Monday, October 27, 1997

Leaves Me Alone

Many years before that great chronicler of our times, Alanis Morissette sang her saturating observational ode, Ironic, my soulmate and I had a little running joke that she didn't know when something was ironic. It wasn't so much she didn't understand the meaning of the word (I'm quite sure she knew how to use a dictionary), she just didn't understand the concept. Thus my assignment was to point out whenever I saw or heard something that I considered ironic.

Of course as was often the case when it came to affairs with my soulmate it turned out in the end I knew much less than she did. And if it all just didn't elude me I 'd figure out how that in itself was ironic. Last week after I put the finishing touches on yet another solid issue of the newsletter I came home, looked at my front lawn and decided some work was necessary. Now I'm not the type of guy who fits into most situations nor is it usually that important to me that I do. Growing up in Minnesota suburbia, just my mere ethnicity immediately separated me from my peers. As regular readers of this publication can testify (and someday may be called upon to do) I'm not exactly like most people. Still when it comes to home care I want to fade into the background not especially wanting my house to stick out. So when I looked at my front lawn and saw I had more leaves lying around than everyone else combined, I figured much as I loathe the chore it was time to do some raking. This despite looking up and seeing my own tree had yet to lose any of its leaves. (or is that leave any of its losses?) Was this some form of symbolic irony? Why did mine hang on too long and how did mine become the burial ground for everyone's excess baggage?

After an unusually rough and tumble softball season, and a lot of difficult shots to the gut, I have felt more than a little beat up recently. Sometimes it's more a matter of self preservation rather than self defense learning to accept the unacceptable. But nothing prepared me for the grueling task of raking leaves. I tried to take it easy, but I was quite winded by the time half my yard looked respectable. Thirteen sack full of leaves later, I scampered back inside feeling sore in places I didn't know existed anymore.

Yet when I looked out my window and saw how neat my yard looked, there was a real sense of accomplishment. The next morning I awoke equal parts stiff and proud. I had a meeting down in Mankato, and I quite looked forward to seeing the many autumn colors on my trip down, now feeling a bit secure in my battle against the fallen leaves. The drive down was disappointing- not much color other than a rather drab greenish yellow. The shades in my mind were left shadows of hues unfulfilled. I was only a bit distracted thinking about my last trip to that city which was about a year ago and seems like forever and so close at the same time. So much has gone down since yet the memories remain within as clear as breathing in the crisp fall air. I learned many things on that trip not the least being just when two people needed a roast beef sandwich, there was no Arby's in sight. We got so lost coming back that night that it became a bonding adventure. Just when you've think you've seen every color before, one comes along to haunt like never before.

This time around the return home was damn near ironic, I think. I felt lost but in an entirely different way. I drove back to my house and I noticed my tree had decided it was indeed autumn. It cut it all loose immediately rather than gradually as all the leaves fell in just one day. My once cleaned yard had many more leaves than before I raked. The barren branches were like words without sounds; any sense of grace was blown away leaving me feel adrift like a tumbling leaf. Sometimes if a fellow takes too much for granted thinking he is actually taking a step forward, nature is very good at reminding permanence is as fleeting as any longing for continuity. I guess I learned it is not the work or the leaves I'm allergic to it's the process of leaving and how little and how much is always ultimately left behind.

Monday, October 20, 1997

President's Analyst

I called to ask if Steve was there knowing he wasn't just to see if Jason was home and why his apartment had been dark for so long. That's how much I cared and was willing to do. Steve wasn't there. There was no Steve there. But Jason was there and had been and I apologized and hung up. I'm not much of an actor. I knew more about him than he would ever forget about me. And in the end we figured maybe he was just too damn lazy to go out and get another light bulb. So she still cared even if she didn't want to or couldn't show it.

Now I come away with another lesson learned. Sometimes you just get your signals crossed. Misunderstandings lead to crossed lines and disconnected phones. *67 to mask a call. *69 to see who called last. It's only seventy five cents after all. That's as much as the welcome home balloon which is deflating as it descends. A leftover memory from Japan was walking wherever and seeing and hearing so many people with cellular phones, carrying on conversations on their way to destinations with God knows who or where. A whole cellular digital packet data network walking down the crowded sidewalks. This may not be a trend we want to emulate. With the growing prevalence of people who are attached with beepers and cell phones on call at every moment, how long will it be before for convenience sake, we all are equipped with micro communication chips implanted in our brains so we can be easily reached or easily connected with anyone at any time?

