goes against that.

Separation, or segregation as it is sometimes called, is often the law of the land. It is instilled in us that to combine different elements of our lives into a coherent whole can be dangerous, can lead to conflicts of interest as well as other problems. Separation of church and state; the alleged two party system; John and Paul; cats and dogs; men and women; the proposed watch dog role of the media; all are examples of this ingrained philosophy. Many of us were taught at an early age that it is wise to separate work from play; public from private. It's an attitude that becomes so second nature that life becomes a stage, and we learn to play different parts, learn to act the way the situation and culture calls for.

Over the past few weeks, I have become more aware of the falsehood of this way of thinking. What you learn outside the office can be logically applied to the job. For me, these are the days of miracle and wonder and this summer I have somehow found myself on two softball teams. On Wednesday nights I play for my aunt's brother's (not my father) team. It is comprised of a group of former Mounds View students who are now nearing forty. They have played together for such a long time, that any hint of age is overcome by familiarity. They know each other inside out, so they can cover for weaknesses while using each other's strengths to maximum effect. Although we play teams with more ability, no opponent can come close to the "teamwork" and thus we succeed more times than we fail.

It is a competitive team, and if we lose, some of the players take it harder than others. They want to win, want to play the best they can. With my aloof, but happy go lucky spirit, I'm not exactly sure how I fit in on the team. I can say that over my life I have learned there is no better feeling than after I have hit the ball into a gap and I can use my above average speed to try and run as far as I can. I feel like a little bunny in the wild. Softball to me is a therapy, and still with this team I feel awkward and my confidence is lacking. I don't want to fail and thus tighten up and make mistakes I shouldn't make.

On Thursday nights I play on a coed team: for my former employer the Secretary of State, appropriately named Joan's Jets. It is a team that over the years has mellowed out; the purpose isn't so much to win, more to have fun and give it our cliched best. We often don't win but without the pressure, my own performance is enhanced. The lesson learned is that the difference between the two teams for me is the approach and attitude. One night I don't feel like I belong, I feel like I have something to prove and don't want to make a fool out of myself. I play tight and make mistakes as a result. And I must admit I endure the experience instead of enjoying it. The next night I know I have succeeded to a degree in the past, and although the expectations from my peers is greater, I can play more relaxed and thus succeed more times than not.

On a more coherent and relevant subject, I also happen to have two jobs of great diversity. One, I guess I consider my real job. It is the one that pays the bills, takes up most of my time and thought. It ain't a lot of fun, yet I have learned to approach it with more of a care free attitude and thus can enjoy it on a certain level. The other is what you have in your hands, and it is a labor of love, more than mere township jive and the cockiness that sometimes appears comes from confidence in knowing that if I make a mistake there is always next week to rectify things. Duality as opposed to mere duty.

Every job I have had has had its share of tedious tasks. Every place I have worked has had its share of complainers, of people who don't like what they are doing and constantly remind you of that fact. Maybe it's age, maybe maturity, maybe senility, but with each passing experience I have come to learn that it all does depend on your attitude. If you make something "just a job" it will be exactly that. If you approach something with an attitude that you want to make a difference, you often times can. Things don't always have to be separate; you can have it all- to a degree. It isn't always possible to do what you want to do, simply because that is often hard to define. But if you do well at what you are doing, with time, that is something that becomes easier to accept.

Monday, May 23, 1994

Damn it Jim, I'm Only an Editor

You'll have to excuse me if I seem even more distracted than usual this week but last Wednesday I took one on the head for my softball team. Now my forehead is the size of a Ferengi's. I was playing second base, runner on first, grounder to short, I prepared myself for the throw, positioning my feet to turn two. Gary the shortstop was about six feet away and I expected an underhanded toss. Instead he threw a bullet right between the eyes. Knocked my socks off, ingrained the stitches of the ball on my head, and filled the heavens with stars. Ouch. But as long as I'm up here in the ozone...

