Monday, May 27, 1996

Zen for Cats

This Memorial Day we cast our minds back to the days when we were the original Hootie, and we were courting the original Uma, under the stars, sipping on coffee and working a crossword puzzle together. We never quite did figure out all the answers, but we tried our best nonetheless. Hootie, Uma... Uma, Hootie...

Things continue to go along smoothly here at newsletter central. I burned my tongue on a steaming bowl of soup last week, thus all the meals since then have not been as pleasurable as they might have been. We got the garden started out back, putting to use the services of our Japanese gardener (that'd be me). The little fellow planted tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peas. All the while Max the Cat spent his time leashed to the laundry pole, grazing on grass (which he urped up the next day).

Last Saturday as I sat sippin on my newest crutch, Thai coffee, diligently proofing the first edition of the newsletter, the Civil Defense sirens sounded at 1:30 a.m. Not knowing a storm was expected, I of course just assumed we were under nuclear attack. Thank goodness I turned on the TV to see Dave Dahl dressed in a tuxedo screaming to take cover because "gust-nadoes" were on the way. Max didn't seem too concerned so I figured his sense of the weather was certainly keener than any human's, and thus I went to bed.

The big news of the week however was my Thursday night's softball team, Joan's Jets', stunning 25-24 come from behind victory. Trailing at one point 19-2, we steadily chipped away until we were within reach, and by that point the momentum of the game was all on our side. I know none of you were at that game (you are certainly welcome to come and watch), few people were, but it was such a stirring win that I'm sure years from now thousands will claim they witnessed the event. Sports are nothing if not a metaphor for life. To see a team get so far behind, but still not give up and ultimately triumph, was an inspiration for us all.

The win raised my record as a coach to 2-1; certainly impressive for a team that has never been above .500 before. My play in the field was a bit lackluster however- blame it on the notion I may have been a bit distracted by the spunky chatter of our second baseperson, Mary (talkin about Murphy the Dog, cough cough). But the game was a model of the benefits of team work. All of us contributed. All of us picked each other up after a mistake was made. We were all pulling for each other. And when Jamie delivered a ground ball after Stuart was intentionally walked to load the bases and create a force out situation at all bases, I raced home and beat a high throw to produce the winning run. All bedlam broke loose. It was a great moment for a team that worked ever so hard. (Psssst- For whom it may concern: If you provide all of us with Cheapo hats and Cheapo T-shirts, we'll proudly do some advertising at our games.)

On related note, have all of you heard Joan Jett's cover version of the Mary Tyler Moore Show's theme song? I love it. Love it very much. Ongaku wa suteki desu (the music is excellent). Normally I'm not a big fan of novelty type songs but somehow this one rings true to its singer. Jett makes it her own, somehow managing to make the song a personal anthem while keeping her tongue planted firmly in cheek and paying tribute to the original version. It sounds much like any other Joan Jett song yet still maintains the plucky charm of the TV version. The picture of Mary exuberantly tossing her hat up in the air comes strongly to mind everytime I hear the song.

Of course hearing it made me remember the chapter of Robert Duncan's book, The Noise, a portion of which we printed on page two of this week's newsletter. Mary is a rock and roll hero. Love is all around. Congratulations all...

Monday, May 20, 1996

What the Hell is Wrong with Dave?

The current issue of Rolling Stone features a cover story on the continuing fall of the Late Show with David Letterman. The article chronicles the troubles at the show which include not only falling behind Jay Leno and the Tonight Show in the ratings, but also occasionally finishing third behind ABC's Nightline. Yet the article says to forget Leno and Koppel, that Dave is his own worst enemy. Things have gotten so bad at the Late Show that Letterman recently fired his long time producer, and friend, Robert Morton.

"The problem to many close observers, is that the pressure has created a kind of Creepy Dave who's increasingly frenetic, splenetic, self-flagellating, and squirrelly on the telecast," Rolling Stone says. The article goes on however to call Letterman far more talented than Leno, going so far as to call Dave the most talented man on television.

For those of us who have watched Letterman on a regular basis over the years, Dave's troubles are a bit demoralizing. It has been said that the only happy hour of Dave's life is the one hour he is taping his show. His self criticism has often been written about, how he'll tear apart his own performance shortly after the show is over. It isn't that he isn't trying these days, it's that he seems to be trying too hard, to in his own words, "entertain America."

