Monday, September 28, 1998

Caring and Connected

I spent all of Saturday morning on the phone trying to get through to our good friends at Ticketmaster for tickets to Bob Dylan's upcoming concerts in Duluth and Minneapolis. Tickets for Duluth went on sale at 9 a.m. and tickets for the Target Center show (with Joni Mitchell) went on sale at 10 a.m. Thank God for the redial button on my phone.

I first got through after constant attempts at about 9:15. The operator was pleasant and more competent than your average ticket seller. The Duluth show should be special seeing it is the town where Bob was born and the venue is medium sized (7,500 seats). Dylan has never played a concert in Duluth. One hour later I repeated the constant frustration of getting a busy signal finally getting through to Ticketmaster around 10:55 a.m. This operator was more inarticulate having to reread his spiel a couple of times and having me repeat my credit card information several times. No matter I wasn't going to let anything spoil the excitement of securing tickets. The Target Center show should also be a most fun experience seeing I'm going with someone who has never seen Bob live. I think she is looking forward to the show having been exposed to Dylan's music for the first time after reading my review of Time Out of Mind and promptly going out and purchasing the disc based on my recommendation.

So what is it that she has to look forward to and what is it that makes me want to see the man perform for the sixteenth and seventeenth time in the past eleven years? His performances are often ragged and the musicianship is seldom what one would call virtuoso. Still there isn't anyone around who can capture the feeling of the moment better and when he does, the emotion he can ring out of even his more obscure material can be breathtaking. Although his constant touring has meant he rarely breaks out different songs anymore, he is the one artist I know that doesn't perform his songs the same way and he constantly will surprise by his changing of phrasing or lyrics, or something that makes time disappear and the music express his heart with astonishing clarity.

"I'm sailing away my own true love, I'm sailing away in the morning. Is there something I can send from across the sea, from the place I'll be landing? No, there's nothing you can send me, my own true love, there's nothing I wish to be owning. Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled from across that lonesome ocean." A perfect example is the live version of Boots of Spanish Leather that was released on the CD single version of Not Dark Yet. If told it was a matter of national security to reveal what my favorite Dylan song was, Boots of Spanish Leather would surely make my short list. It is one of his more clearly autobiographical songs chronicling the end of his relationship with one of his first loves, Suzi Rotolo.

Surely it is a song of self pity with the narrator singing both sides and ultimately wishing his love well as she sails away. Both people seemed saddened by the end, hurt by the other, hurt that the other has decided to leave. "But if I had the stars from the darkest night and the diamonds from the deepest ocean, I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss, for that's all I'm wishing to be owning. That I might be gone a long time and it's only that I'm asking. Is there something I can send you to remember me by, to make your time more easy passing? How can, how can you ask me again? It only brings me sorrow. The same thing I want today, I would want again tomorrow." I've been around long enough now to have seen my share of relationships end and the mood this song evokes captures some of those feelings so perfectly. I may never have lost a love leaving for Spain (France perhaps but not Spain) yet the feelings expressed are universal. One feels jilted at the same time one just wishes it wouldn't be the end while feeling a certain sense of relief that the troubles are over or so you try to tell yourself.

Dylan has performed Boots of Spanish Leather sporadically over the years and it is always performed with gentleness and real care. Clearly the song means a lot to him. This particular version captures his love of the song well. His voice is full of wistfulness and sadness. His phrasing of the line, "I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss, for that's all I'm wishing to be owning" is heartbreaking and breathtaking in its understated intensity. The singer concludes his story lamenting how jealous he feels of what is in front of her and how sad he feels that he cannot share or be a part of her upcoming adventure. "I got a letter on a lonesome day it was from her ship a sailing saying I don't know when I'll be coming back again it depends on how I'm feeling. Well, if you, my love, must think that way, I'm sure your mind is roaming. I'm sure your thoughts are not with me, but with the country to where you going. So take heed, take heed of the western wind, take heed of the stormy weather. And yes, there's something you can send back to me, Spanish boots of Spanish Leather." The last line is a bit too clever yet it works because it conveys the bitterness and the bittersweet feelings the singer feels. He wants her to do well and be happy, he wants her to know how much she means to him, yet he knows that he has to move on and regrets it all. It's the type of song one drives all the way to Duluth to hear from a singer one has seen many times before and always comes away understanding life just a little bit better.


So I'm in the men's bathroom of the place I've been working at for the past week, the place that takes me an hour and a half to get to zipping along at seventy five miles an hour, and as I'm drying my hands I take a close look at the towel thing on the wall. It's one of those rolling cloth dispensers where you pull down on the towel to get to the clean part. On the side of the dispenser is a warning: "Use on hands and face only! Any other use is dangerous!" What's up with that? How else can a person possibly even imagine using the contraption?

