Monday, June 29, 1998

When I Grow Up to Be a Man

When I was a kid I wanted to be a major league baseball player and thought with some hard work that some day I really would be. But after studying my lineage I realized not too many Japanese grow to be major league size. That and I never did learn how to hit a curve ball brought reality crashing upon my head.

The next thing I wanted to be was a talk show host. After watching Johnny Carson night after night I thought it would be wonderful to chat with celebrities always looking for a wisecrack, the witty joke to get adoring applause. Johnny was smart and suave and I thought I could be smart and suave. Some day.

When I was twelve my career path took another turn. I became interested in meteorology. I thought it was great how they could use their many charts and gadgets to actually predict the future. I bought maps and special erasable pens and followed the nation's weather patterns. I practiced my witty repartee in case I ever came across an anchorman with whom I had to trade banter.

All this came to mind this past week when I had a discussion with a technical writer who asked me how I got into what I am doing. Actually I met this woman last spring while attending a Denmark Township town meeting in which the recount which I officiated was discussed with a little tension among the town folk. This woman approached me after the meeting and asked, "What do you do the rest of the year?" This is a common question put to every election official from the public that sees elections as a one or two night a year event. This woman clarified her statements last week telling me her daughter was in college and is trying to make her career choice. "How did you get into this line of work and did you know you'd end up here?" she asked.

I didn't want to tell her that no, I always wanted to be a baseball player or a talk show host but events just sort of fell upon themselves and I have ended up where I am now. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But after playing my best personal softball game of the season where I finally smacked a few hits and had a picture perfect slide to avoid being thrown out at home even though the ball arrived before I did (I was so low to the ground the catcher never had a chance) those old dreams sometimes do cause a thought of "what if?"

The same thoughts danced around my head that night. If there is one thing worse than being awoken in the middle of the night by the Civil Defense sirens it's being awoken in the middle of the night by the Civil Defense sirens that blare on and on for over a half hour. I thought the world was coming to an end and I was too tired to even care. I did get out of bed to turn on the news and heard what is becoming the typical doomsday dour expression from all the TV weather people. I surveyed the situation (straight line winds) and went back to bed feeling that my bed wasn't underneath any bone crushing trees.

A couple of nights later the storms returned and just a little before midnight the power went out and still has yet to be restored. While inconvenient, after surveying the debris outside it falls under the old cliche` it could have been worse. I did discover that the lack of power manifests itself in subtle ways. Without my morning coffee I was a bit loopy and ended up uttering one of those first in a lifetime sentences, "Well, the frost needed defridging anyways," I said to the disinterested Mr. Max. He after all still had his food and water and his place for his morning sit down and he certainly doesn't miss the stereo or TV so all was fine and dandy with him.

Monday, June 22, 1998

Little Willow

Last weekend, for the third time in my life my heart was broken. There were similarities between this time and the others. It caught me totally by surprise; it lasted all too briefly and ended all too quickly. What is left is a hole that will never quite be filled, and a crystal clear picture etched deep inside that I will never quite forget. The people I shared my latest woes with all told me that at least I could take some comfort in that I did all that I could. And yes, there is some consolation that I tried, yet when I replay the scenes in my head I can't stop wondering if I did do the right thing, and had I done a few things a bit differently if things maybe could have worked out.

As I do every week, I drove to the warehouse early Sunday afternoon to finish up the newsletter. As I was pulling up into the empty lot I noticed a small kitten lying on its side. At first I thought it had been run over but as I got closer it had no marks on it. I wondered what I should do with the body, whether I should scoop it up and throw it in the nearby trash, or whether I should just let it be for the Monday morning crew to deal with. I left it alone for further thought and went inside to finish my work. The kitten lie right outside the window and as the copier was cranking out the newsletter, I looked at its little body. My heart got heavy and my mind filled with questions. How had it gotten there? Had somebody abandon it? Who could be so cruel as to dump it in a parking lot? Had an animal carried it off from its mother? Did its mother abandon it?

I left the warehouse with another issue of the newsletter finished. I still feel a sense of accomplishment with each completed issue but this week my attention was elsewhere. I looked over at the black and white spotted kitten and noticed she had rolled over. I went closer and saw she was still breathing and had her eyes open. I knew any thoughts of just leaving her were gone. I had to do something. So I gently picked her up and she looked at me, defenseless and quiet, without resistance or recognition of my touch, and looked straight ahead. I put her in the back of my car. I drove home, got a box from my basement, a few rags and made her a little bed. I tried to get her to drink some water. She actually tried walking away from me, but kept falling over in the grass.