The groundwork for the scenario has already been paved. We can't be out of touch for very long.- miniature models of phones that allow you to be connected to someone far away while what's in front of you is a mere distraction. Why not dial someone up in your mind? Let someone else interpret what's going on inside. No one wants to feel alone. The competition among phone companies is becoming rather severe. I once was in the habit of switching long distance carriers every month with a new incentive thrown at me. The last deal gone down. With all the emphasis on the intrusion of government and the evil influence of foreign governments, perhaps we ought to be a little more frightened of the wide reaching power of entities like phone companies.

Not that being able to feel any type of connection in your brain would necessarily be a bad thing. Some people walk down the halls feeling awfully hollow and wonder what can possibly be going on in someone else's mind. Either a particular someone or just anyone. While it's great to feel connected with another, to feel like you don't have to say everything for them to understand, it is equally as deflating to think you have a connection with someone only to find out it's fake. Sometimes you are left to feel like there is so much more to say but all you can be is mute or dumb or at the very least dumbfounded. It's just as difficult to be around someone who feels like they've connected to you when they haven't gotten close. Maybe that little communications chip could help lessen the misunderstandings of being human.

It could even replace the process of analysis which is to talk to a trained professional on a couch to reinforce logically what is already emotionally there. Part of your therapy might be having you talk to an empty chair to say the things you meant to say to a real person in your life but either can't because of a fear or because it's merely too late. Try talking to a chair with a cell phone. And if you're the President's analyst the secrets you hear must be confidential and valuable and wanted by your worst enemies. Just like the woman who read all those books about how to have good relationships yet refused to deal with people.

Did you also ever notice there are way too many people selling toothpaste these days or at the very least one too many? With all the different brands and all the different kinds promising everything from tartar free, to whiter teeth to fresher breath one wishes someone would just come up with a one stop toothpaste. If you have enough courage you can walk down the aisles of one of these big marts and see a whole aisle devoted to tooth care products. Are we biting any better? Most toothpaste people are more concerned with their own smiles rather than the health of your teeth. Just like the other day when there was a Pez jammed in my dispenser and I propelled it out with such force that it became a dangerous projectile nailing me in the glasses. I could have been blinded. By a Pez.

Last call. Ding that bell dang it. If she wasn't a poet she certainly was the closest thing to a rapper that ever ran through my life. Stylin. She stopped linear time for a little detour from the past back to the past. And I still feel the same as always except when I think about her I get sad. It came to be absolutely meaningless but we did have some fun didn't we?

Analyzing the Fourth Greatest Song

"I have no answer for you little lamb, I can help you out, but I cannot help you in."

The opening line to Little Lamb Dragonfly the fulcrum fifth song on Paul McCartney's emotional 1973 masterpiece, Red Rose Speedway, is as intriguing as it is ambiguous. It sets the moody stage (or is that the stagy mood?) for a song as philosophical as it is charming. The singer is offering support while admitting it is easier to show someone the way to the door than it is expressing an intimate feeling. Immediately the song is equal part comfort and sadness. It's about the connection of a relationship realized too late just as it is about to end. It's the offer of friendship while admitting the friendship is already over.

"Sometimes you think that life is hard, but this is only one of them. My heart is breaking for you little lamb, I can help you out, but we may never meet again."

Like McCartney's ultimate and most moving masterpiece, Hey Jude, the singer in Little Lamb Dragonfly seems to be seeking self comfort through the benefit of trying to comfort another. By empathizing with the heartache of another, the singer comes to terms with his own loss. The bridge of the song reveals however that the loss the singer feels is from the soul he is trying to console.

"Dragonfly fly by my window. You and I still have a way to go. Don't know why you hang around my door, I don't live here anymore. Since you've gone I never know, I go on, I miss you so."

Here the singer admits confusion. He has said he finds it easier to help someone out rather than reveal himself. Now that the person he misses is outside his door (taking up his offer to leave) he doesn't know how to let them back in so he tells them to keep on moving. The nature of the relationship is as confusing as the splintering of communication and the singer's own confessed inner shortcomings. The singer wants the other to help him figure things out yet at the same time it is the other that has created the feelings of loss and sorrow in the first place. There is the feeling that the friendship has more to offer yet at the same time it might be better to separate and get on with life.