As I arrive at home that particular evening I notice a wire hanging down from the power line next to my garage. I maneuver my car around it not knowing if it is live or not. I wasn't sure if it was part of the power line, a telephone line, or a cable line. But to see something dangling from a source of power (no Monica jokes please) is a rather ominous sight but I was too tired to think about it. I knew enough not to touch it tempting as it was. I go in my house and call NSP who tells me they'll send out a crew and I was very smart in calling it in. I go out for dinner and when I get back home the wire is still hanging. I call NSP again and they say there were several power outages in the area and a crew will get out as soon as possible. It's a perfect example of letting (or not letting) a customer know of the status of the service call as to set reasonable expectations. Had I been told my first call that it might be late into the evening or possibly the next day before they could take care of the problem, I wouldn't have worried so much. But worry is my middle name and I did more than enough for a small sized community. Danger is always just around the corner.

I had dinner that night with my favorite Pioneer Press reporter and her husband. They fixed me a swell meal consisting of crackers and cheese for an hors d'oeuvre (GOUDA!) and pesto with a nice home made sauce on top. For a guy who is satisfied by a meal of Spaghetti'O's and whose best friend told him she didn't see him as a pasta type guy, I must say the meal was terrific and I was greatly impressed. A 1995 red wine from Italy? For moi? Get out!

We talked about movies, music, families, and politics. And the love of our lives. I learned how as a youngest child I shouldn't date other youngest children, that my ideal spouse probably would be the elder child (that explains a lot). It was a theory I never had heard before. And the lawyer husband also told me that he had gone to the State Fair and saw the butter carving exhibit (competition?) and he learned it was tradition for the models of the sculptors to take their likenesses home, freeze them until their wedding day and then use their butter busts for the wedding reception butter condiment supply. Thus another stipulation for the future Mrs. Maeda (sign up now girls!) is to require her to provide an award winning butter bust that we can use in our wedding day ceremony.

The next night I went to my final Twins game of the year, a 2-0 shutout over the Indians (or the Cleveland baseball team as the politically correct Star Tribune likes to call them). It was good to see Mr. Radke pitch a nice game after a horrible second half of the season. It was also fun to get a glimpse of Mr. Koskie and Mr. Mientkiewicz who will play a part of next year's team. In the fifth inning we were given a bite size Salted Nut Roll by one of the members of the Twins' staff. While it was a nice unexpected gesture, I sure hope this wasn't this year's version of Fan Appreciation Night. Thanks anyway Mr. Pohlad. And thank you Mr. Molitor (who didn't play this particular evening) for a most wonderful career.

And did any of you catch Wednesday's Cubs' game in which Sammy Sosa hit two more home runs but the Cubs lost in the ninth when Brant Brown dropped a fly ball? After the game was over Brown violated the rule Tom Hanks so passionately stated in A League of Their Own: "Baseball players don't cry. There is no crying in baseball..."

The next night I decided to wash my bath mat. As I went downstairs after the wash cycle was complete I saw that the rubber backing on the mat had disintegrated inside the washing machine. So I spent the next fifteen minutes cleaning out the inside of my tank. And there are those out there who think my life isn't very exciting.

Monday, September 21, 1998

Elect This, Mister

This past Tuesday I woke up at 4:30 in the freaking a.m. to participate in the State Primary. For a former election official the day brought some bittersweet feelings. You work hard and prepare for the day for over half a year and then you find you can't experience the final fruits of your efforts. Frustrating. Damn frustrating.

I did stay involved as I worked the day for a vendor of election equipment and ballots. I was given the assignment of driving around mostly northern Hennepin County (Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Maple Grove, Plymouth, Medina, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, New Hope, and Richfield) going out to polling places to make sure things were going smoothly.

And bless the Lord, things actually did go somewhat smoothly in the area I covered (Dakota County had a major catastrophe with their ballots- and had to have 30,000 reprinted on election day). I repaired just two defective voting machines and had to swap out three others. My arrival at the trouble precincts was a bit nerve racking. First they were glad to see little techie boy come out but quickly the looks of frustration tore into me- frustration of having lines of voters (well, if anything during a 20% Primary turnout can actually be called a line) and having a bum piece of equipment that won't accept ballots. I put on my best customer service smile and did my best to be courteous, effective and efficient.

It was enjoyable to be involved and I got to spend the evening, night and wee hours of the morning at the Hennepin County Government Center with the guru of Minnesota elections, and with my most fun friend to keep me company, on my toes, and slightly agitated. (I finally got to meet my friend's ex-husband who continues the trend of all my female friends having ex-boyfriends or husbands who could squash me with their thumbs. Which means next I am scheduled to be dating the former Mrs. McGwire.) Of course none of the candidates I voted for actually won their contests but it wasn't like I was passionate about any of them anyway.