I went to the pet store and got an eyedropper and a can of special formula to feed newborn animals. I tried to feed the kitten and at first she didn't try to eat. But as a few drops of the formula hit her tongue she finally showed some signs of life and began sucking away at the bottle. She grabbed the bottle and bit hard on the rubber. She ate quite a bit and after she was done looked up at me and meowed. I wasn't sure what she wanted- I tried feeding her some more but she was done with the food. I tried petting her but she didn't seem to want that either. I put her back in the box and she kept meowing. It wasn't a cry for help or comfort but more one of confusion. She seemed one step beyond hopeless, too tired to care about what happened next. I stayed with her awhile as she lie down with her eyes open.

I tried feeding her a couple more times over the course of the afternoon, but she wouldn't eat. The life was not returning to her eyes. I called the Humane Society and they said they would take a look at her. I brought her in and as we entered the building and she heard the screeching and howling from the other animals in back, she once again began to meow. They took her into the back as I filled out the paperwork. Just as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone. I said a prayer that night, thinking about how fragile life is and how our destiny is often determined by mere timing. And I wondered is it better to only feel sad rather than nothing at all? It also occurred to me it's a human truism we can only love those we relate to.

The previous Sunday as I was pulling out of the warehouse parking lot a man approached my car. He told me he needed money because his daughter had been struck in the eye and was in the hospital and he had gotten a flat tire and the gas station couldn't do anything unless he gave them $35. I gave him $5 while thinking I was about to be carjacked or something. He begged for more and I thought if he was telling the truth I was being rather callous, and if he was lying he was stooping to a pathetic point. Yet here I was one week later spending over $10 to try and save a kitten. There probably is a lesson about where I am in life, with my sense of humanity and lack of connection and belief in others of the human kind, but the ever present soft spot for trying to help those that I think I can help. And sometimes feeling a tad too sensitive for my own good.

I called the Humane Society on Monday as soon as they opened. I asked if the kitten had made it through the night. They told me because the kitten couldn't stand up that she probably had some neurological damage and they had to put her to sleep. I thanked them for their effort and tried to catch my breath. We had spent one unexpected and now unforgettable Sunday afternoon alone in the world. I'll never know how she got there and never know if she felt the impact her frail life had on me as I held her in my hands and tried to inspire some life inside. That night I held Mr. Max a little closer. He didn't exactly know why but I let him know he was even more appreciated than ever.

Monday, June 15, 1998

Phenom is Short for Phenomenal

Last Tuesday night I joined 25,000 other people and watched the Minnesota Twins take their turn against baseball's latest phenom, Chicago Cubs' 20 year old pitcher, Kerry Woods. On this night Woods was less than phenomenal as he couldn't control his impressive fastball and the Twins hitters knocked him out in the fourth inning on the way to an 8-0 win. The Twins ace, Brad Radke was masterful, keeping the Cubs off balance and without a solid hit all night long. Radke, the American League's second best pitcher next to Boston's Pedro Martinez, proved on this night that he is every bit the pitcher Woods is only without the hype.

At the beginning of the game 70% of the fans in the Dome were rooting for the Cubs, America's trendiest losing team. By the ninth inning those same fans, many wearing Cub hats and jerseys were cheering on Radke and the Twins. I arrived early for the game to watch the Cubs take batting practice. Many other fans joined me and were oohing and aahing at every high arching, hard hit smash off the bat of red hot Sammy Sosa. The little kids were chanting "Sammy... Sammy," bringing to mind my trips to Chicago many years ago when the little kids' chant of "Jody... Jody," (for catcher Jody Davis) annoyed me endlessly but inspired my friend (or so was my observation) of wanting to name her first son Jody.

In a state where baseball has pretty much been declared dead and buried, Tuesday night was a reminder of how things can be and how things once were not all that long ago. The Dome was abuzz with excitement and the Twins played one of their crispest games of the year. The historical and trivia nature of the game is still unmatchable; the symmetry and poetry of the game is even occasionally present in the league's worst stadium.