"Dragonfly don't keep me waiting. When we try we'll have a way to go. Dragonfly, you've been away too long. How did two rights make a wrong? In my heart I feel the pain, keeps coming back again."

We now get a glimpse of how the separation became a fracture. The singer has done wrong but feels the time and distance has only caused things to get worse. Despite the difficulty he finally does show the other what it all means- the feelings in his heart.

"Dragonfly fly by my window, you and I can find a way to see. Dragonfly, the years ahead will show, how little we really know. Since you've gone it's never right, they go on, the lonely nights. Come on home and make it right. My heart is aching for you little lamb, I can help you out, but I can't help you in."

The window which seemed like a barrier of separation before now is used as a metaphor of transparency to what is inside. The singer seeks hope in his heartache. He realizes that time will open up even more revelations both in the relationship and within himself. He also realizes to complete his transformation he needs the other to still be a part of his life. And through the self revelation, the healing process has begun. The heartache isn't growing (breaking) but rather it has been replaced by the longing to continue (aching). His friend the lamb (silent and passive) offers hope and inspiration through its transformation into a dragonfly (a symbol of flight and freedom). Though the loss may be permanent, the singer has grown and gained insight in the process.

Monday, October 13, 1997

Home Improvement

Not much passes for entertainment these days for Mr. Max and myself. We are not easily amused. Try hard as we might, we haven't even been able to enjoy the new fall TV season with the possible exception of our new favorite show, Buffy the Teenage Vampire Slayer. Sad to say one of the many things I dearly miss about a certain individual is getting to hear all about her gastronomic experiences. So late last week Max and I watched in some bewilderment if not actual bemusement when I flushed the toilet and water starting gushing out of a crack between the tank and the bowl. Despite the plumbing implications, it was our very own version of Yellowstone's Old Faithful.

It was one of those moments as a homeowner where I really wished I had a landlord to call to come fix the problem. It got rather old flushing the toilet and spending the next ten minutes mopping up the floor. At first it was a mere inconvenience among many then it became rapidly annoying to the point I was trying to figure out how long I could possibly go without using the toilet (timing such things as to when I would be at work) or at the very least how long I could go without flushing the damn thing. Unfortunately one of my few good personality traits is I am a stickler when it comes to terms of personal hygiene. Fortunately I have a helpful and knowledgeable brother-in-law who bailed me out of the situation so to speak.

I learned a lot of things in two areas this week: I learned more about brassieres than I ever knew before (we're not going to go there), and I learned about the great advances of technology in the toilet area. As my brother-in-law and I went to Knox to shop for a new toilet I learned that there is such a wide variety to choose from. Who knew that prices ranged from forty bucks to over two hundred? Far as I could see one toilet was like the other so I have no idea what accounted for the price differential. I didn't exactly want to ask a salesperson either; I was quite happy slapping down forty dollars and forever living in curiosity as to what a two hundred dollar toilet might be capable of that my new purchase couldn't do.

I did learn that the most noticeable improvement in toilet technology is the development of water saving tanks. All the new versions use half the water as my old cadillac porcelain monstrosity. My old faithful had a big tank that was self modified with a huge brick to displace some of the water and save me a few needed pennies. My new purchase has a much smaller tank and is done with its duties in half the time as my old one. This small advance is already greatly appreciated. No more waiting in the mornings for the water to stop running so I can finally step into my shower without being scalded.

The other improvement told to me by my brother-in-law is the addition of two rubber stoppers that level the tank on the bowl as opposed to the old conventional one in the middle. Due to this advancement one can now tighten the tank on to the bowl with much more certainty- when it comes to toilets one surely wants to make sure everything is level. Yet there still are improvements needed. Like any area where technology has rapidly improved certain aspects, there are sure to be new problems created and advancements in the toilet industry are no exception. My brother-in-law told me that with the new designs that cleverly use the build up of suction and gravity to save water and the laws of physics to dispose of the bowl's contents, the old plumber snakes don't work as well anymore. The snakes aren't designed properly to clear obstructions between the tank and the bowl. One can only hope we aren't too far away from the day where toilet technology is all but perfected.

This whole experience reminded me of last spring when my front cement stairs disintegrated after a harsh winter. After shelling out major bucks for repairs I made sure I got my money's worth by enjoying the new steps as often as I could by sitting out front sipping my coffee and reading the newspaper. Now the most recent addition to my home improvement efforts has been installed with a bit of pride. I was so excited I was tempted to, and was all but ready to call my friend and have her come over to try it out. Yes indeed it feels good to know some things in life can actually be fixed.

