Monday, January 29, 1996

When a Ride Becomes a Journey

Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. On the 18th of April in '75, hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year.

Sandra Bullock's career has taken off like a runaway bus. Last year she had two hit movies and her face adorned just about every magazine cover in the free world. Critics reviewed her work favorably often commenting on her screen charm and likability. But fame has a way of catching up to you and running over you like a runaway bus. Your past work is never good enough and your future work is constantly compared to your past work.

In Bullock's newest movie, Two If By Sea, she costars with Denis Leary (who also directed and wrote the script) in a quiet little comedy, the type of movie where you sit through it passively and when you leave you don't really remember all that much about it. It doesn't contain any big laughs, the story is barely dramatic, and the plot of the picture hardly aims for higher meaning. But like all good comedy, Leary's script is based on actual human emotions and responses to situations, and seeing that the movie's competition includes fare such as Biodome and Black Sheep, Two If By Sea is a welcome exercise in the art of subtlety.

He said to his friend, "as the British march, by land or sea by the town tonight, hang a lantern aloft the Belfry arch of the North Church tower of the signal like; one if by land and two if by sea. And I at the opposite shore will be ready to ride and spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm, for the country and folk to be up in arm."

Two If By Sea has Bullock and Leary as a couple of nickel and dime robbers who get involved in a theft that is way over their heads just as they are trying to leave the business. Bullock is forced to decide where she wants to go in life as she reflects on what she has and what she wants and the space in between. Leary is forced to decide if he wants to change at all. The movie places them squarely at the proverbial fork in the road, in a story about trying to make choices in the time of change.

Bullock again plays a lost likable character, whose choices are the key part of what the movie is about. She and Leary have stolen a two million dollar painting, have both the law and the unlawful trying to find out where they and the loot are. They hide out in a mansion on the coast where Bullock meets a rich and sophisticated neighbor- Leary's opposite. Having been told by Leary that this was his last heist and that he would settle down into a legitimate job, she begins to doubt that he can ever really change and that she wants more from life than forever being on the run, and a cashier's job at the local Barnes and Noble.

And so through the night Lord Paul Revere; and so through the night rode his cry of alarm, through every Middlesex village and farm. A cry of defiance and not of fear, a voice in the darkness, a knock on the door, a word that shall echo forever more. For born of the nightwind of the past through all our history to the last in the hour of darkness of peril and need, the people will awaken and listen to hear, the hurtling hoofbeats of the stead and the midnight message of Paul Revere.

One of the problems with the movie is that Bullock again plays the same character she played in While You Are Sleeping, The Net, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, and even Speed. Compare the opening of Two If By Sea with her performance in a similar opening in 1993's The Vanishing. Both movies open with a couple arguing while driving through the country. In Two If By Sea the scene depends on liking Leary's writing, his observations and wit. It thus comes off as a written scene, formatted for us to be impressed by the hipness- " a guy that dresses as a bat is cool but one that dresses as a cat is a fag?" Whereas in The Vanishing the argument and scene play out like life, full of anger, mixed emotion, misunderstanding and love. The former uses Bullock's past reputation and personality to make the scene work, the latter utilizes her instant believability to pull the viewer into the movie. In The Vanishing her role is small as she vanishes a third of the way into the story, thus the opening scene is key as we immediately care for the person and care about the premise of her disappearing. In Two If By Sea it's not as though we don't care about the character Bullock is playing, it's just that the emotional investment is in the movie itself, not the relationship of the story with its viewer. In other words, it's been done before and it's been done better. Suddenly charm and wit aren't enough, it's what have you done for me lately?

Monday, January 22, 1996

For the Love of Grace the Wonder Fish from Bryce the Boy with the BMW

There's a million different ways you can be a million miles away. Sitting in my car waiting for a glimmer of heat, this very thought crossed my mind. Yes indeed, this weather we've been experiencing has in a word, sucked. Yet like many other character building moments, there has been a subtle lesson to be learned. If you blinked, you might have missed it.

Yes, life is full of metaphors. It is like a cold Minnesota day. You can bundle up and try to cope with the elements, yet you never really are able to get comfortable. It is so cold out that your garage door freezes shut, and you struggle to dig out in order to get anywhere at all. Slippery slopes, black ice, white out conditions. You drive carefully, yet you have to deal with others who are either going much too fast and are in their shortsightedness causing potential harm to many others, or too slowly and are causing equal danger by being too careful. You don't feel quite in control of your vehicle and at any moment you might hit a slick spot and spin out of control. Fish tailing.

