Monday, August 28, 1995

Reheating a Souffle

I made one of my rare public appearances last week and my informant who unfortunately wasn't there to witness the event told me the report on the grapevine the next day was, "He was in a great mood. He even was letting people touch him!" Reports of my happiness were greatly exaggerated. Honestly, I left a happy hour anything but, cursing myself at trying to recapture something I never grasped to begin with.

I saw someone I hadn't seen for awhile. She was someone I once was in my own dweebish terms, smitten with (see last year's summer newsletters for details...). It was a bit of a shock to the system to see her this night. Her hair was styled different. Her eyes still had the nervous energy, and she looked like she was enjoying herself. At the beginning of the evening she sat far away, the other side of a combination of tables. By the end of the night, she was next to me, back turned without a word of acknowledgment. Meek was I, wondering if perhaps everyone else around could feel the discomfort in the air. Was I back in junior high?

I should've known better. Life has its magical moments, and the biggest mistake you can make is to try and go back and experience the same feeling, the same moment over again. Why bother re-lighting a spent match? Strike a new one. No matter where you are, you gotta keep moving forward. As that great philosopher once advised, you should never look back.

A few weeks ago in these pages, we ran an article written by Peter Glen, an elderly gentleman, who warned that once a person stops learning, they stop living. We have admittedly ran a lot of filler in these pages, but this particular article struck a nerve with me. There has been some discussion within our company on the merits of tying pay with gaining knowledge. Some seem to feel reading a book should not be connected with getting a raise. I disagree. It is knowledge that helps us all do our jobs better. And yes, knowledge more often than not, is gained by on the job experiences, but it is up to us all as employees to show that we care enough about our jobs to demonstrate our education on the job in tangible ways. If you've been exposed to new ideas, new concepts, perhaps a few of them will begin to eventually sink in. We take too much for granted these days, and expect everyone to automatically notice our efforts and our accomplishments as if they owe us that much.

Life really is about having to prove yourself over and over. What happened yesterday isn't of much consequence unless you can show you learned from past events. Experience isn't necessarily knowledge. Some of us never catch on and make the same mistakes over and over again. The oldest Catch-22 in the book of employment is that most organizations want to hire people with experience, but how is a person supposed to get experience if no one will hire them? Just as you work your way out of that dilemma, you find that more and more, our culture rewards being young. This is unfortunate. We should really be honoring, listening to, treasuring those out there who have traveled the long road and have managed to somehow survive. Too often we are consumed with the current fad, with what is visually appealing to us now rather than honor that which has somehow managed to transcend time and remain true and valuable.

So I returned to my so called life, this so called happy hour wondering how I was going to react or respond to the downward turn of events of the evening. Would I let it effect me as much as a similar experience would have in the past? If it didn't was this a sign of progress, of maturity or was it a sign of a continual deadening, a cynicism inside? I didn't sulk, I merely shrugged. One of the hardest things to learn is how to deal with disappointments. You think those of us who have had so many would eventually get the hang of it. Unfortunately, I don't think you ever do.

Often the best you can do is to learn how to put yourself in situations where you will have the best chance of succeeding. Learn to apply the little knowledge you've gained to put yourself in the right place at the right time. This is no small talent to learn. These may be small victories, but you take what you can get. And when you do fail, you do so in a way where you can fool some of the people. File away them failures and dissect them for the lessons they contain. Don't dwell, don't let them be the end all, the giving up point. As the great green little fella once sang, "Keep on trying, keep on smiling, keep believing, keep pretending..."

Monday, August 21, 1995

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Los Angeles Dodger pitcher, Hideo Nomo, pitched his team to a 7-5 victory last Tuesday night despite giving up eleven hits in six and two thirds innings. It was the most hits Nomo had allowed in a game since May 11, 1994 against the Seibu Lions. The crowd of 48,449 was heavily populated with Japanese fans. It was yet another indication that I wasn't in Minnesota anymore. In fact, there may have been more Japanese faces in Dodger Stadium that night than reside in the entire state of Minnesota.

Nomo is another in a long line of celebrity sensations residing in Southern California. A walk through the Little Tokyo section of L.A., one can't help be impressed by the sheer amount of Nomo merchandise up for sale. He has even gained popularity in his home country where last year his win/loss record was a very average 8-7. Yet in the culture of Los Angeles, anyone with a different angle can, and often does, become a star. Of course as Nomo left the game in the middle of the seventh, there were those among the throng that couldn't resist saying the obvious, "No more Nomo." When in Rome...

The next night in the studios of CBS entertainment, Bonnie Hunt taped the first episode of her new sitcom, The Bonnie Hunt Show, in front of an impatient studio audience. The taping was delayed for over an hour as Ms. Hunt and producer (former David Letterman headwriter) Rob Burnett rewrote sections of the program.

