Monday, May 25, 1998

Oh to Be a Tube

Her shadow cast a figure that looked like Pebbles (or was it Bam Bam?) against the wall. Deep inside the little boy felt warmer (muy muy caliente) than the hot afternoon sun whose intensity was determined to make everybody sweat as it turned a tan into a burn. She told him of a scene five years in the future. He understood clearly and wanted to at once be there with her. She was a spray painter with the soul of a blues dancer. He was beginning to sense that she had that rare gift of great intuition- of being able to see what the sum of the parts truly was. His preference always was toward people who thought before they spoke. "Observe; listen; think; feel; use your intuition- then speak."

A closet full of shoes, neatly shelved and arranged by the master decorator. A puppy dog look of affection as her two dogs showed enthusiasm demonstrating how to give ten and play paddy cake all for the love of an ice cube. She was a keeper of roses and he continued to admire her attitude. It was a mere week after the passing of the boy's blued eyed idol. He was more shaken by the loss than he thought he would be. It made him recall a period frightfully not that long ago where he worked in a vault and needed to call upstairs whenever he wanted someone to let him out. As a self reward for his endurance he went out and bought a fancy felt hat, the type his idol might wear. He got looks from the people of downtown whenever he wore this hat but it was the beginning of his recovery. His current closet collection of hats was a nice reminder of how far he had come in just a few years. Now for this one rare moment he was in a perfect place and time.

The confusion was lifting. The storm that blew through a neighboring community left its scars and inconveniences. Those that endured pondered the most vital inventions of all. TV? Telephones? Electricity? Nope. Adhesive: whatever binds us together and provides the ultimate connection. He walked into a store and said, "Shuegoo," to the weary and bewildered young clerk. She looked at him as if he had asked for his favorite Japanese blow fish. "Shoogue," he repeated. She clearly wasn't understanding. "The heal of my shoe is detached," he began. She finally got it: Shoe Goo. She directed him to the nearest shoe repair shop. He then visited a new dentist who affixed a crown in his mouth that the boy's father had made. A perfect fit. It's good once in a while when something sticks. A good adhesive and a little electricity all adds up to rock and roll.

"It licks away like the tide on a stone. It ticks away at you genius of America. Break even, burn gas. Buried in waste right up to your ass. Turn a bottle to a bag on the ground, get used to living in a cardboard town. A visionary luminary, futures looking kind of scary." Later on in the week the boy was having dinner with his friend Spunky. The conversation turned to relationships passed and Spunky told him he couldn't imagine anything worse than dating the boy. "Equal parts frustrating and annoying."

The same could be said about the moment the boy stood in the darkness of the Medina Ballroom listening to the current incarnation of the rock group the Tubes plow their way through yet another concert in yet another venue on a long, long road. This group hasn't been around forever, it only feels that way. As lead singer Fee Waybill tore his shredded shirt from his body and handed it to an adoring female fan, his furrowed brow gave away the familiarity of the moment. Just another gig on another night, trying to recapture the spirit of what brought all this up to begin with.

They performed all the perfunctory songs from White Punks on Dope to A Matter of Pride and Mr. Hate. If nothing else they've become quite the professionals able to strike the right riff to get the crowd bobbing in satisfaction. Waybill's arrogance only matched his ability to give the crowd what they were looking for. On this particular night he made several comments about the recent settlement between the state and the tobacco companies, making smoking in Minnesota even more of an outlaw activity. As he spoke several cigarettes were flung his way. He feigned his death in front of the understanding throng.

Hard as they tried (and they did seem to try awfully hard) the current Tubes lineup couldn't convey anything other than this was yet another stop on the long road from being a famous band to just another act that people come to hear to remember what once was. The ever luring promise of sex, drugs and rock and roll remains the goal (betrayed only by the promise of eternal youth), the attraction for both the band and their loyal fans. In the rare instances when the band was able to recapture the essence and share it, the power of rock and roll was properly caught once again if only for a moment.