During a break between innings I watched Radke warm up, and thought back to the winter of 1986 when my former roommate from my freshman year of college chided me for my devotion to the Twins. He had lived with a lot of dweebiness on my part but he no doubt thought my love of baseball was the strangest of my quirks. The Twins were losers he was constantly reminding me, especially after particularly rough 1985 and 1986 seasons that followed a promising 1984 season which was lost on Lake Erie one cold September night when Ron Davis gave up a home run to the Indian's Jamie Quirk to complete a loss that dropped the Twins out of the pennant race. This series also included the Twins blowing a 10-0 lead and losing the game 11-10. So to get my former roommate off my back I made a bet for a case of beer: that the Twins would finish the 1987 season over .500. He laughed at what he thought was easy money (or free beer). That of course was the year that everything fell into place and they went on to win their first World Series. Unfortunately the season ended in October and having graduated the previous June, I couldn't collect on my bet. I haven't seen my former roommate since, and am still owed one case of beer.

Of course if I were to see him these days I would no doubt offer him the option of double or nothing. Despite all the logic that points to the Twins finishing the season with a losing record for a record seventh straight time some things are worth having a little faith in. It's never wise to bet with the heart in spite of what the head says, but there are times when you think that believing in something will increase its chances of actually happening.

Besides I'm on a roll of sorts. The combined record of the two softball teams I am on is 9-1. Neither of these two teams has ever come close to having this kind of success and to tell the truth, I am not used to all the winning. I keep waiting for the other foot to drop and things getting back to normal.

Monday, June 8, 1998

Grand Old Days

"Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work- the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside- the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don't show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within- that you don't feel until it's too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick- the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed... The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the 'impossible,' come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered by both."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Well, it was sort of a rough week at the office. Not the least of which was made a bit more stressful by the rumor that I'm not exactly along for the long term. Possible future careers? 1) The father of Madonna's next baby; 2) A Presidential doorstop; 3) A burly security guy on the Jerry Springer show; 4) The next Ginger Spice. And similarities to the plot of Jim Carrey's new movie, The Truman Show in which Carrey's character's life is all one long TV show got me thinking. Could the same thing be true for me? It was a scary thought since the closest thing to TV that my life reflects is an episode of Moesha (is my life more of a comedy or a soap opera these days?). If I don't get my ratings up they will pull the plug which may or may not be the worst possible thing.

Of course a lot of the stress was as always, self inflicted. A wise election official just at the right time shared something that I didn't know. He said that we are all capable of out running a horse, since a horse runs as fast as it can to escape. If you keep chasing it, eventually somewhere down that road the horse will stop running. Perseverance pays off. So after watching another failed Triple Crown effort it dawned on me that Real Quiet is not the same thing as deliberate silence. But to be confused can be the same as to be intrigued. It's all a matter of perspective. I used to live life believing that my soulmate was out there somewhere, that there just might be an angel around the next corner. I've since learned it's better not to believe such things, because it only leads to disappointment when hopes fail to materialize.

The week also included some poor planning and unlucky timing on my part. Typical of this was the little yard work I was able to get done. After much delay and procrastination I finally got my tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and beans planted. The next day the temperature dropped off the scale. There were even some warnings that frost was possible. Figures. Just as my sense of humanity was all but gone down the drain I witnessed a few reminders of the number of good people who are out there if you are willing to look (which pretty much only entails keeping your eyes open). I was at Wednesday night's Twins/ Indians game with my friend Spunky. It was a crisp, well played game won by our local team. A couple rows in front of us sat an enthusiastic elderly lady (who we cleverly dubbed "grandma"). This woman would bolt from her seat and raise her arms toward the roof of the dome every time a Twins player did something well. Her loyalty to the home team was as amusing as it was infectious.

And then there was my Quien Mas Sabe who continues to impress me with her insight and friendship. She told me early on that one of her strengths was knowing what her weaknesses were. I'm beginning to see how important that really is. If you know where you are vulnerable you can either put yourself in situations where you will succeed, or you can make the adjustments necessary to strengthen what you don't do well. Her week too sounded a bit frustrating and I only hope that my reaching out did matter because her inspiration has led to me doing some actual writing for the first time in a long while.

Finally I was honored that my 12 year old niece, Brynna, postponed her birthday party partly on my account since I couldn't make the original date. "We have to talk Uncle Dave," she said. "You better be there..." I even made it out to the mall, my least favorite place to be. After spending many frustrating minutes looking for the perfect gift at the Imaginarium I was approached by a young sales clerk who wowed me with her stellar service. She helped me pick out two gifts and then offered to wrap them. She was personable, funny, and I quite enjoyed her effort. When her wrapping took a bit of time she apologized saying how much she enjoyed wrapping and how she wanted to get it perfect. After some recent frustrating shopping experiences, the timing of this one was much appreciated. And you wanna know the end result of the week's events? Whereas I wouldn't trade my troubles with a monkey on a rock I actually came to the conclusion in the end I still wouldn't want to be anyone other than who I am. Wow.

