Monday, January 27, 1997

10 Years Later Still a Size 5 1/2 So Please Pass the Talcum Powder

Who would have thought it? Who would have thought all those years ago that I would still so enjoy working for a company whose success continues to grow through the hard work and efforts of so many individuals? And my heart's admiration expands when I see that the company keeps adapting to meet the challenges of a constantly changing and fickle industry. Doesn't seem all that long ago when we were a two store operation on Snelling Avenue where we entertained our customers with tunes from a jukebox and a myriad of assorted quirky characters. My how times have changed and last Sunday was a nice reminder of that.

Just as important as our celebration of who we now are and where we are headed is the recognition that we do need to look back from time to time at where we've been. Certainly we must continue to keep our eyes looking forward to where we want to be, but as we grow it becomes important to have some annual (weekly and monthly) traditions to celebrate our company.

Congratulations and thank yous go out to all involved in making our Second Annual Anniversary Party such a smashing success. Good bowling (with some rather unique and artistic styles), free drinks, a nice spread of food, free gifts, and entertaining music made for a fun filled Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed seeing people I haven't seen in a while and don't get to see very often, as well as some people I've never seen before in my life. If you blinked your eyes you may not have noticed, but it was as close as I'm ever going to get to actually mingling. And any party where I walk away with a new hat has to be considered a success.

I particularly enjoyed the "Battle of the Bands" despite the last minute cancellations. All three performances were enjoyable although Ms. Bell's (who earned points for spontaneity) performance was all too brief and a wee bit tuneless though entertaining nonetheless. It's always fun to see another side of the personalities that make this company what it is.

THE DAY AFTER: Reflections on a lavish Presidential Inauguration? A celebration of a different sort, extravagant in light of what has been accomplished the past four years and what we can expect to see in the next four. President Clinton's speech was about as poor a speech he has given during his Presidency, lacking in force, focus and substance. Even the usual rhetoric seemed a bit tired and uninspired. What he did issue was a call for our country to strive for nobility and dignity.

In an age where our culture is comprised of mistrust and cynicism, maybe to strive for lofty goals such as being more noble or more dignified is akin to spitting into the wind. But no matter what age we are in, it probably isn't a stretch to say that life has always been about trying to improve yourself as you pass through whatever it is you are passing through. To get more education, to get a better job, to improve relationships or a personal situation is what you come to realize much of what day to day life often is all about.

Take away the desire of self improvement, take away the inspiration that moves us towards that goal, and suddenly life loses a lot of its meaning. Though it often seems different, it really isn't any easier to be critical and judgmental as it is to be optimistic and a positive force. Both take a lot of energy to pull off. As a country we may have come a long way from the days of Nathan Hale's idealistic cathartic cry for liberty, so perhaps Mr. Clinton's updated call for nobility and dignity just fell upon deaf ears. But the beauty of self improvement is it is whatever it is that you make of it. Claim what is yours and deduct all the rest.

Monday, January 20, 1997

Yubin Kyoku Wa Doko Desu

In the wake of celebrating a very special anniversary by bowling our brains out, consider this- I've been able to boil my life down to three essentials elements this winter: shoveling, shivering and a third "s" verb which I now forget. Kutsu o migaite kudasai. Back when I was a kid we used to have to walk five miles to school in bare feet, with a refrigerator strapped to our back (we were too poor to afford the latest fashionable, every kid must have 'em lunch box). I remember we used to huddle by a heating vent in the mornings trying to stay warm, just waiting for our Pop Tarts to finish toasting to get us through another frigid morning. Now days the governor deems it necessary to close all the schools when the temperature drops a degree or two below the freezing point. No wonder character building is getting thrown aside like rock salt.

As my nephews and nieces might testify at my competency hearing one of these days, one of my latest raps/rants is that to begin to fix the ills that plague our society we first must start with the impressionable minds of the next generation. This means that these all too common three day school weeks have to be thrown out of the equation. Why the heck do these kids need so much time off? Isn't it time to stop celebrating every nickel and dime excuse of a holiday and start hitting those books again? Ebonics, schbonics, it ain't the language that needs fixin'- rather it's the growing inability of our youth to anaylze what is inside as a reaction to what is outside and then to demonstrate that they have a shred of ability to express themselves effectively.