Ms. Hunt, best known as Charles Grodin's wife in the Beethoven movies, and also as the waitress in Rain Man (the one who was a bit freaked out when Raymond recites her phone number, and when Raymond tells her how many toothpicks fall on the floor) starred in a short lived sitcom last season, one of the few highlights on an otherwise miserable CBS schedule.

The premise of this new show is yet another of Hollywood's comedies set in the entertainment industry, this one has Ms. Hunt playing a reporter for a newsmagazine. The running gags were established early: a mother who constantly calls to check up on Bonnie; a ditzy neighbor who also works in the newsroom; a hunky boss who seems to have impossible work demands with little or no sense of humor; the boss' assistant who is out to sabotage Bonnie's enthusiasm to impress on the job; and a sarcastic co-worker who helps balance the wackiness of the newsroom full of characters (a vendor named Sammy Sinatra who does imitations, a hypoglycemic editor with more nervous tics than your average midwestern town).

Every show needs a gimmick and this one has a fairly interesting one. Ms. Hunt films clips of interviews she does with real live people, and those clips are used in the pieces she does for her fictional newsmagazine. This utilizes Ms. Hunt's great ability for the ad-lib, the witty conversation that is necessarily stilted within the confines of the setup-punchline format of the sitcom. The most impressive thing about watching the taping was in the retakes where Ms. Hunt improvised new lines take after take, improving each time out. It was refreshing to see some spontaneity, life without a script.

Hollywood and its culture are such a long way from the quiet suburbia of Roseville, it is like visiting a foreign country. It's a city that amplifies the very concept of the "melting pot." Hundreds of different cultures are forced to coexist within its sprawling limits. To its natives, the rest of the country is somewhat insignificant. The industry and the culture supersede all else. The city itself sometimes only seems to exist to entertain the rest of the world. It is a town that builds up anyone for celebrity status if only to tear them apart and bring them crashing down. It sometimes seems more real than life. As the rest of my family continues on their journey -next up a visit to a huge hole in the ground- I come home to face the familiar grind of the work day week.

And almost as if to prove you can find just about anything you want if you look hard enough in L.A., while shopping in the Santa Monica area I walked by a Heidiwear shop, and jokingly asked my sister if she cared to go in. We glanced in the small store, with its racks of intimate apparel, looking for a glimpse of Charlie Sheen perhaps -no luck, but darn if the woman folding some clothing didn't look familiar... Yes indeed, it was Heidi Fleiss herself, the woman responsible for many nights of entertainment for many of our biggest entertainers. She looked a little sad and forlorn, perhaps with her jail sentence firmly in mind. It was a bit of a jolt to see a face only seen previous through a TV screen, but such is life in L.A.

Monday, August 14, 1995

Bringing it All Back Home

There used to be a big tree outside my window the home of squirrels and birds that Max the Cat could watch. Although the tree was physically unreachable to Max, he still ruled it with stern authority because it was part of his outdoor domain (who rules his indoor domain has never been in question).

This spring and summer, the tree never budded, never sprouted, never leafed, and even on the hottest days, the barren branches gave the illusion of one of the grayest days in winter. Last week, a truck of men came by and chopped off the branches, sawed down the trunk, dug up the roots, and spewed swirling sawdust into the air. Max didn't know what to make of all the commotion. He cried out the meekest of meows, crying out for his tree, crying in fear of all the noise, and crying out not knowing what to make of the situation.

I tried to comfort the little fellow, but the confusion in his eyes didn't go away. Max has a set routine, and any movement outside of what he is familiar, takes a while to assimilate and deal with. But he got over it. He has never been one who firmly understands the difference between reality and fiction. The disappearance of his tree is no more real than the imaginary dust bunny he has to dart after in the spur of the moment. Max still gazes out of the same window, his view now treeless, looking in curiosity at things that were previously blocked from his view, while at the same time unsure of what is missing or why the change was made.

Life for Max isn't so much something new and full of wonder, it's more of a continuation, of trying to make sense out of the random surprises that occasionally pop up. Still, he can get excited about his breaks from the norm, a cob of corn, an early morning bowl of milk, a dab of his hairball medicine. His life is calm, simple, mostly predictable, and a nap in the sun.


Back in my formative years at that last bastion of quality higher learning, Macalester College, my roommate Spunky and I used to have conversations about the world around us. We noted there was an air of hypocrisy floating around the campus, with a bunch of middle to upper class students trying to revive the '60's activism they read about in their history books. It was a kind of sheepish guilt, of trying to take social responsibility, to carry on the mantel of political changes that meant so much to the people that came before, namely their parents. It was almost as if many of our peers were feeling guilty that their parents had abandoned their activism and settled into corporate jobs that paid enough money for them to send their kids to an expensive Midwestern liberal arts college. Thus many of the staged activities in protest of current concerns, Apartheid, Reaganism, flag burning, the concern dujour, had to be taken with a grain of salt. It was as if many of the students were involved not because they believed in the cause, but because they felt guilty if they weren't there.