For the past one hundred weeks it has been my duty (and privilege) to produce our company newsletter. It's been a lot of work and quite frankly I'm amazed we've lasted this long and that every week we have gotten something out. While settling into a routine has made some of the work easier, it has remained a difficult task coming up with something that's worth reading. We don't want to repeat ourselves, want to remain fresh, but at the same time we have to be consistent so people know what to expect, and can look forward(?) to each new issue.

This comes to mind with the ending of the TV version of ST:TNG. The series definitely hit its peak a few years back and has been running recently only on impulse power. As editor I can relate. They have done more episodes this year on similar themes (i.e. dreams). This is not unusual for American television. The trick is to come up with a group of characters people will respond to; put those characters through a variety of different situations without getting too far out (it all happened while Bobby was taking a shower); and watch as they react in a consistent manner while still allowing room for growth. All this happens on a tightrope, ideas become more and more recycled as the characters become more and more predictable. If anything happens too fast or too radically (see the evolution of Hot Lips to Margaret) you lose your credibility and believability.

In a way it's the same with friendships. You present yourself to another and hope they accept you as well as see potential for growth. As time goes by the relationship changes, and if the consistencies are compatible with the growth, the friendship is allowed to reach different stages. There is nothing quite like an old friend, and when that friendship is finally gone, the size of the hole becomes apparent as you truly miss what over the years you began to take for granted.

So another friend departs. My first memory? My parents gave my older sister Joan a cassette recorder back when I was a wee, impressionable lad. I remember being amazed at the technology that allowed her to hear and play back history. One of the first things she taped was the Star Trek episode, "Trouble with Tribbles" the dialogue of which all of us kids had memorized within days.

To this day during stressful times, when it feels like there are tribble sized objects falling all around me, I remember Kirk's bewildered look as he muttered, "Who put the tribbles in the Quatro-triticale?" and things don't seem so serious. I thought I outgrew Star Trek at one point. When TNG began, I had no interest in watching it. To me it was either going to be a clone, or they were going to do something sacrilegious. Plus it was a syndicated show, putting it on par with say Saved by the Bell.

But old friends have a way of reappearing even if time has changed them. Joan's son, Nathan become hooked on ST:TNG. It was all he could talk about for awhile. And wanting to stay in touch with and be able to talk with today's youth, I began to watch the show so I knew what Nate was talking about. To my surprise I immediately liked the show better than the original. On the first show, while it was admirable what they tried to do, that they were actually trying to say something, too often they slipped into easy moralizing, a simplistic solution to the human condition. TNG seemed to be smarter, hipper and more mature.

The last few years however, it has become more of a habit to watch the show, something to pass time (which explains some of the frustration I felt whenever they did a time travel episode), rather than something I had to watch every week. It's easy to be critical of something so popular and something that so easily lends itself to geekdom. If truth be known, the only characters I liked were Picard, Data, Geordi and Bev. I always wished they had killed Riker. There have been times this year when my groans have been louder than the forced dialogue. But when the original episodes stop, and the old friend turns into mere reruns, I for one, will fondly recall and wistfully long for the days when the tribbles fell from up above, and wish I could hear that unforgettable command: "make it so..." just one more time.

Monday, May 16, 1994

Total Eclipse of the Heart

The children at Horace Mann Elementary School took us back to the 60's last Thursday, in a concert that turned the gym into a festival of love.

The evening featured pony rides in the parking lot; a hoe-down in the gym; a collection of collages dedicated to the important people and events of the 60's; kids dressed in the appropriate attire: beads, tie dyed shirts, leather boots, shades; and to top it all off, an impressive performance of some of the better known songs from the era reinforced by a slide show.

Although I was born in 1964 and thus came of consciousness during the '70's (about the only person I know who can lay claim to that remark), this was the music of my youth. I remember listening to my sisters pound out their versions on the family piano. When I was old enough to take piano, I often bypassed my assigned lesson to play songs out of my sister's 60's music books. (Plus, you have to keep in mind I did go to Macalester.)

The music seemed to mean something, seemed to indicate an important part of the cultural revolution I was learning about in my American History classes. As a kid said Thursday night, "It was the first time people challenged their government." Well maybe not, but the idealism of that statement says something about what people of the time were smoking, drinking and thinking.