Monday, June 1, 1998

To Make Me Feel Your Love

Dear Sandra,

I have a little confession to make. I didn't see Speed 2 until last Wednesday. I hope this isn't too big of a disappointment to you. It certainly is nothing personal, I haven't gone to too many movies since my sequel movie going partner and I parted ways. She after all was the perfect person to go to movies with: great taste, timing in knowing when to laugh, a quiet laugh, and critical but still a fan of the medium. She even helped launch my movie career with our appearance together in Jingle All the Way (RIP Mr. and Mrs. H.) which has now grown with my starring role in the Secretary of State's Election Judge video (coming soon to the cable station near you!). It's hard to replace that. But this is only an excuse, I know this probably drops my status as your biggest fan, and I only hope I can make it up to you somehow.

I have to admit part of my procrastination in seeing Speed 2 was the feeling that nothing could quite top the first one. Plus I read and heard all the negative reviews and I didn't want to be disappointed. Still both Siskel and Ebert gave it a thumbs up, and my favorite mother of two said she liked it better than the first (probably because she has a thing for boats) so I knew at some point I would have to see it. And not to be a wise guy here but the movie didn't exactly stay all that long in the theaters (I remember seeing big billboards for it when I was in Japan but figured we probably didn't want to spend our limited time indoors viewing an American movie).

So after watching I admit I not only enjoyed it I thought so much of it I bought my own copy. I may be accused of being love blind but to tell you the truth I didn't exactly enjoy The Net, or A Time to Kill so it isn't like all my faculties are down when it comes to your career. The sequel starts out slowly and there is a certain melancholy that hangs over the picture because it seemed sad that the relationship between Jack (Keanu Reeves) and Annie didn't work out. But the movie has some fun with the philosophy that "relationships that begin under extreme circumstances never work out." The first scene of you in a driving test with Tim Conway brought a bit of a groan ("This is the end Alex...") but once you get on the boat with the maniacal villain (William Dafoe) the fun starts. This of course contrasts with the first movie which grabbed my attention immediately with the elevator scene while this one takes a bit to get going. But get going it does. Speed 2 may not have a flying bus but it has a careening cruise ship. If one can only see one sinking boat movie from 1997 this is the one to see because director Jan De Bont manages the near impossible of recapturing some of the energy of the first movie. I was a bit dismayed to see your comments about the movie, "I'll be the first to tell you it was a stinker. The first time I saw it, I just kind of laughed." Come on Sandra, don't give in to popular opinion. Stand up for your work.

Perhaps my lack of loyalty can be made up with my efforts to see your newest effort, Hope Floats right away. I rushed out of a Friday afternoon meeting and proceeded to break the speed limit to see it on the opening day. Despite having to listen to the ongoing commentary from the couple behind me (why is it the people that talk at movies never say anything at all clever?) I still enjoyed the movie. Sure I felt manipulated by the melodramatic story but your earnest belief in the material popped out on the screen. I may be typical of your male fans in that I tend to score high on the dork scale, but I don't think what attracts me to you is what attracts most other people to your movies. The wet shirt scenes in Speed 2 made me blush. What has always gotten me ever since I saw Demolition Man was your uncanny resemblance to my original movie going and much missed traveling partner. Something about your eyes, your lazy smile (and the connection between the two), your mannerisms and your inherent empathy and intuition reminds me so much of her that it brings a familiar anticipation into my heart every time I see you (it's odd how memories can live on in movies). In Hope Floats your character, Birdie, distills much of what my lost friend was about: her sadness and triumphant spirit; her spunkiness and admirable determination; the rare gift of understanding the unspoken as well as the spoken. I can see why you so wanted to make this movie- it tells the story of someone who gives of herself until she loses who she is but she learns not to forsake hope because as long as hope exists you can believe in yourself and your own ability to mend your own ways. The small quiet vignette like moments add up to something quite moving.

The movie perfectly captures the spirit of the Bob Dylan song that Garth Brooks covers. "When evening shadows (shatters?) and the stars appear, and there's no one there to dry your tears, I could hold you for a million years- to make you feel my love." You learn in life it's the beginnings we always struggle with and the endings that are almost always inevitably sad- so it is the middle that we must learn to appreciate. The place we are at is the result of the place we've been and may not be as good as the place we are going but it's the attitude we carry along that will get us by. In both Speed 2 and Hope Floats it is your undying spirit that is as appealing as ever. Though I don't know where I will be in life when your next film opens I do know I'll take the time and stand in line to see it.