Monday, October 6, 1997

Nothing to Lose

I don't know whether it is ultimately encouraging or discouraging to hear that a fifty six year old can still become so heart broken. Perhaps it is a good thing that the human spirit, even one that has been battered by traveling on so many bitter roads is still capable of feeling things so deeply. Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan's first new set of songs since 1990's Under The Red Sky is the work of a sad, despondent artist and it is a sincere, rewarding and deeply moving effort.

I could hardly wait to hear this new CD, with all the positive reviews and reports of it being a quality effort. I was trying to wait until after work on Tuesday to buy it but as I lie half asleep on my couch Monday night and midnight was just a few clock ticks away, I decided I couldn't wait any longer so I hopped on down to our friendly neighborhood store that stays open late for new releases. Time Out of Mind isn't exactly the type of CD one with a fragile mind wants to listen to in the wee small hours of the morning when the defenses are weakened. All the songs are dark and brooding showing a soul drifting and lost, disintegrating in a society that bewilders and befuddles him and who questions how much longer he can go on in a time of his life where the world just bruises as it confuses. Dylan's past few releases from Oh Mercy to World Gone Wrong have focused on the corruption of spiritual values in the polluted culture we live in. Time Out of Mind is a more personal journey about a mind ravaged by the irreconcilable differences between a man, a woman long gone, and a world where time and distance painfully have come to mean the same thing.

This remarkable music is the kind that once you listen to it you will never hear, see, or feel things in quite the same way. Phrases stick with you in a powerfully emotional and insightful way and bounce around inside running into an occasional memory or two. "They tell me everything is going to be all right but I don't know what all right even means... Everything looks so far away..." His usual word play for the most part is missing, but would seem out of place in the settings and moods of the songs. Sometimes the most effective way to express is the simplest way.

Dylan's weary vocals match the melancholy of the bluesy melodies and instrumentation. One wonders what was more painful, the heart trouble he endured last spring or the genesis of these songs. And again he demonstrates that being a great singer doesn't mean having a great voice; a great singer gets to the heart and soul of the song and makes the listener share in what the writer is trying to say. The first four songs are spooky and similar in tone showing a man who has got a bad case of the blues but it's the fifth song, Tryin' to Get to Heaven where the heartbreak becomes larger than the singer, connecting this CD with his past work while at the same time showing the price of the road he's wandered down. He conveys the deepest despair any of us can feel is to feel like we can no longer connect to anything or anyone around us. "When you think you have lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more. I'm just going down the road feeling bad tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door." This is in stark contrast to the cocky rebel who used to revel in his alienation from the mainstream, who sneeringly sang, "When you ain't got nothing you got nothing to lose..." The voice of that same singer who seemed to know something the rest of us didn't, now seems so lost and confused. Yet he keeps heading down that road because it's the one thing he knows how to do.

Other highlights include Not Dark Yet where he sings, "It's not dark yet but it's getting there. My sense of humanity has gone down the drain. Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain..." Also Make You Feel My Love which sounded like a really bad Billy Joel song in Joel's version with cliche and hackneyed lyrics, but in the setting among the darkness of Time Out of Mind, shows the uplifting heartfelt beauty that keeps Dylan coming back for more. The song has the simplest and "happiest" lyrics on the CD yet is in a way the most moving and painful because of its inherent wistfulness. The final song, Highlands, is a sixteen minute delight that sums up the tone from the rest of the CD but adds touches of wit and humor with its dry, mundane look at every day occurrences. "I'm crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog, talkin' to myself in a monologue. I think what I need might be a full length leather coat. Somebody just asked me if I registered to vote..." (A message of great personal meaning for elections officials.) It is the final lament from a lost soul who mid-song stumbles into a restaurant for a memorable encounter with a waitress. The song is elegiac and hypnotizing and you just want it to go on and on. I have listened to it repeatedly and my smile grows wider and wider after each listen.

The masterful writing and singing that defines the doom and darkness isn't what makes this CD such a great piece of work; rather it's the authenticity and the beauty of the heartache expressed and listening to the voice of an artist whose best work is so constantly rewarding and breathtaking. It's involving and inspiring to hear such a personal statement that expresses your own feelings better than you yourself can.