I also learned that my growing agoraphobia is a recent neurosis (when you accumulate as many as me, it's hard to remember when things were otherwise). I actually enjoyed being out and about during the day. It was a sunny day driving around with no particular destination in mind- only occasionally interrupted by a call on my rented cell phone telling me to head to a certain location. I remembered once upon a time I really did like the adventure of the road.

That was until Saturday. I would have to say that nobody had a worse Saturday than me including our woebegone President. I was in St. Cloud during the day doing some contract work for the election vendor. I headed home into the darkening skies to the east. During a torrential downpour with hazardous driving conditions, I got a flat tire. I pulled off a nearby exit and under a covered gas station. I put some of that inflating goop in the tire and started to head off. I backed up right into a parked pickup truck. The man got out and looked at his bent fender and was none too pleased. I gave him my insurance information and got back on the highway none too soon. I didn't know how long my tire would last so I wanted to get as close to home as possible without speeding for fear my tire would give out as I was going over sixty on the wet pavement. I could just picture getting a speeding ticket to complete my trifecta.

I got to north Minneapolis when my tire went flat again. I pulled off on to a side street trying to find a convenience store (it must have been the only block in the Twin Cities area without a SA). The skies really opened up and water was pelting the hood of my now tricycle like car. I got out between the gusts of rainfall and jacked up the flat side. I was tired, drenched, cold, cranky, and a bit worried. I finally got my cheap little jack up far enough where the tire was off the ground. I then tried to loosen the lug nuts. They wouldn't budge. I was frustrated enough to risk a hernia but I soon reached a point where I realized I needed to figure out another plan. So I went to the house I was in front of (with multiple political signs all around- I figured if the people who lived there were so politically conscious- they might be willing to help out) and sheepishly knocked on the door.

A little, quiet, elderly woman answered looking quite worried. I tried my best to be presentable but there was no way I could erase the scowl on my face from a long week and heck of a day. I had to look a tad frightful but I tried to be as genuine as I could. I asked if she would call AAA for me, as I handed her my card. She agreed, disappeared into the house as I realized she would never be able to figure out AAA's automated voice mail system. Sure enough a few minutes later she reappeared, let me in the house and told me I could make the call. So I did. The operator was very polite and reassuring. She told me someone would be out shortly. My equally weary and drenched tow truck driver arrived to loosen my lug nuts and I was on my way home, never to leave again.

Monday, September 14, 1998

The Week That Was

This seems to be a time for confession and apologies so let me take a moment to say something I've been meaning to get off my chest for a long time. For the past sixty three issues this newsletter has benefited from my use of hydrogen peroxide. Though this substance hasn't technically been banned in the industry, its use is certainly frowned upon. My performance definitely has been enhanced and though that may ultimately be a good thing for all of us, I'm sorry if any of you are offended by its controversial use.

It's been quite the historical week to be unemployed and thus at home a lot. I tried my best not to panic at the volatility of the stock market despite the implications it had on my financial well being ("Think long term, think long term...") I quite enjoyed the home run derby and Mr. McGwire's history making blasts. I was equally as annoyed and amused at Mr. Clinton's latest troubles and the media overkill of Mr. Starr's report on Friday. Man, if this really is the end, I've had choice seats!

Just a few observations of the week's events: It was wonderful to see baseball finally getting some positive publicity for a change. While I greatly enjoyed and admired Mark McGwire's breaking the single season home run record I must say that I am still much more impressed by Greg Maddux's (check out that ERA!) and Roger Clemens' (a fifth Cy Young!?) seasons. Hitting dominates these days and any pitching accomplishments (in an era were a good ERA is considered to be anything under 5.00) to me are that much more impressive.

But still it must be said it ain't no androstenedione that helped McGwire break the record. It's a perfect home run swing combined with an ever shrinking strike zone. His record is legitimate; it's not as if his home runs are barely clearing the fences. The man has forearms the size of my thighs and I could take all the "drug" enhancements in the world and still never hit a softball 250 feet.

As for our President, man talk about some testosterone! Having browsed through the special prosecutor's report I am of the opinion our fearless leader has no choice but to resign. Can anyone take this man seriously ever again? More importantly can anyone ever take what he says at face value anymore? If he lies to cover his behind what prevents him from lying in any other matter?

He has always been the ultimate politician, just saying what he needs to say to sway public opinion. But at some point he has to be held responsible for his actions and be willing to accept the consequences of such- he has to be accountable to all of us. That said how come there is no mention of Whitewater in the special prosecutor's report to Congress? Wasn't that Mr. Starr's assignment? How about something to the effect there was no provable wrong doing? How about some balance and integrity in our federal investigations? Am I right people?

