Monday, May 29, 1995

Romancing the Stone

Here's a lesson I have somehow managed to learn along the way in between bites of steamed broccoli: one way to succeed with more regularity is to lower your expectations. When you don't expect quite so much it's easier to get there. It's quite simple really, and often it is even painless.

Let's say it is the expectation of your job to sell one hundred chances a day. You find that it is a difficult quota to meet so you lower the number to 75, which you reach with alarming regularity. You now daily, fully meet your expectations but over a week's worth of work you are selling one hundred twenty five to one hundred seventy five less chances than you originally wanted to. Are you really succeeding or have you merely managed to fail more slowly?

Yes indeed if you have low expectations, they are easy to meet and you don't have to worry about the quality of what you have accomplished so much. Set those standards high and watch that failure rate rise like there is no tomorrow. Reach out for the unreachable and fall into the web of bitter disappointment.

"The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing a thing exactly right."

"She knows there's no success like failure and that failure is no success at all." -Bob Dylan

"Success is like a box of failed chocolates, it's easy on the way down, and sometimes hard on the way out."
-David the "Gump" Maeda

Beauty lies in the eye of the distant beholder. There is a fine line to walk between compromise and losing your original intentions or vision while managing to get by. Another way to avoid the sting of failure is to stress the successes over the near misses. Take the game of baseball for example. There are many ways a player can succeed; maybe you can't hit a lick but you can pick up ground balls with the skill of that most famous pickup artist, Valentino. Plenty of teams need the good field no hit types. BINGO Pedro, you are a success! But the true most valuable type players aren't the ones who do one thing well, it's the few that can do a little bit of everything well. Versatility and adaptability are rare and admirable traits.

We live in an instant, fast food culture. People expect results yesterday. Today's trends become tomorrow's washed up ideas. What people sometime forget is that success seldom occurs over night, it is something that in most cases, has to be thought over carefully, and nurtured fully before the seeds blossom into the desired results.

We may no longer fall in love at first sight, but to keep the mind's eye focused and open to the possibility is the thing that becomes more and more difficult over time. Patience is often rewarding in ways that can't be seen by initial first impressions. Intelligence, thoughtful conversation, the building of relationships, sometimes have their appeal over short term one night stands.

Of course the trick, and the all too difficult skill is to learn how long you should wait before you realize it is pointless to continue on the same path. When do dreams become fantasies? When do you realize what you want to happen may never happen? You don't want to wait too long on the shore and let all those damn boats pass you by. When we all live in an environment of uncertainty, of change, it is difficult to remain faithful to our principles, and still have the long term and the short term insight to be able to change the game plan but keep the spirit behind the original goals in mind.

It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day activities that make up life and not appreciate the whole picture. Many of us take breathing for granted. For some, another breath seems like a climb up Everest. But what constitutes a disappointment these days? Do we measure our successes by our failures and is this truly the thing we wanna do?

Monday, May 22, 1995

Obviously One Believer

The last time I made a West Coast swing that included Los Angeles was before the flood back in 1989. It was a different time, I, a different person, and the reflection I was with witnessed many memorable moments from the debut of a one armed pitcher, to the thrills of one arm bandits. But like a pebble plopped in a puddle, the memories spread, dissipate and waver. I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Well that high tide's risin, mama, don't you let me down. Pack up your suitcase, mama, don't you make a sound. Now it's king for king, queen for queen, it's gonna be the meanest flood that anybody's seen. Oh mama, ain't you gonna miss your best friend now? Yes, you're gonna have to find yourself another best friend, somehow.

The Palladium is an old renovated ballroom located on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood. The once elegant building has a scrubbed wood dance floor, grand chandeliers, two red carpeted balconies and holds about one thousand people. In recent years, the Palladium has become yet another Los Angeles night club, attracting acts like the Pretenders, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Golden Palominos. In the past few months there have been a few incidences of violence, so as you enter the building, you are frisked (and I mean frisked) so thoroughly one almost wants to ask for a cigarette after the search is finished.

