Monday, April 28, 1997

Hey Kids Don't Forget to Wash Your Bananas

In these days of ten year college reunions and wacky space cults, one has to take a moment to pause and contemplate one's place amongst others. Group memberships are rarely free, they almost always come with some kind of cost attached. And just when you're hooked, that's when they raise the tuition.

The small midwestern college the little guy went to didn't have no fraternities, didn't have no sororities or none of that stuff. But it did, like most any gathering of humans, have its groups and cliques. You had your activists, and your jocks, and your geeks, and your beer club, and your chess club, and your ice cream loving calorie countin' little but ever expanding perky ones. And you had those that never really felt a part of any of the throngs that gathered together. Perhaps these souls wanted to join, wanted that coveted membership, perhaps not. Solitude too comes with its own benefits though the accompanying dues can be difficult for many people to deal with.

Perhaps the best way to better illustrate this is to examine the world of nuts: The most perfect nut, the newsletter endorsed variety, is of course, the pistachio. There is nothing quite as satisfying as sitting down when the day's embers are dimming, as the evening quiet dawns to a nice bag of freshly bought pistachios. We ain't talkin about those messy red ones, we are talking about the ones that all the finest stores carry in masses in a big display next to the peanuts.

The pistachio can be so refreshing; lightly salted, a hint of moisture mixed in with a delectably light taste. One can't stop at eating one!

But sad to say there are those who don't know, or don't in any case want to enjoy our friend, Mr. Pistachio. These lower class types would much rather eat the all popular peanut. Yes, the peanut has its place being the versatile nut that it is. And yes the peanut certainly has earned some of its popularity among the masses. But can something that popular, that available be truly worth it? Those that are too easy, often get a reputation you know.

(Pardon the interruption here but my furry little feline friend just mistimed, misjudged a leap and landed on his tail. A tad ungraceful though he did his best to disguise his gaffe and prance away as if that was what he meant to do. At least he has the excuse of having a walnut sized brain. I have no such excuse to explain myself...)

At the other end of the spectrum is the high brow appeal of the almond. The almond is a fashionable nut, almost too good for its own appeal. With its tip slightly turned upwards, the almond is one nut that some of us can only savor on special occasions. Then you have the flashy curl of the cashew. Open a box of mixed nuts and your attention might fix upon the cashews. Their size and shape certainly are impressive enough. Even those of us rooting for the pistachio have to admire the smooth texture and meaty content of your average cashew. Who doesn't enjoy a good cashew now and then?

The walnut is a little too hard to get. With its thick shell and its rigid texture, the walnut is the type of nut one can take or leave. If there is a bowl placed in front of you, one might partake, but then again, one might not.

Which brings us back to our true love, the pistachio. There's nothing quite as frustrating as a pistachio that doesn't have an opening so you can't crack it open. The sweet nut of the gods within a shell's width away from your taste buds, and still there is nothing you can humanly do to get at it. Sure it's tempting to try to crack it between your teeth but with the thought of a lofty dental bill in mind it's probably a good idea to show a little restraint and move on to the next nut.

I suppose you can get out a hammer and splatter the thing open but it hardly seems worth that much energy and noise to get one little nut when you have a whole bag in front of you. You have to learn to let go and move on to the next.

PISTACHIO NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: Your kind parents buy you a bag of pistachios which you with no shame and no mercy enjoy for a couple of nights. When you get near the end of the bag you carefully leave enough so you can enjoy yourself one last night. You want to savor the presence of your friend as long as you can. You carefully twist the bag shut to maintain maximum freshness and place the bag on top of the Tupperware full of discarded shells. Garbage day comes and you empty the shells into the garbage. Alas when you get home the next night with visions of that bag causing cravings of unbearable desire for the remainder pistachios, you discover you forgot to remove the good pistachios from the empty shells. Your treat is gone. She has broken your heart one more time. All that is left is the memory, a distant time and place. And yet you are still in love. All you can think about is the next time...

Monday, April 21, 1997

Rumble in the Jungle

So it's king for king, queen for queen, gonna be the meanest flood anybody's ever seen.

There are those who feel that the sport of boxing should be outlawed. The sport is flooded by those who exploit young boxers in the pursuit of a dollar as well as its supposedly corrupt rumored connections to the Mafia. Not to mention when you stop and think for a moment about the mere object of trying to hit someone harder, hurt someone more, knock them down and out before they do the same to you, one realizes the brutality does seem a bit much for entertainment purposes. Still after seeing the brilliant documentary, When We Were Kings, one can't help but share in at least one man's, Muhammad Ali's, sheer love of the artistry of the game. It once again proves that in even the ugliest of human endeavors, there are those unique individuals who can transcend their surroundings and show the rest of us the ever elusive beauty of the human soul.

My memory of Ali is of a cocky fighter who fought one too many fights, tarnishing his ever entertaining style by hanging around too long and leaving the ring as a mere shadow of his former self. To see him today is to see the ravages of all the fights, and the onslaught of Parkinson's Disease.

But in When We Were Kings, a film that depicts the events surrounding a much anticipated 1974 fight between Ali and George Foreman, Ali is at his charismatic best. Indeed one can argue there has never been as entertaining a figure in any sport as Ali was back in his prime. The champ in the movie is as funny, as watchable, as stylish and as likable as the most intriguing of leaders. It wasn't a simpler time, but by having a force like Ali to guide the way, it was in a sense, a more understandable time. Ali rises above the harsh brutality of the sport and gives a performance of an artist doing what he loves to do best.