The Arctic air bites, the wind howls, and the snow blows. Yet if you are careful enough, you can survive the harshest of elements. Does it all bother you? Why yes, it does. But you get by. It's better to stay inside anyway. You can buy a fish, name it Grace, leave it in its own bowl for a friend to care for. That friend might not be knowledgeable in fish care and the water may evaporate and turn green as well as Grace's gills, but she hangs on in a pool of fish food and filth. Inspiration for us all. We are all victims of our environments, yet there is such a thing as survival and determination. It takes some effort and some advanced preparation and maybe even some luck, but in the end things often come out the way they always have in the past. The routine remains much the same, only a bit colder.

Week indeed. Give me a palatial office, spend some time with a friend, prepare for a test or two, and damn even the daily morning slick five mile per hour drive from Lake Elmo doesn't seem so horrible. This is Minnesota in January after all, and through the media hype and despite the media hype, it does get cold this time of year in this part of the country. Stop the presses! I think not. Believe it or not this is to be expected. This can be predicted. This is normal and there is no need to be alarmed. It may indeed have been the storm of the century. Felt like it anyway. Yet the Chicken Littles of the airwaves got to be a bit much. Weather people are often wrong, and a storm like this just makes them seem all the more important. Keep me away from those sharp implements.

This isn't weather for the weak of heart. It's times like these that make us all heartier Minnesotans. Sure you could move to sunny Southern California, say San Diego, or even Portland Oregon, but they have their elements too. You my friend, are destined to remain the same. Sad but true, it may be all over now baby blue. Stompin. The walls shake. So this is the end. Like every weekend for the past few years I find myself snugly sealed in my apartment typing away to beat another deadline. It's chilly out there, some may even go so far as to call the world cold, but you would never know it thanks to the forced air heating and warm woolen mittens in this here part of town. The rest of the usual Saturday night newsletter staff is absent, and the one who I usually bounce my ideas off is truly missed. A mystery unfolds on this week's episode of One West Waikiki and I'm sure that Ms. Ladd will take care of things in due time just as surely as that Rice Krispie bar sure went down smooth. A door slams somewhere off in the all too distant past, and we have just about completed another issue, another week. Brrrr.

Monday, January 15, 1996

Hear Them Tumblin Down

I fell in love last Sunday at the Cheapo Holiday/Anniversary party. Waif. Long flowing winds and shadows, she didn't even speak to me. She didn't need to. Once in the blood it's always inside of you. It's the feeling like she has always been there but I've never known anyone like her before. I didn't think that enthralling first flush could hit me so hard again. Was it the sound of pins falling or was that the pitter patter of my heart? Bowled over. Just rent me some shoes, give me a ball that isn't too heavy and let me bowl until my little (and I do mean little) heart is content. Some day I may even break a hundred!

Put me in front of the line that would like to thank the members of the holiday committee, and Mary and Al for organizing and pulling off an afternoon of fun. I don't make many public appearances, but this was one I was glad I didn't miss. It was fun seeing people I haven't seen for awhile along with finally getting to meet some of the faces behind the names of people who are kind enough to contribute to this weekly effort. Hopefully, the party will be an annual tradition in the company. Besides the bowling, the battle of the bands was entertaining, and who can be displeased with coming home with a smart looking cap?

But enough with the back slappin. Al said that the one thing we can expect in 1996 is lots of change, just like we experienced in 1995, and 1994 and 1993... We do learn that over time even the most stable and reliable monuments can disappear over night. Driving down University Avenue and seeing the big hole that used to be Montgomery Wards is a bit sad. I remember back in my college days whenever I would feel a bit down I would stroll down to Cheapo and buy a record, and the days I felt even bluer, I would wander even further all the way down to Wards to look at pillows. Don't ask me why but the walk always did me good. Change can be rewarding, exciting and challenging, but it can also be a bit stressful.

With a recent decision to move back to the big city (St. Paul) from the quiet solitude of the suburbs (Roseville) I have one beef to air before I become a functioning city resident once again. What is the deal with the way St. Paul deals with snow removal? Seems the system is getting progressively worse. The most recent snowfall was an excellent example of a city that seems to not notice that driving through snow drifts is a bit of a nuisance for its taxpaying citizens. Last Thursday it wasn't that slick out but with piles of snow left to drive through, St. Paul was much more treacherous than it had to be.