So years from now (if the millennium isn't the end of us all) it will be quite fun to remember the events of this past week and remember where we all were when it all went down (or up as it were). This has been a rare instance where the news that occurred will no doubt actually shape the way things are to come and not succumb to the hype alone. Baseball is our one game that relies so heavily on the significance of its own history and tradition. That we were witness to the breaking of one of the game's most significant accomplishments is to be treasured (and the same can be said if the Yankees are able to break the record for most wins in a season). This was also the week where it became clearly evident that our President must either resign (second time in our history) or go through painful impeachment hearings to the bitter end (also the second time).

We are among the fortunate(?) to see history is similar to what our friend Dave said his Emmy acceptance speech might be: "History is like a mistress. You can hold her. You cannot own her. She is, History..."

Monday, September 7, 1998

How Dave Got His Groove Back

"Konnichiwa. Welcome to our show. Konnichiwa. Let's have a good time tonight. It's show time. Enjoy yourself tonight. We came from Osaka, Japan. Konnichiwa..."

I was a very fortunate child. For all my public education career I was the lucky one whose bus stop was right in front of my house. This meant I didn't have to walk anywhere near or far to stand in line, or in essence worry much about missing my bus. I would wait inside while my mom would watch out the back window to see the bus coming. Once she spotted the bus and thus notified me of such, I had a half a minute to meander outdoors and catch my bus. Not being much of a early morning socializer, this system allowed me a few necessarily precious moments of privacy. It was perhaps another fine indication of how spoiled a child I was, but mom didn't seem to mind this extra morning task.

All this came to mind as I listened to Shonen Knife's new CD, Happy Hour, which immediately brought a remindful smile to my heart. My favorite song is Catch the Bus which I have played over and over the past few days. It's a song that I think might summarize the Shonen Knife philosophy- although I must admit I'm not familiar enough with their music to really truly know.

"Life is tough, can drive you out of your mind. Don't give up, things are gonna be just fine.. I may not be the smartest, I may not be the strongest. I'm happy just to be me, yeh yeh yeh..."

Perhaps it was the ease and convenience of my school bus riding experience that has made me fearful of riding a public transportation bus. The whole process- figuring out the bus schedule, waiting with others for the bus to arrive, fumbling with my change, finding a seat- makes my heart race with anticipation. Add to that my obsessive viewing of my sweetheart's most exciting movie, Speed, where we get to see a flying bus (don't get me started about my fear of flying) and you get a full fledged bus riding phobia. I would rather walk ungodly distances than take a bus.

"Don't be afraid of missing the bus. You will catch your bus. Find your dreams, all you gotta do is try. Take a chance, why don't you come out and play. Life's too short, so don't waste another day. Have some fun, come on, let's have a good time. Catch your bus..."

It's a simple message until you begin to think about the universality of the metaphor. Sometimes the simplest messages are the hardest to remember. So much of our time is spent worrying about those annoying routine daily events. In the end if the worst thing you do during a day is to miss your bus and end up running late, how bad can things possibly be in the bigger picture? More importantly if you allow yourself to worry about getting started how will you ever possibly get to your final destination?

It is rare to find a group that consistently sings such uplifting songs that aren't cloying in any way. I enjoyed the entire disc but particularly the exuberant cover of Daydream Believer and the song that reminds me of my trip to Japan just one year ago, Sushi Bar Song. "Ooo, colorful art of the food. It's a beautiful Japanese meal. I wanna go to a sushi bar. I wanna go with you. Ikura, Battero, Salmon, Tamago, Salad maki. Which one shall I order first? I just can't choose..."

Happy Hour aptly proves that every hour of the day can be a happy one not just the ones the bars designate for special prices on food and drinks. From the opening sounds of the alarm clock to the detailed account of counting sheep to sleep to the closing ode to a carp, it is a wondrous ride. It is such a spirited CD full of fun music that rocks, pops, and crackles. The music is so positive and upbeat that it is contagious. It dares you to try and not smile- a task that even I couldn't resist

When a group like Shonen Knife comes along, one supposedly identified by its unique membership (three young Japanese women), one wonders whether the novelty is the sole appeal. But to say that about this group is to dismiss its ultimate appeal. Their music is full of the heart and soul of which all good rock music is based and creates a world all of its own while giving insight into this one. It is all so fun and full of energy and by its very simplicity, deceptively deep. There is definitely an edge, a flipside to the sunny silliness and in that way it does mirror the challenges that each day brings. "There are many honeyed words. There is so much misinformation..." It's nice to be reminded that life might be about events like trying to make sure you catch a bus on time, but there just might be something more out there than appears to the naked eye.