What was odd about the evening however, was to think that those kids of Horace Mann, like their peers throughout the country, probably view the 60's as some unimaginable time period that occurred somewhere right after the Jurassic period. I remember when I was a kid (after I walked seven miles to school in ten inches of snow, with girl's boots), I used to think of the 1940's, which was a pretty significant time in my parent's lives, as something that happened only in books, not in actuality. But heck, there are people who work at our stores that were born in the 70's...

I guess my observation for the night, was like that spunky, little heroine in Miss Saigon, the kids are being given an outline, a representation of what the meaning of the time period was. Peace, love, a time of change, of movements and of JFK and MLK and BFK and the Great Society. The race in space. Imagine... But anyway, the kids sang, and sang well whether it meant anything or not: Blowin' in the Wind, Yellow Submarine, We Shall Overcome, Puff the Magic Dragon, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Ballad of the Green Beret, Surfin USA, 409 and many, many more! It was a virtual re-creation of my 45 collection.

"It would seem to me the people in control of the media must be 60's people, and they'll continue to push forth the 60's until they're dead. Then a new group of people who were raised in the 70's will come in and we'll have a big 70's revival in the year of 2000. The 60's will be forgotten. Nostalgia is more of a mental thing. It has no ring of reality. It doesn't really have much to do with what's going on today."

-The writer of Blowin In the Wind

Speaking of which, if an entire era can possibly be about something, here's what I see: I was taking Max the Cat for his walk the other day when it was very windy out. Every time there was a gust of wind, Max would take off like an Indy 500 car. I would huff and puff to keep up, but my Mama Cass legs would only spin so fast, and ultimately Max's leash would snap and pull him back. His perpetual race against nature hopelessly lost. As the kiddies will eventually learn, the answer my friend, is blowin in the wind.

Monday, May 9, 1994

Last Dance with Mary Jane

My best friend pointed out after reading a recent newsletter piece I wrote that those who don't know me better might think I'm a bit tense, edgy and in need of some time off.

"Yeah, so what's the point?" I snapped.

The point was that appearances at least suggest all is not perfect in Dave's World. I myself catch glimpses that maybe I'm wound a bit too tight these days. The first sign usually comes early in my day as I drive to work. It probably is not a good sign that on my journey to the office I end up becoming mighty mad at about half a dozen other drivers. Is it my fault I witness at the very least three traffic violations before 7:00am?

Can somebody please tell me what the deal is with headlights?! Is there some kind of contest that I'm not aware of, where the last one to keep their lights off, wins a prize? As I see it (and admittedly often I simply don't), a car's lights serves two purposes: one is to help you see better in the dark or during inclement conditions and the other is to allow others to see you better. To me, there isn't anything cool about driving around in the dark without your lights. Maybe I'm wrong.

And what is the deal with lackadaisical, inconsistent, haphazard use of turn signals? This is my biggest pet peeve. You're driving along, when suddenly the car in front of you slows down, and without warning turns on to another avenue. Is it that much of an effort to hit the little lever? There are those who don't want you to know where they are going, but using a turn signal isn't a mere formality, it's the freaking law. Damn it.

I'll be the first to admit I may not be the best person to put behind a moving metal vehicle during rush hour amongst your average Minnesota driver (if we can call them that). I either have to learn how to relax in traffic or I'll blow a gasket before my sputtering car does. Yet it ain't exactly a contest out there. It isn't about who can drive fastest, who can survive without following all the rules. It is about safety. And I think we all can be more alert and better drivers. I'm starting right here. If we can do nothing other than all try to be better drivers, the world would still be a better place.

But you know... I was talking to another friend of mine who suggested I may never be fully happy until I hit the road again. She suggested I get my plan together by the summer of 1995. We got on the subject because I was waxing nostalgic about the dream job Charles Kuralt was walking away from. Even my own father thought that would be a perfect occupation for my psyche. I guess I operate on the "grass is always greener" philosophy. I may never pitch in the big leagues, I may never be a major force for social change. All those dreams of my childhood, in hindsight, seem rather dorky these days. But part of my heart has kept a perpetual eye on the road and the wanderlust in my spirit makes it hard to stay in one place for too long. What's holding me back? Sharing the road with too many other irritants.