The current snow removal philosophy seems to be to dump lots of salt all over the place (enough to filet a mignon), and hope the crud melts before the plows have to do their duty. Living on the border between Roseville and St. Paul (don't be coming over), it's like driving from civilization to Mars. By the time I leave in the morning the Roseville side of things are such that a semi-awake person can navigate through the muck, ice and snow without too much worry. Soon as you crossover into St. Paul however, and geez you just want to gun it and hope nothing is moving on the other side of the ten foot pile. You dare not come to any complete stops in fear that your car will become a permanent fixture in the city. Maybe that is the plan- so many have moved out into the suburbs over the years that getting them stuck in St. Paul is the best way to replenish the population.

The lack of snow removal isn't exactly a recent problem but it seems to get worse and worse every year (or perhaps I'm just getting crankier and crankier). My former car pooling partner used to get upset whenever we would pass a snowplow in St. Paul that was driving down the streets with its shovel in the air. Granted things were tense back then, but she had point. If I had a plow you can bet your biffy that I would plow the unplowed just for the pride of civic duty. It does seem a bit silly that this is a problem here. As far as I can tell snow has been a part of the equation for quite a while, and every year it seems to catch people by surprise. There seems to be no plan to deal with it. The snow emergencies, opposite side of the street parking, odd/even systems seem to change at random so after every major storm if you want to avoid getting tickets the best thing to do is keep driving, only the damn roads aren't plowed and the old blood pressure creeps ever higher.

In these days with the national speed limit repealed and with states trying to decide individually what their law of the road is going to be, here is one voice that would suggest with the transportation conditions of our Twin Cities, perhaps we ought to lower the speed people here can go. People are in too much of a hurry anyway, and to encourage them to drive faster on streets that are getting less and less care is perhaps only inviting trouble.

Monday, January 8, 1996

American Dream

Back in the glorious early days of the Seventies, underneath that nostalgic glow of the Nixon administration, every good young Japanese American male dreamt of growing up and one day owning their own little one and a half story, two bedroom, one bathroom, wood floored, brick house in the Como area, with a big laundry pole thing in the backyard. But as we all know, somewhere down the road dreams went askew for many, and in the aftermath of Watergate, of Iran/Contragate, of the flood of Whitewater, a lot of people's dreams became more like fantasies never to be realized.

There were some mighty hard lean times for many of us, as we collectively as a country learned more and more to tighten our proverbial belts and try to get by with less and less. There were many days in the not too distant past where the dream of home ownership seemed as likely as a woman with a man's name coming along to steal one's heart. These were days of getting by on a hundred dollars a week, where renting a place was a struggle unto itself, and getting by meant living from paycheck to paycheck.

But like a good house, many dreams begin by laying a solid foundation, keeping focused, keep on keeping on, and with a little luck finding one's self in the right place at the timeliest of times. These are days of seven percent interest. These are days of pre-approved loans and a competitive real estate market. On one hand the amount it takes to buy a house is scary, but the logic of not throwing paycheck after paycheck out the window in rent money makes a convincing argument for investment in a home. Once you can convince yourself that you are in the place you want to be for awhile, that no pending disasters are looming, and that your job is more and more becoming a career, the thought of taking a dip into such a major investment doesn't seem so dreamlike. As you begin to save your money with a long term goal in mind, no movies, no extravagant purchases, limited CD buying and no social life, you can even convince yourself that owning a home might even make life more enjoyable?

So where do you start? Perhaps the best place is by asking as many people as you can about their experiences and knowledge in buying a house. There are enough horror stories out there to scare away the weak of heart. But getting various perspectives gives you the feeling that it can be done, and done right even by the feeble minded, with enough preparation and thought. One of the other things you want to do right away is to make a list of what you are looking for. Is it the relative ease of maintenance of a condo or townhome, or the privacy and variety of a house? Do you want a big yard, a fireplace, wood floors or carpeting? How many bedrooms and bathrooms? What is important in terms of layout? What areas of town interest you? Once you begin to picture what you are looking for and why, it is easy to start perusing the papers and catalogs available to see what choices you may or may not have. Of course another early step is to figure out how much you can afford. How much do you take home a month and how much do you already have tied up in expenses? How much (or how little) savings do have and do you feel comfortable with? This was the hardest part for me, because any amount over $5,000 seemed like it might as well be a million. In this day of pre-approved loans however, I was able to arrive at a ballpark figure I was comfortable with and that I qualified for.