I became a Letterman fan back in the late seventies when he would often guest host for Johnny Carson. His humor appealed to my own; it didn't depend on props, gimmicks, nor sexual innuendo. "Nowhere in the Bible will you find the name Bucky," Dave said. His short lived stint as a daytime host furthered my admiration for Letterman. Mrs. Marv, Rich Hall, the wedding that nearly burned down the studio, by making fun of day to day absurdities, Letterman turned traditional talk show conventions on their head. When Late Night debut in February 1982, I didn't miss an episode for six years (and then only because my VCR didn't go on). People who didn't know me immediately assumed I was a Letterman fan by my own sense of humor ("do you always have to be SO sarcastic?)

The early years of Late Night were manic genius, with gentle humor giving way to inspired chaos. Who could forget Larry Bud Melman teaching etiquette lessons, or greeting people at the New York City bus terminal? How about the night wrestler Jerry Lawler punched Andy Kaufman? Or when Mr. T. came on telling Dave to cut it out with the corny jokes, as he squeezed a rubber ball? Dave's demeanor back then was as a bemused observer to all the wackiness around him. His interviews always went for the laugh often at the expense of the guest's ego- someone trying to sell their latest project as the ultimate in art (what was the deal with Natasha Kinski's hair?).

Imitators soon popped up not only on television but other areas of pop culture. Watch Leno on any given night and he basically is doing Dave's schtick without Dave's great ability to ad lib. Jay, perhaps as talented a stand up comedian as anyone working, does not have Dave's ability to effortlessly mix silliness with biting, creative, observational wit. Over the years Dave has gotten more manic, sometimes destroying a night's show by repeating himself, becoming more and more disinterested with what is going on around him. His self-mocking has gotten more acidic, and some nights you can almost see his mood deteriorating as the show goes on. With the move to 10:30, and the pressure to compete with the only show he ever really wanted to host, Letterman fell into the trap of thinking he needed to put on a big show rather than rely on his unmatchable comedic talent to entertain in a way that no one else can. Can Dave turn himself and thus his show around? Only if he can see that what others think of Dave isn't the problem; it's what Dave thinks of Dave.

Monday, May 13, 1996

Groveling Gruesome Guru

It took me thirty one and a half years but I finally have all the answers. It's one of those realizations you can only make in the wee small hours of the morning, during Mother's Day weekend, the same weekend a colleague is earning her Masters Degree in Urban Planning from the University of North Carolina, while you sit sipping on a beer listening to the band, '73 Men, make their public debut at Sweeneys, as you try to sort out and work your way through another week of confusing events.

The secret to hitting a softball well? MAKE THEM PITCH YOU LOW. Unless you have a physique enhanced by steroids, low pitches are easier to drive than high pitches. You are able to use your legs and pivot your hips better. It's too easy to get under a high pitch and pop her up.

What about the second shooter in the grassy knoll? What came first the chicken or the egg? What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? WORDS CAN'T EXPRESS. The newsletter's version of its own V-chip kicks in with all these age old questions. We do know where to look though. All these are answered in OJ's video. Just $24.95.

What is the deal with this weather? GRAY CLOUDY LIES. OR SOME OF THE BEST MOVES ARE THE ONES YOU NEVER MAKE A few years back as I was contemplating a move, I was considering a life in the great Northwest, Seattle (my father's hometown) in particular. I asked Al his opinion seeing he has connections to the area. He mentioned it might be perfect for my personality what with all the rain and all. This spring I've been given the chance first hand to see what it would have been like. I think I may have made the right decision to stay put here in the Twin Cities. There are already enough things in this society to sullen one's mood.

How do I get better water pressure? FIND THE REAL CULPRIT. Sometimes the pressure is just fine, there's just something blocking it.

If you could only own oneCD, which one would it be? YOU CAN'T GO WRONG IF YOU CHOOSE PAUL MCCARTNEY'S RED ROSE SPEEDWAY.Three of his greatest tunes, Big Barn Bed, Little Lamb Dragonfly (the greatest song ever penned), and Only One More Kiss. And as a bonus? The extra track, Country Dreamer. Sigh.