If not for you my sky would fall, rain would gather too, without your love I'd be nowhere at all, I'd be lost if not for you.

The crowd that gathered for Bob Dylan's Palladium appearance last Wednesday was sort of at a generational tug of war. You had your usual collection of Dead Heads driving up in their Volkswagen vans, tye-dyed and dread locked. You had your aging middle aged couples, sweatered, bespectled, arm in arm, and waiting for a nostalgic evening along side of punkers dressed in black carrying lunch boxes. Defining his audience and then playing to them, is not something Bob spends a lot of time worrying about. For his concerts, Bob doesn't seem to mind that those attending might not hear the songs they came to hear. Who is his audience these days? The problem cropped up during Bob's participation in the Unplugged episode. He filmed two concerts which in usual Bob fashion were a mixture of his well known "classics" and some more obscure, off the cuff material. The marriage between Bob and the MTV audience, the MTV format, and his history of uneasy television appearances made for some interesting choices in what was eventually aired. The final choice for songs was in nearly all cases, uninspired and exactly what one might expect from a Dylan show; in other words Bob fell into the predicability trap he has always strived to avoid. Yet his performance was solid, and the recent CD release does include a more complete picture of what and who Dylan is.

But you and I have been through that, and this is not our fate. Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

On each leg of his "Never Ending Tour," (now over seven years old), Bob has added or subtracted something from the shows to give them a different flavor. This time around almost seemingly in response to "Unplugged" Bob has abbreviated the acoustic portion of the shows (constantly a highlight over the years) from five or six songs down to three, so anyone who bought the newest CD expecting to see the same from the show, is bound to walk away disappointed. There is a bigger surprise awaiting fans in these shows however; as the lights go down, and the shadows on the stage move to their marks, and that deep booming voice says, "Please welcome, Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan," the lights go up to a Bob dressed in a fancy blue coat and purple pants, without his guitar, only a microphone in hand.

The dramatic velvet lighting and the way Bob awkwardly plays the audience, pointing, turning, stepping and swinging, and the fact he played a couple of shows in Vegas before stopping in L.A., proves that he is every bit the crooner Sinatra ever was. Without his guitar to protect him, Bob's jerky movement is enhanced by greater focus on his singing; both nights I saw him, this unusual twist was performed with surprising effect on the first two numbers.

Well the room is so stuffy, I can hardly breathe. Everybody's gone but me and you and I can't be the last to leave. I'm pledging my time to you, hopin' you'll come through too.

I was sitting at my desk last Monday trying to psyche myself up for another stressed filled, meeting consumed, work week. I grabbed Bob's Empire Burlesque (a much maligned, but sadly overlooked release from 1983) and plopped it into my portable CD player. The fifth song Never Gonna Be The Same Again, caught my ear for some reason, and I listened to the lyrics for the first time in years. You give me something to think about baby, every time I see ya. Don't worry baby, I don't mind leavin' I just like it to be my idea. The song used to annoy me; perhaps because like the other ballads on Empire Burlesque, the lyrics are deceptively simple and unlike any other Dylan language. Maybe the song never appealed to me because of the lackluster recording and performance, another of Bob's missed chances. For whatever reason, on this particular Monday, at this particular moment in my life, somehow something about the song struck me deep inside. I liked the sentiment expressed and the place I've been to- You took my reality and cast it to the wind, and I ain't never gonna be the same again. So as I was standing there at the Palladium two days later and for whatever reason Bob pulled out this song (one I don't think he's ever performed live before), it was an odd experience to say the least. Sorry if I hurt you baby, sorry if I did. Sorry if I touched the place where your secrets are hid.