The Tubes have taken their place next to the Journeys, the REO Speedwagons, the Styx's of the world as occupying the growing up period for a generation of people. And their performance in Medina replayed memories from another time for many in the room. Rock and roll can be revolutionary in its nostalgia as well as its ability to say the wrong things just at the right time. And it seems like quite the way to make a living.

Monday, May 18, 1998

Farewell Mr. Frank

The week ended with a first. After the Friday storms blew by, I turned to Mr. Max and said, "Max, I'm going out to get the parsnips." I truly believe that is the first time that sentence has ever been uttered in the history of human language. Seems that when I was digging up weeds in the garden I discovered I had a dozen very large parsnips growing. I didn't know what they were- at first I thought I had grown some mutant plant combining a potato with a carrot. Just in time my next door neighbor stopped by and said, "Oh you have parsnips." And I nodded knowingly quite proud of this year's crop.

I put them in a pail out in my garage. So Friday evening as I was wistfully listening to my Sinatra CDs I desperately needed something to cheer me up. The brunt of the storm had passed over and the frightening dark skies were now looking more calm. I then remembered my parsnips. I hadn't a clue as to how to fix them so I fried them in butter. The end result wasn't exactly too impressive. Though they looked a lot like potato chips they tasted more like heavily buttered balsa wood.

They went down a little better as Mr. Sinatra belted out I've Got You Under My Skin. Life's accomplishments and disappointments always seem more palpable with a Sinatra tune in the background. "I'd sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near. In spite of a warning voice that comes in the night..."

Years ago my best friend in high school turned me on to Frank. We were at his parent's cabin in Osakis when he played me Frank and Count Basie's It Might As Well Be Swing. I was forever hooked. The man defined the very essence of cool. All these years later when I hear Fly Me To the Moon, or The Second Time Around I get shivers listening to the man. How big a loss is this? It only means we have collectively lost our voice- one that spoke so eloquently for so many. I would argue that is among the saddest losses of all.

I would be extremely hard pressed to pick out my favorite Frank album. Songs for Swingin Lovers captures the essence of being in love better than any other music I can think of. Sings Only for the Lonely captures the essence of the loss of love just as effectively. On those rare occasions when I'm feeling sad and regretful Where Are You speaks volumes. The version of Laura in that song cycle is about as perfect a recording as I've ever heard. And I still think the most underrated album of all time is Sinatra's most thematic effort, Watertown, that tells a story in all its ups and down with emotion and precision just as accurately as the best of novels. "So a dream has to end when it's real and not pretend..." Picking out my favorite Sinatra song would be even more difficult. High Hopes? Little Girl Blue? The Way You Look Tonight? Witchcraft? Each one has touched me and I could listen to all of them over and over again.

My ill fated attempt at a college radio show featured all Sinatra songs. Each week I would get a call from the secretary of the Geography Department who was the campus' biggest Frank fan. Every week she would request One for My Baby (and One More for the Road). Most fans probably think of My Way or New York New York as Sinatra's signature songs. But One for My Baby defined him early on as the classic saloon singer: as the singer who could wring out every last ounce of emotion from the biggest tearjerker song of all time. In his recorded live versions he always introduced it with a long spiel telling the story of a man who has lost his love and is spilling his story to a bartender. The explanations were needless however because each and every version I've ever heard says it all. "It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place except you and me... We're drinking my friend, to the end of a brief episode. Make it one for my baby and one more for the road..."

For me the most impressive musicians are those that can write their own words and perform them in a way that makes the music uniquely their own while still making it appealing to the masses. Sinatra was the exception. It was his ability to take other's words and make them his own that forever won my admiration. He had the remarkable gift of being able to take a combination of words that had been sung many times before and always make them sound new. Regrets, I've had a few... one of the biggest of all is never having seen the man perform live. I was hoping for another chance. He was the comeback king from here to eternity- whenever anyone thought he was down for the count he would give yet another sterling performance. Despite his reported health problems of the past few years I was still hoping he had yet one more comeback in him. Sadly it wasn't to be. We'll never ever get his interpretation of another great song. We'll never again hear his voice take standard material and make it universally touching to so many hearts. The man had style and unmatchable attitude. For all his well documented faults he forever unflinchingly remained true to his code. His cockiness was only matched by his vulnerability. He sang to those in love and those now out of love; he sang to the hip and to the down and out. Every time one of his songs plays on the radio he opens up his heart and seems to share with what is in ours. That's quite the trick.