The key to succeeding whether in business, fun, or personal relationships (which are an awkward alliance between the first two)? AS STATED ELSEWHERE IN THIS WEEK'S NEWSLETTER, EFFECTIVE, OPEN COMMUNICATION IS THE CLINCHER HERE. Forget for the moment the importance of verbal cues and body language, if you ain't speaking to each other, if the words that are spoken aren't the right ones, it doesn't really matter what else is going on.

Just why does kitty sit staring out the window for five minutes and suddenly decide he has to come sit on your lap for a minute and then dart off to another corner of the room to clean himself? THERE IS A WHOLE OTHER LIFE GOING ON OUTSIDE THAT GLASS BARRIER. A whole other life that can't be reached or touched no matter how strong the desire. So kitty watches and dreams of what might have been or what might be, gets a little frustrated as he realizes where he actually is so he needs the next best thing: a warm spot to rest his weary little head. After a little comforting it is time however to clean his little arse.

What is the meaning of life? SORRY WE'RE ALL OUT OF ROOM. We'll have to cover that some other time.

Monday, May 6, 1996

After the Milk has Expired

When you take a job working in a "professional business" atmosphere, you are of course, expected to dress appropriately. For me this meant saying good-bye to my traditional Cheapo attire of jeans, a T-shirt, and sweats in favor of dress slacks, a tie and cotton shirts. This also meant an added chore: weekly ironing.

My parents were kind enough to buy me an iron and for a while it was the greatest thrill of my life. I took to ironing like a termite to wood; I enjoyed it so much I ironed every item of cloth I owned. I ironed my socks, I ironed my pants, I ironed my sheets and I even ironed my towels. The pressing of heated metal against the material into a seamless, smooth surface entertained me to no end.

Somewhere however, the novelty wore off. I joined the legions of others who found ironing to be a time consuming chore devoid of any charm. So out went the 100% cotton shirts, in came the 50/50 blend that required no ironing, that could be line dried to a fairly wrinkle free state.

One of the theories behind purchasing a house rather than a townhouse or condo was the idea that it would be kind of fun to take care of a yard. The line of thinking was that I would come home from a hard day at the office, have a outdoor task to attend to, and the fresh air and manual task would get my mind off the events of the office. Last week my parents were kind enough (I do have kind parents) to buy me a lawnmower. The grass itself was rather long, apparently not cut last fall before the house went on the market. Plowing through the long grass took some effort and after I was finished I had second thoughts of the "fun" of home ownership. Mowing the lawn in the middle of July might not be as charming as I imagined last November.

Yes at some point joy becomes routine, something you GOTTA do. But you know, much of life falls into this transition. As the years pass by much of what you used to do for fun doesn't hold much pleasure anymore. The feelings don't cut so deep and you find yourself doing things for the sake of doing them rather than any element of fun they used to bring. In the workplace this can be a deadly transition, as it gets to be harder and harder to do your job tasks as they become more and more chorelike. Granted, work isn't supposed to be a barrel of laughs, but who wants to continue in a job that is just dreadful repetition? What's the point of going in to a job when just the thought of it drains all the energy out of you?

Sometime it is better to say your work is done and it is time to move on to other things. After all everything we do is temporary and has its own time frame, beginning to end. But you can't just keep walking away from something once it begins to turn a bit stale. One way to keep things fresh is to apply creativity wherever possible. In one of my favorite books, John Jay Osborn Jr.'s The Associates, one of the young lawyers decides to pump some life into his job by quoting Cicero in his memorandum rather than actual law cases. Showing that kind of initiative in a workplace may get you fired, but it is challenging to look for ways to channel the creative embers inside to improve the work processes.

Just looking at things from a different perspective, a different angle can help flame the creativity in new ways. Finding new and better ways to do old tasks can be a challenging and rewarding mission. There are also external elements that can add new life to worn out tasks. Sometimes a new employee will come along to pump some energy into your view of the workplace. Other tmes it takes trying to remember what made the job rewarding in the first place to see if there is some way to reconnect you with those old feelings. Unfortunately, once you start juxtoposing old feelings with new, you're more likely than not constructing walls rather than bridges.

None of this may apply to any of you but events of the last few weeks have shown me it may be time for me to get out my iron and press the lawn.