It's a cruel cold world out there according to more than just the professional pundits who'll kick you in the groin faster than Dennis Rodman. Faster than you can mutter that your stairs are crumbling underneath all the ice and frigid air, another storm appears on the horizon. But the current focus is on regulating what the kids can see, limiting them to even less than now with measures like a TV ratings system rather than trying to expand their vision beyond. It's more than just a PG-13 world out there and to try to deny it doesn't do us any good. Kami o tsunde kudasai.

And once we straighten out these kids's educational system what do we do? We build a new baseball stadium. If we allow the Twins to leave this state (and they will leave the state if the proposed stadium doesn't get built), we will become either the predicted "cold Omaha" or its equal, a warm Ontario. Since the current proposal is to pay for said palace by taxing cigarettes another ten percent (and still not allowing smokers to light up in the new stadium), we need to start our kids smoking sooner. Perhaps we can even enlist those two "kid" spokesmen, Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury, to be the leading advocates in getting our youth to light up before it's too late. And it all goes for a good cause!

So with a little tweaking here and there innovations do happen. As an example, who was the genius that developed the new and improved, quarter sized paper towel sheets? I was in the midst of cleaning up yet another one of my all too frequent kitchen messes when I yanked off a sheet from my recently purchased roll and discovered it was half the size of the normal bountiful surface I have become used to. At the moment it was inconvenient having to learn to clean a man's size mess with half the material, but upon reflection I discovered I now get twice the use out of roll of paper towels than I used to get. What an important money saving discovery! Back about a year ago when I was scrimping and scrounging to meet the closing costs on my house, one of the authorized cutbacks in purchases was in the area of Kleenex, toilet paper, and paper towels. I somehow learned to get by with one to meet the needs of all three. So whoever came up with the idea that is now so conveniently saving me money on every roll I buy, I salute ya!

Monday, January 13, 1997

Beautiful Music

One of the things I miss most about working in downtown St. Paul is the variety of places one can go for lunch. Fast food, ethnic food, fried food, health food- all a mere walking distance away in the wonderful skyway system. Sure my current workplace is within driving distance of a good choice of fine restaurants in downtown Stillwater, but who wants to take the time to warm one's car, and slip down those slippery slopes into town just to drop down a day's pay for some good grub?

Nope, more often I choose either to bring my own lunch from home (a cup of Ramen noodles and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) or take my chances with the cafeteria food within the Government Center. And taking a chance is a proper sentiment, for this food isn't always the most delectable choice to be found, being the prison food that it is (quite literally- it is the same stuff they feed to the inmates). It is however the more convenient choice for one who rarely takes much of a lunch break.

Thus being a participant in the first of Cheapo's monthly anniversary lunches was a real treat. Last Tuesday Mary, Al (the Kanji master), Cliff and I dined at the impressive D'Amico and Sons restaurant in the poorly plowed Uptown area. It was a fine lunch full of good company, conversation and food. I had a tasty chicken feta salad which was chock full of pasta, chicken and little zesty things that I first thought were grapes, then thought might be olives, but never really discovered what they really were.

Anniversaries are reason to celebrate in these days when commitment and longevity, admirable traits, are becoming more and more difficult to find. I enjoyed the chance to talk to Mary and Al, two people I don't get a chance to see very often, and Cliff who was the only person in this company who was working in the stores when I started all those years ago. Anniversaries are also a time for reflection, something anyone who knows me well will tell you is dangerous to me; after all I have spent years of my life in reflection, looking within, into mirrors and reflecting pools diving and divulging into the inner sanctums of introspection and self indulgence.

I must say that at age 32, I don't have many complaints or the usual anxiety and angst over the current state of my life. Things are okay and you learn as you go on to accept and not feel so deeply those things that used to cause some sleepless nights. I guess there is one lingering regret, one element of life that gnaws in my craw and there are two current motion pictures out to remind me of that missing piece of life. Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, and Madonna's Evita are attempts to revive the movie musical. I applaud the attempt, and can't wait to see both movies. Gosh darn I wish life was the same. I wish that at appropriate moments people would just break out into song and we would all get together and feel the freedom to perform a musical number together. People are just too damn afraid to go out on a shimmering limb and make a fool out of themselves (something I've never had too much trouble at doing). Think of the charm and fun of breaking into a number during those dull moments during the day, or dancing up a storm with a swelling orchestra backing whenever a stressful moment appears.