Monday, May 11, 1998

Mums the Word

Put on those special glasses Pedro, for the first time ever this week's newsletter is printed in color! Yes indeed it may not be noticeable to the normal human eye but gosh darn we have stepped ever so slowly into 1998. Last week while printing the final proofs of the newsletter our old HP printer made a screeching noise and came to a grinding halt. Thus eagle eyed readers might have noticed even more errors than those that appear in our average issue. There simply was no way to print corrections. While frustrating I spent my time debating whether the saying should be "In perfection lies imperfection," or whether it should be "In imperfection lies perfection"? Both made equal amount of sense at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning. So after accepting life's latest challenge/ frustration and putting yet another newsletter to bed, I was left with a dilemma. Without a printer it would be mighty difficult to produce a newsletter. I could use my mother's computer which lacks compatible software and thus would create a different looking publication, or I could drive all the way in to Stillwater and use my work PC. Or I could pry open the wallet and either fork out the dough to repair the printer or buy a brand new one.

Utilizing another computer seemed the best option for it would afford me some time to make the final decision. Yet clearly it was not a long term solution. Fixing my old printer was perhaps the most logical solution for I knew the reliability and quality I could expect. Still it seemed silly to shell out the price of parts and labor on a five year old piece of computer equipment when the advances in technology seemed sufficient enough to buy a new printer (color!) for a competitive price. So I did some shopping and pricing all the while trying to stymie the impulse buy impulses. I ended up at the Roseville CompUSA. I looked at a variety of printers from simple black and white inkjets to multifaceted printer/scanner/fax machine units. My attention focused upon a NEC color inkjet which seemed to produce a quality print out balanced against a reasonable price.

I checked out the Web for information on that specific printer. I asked my computer "guy" about NEC products. He had nothing negative to report so I decided to take the plunge. I returned to CompUSA following a rather long day (a broken tooth and a broken lawn mower which I won't go into here). I was set in my decision of buying the NEC printer with the condition I see an actual printout to determine quality and with the need of an answer as to whether CompUSA's three to five year service plan was worth the extra cash. (I'll admit here that I was open to the possibility of being talked into buying a much more expensive printer if they could convince me the fax/scanner options were worth it.) So I returned to the store, went straight back to the printer aisle and waited for some assistance. No salesperson was in sight so I wandered back to the nearest counter (software and hardware upgrades) where I asked the clerk for help. He informed me he couldn't assist me but that he would page someone. Several minutes passed and he tried his intercom announcement once again, "MOD to printers for customer service..." After waiting a few minutes someone finally returned his page and he was instructed to tell me to stand by the printer and flag down a salesperson when they became available.

So I stood by the printer I wanted to buy and waited. And waited some more. I saw a salesperson assisting another customer so I approached him and asked if he could help me when he was available. He grunted. So I waited some more. Meanwhile a woman walked out because she couldn't find any help and another gentleman muttered to his son, "This place sucks..." I decided I would wait around to give them ample chance to correct the situation. The hardware manager, Steve Hirman finally appeared in the area so I asked him for help. He was assisting another customer and walked away. I waited some more. I flagged down a stock person and asked him if he could help me. He couldn't but for the first time during my visit I actually encountered an employee that seemed to care that I was a customer.

Hence my frustration. After talking to Mr. Hirman I was told three of his employees had not shown that evening and he was short handed. But it was clear he had no clue as to the nature of my frustration. He explained to me that CompUSA was a "self service" type of store clearly indicating that the prices were what mattered to his customers not the level of service. (CompUSA where we sell products that work better than we do...) The lesson I was learning that he didn't seem to comprehend was that the problem was something far more basic than the credo "the customer is always right." It was about basic human interaction and the need to see that someone at the store actually cared about the quality of work they performed. I almost felt like apologizing as a customer for being a burden and interfering with their more important work. I would have but all the employees I encountered seemed a bit cranky. The prices may sell the products but to have a group of employees so undercut by management philosophy destroys any job satisfaction that can possibly occur.