All this comes back to mind with the news of Jerry Garcia's death. There was a period of my life when the Grateful Dead were my least favorite group in the world, not because of their music, but because of the culture that surrounds their music. The whole "Deadhead" movement of worshipping the communal lifestyle of tie died T-shirts, living in vans, the drugs, and the rituals of concert going- what did any of it really have to do with the music? Was there any value in yet another live fifty minute version of Truckin? The Dead seemed to exist merely to carry on the culture of the '60's without any true concern about the substance of the causes. They existed only for another excuse to drop responsibility and party.

My views have softened over the years. Yes, the lack of sincerity or maturity in many of their followers bothers me. But there aren't any other bands who get so much loyalty and devotion from their fans. The notion of being out on the road, of playing another concert, of adapting a song to fit the mood of the evening, seems in retrospect, a great goal to strive for. The corporate culture that surrounds the band, and the pseudo-cultural atmosphere that follows their every move, in the end isn't really the point. It's an extended family, a belief in the art, and a live for today attitude that sets the Dead apart from other rock bands. There is a comfort and sensibility in settling into a 9-5 routine. Yet like my cat, my eyes are torn between what's on the horizon, and the light in my microwave oven. Inventorying paper clips really is no more grown up than living out of a van. I may never be a Deadhead, but I think we should all mourn the passing of yet another of the few individuals in an increasingly homogenized culture.

Monday, August 7, 1995

Mickey Mouse Loves You

The secret word this week is, "potent." Memorize it, use it as often as you can, and share it with all of your friends. Potent, positively potent.

It's already been a year for the history books. A year we're all bound to remember. Today's world is an ever changing place, now more than ever. Faster than you can say, "Windows '95," OJ replaces the soaps, Michael marries Lisa Marie, Hugh Grant does a bad thing, Waterworldmania floods our consciousness, and in the most important event in a long, long time, Disney buys ABC. Nineteen billion bucks and the world will be a happier place- guaranteed. Things will be different in a Disney world. With their success at marketing, can a Ted Koppel action figure be too far away? Expect to see a newly animated Hugh Downs soon. And no more shots of Dennis Franz's butt. Nudity can be covered up. Monopolies are good if they are good for the kids. Money is nice but love is better.

Everything is always sunny in a Disney world. Life zooms by in a blissful blend. Like a Monet painting, lines and colors blur together; a green dress becomes blue, words are jumbled into a puzzle only to be sorted and put back together, better than ever. It may last for all too brief a moment, but beauty is always in front of you, so close you can almost touch it. If you whistle while you work and wish upon a star, it won't matter who you are, not even another's bearish attitude will hold you back.

For awhile in the 70's and early 80's, Disney was down and out. They have since made a stunning comeback. How did they do it? Their message remained consistent, but they got better at getting it out more effectively. They knew kiddies held the keys to our future and colored images are all that were needed to take care of our past. Reach for the kid in all of us and their message would eventually be heard again. They learned early on the camera is the recorder of our soul, that film is a vital tool in stopping time for a moment and capturing history for posterity. The picture is what matters, not so much the substance behind the snapshot. They are the most successful framers of pictures ever seen. They know better than anyone what goes around the picture colors how we look at what's inside the frame.

A hole may be burning in our sky, but that is only to let in more light. Strange viruses may be escaping from the Rain Forest, but they are happy little viruses, not meant to destroy, but to add their song to our world. The oceans may be more and more polluted with toxic waste, but they are still inhabited by cute little mermaids wearing seacup bikinis. Yesterday's news may be painful to swallow, but even if an elephant falls from the sky, with the right go get 'em attitude, our darkest days can be filled with rainbows. There is always more than one way to look at our past, so why dwell on over-analyzed pains? If you see ugliness, look the other way for beauty is right down the street.

Facts-schmacts. You can often get your point across without knowing all the details, without all the facts. Depth is not the only thing that matters, the surface counts too. If you can't see it, why dwell on it? As long as you're earnest, the mistakes and omissions don't really matter. It's the essence that people care about. Pastel lilies and wondrous curves lead us into a magical place. Dreams mix with desires and reality can be mortgaged for another day. The new world isn't so new after all. The only difference is that with so many lost and cynical souls, it is critical the message get out through as many channels as possible. Nineteen billion bucks therefore, goes a long way.

Disney is an empire that preaches and practices the Capitalist Doctrine with such plucky aplomb that one can't help but admire their success. They may be guilty of overindulgence at times, but they succeed with a happy family message, with cute cartoon figures who show that if you are good at heart, the ending will always be happy. The American Dream need not be corrupted by all those negative thinkers who criticize those that believe. Tell a lie and it will catch up to you. Tell the TRUTH, and nothing can touch you. Hard work, deep moral beliefs and a forgiving soul, and anything can be overcome. Put on a happy face, and smile smile smile! Potent, positively potent.