There were other wonderful surprises too; night one's Pledging My Time; night three's roarin' Tombstone Blues so unlike the jangling Unplugged version; both night's Seeing the Real You At Last, and God Knows, and the closing number on both nights, Obviously Five Believers with its terrific running riff and Bob's playful phrasing on some of his best lyrics. Night three's Hattie Carroll got an extremely moving reading with Bob playing out the song's dramatic tone to full effect- Now is the time for your tears. And for those wondering why one would continue to see Bob at every opportunity, the difference between night one's Mr. Tambourine Man, and night three's reading of the same song, demonstrates what some of the fuss is about. Maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was Bob's mood, and his interplay with his band, but night one's performance seemed to me, to be tentative and lacking. Night three's performance however, although played the same way, really moved me. I guess you had to be there. Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Bob closed Friday night with three encores. He was much more animated and playful than he has been for any of his Twin Cities' appearances. "We gotta go now, places to be..." The second encore featured the best version of I Shall Be Released I've ever heard with Sheryl Crow singing harmony. She hugged Bob, he shrugged, then played a rollicking Rainy Day Woman, pointed to the crowd with a two finger gun salute, slapped some hands, and swaggered out of sight once more.

Monday, May 15, 1995

Being There

Most people who know me would describe me as easy going, easy to get along with, easy on the eyes, usually good natured, and just a little bit dim. So the following might be an indication how badly a certain young chap is in need of a vacation.

Last Monday, I arrived in the parking ramp around 6:45 and was circling to my usual spot. In this particular ramp, the circulars have the right of way and the coming ups and going downs have to yield. As I was turning around the corner, a car came up, and without pause, proceeded to scoot to an empty spot. Narrowly avoiding him, being so alert at that time of morning, I hit my horn. Granted, it was an after the fact honk, not a look out warning as an accident is waiting to happen honk, which I guess can be taken as a sort of mechanical expletive, but it isn't like my horn is one of intimidating tone, nor was my honk particularly lengthy.

I parked my car on the next level, walked to the skyway, and slowly headed to my office. I wanted to see the other driver, yet these days you can't be too careful, not knowing who might pull out a firearm if offended, so I figured while I wanted to have a "discussion" with the other driver, if we didn't meet, no big deal. I strolled slowly when I heard a voice behind me call out, "Hey! Did you honk at me?" And I said, "Why yes, I did. Do you know what yield means?"

I sized him and the situation up. The man, like most men was a bit larger than me. If we were to get into a fist fight, I would have to rely on my wits and quickness to survive. Quite frankly, it also looked as if this gentleman might have enjoyed a cocktail or two the previous night judging from the redness of his nose. The man again repeated his profound statement, "Did you honk at me? You don't honk at me..." as if I had somehow committed the highest degree of offense known to him.

Me being razor sharp as I am, also repeated my witty barb, "Do you know what yield means?" And in case he didn't hear the first two questions, I repeated it again. No backing down now, the air between us certainly took on a rather tense thickness. He continued on, looking straight forward. I walked head cocked in his direction (looking much like Sergeant Carter yelling at Jim Nabors, during the theme song of Gomer Pyle), not wanting to give it up. I figured I had merely followed the procedures I had been taught in driver's ed class all those years ago: you see someone violate a traffic code, you are well within the protocol, almost expected to, give them a beep on your tiny foreign car's horn. This is especially true to avoid an accident the result coming from either ignorance or indifference.

Not to give you all the wrong impression either; I was not looking to improve on my fight record. The last physical fight I was in was back in the second grade when I defeated Mike Evigen, who has in recent years made a name for himself in the local boxing scene. Lest you are impressed with my ability to defeat the area's former light heavyweight champion, Mr. Evigen was two years younger, we were in those days of fairly equal size, and few punches were thrown, just a whole lot of wrasslin'. My fight record might be impressive, but deep inside beats the heart of a flaming frightened pacifist.

I think this particular gentleman was surprised that I was standing up for my right of way rights. We reached the point in the skyway where we were to part ways. By this time, I knew a fist fight was not to happen, and several people were looking at us sheepishly, the clatter of our voices having disturbed their usual morning solitude. "Grow up," the man said. "Learn how to drive," I replied.

I walked quickly to my building, up the stairs to my desk. A gray Monday morning 7:00 in the freaking a.m., and there I was already steamed, with blood pressure nearing boiling point. I had a whole ten hours of work in front of me that day and I had let a non-yielder get the best of my honker. Upon reflection, I thought of all the things I should have said, knowing had I said any of those things, the escalation of the moment would have surely exploded, and I might have now been sans my glasses. The anger and aggresiveness of the moment turned to reflection and self doubt. Perhaps the fellow was right, perhaps I needed to grow up. Part of being an adult is learning to relax, forgive and forget, let bygones be bygones.