I don't expect my bad experience to stop anyone from shopping the company and this one location in particular. I bought the printer and they got their money from me. I've even thought about writing to the CEO of the company and thanking him for my new printer which I'm fairly satisfied with. "Dear Mr. So and So: I am writing to tell you how happy I am that I purchased an NEC printer from your company for such a great price. I would have thanked one of your employees if only I could have found one..."

Monday, May 4, 1998

Sooner or Later

Welcome to the world Eon Trainor. While I don't suppose it's entirely accurate to call you the first Cheapo baby, that you are the first child born to two Cheapo employees is reason enough for a company-wide celebration (whoop-de-doo).

As you see things for the first time you no doubt will be full of questions. This world is nothing if not a confusing place. But you should have some peace of mind knowing you are in good hands. I don't know your mother and father all that well yet what I do know is enough to be confident that they will make better than average parents. Still, even with the best parents in the world (and I think I could go to any court of law in the land and personally stake that claim) you will make your mistakes here and there and face your share of troubles. But you'll be OK in the end as long as you stay rooted in the values you are taught.

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. Last Monday I was looking forward to going to the Twins game with my good friend. I got a call at 6:30 in the morning from this friend who told me because of a family problem she wouldn't be able to go with me. I was disappointed but I realized that family does come first (no matter how good the seats, which were great- just to the right of home plate staring straight down the third base line about twenty rows up). The family problem turned out to be some unspecified trouble her older daughter had gotten herself into. Being the self professed parenting expert I am (having successfully raised the most neurotic cat this side of the Mississippi) I immediately was there to give my advice and opinions.

My friend and her husband have worked hard at being excellent parents. I admire them both for the care and discipline they exude with their two daughters. And it shows- both kids have turned out to be really good people. Thus I know my friend and her family will be able to work their way through this latest crisis not only because both parents have demonstrated superior parenting skills but also because the kid is alright. Whether or not she can admit it, she someday will come to appreciate the strong foundation her parents provided from day one. Along the way, she'll learn relationships are built on trust which is a two way street. But with trust comes responsibility which ultimately depends solely on each of us individually. It's easier to find someone to give you their word than it is to find someone that will keep it.

And some days will be harder than others Eon. Just when you think you have things figured out to some sort of degree, life is always more than willing to throw you a curve, place an obstacle in your path. My new passion this spring is my garden. I have already spent nights turning over the dirt, clearing the leftover stuff from last fall, and digging up the weeds, some of which established quite the root system. All the while pictures of peonies and hyacinth run through my head. Starting in one corner and finishing up that spot only to look at how much is still left to do is discouraging work.

But the end result is an impressive sized rectangular black dirt plot ready for any plant I deem suitable. Getting down on your hands and knees and getting that fresh dirt underneath your fingernails has a certain raw appeal, and the end result of all the work is well worth it. There is something refreshing and redemptive about the renewal process of gardening. I slept well that night and even had a dream of my garden. In my dream I was out planting some seeds, and digging up more weeds with my hands. The sun was bright and blissful. Suddenly one of the roots grabbed a hold of me and tried to pull me under. I woke up startled at the sudden turn of events. I tried to decipher some deeper meaning: my roots were some type of burden; hard work can still lead to disastrous results; my garden represented some type of grave I was digging for myself... None of it seemed to fit although in the darkness it all made some sense. When I talked to my dream interpreter the next day she said it was probably caused by watching one too many episodes of Lost in Space when I was a kid. She said that show caused the same nightmares for her. She unburied the memories of those episodes when a strange planet's plants would grab one of the Robinsons. Another dream we shared independent of each other.

So Eon, sometimes you don't have to dig so deep to find answers, they can be right in front of you. And often it's even hard to tell what is a weed and what isn't. The distinction isn't important the perception is. Though you'll hopefully find people willing to help out, the most wonderful thing of all is the experience you gain learning these lessons by yourself. It can be life's greatest reward.