By attending open houses and by talking with others, the picture gets a little more clear. A little more research will help you find a realtor you are comfortable with. With the competition in that industry, you can afford to be choosy in selecting an agent. Many realtors make their careers out of referrals so there are some out there who want to do a good job for you, if for nothing other than self preservation. Soon you begin looking at listings and driving out to look at potential homes. This was something I heard from many others was the best part of buying a house. To me it was just another task. It takes time to drive to different locations and it became clearer to me over time that what I originally drew up as wanting my place to be, wasn't set in stone. I expected to walk into a place and feel like it was home. Nothing I looked at struck me that way. Each place I did look at had its own pluses and minuses. One condo was in a great location but had a mediocre layout; another house was spacious but in need of a lot of minor work. The more you look the more you begin to appreciate the potential in different options.

Once you decide on a place, you have to sit down with your realtor and run over more numbers and potential scenarios. You draw up the papers to make the offer, sit and wait for the seller's reaction. Once you agree in part to the amount and conditions of the sale, you are sort of on your way. Thorough inspections and appraisals still need to be made, final loan approval is needed. Closing day approaches and before you know it you are sitting in an empty house with dreams both behind you and ahead of you. And the refrain you have in your mind are the words you heard from so many: Congratulations but the one thing you can continue to expect is the unexpected.

Monday, January 1, 1996

1995 Woman of the Year

Some of the authors of the Contract with America would have you believe that our country's slide in "family values" began when women began entering the work force in large numbers. The theory of these people suggests that without the woman's presence in the household, values crumbled and families fractured. Flawed logic? The weight of history of the oppressed a bit overwhelming?

The oldest cliché on the books used both for and against the battle cry that a woman's place is in the home, (and one not easily put out aside especially in the mind of a future homeowner) is that house work and raising a family are among two of the most difficult jobs ever invented by upright walking descendants of Neanderthals. If you want a real job, get out of the office and try staying at home and raising the kids. There aren't many awards for housewives, and to put the blame of a crumbling society on their backs seems more than a bit harsh and cynical. But as is so often the case, doing the ordinary extraordinary is seldom appreciated. Gender Equity? It's all a matter of degree and perception. One woman's ceiling is another woman's floor.

Thus with all this as background, it should come as no surprise that for the first time in its history, the committee that chooses the Newsletter's Annual Woman of the Year award had a clear cut unanimous choice. Like previous years, there were plenty of qualified candidates. But in 1995, the award simply had one person's name written all over it. For the past thirteen years, this person has quietly gone about the difficult task of doing his job without once calling in sick. Amongst the tedium of consistently scooping up grounders like a vacuum cleaner, and dusting the pitcher's best offerings off the distant outfield walls, Cal Ripken Jr. has above all else been a solid individual demonstrating the best qualities that lead to effective teamwork. His team knows that every day Cal will be there, that Cal will do his job, and that when the pressure builds, Cal's consistency means that more often than not, he will rise to the occasion. His team can always count on Cal and what more can you ask?

There are flashier celebrities, celebrities that get more time in the spotlight that are emulated and admired more by the masses, but few in any walk of life can boast of achieving the remarkable feat that Cal Ripken Jr. accomplished these past thirteen years: 2131 consecutive days at work! Day after day, night after night, day after night, and night after day, year after year, not coming out of the lineup for nagging injuries, sickness, mood swings, lame or legitimate excuses, he's been there every single moment. Congratulations Mr. Ripken, your accomplishment is truly worthy of our prestigious Woman of the Year honor.

Previous Winners
1992- H. Ross Perot
1993- St. Francis of Assisi
1994- Newt Gingrich


Now is the time of the year for reflection and resolution for the upcoming new year. What better time is there to wipe the slate clean and strike another match to start anew? Here are some of the newsletter's resolutions to you, our dear readers:

1) The newsletter will continue to be 100% recyclable.
2) We will never stoop to making up stuff about former President Nixon.
3) We might fictionalize some stuff about former President Taft.
4) Wacky facial hair + phony French accents = zany issue after zany issue!
5) Having found that our most successful efforts have been written in the key of B flat, we will now add an occasional A flat to the mix to be flatter than ever!
6) That annoying scratch and sniff cigar smell? Now gone.
7) Spel chec? Never in our liftime.
8) We pledge to use more exclamation points in 1996!!!!!
9) No more top ten lists....