The rest of the day I cringed at the thought of leaving at the end of the day and either running into the fellow again, or going out to my car to see all four tires missing or something. Fortunately, my departure was nothing out of the ordinary. I climbed into my car, cranked the tunes. Another day done. Nothing hurt besides my sanity... And I'd certainly been there before.

Monday, May 8, 1995

Love American Style


Samantha was a woman who knew that the quickest way to a fellow's heart was by wearing a good hat. She rode her bike recklessly through the darkest parts of town. Together, they never did finish a crossword puzzle. Never knew all the right words. She did a jig, and in pure happiness he told her he cared. She went on to better things yet still stuck around. She was very good at making him feel so insignificant. Has anyone seen her lately? Could anyone possibly tell her that through it all she is forever stuck inside, a wistful regret, for whatever it may be worth? She clearly showed that where he was at is entirely up to him. She doesn't want it to mean anything and he guesses in a way it just can't.

Eddie was a man who was cursed with being accused of knowing more than he did. It was pure accident the rare times he was able to stumble upon the truth. Hail could kill, buildings could explode, and Eddie stood blank, trying to fill an empty page. She didn't know him that well, and in a superficial way, she pitied him.. Yet his presence was one she'll never forget, or understand.

Sandra was a woman with a pronounced limp. She appeared in his dream. Her name was never Lisa Lette. On the sandy beaches of Australia, or in the middle of downtown Kingman, the home of the Militia, she made him feel comfortable and at ease. Her quirky sense of humor punctured his growing ability to take himself way too seriously. Her absence is slightly greater than her lingering presence. In the End, she is the One who is missed. She caught on way too quick.

Sir Frankie loved to walk. He was a loner, a person that prized his privacy, his quiet thoughts he didn't share and he hated to be touched. Sleepless nights built upon themselves unfortunately into something that approached the usual. Yet he was the loneliest person she ever encountered. And he brought it all upon himself.

His favorite mother of two is in many ways an extension, an older version of Sandra; tapping into the same feelings of familiarity, of acceptance and forgiveness. That is truly appreciated. A friend of faith, her beliefs are admirable and her voice is one of reason. Without her calls, one might argue insanity would be the reasonable alternative. Never has one taught as many important lessons in such a confusing time. Always slightly out of reach, she nonetheless remains a shooting star, someone who one can eternally wish the world upon.

Maria was so screwed up it was fatally contagious. Time stopped, and words couldn't be written. Unresolved and unexplainable, the current crisis was somehow never linked with the past. Yet, would he be where he is today if they hadn't collided? No way. The cliché of she became more beautiful every day he knew her was all too appropriate. When the avalanche finally made its impact, he couldn't be prepared. And she too, tumbled away.

The Piano Player hit his keys in a chaotic regularity. No one really listened, because in the end it was just noise. Yet he persisted because he didn't know what else to do. His was a pathetic story, about squandering one's blessings, the gifts of life and feeling way too sorry for one's own story. She never did understand him. Never did care. He was the President' of the Quitter's Club in high school until everyone else had had enough.

Kentucky Woman used to call every night. One hour or two, didn't matter and one month the phone bill was $468. She promised that the past was behind, that the mathematician's figures added up in the end. But they didn't. She stood in the rain and melted away. Somehow it was destined. Somehow it didn't really matter.

The boss wrote a lot of letters. Whenever he saw a societal wrong, he would grab his pen, or his LAPTOP, and jot down his own feelings toward the wrong he witnessed. He was full of hot air and either self love or self hatred, we never knew. While some considered him pathetic, others saw his deep feelings, and his listening skills. The jury is still hung about him. Either you forgive or you forget. Can't have it both ways.