It isn't only the movies that are missing those glory days of the MGM musicals. Our society is becoming more and more harsh and unforgiving. As music continues to become more of a business than an art form, it would be nice to see somebody during the events of every day life just break into a song because the mood fits and inspiration calls for it. Maybe it's not appropriate and they would cart you away, but I remember a moment in junior high on a wistful spring day, when a young boy's heart turns to thoughts of... and it was pouring out as I went to catch my bus and I passed my heart's inspirational source and I began to sing and splash dance, quite spontaneously, Singin in the Rain and she laughed but didn't go so far as to join in.

Such moments in life are too rare. I guess the best we can do is sing spirituals as we shovel through the downfall from our winter's malcontent. Life ain't a musical. But still that can't prevent you from enjoying a chicken feta salad now and then.

Monday, January 6, 1997

1996 Woman of the Year

Previous Newsletter Women of the Year-
1992: H. Ross Perot
1993: St. Francis of Assisi
1994: Newt Gingrich
1995: Cal Ripken Jr.

Those who know note that my brother and I have vastly different personalities. This difference played itself out various ways early in our lives. When we were growing up there was a competitive nature to both of us, but that competitiveness manifested itself in different ways. I learned early on that whenever we played a game, it was better to lose than have to put up with an angry brother for the next three hours. There was no joy in beating him simply because he got so pissed.

Perhaps that is why to this day I have a weakness for always rooting for the underdog. If I turn on a sporting event, I will almost always root for the team that is not supposed to win. Therefore I end up backing the loser nine times out of ten. Doesn't matter though because there is something so appealing to watching somebody overcome long odds to fight their way toward triumph. Who cares if this doesn't happen often and more often the loser gets the stuffing snuffed out of them?

All this comes to mind as we perform a newsletter tradition. That clamoring you hear knocking on your door ain't the masses looking to buy the newest Susanna Hoffs' CD nor the latest stock of Tickle Me Elmo dolls. Rather it is the throng of people just dyin to hear who the 1996 Newsletter Woman of the Year will be.

The committee met briefly at the Lumberbarn in Stillwater this year. There really was no debate over the eventual winner. Sure, Paul McCartney was knighted by the British Empire and that merited consideration. Sure, Madonna's Evita is the greatest spectacle since Max got into the bedsprings. But hands down our chosen recipient represented all that the award has come to stand for over the years; namely the most influential, inspirational, influenza like element of this past calendar year.

First, a history lesson. On August 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law, granting women the right to vote. This still is the only article or amendment that specifically gives women a right. That it took over forty two years from the time the amendment was first introduced by Susan B. Anthony until it became the law of the land is just part of a long history to the Women Suffrage Movement.

This past year marked a time when we heard plenty about the widening gap between rich and poor; black and white. What we didn't hear as much about was another always widening gap, the difference between genders. That this gap today stands wider than the Grand Canyon doesn't seem to surprise many people. But last November the difference quite literally elected a President.

If the year was 1919, Bob Dole would now stand as our President-elect. More men voted for him than Bill Clinton. That the election wasn't even close is a testament to how far women voters have come over the years and how much political clout they now wield.

Bob Dole ran what was a campaign that was historical in its ineptitude. From day one the campaign was full of blunders and bad decisions. Whenever given an opportunity or a chance to prove he was the person we should elect, he inevitably would fall (one time quite literally) on his face. While it is true that Mr. Dole distinguished himself with years of service in the Senate, candidate Dole was a bumbling, incompetent man who seemed to feel he earned the nomination simply through his life's work rather than giving any compelling reason why he should be the next President. Still we men, chose him. If further proof is needed as to why our country desperately needs a female President to start making the right decisions, the choices men continue to make, like our choice for THE 1996 Newsletter Woman of the Year- the Dole Campaign, should be used as exhibit A. Give us a loser and we will throw our full support behind him.