Confession time- being the good Episc 'o' palian I am. The all time worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation has stuck in my craw. What the hell is the deal with Wesley Crusher's evolution beyond being a human? The wonder kid has of course advanced to some sort of time traveler that is superior to the rest of us mere three dimensional beings. I always thought my dislike for Wes was rationally based on his being the very definition of Wiener Boy extraordinaire, but now there is a more serious basis for my hatred: pure jealousy. Wes is now the ultimate traveler, the ultimate Charles Kuralt as it were, and that's hard to swallow. It's like watching the girl that just dumped you, become the homecoming queen. YUK. Talk about stealing the boom out of the old thunder.

Monday, May 2, 1994

Mama You've Been On My Mind

The last time I was in Rochester was 1988, on my secret government mission. I don't remember much about that trip. I do remember I brought with me one tape, which was a bootleg Dylan/Petty concert. I was listening one morning to a cover of the old Dizzy song, "that lucky old sun, has nothing to do, but roll around heaven all day" when one of the employees at my destination asked me who was on the tape.

"Bob Dylan," I mumbled.

"Who's he?" she asked. I knew then and there my mission was pointless as well as over.

I'm happy to report my return trip was much more enlightening (or funner as the kids might say). It was definitely the happening place to be on a Sunday night in Rochester. The Civic Center, a large high school auditorium (when is this year's prom dear?) was the venue. The trip down was a gas. Despite the allergic reactions, we knew something special was in the air. And it was. There aren't many I'd travel as far to see. Would I break a leg to go see Bob? Probably not. Would I sprain both my ankles? I'd consider that. It was that good a show.

It was a dark and stormy night... My companion dragged me (didn't touch me) to the side of the stage where we saw Bob squint and sweat. He opened the show with Jokerman and my heart cooed. "Freedom just around the corner from you." He segued into Senor, one of my favorite Dylan tunes, and I muttered to all around, "Cool!" My companion looked at me with her best Ted Koppel stare, and shrugged. She may not have understood, but she appreciated the moment, and even I think, enjoyed it. So be it that Bob left out the best line, "This place don't make sense to me no more, can you tell me what we're waiting for Senor?" You had to wonder if the place has now come to indeed make some kind of sense to the man.

I even tolerated the dirge like performance of one of my least favorite songs of all time, Disease of Conceit. There may have been a whole lot of people suffering that night, but none in that gym. The highlight of the show, like most recent Dylan performances, came in the acoustic portion with the performance of Masters of War. In recent years Bob has stuck to a machine gun, mosquito buzzing arrangement of the song, which never lacked for subtlety in the first place. Bzzzzz. The sledgehammer heaviness of the lyrics competed with the pounding guitars into a Scorpion like epic. This version however was soft and reflective, capturing the angry mood of the recorded version much better. It was sad, poignant and delivered with passion.

It was his usual eclectic show. During the slow bluesy God Knows, you could almost picture young Bobby Z. rocking to a confused Hibbing High School to a cool reception. The most intriguing juxtaposition was backing I and I, a song about searching for self identity with I Believe in You, one of Dylan's most convincing "Jesus" songs. After the show we were buzzed. As the rain exploded, the spirits may have been dampened but the music lingered on.

If there's but one thing I've picked up on my own Never Ending Tour, the September of my years, it is that happiness isn't merely stumbled upon, it's something you have to seek to find. You put yourself in a bad, awkward position, and the end result can be all too predictable. But the opposite can also be true. To connect with others can be worth the risk. There are those that survive rock, roll and life. The longer you last, the better it can be. There's a wonderful now familiar feeling hearing that deep but subtle, anticipated voice that says, "Will you please welcome, Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan." To share the feeling with another is like lotion on the driest of skin, jumping up and down on the bed springs of life, running to grandma's stark naked to show off new tennies. Maybe the feelings never last, but the experience still counts. Ten of the best nights of my life have been with Bob. And now another. Ten more than most.