The above referenced are all purely fictional; any resemblance to real persons is judicially coincidental and not meant to hold anyone in judgment. A cast of characters, a case of paranoid schizophrenia, one shouldn't be so hard to dismiss or look away. Look in the mirror: is it a mere reflection or is it something much more significant? Stumbling from time to time, place to place, people to people, one must finally give in or forever drift away. Drunk in an alley, despondent and desolate, it isn't a sight for sore eyes. Eight years is a lot of time to lose track of. With tomorrow like every day comes the changing of the guards. Tomorrow never does know. Really.

Monday, May 1, 1995

Early Mournings

Well I got another rejection notice on my latest book of poems. This one, like all the other notices, had a specific reason for the rejection: excessive use of the word "throb."

One of the favorite parts of my week these days is Saturday mornings when, finally having a day off after working seven days a week for a couple of years, I have a day I can sleep in, brew a pot of coffee, sit back, relax and read the morning's newspaper.

This is a break in routine that still has Max the cat a little more confused than usual. Not used to having me around in the morning, he looks up at me perplexed. The purpose of my Saturday morning relaxation activities are to Max, a mystery. Thus, I took it upon myself a couple of weeks ago to explain to him what a newspaper was all about. I patiently explained that what I was reading was a grammatical account of the stuff going on outside that window he loves to gaze out of. Max listened curiously, then looked at me as if to suggest he didn't really care, all he wanted to do was sit on what I was reading.

I don't know if it's just me, or if others have noticed but does it seem like the world is a little off kilter, tilted a little bit off its axis recently? What with the recent events in Oklahoma, the resulting attention all the growing militias in the country have gotten, the anger, the violence, the shooting right across the street from your friendly neighborhood Landfill, what the hell is going on? Doesn't seem to me like life has to be this hard. You do things you enjoy, you work, you sleep, you try not to hurt others and then Saturday mornings you try to explain life's little pleasures to your cat. That's all.

A high ranking government official recently revealed to me that she had come upon the meaning of life. She said the meaning of life had to do with being curious and always keeping an open mind. There have been times I have not agreed with this official in her actions or her words, but her insight in this instance was truly appreciated. The timing of the conversation couldn't have been any better. While I may not agree that THE meaning is about being curious (the times in my life where I pursued my own curiosity to its fullest, have been the times that nearly finished me off), keeping an open mind is certainly part of the equation.

Life is like clicking around on the old cable box; the possibilities are endless. Those embittered among us who feel the answer is blowing something up, or running around the woods with firearms playing soldier and fearing the end of our civilization as we know it, are as lost as those out there who settle for less without pursuing their potential and then still have the nerve to whine about how bad life is.

An influential person in my life taught me that the meaning of her life was finding a way home, to find a way to come to a draw with one's own demons. Last Saturday night I had one of my roller coaster allergic reactions following a wonderful concert (see review, last week's newsletter). The euphoria of the creative performance, the artistry, the beauty gave way to questions trying to reconcile the difference between where I am and where I hope to be; the gap between all I have and all that is gone or now out of my grasp. The spirit of the evening moved me, but the aftermath was a hangover, a barometer of where I'm at these days. Am I really doing what I want to be doing?

Yet, those type of questions are the very essence of what allows inner growth. Yes indeed, one could close the need to know, the wonderment that comes from keeping an open mind, and still get through the routine of day to day life. One can even make money and succeed in relationships and careers with such an approach. But what is the point? What do you eventually end up with? I may not know much (as proven every week in these pages), but I do know enough to realize often times the question is much more valuable than the answer.

Sometimes I'm not sure whether I've compromised my principles or whether I've learned from experience that adapting to challenges is a valuable skill. Often, I look at Max the cat with a great deal of envy. His life means getting through the day from meal to meal, by napping, by looking out the window, by pouncing around the apartment in unexplained frenzy. My life means working hard and sometimes sharing in a meaningful experience with someone that understands, who is operating on the same frequency. The money runs out, the disappointments continue and grow, yet there is always something just around the corner. Should we pity those that have lost sight of that? No, it's better just to appreciate all you are lucky enough to come across. Dull as it all might seem, something has been gained. All this and baseball is back too!