Foreman was heavily favored to win the fight having just knocked out, in impressive fashion two of the day's greatest boxers, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. He was bigger, stronger and younger than Ali, and was so dominating in his other fights that many feared for Ali's safety. Foreman comes across as a brooding and angry man, angry at Ali's greater popularity with the African people as well as angry with Ali's constant goading and gloating.

One of the movie's biggest charms is its snapshot of time quality. It is a movie about remembering history, of gaining deeper knowledge and thus appreciation of understanding where we've been to have a greater perception of where we are. It's a trait the movie observes that is often lacking in today's society. Knowing what we do of both Ali and Foreman's current state of health and popularity, an added poignancy comes in watching their younger selves. Ali's quick wit, his constant movement and jabs, both physical and verbal, contrast with the stony, trembling figure he is today. Foreman's transformation is equally as startling. After the fight he was to sink into a deep depression only to emerge years later as the fun loving, happy and smiling entertainer he now is.

In 1974, Ali ruled the world. His fight strategy was brilliant. He uses the hype and the hyperbole to trick Foreman into thinking he was going to fight a fight that he disguises like the unmatchable and greatly missed artist he is. While the experts expected it to be a fight between brute and quickness, force against wisdom, Ali uses his greater understanding of boxing, proving it more important to think than just hit hard, and with his body's wonderful grace he tires Foreman out with a well conceived although risky game plan.

His strategy stuns Foreman and the rest of the sporting world but Ali calmly walks away knowing he accomplished what he set out to do. He wasn't just saying he would win, his faith left no internal doubt- just another day at the office. His mission is expressed both in his bravado, but also in a more personal voyage which his many words conceal until the very moment that it becomes clear to the rest of the world. When We Were Kings isn't so much about boxing as it is about triumph of a unique and universal human spirit.

As I wander, hopes grow fonder, precious memories flood my soul.

Monday, April 7, 1997

Boppity Bop

"Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you. You're trying to break into another world, a world I never knew. I always kind of wondered if you ever made it through. Seen a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you."

The song goes that when you wish upon a shooting star, it makes no difference who you are. Unfortunately when you wish upon a shooting comet, you better have your papers in order Pepe. You don't want to miss the boat. You don't want to leave this place before you have your house in order. Although I may not quite be ready to buy me a pair of Nikes and a purple shroud I nonetheless have been impressed by the sight of the great Hale Bopp comet in the sky. To gaze up at this heavenly wonder and to contemplate the significance of it all is at the very least, a pleasant distraction from trying to figure out the deductions on your taxes.

It's rather easy to get bogged down in the minutia of every day life and lose perspective on the grander scheme of things. But if you stop and think about it, the frustrations you feel after an unpleasant encounter with a raging customer, or a demanding boss, or a lazy coworker pales in comparison with the vastness of what's out there. Those overdue bills? How overdue are they among the waves of eternal time? To think of your own personal significance in comparison with the expanse of time and space, geez its enough to make one either feel overwhelmed or laugh at the seriousness we all tend to take ourselves at times.

The difference in those things cosmic with our daily routines can be somewhat jarring. We do like our lives to be orderly. We count on the dependability and stability of those familiar elements around us and expect a minimum of surprises. Last Tuesday on April Fool's Day several of the comic strip writers got together and switched strips. Thus Dagwood appeared in Garfield's world and Dilbert appeared in Luann's. One of the appeals of our the daily comic strips is their reliability- you may not always find them amusing in the slightest but somehow it is comforting to be able to look at them every morning and know what to expect- something like an old friend.

But with predictability comes boredom. A break in routine every now and then can be a good thing. And the good news for those of you out there who aren't who you want to be, or aren't where you thought you would be, is that because of time, and in spite of it, we all change. Five years from now you may not even recognize who you are today. And what better way to demonstrate this than another geeky example from my own life?

I first saw Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was in high school. Having read glowing reviews of the movie I expected to be awed just like I was when I pulled out my telescope to look at the stars. I was disappointed. The movie seemed sterile and seemed to have no point. This of course was the perspective of one who had just seen the comic book plotted Star Wars movies. Thus I dismissed the movie as just another indulgence of those high brow critics who claim to see art in pretension in the name of being able to understand something the masses will never get.

Last Saturday evening Channel 2 played 2001: A Space Odyssey and I watched it after the rush of having produced another solid edition of the newsletter. Maybe it was the afterglow of having gone outside and gazed at Hale Bopp, but this time around the movie did blow me away. From the terrific opening scene with early man learning to club each other to death with a new found tool, to the mind boggling, surrealistic closing scene concluding with the birth of the star child, the movie seemed timeless and somehow captured that feeling of wonder that the promise of space can create inside of us.

As far as I could tell nothing in the movie was different from what I remembered. More likely it was the dork outside that was different, having gained fifteen years of life experience. The lack of a conventional story was admired this time around. It wasn't even a matter of gained wisdom, it's just that time gives you a different outlook on things. As the now frequently appearing gray hairs are a constant reminder of, life is a one way ride, there ain't no space for a U-turn. (Depressing discovery of the week: while perusing the Twins' opening day roster it dawned on me that I am older than all but four of the players. These guys used to be my heroes- now they are mere inexperienced youngsters. A mid-life crisis? YIKES!) So it was somewhat comforting to see that although the knowledge I have retained may fill a thimble, the perspective stumbled upon still leaves room for an appreciation for what I wasn't able to appreciate in earlier days. Time rolls over us much too rapidly to comprehend at the moment yet in the end it is the ride that can be so intriguing and inspiring.