Monday, December 27, 1999

1999's Top Ten

10) For a television show where many of the characters are by definition without a soul, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has an abundance of that particular attribute so rare for the medium. There was a fear that with the departure of Angel and Cordelia the show would not be able to consistently continue its faithfully fluid storyline. That fear has been alleviated with the return of Spike, the introduction of Riley and the mean psychology professor (played by the wonderful actress, Lindsey Crouse). The dark humor, the unique pathos, the tragic plight of each of the characters- television rarely sees writing of this caliber, so rewarding in its creativity.

9) He was led by hand to his piano before the show started by an assistant showing him where he was supposed to go. His vocals on the opening number, The Little Girl I Once Knew, were shaky at best, mostly disappearing into the vocal mix behind the backup singers, as he strained to hit the higher notes. Yet despite all the stories of his legendary stage fright, Brian Wilson seemed to grow more and more at ease during his appearance at the State Theater. At times his mind seemed to wander but when he opened the second half of the show with inspirational versions of Wouldn't it be Nice and Sloop John B it was one of the most magical musical moments I've ever witnessed.

8) I love watching Dolores O'Riordan move. Herky jerky yet still quite perky, her walk is more of a sway than a swagger, more a pigeon imitation than a strut. The diminutive lead singer of the Cranberries is most certainly a magnetic performer. The group's appearance at Roy Wilkins was an affirmation of the joy of artistic expression. It was an evening full of melodious and fine kinship.

7) Despite continuing sagging ratings it was a good year for David Letterman. His show won its second Emmy in a row for the best "variety" show. Dave seemed to calm down from a growing tendency to act maniacally for laughs. It was if part of him said, if we're going to fail we're not going to give a crap and we're going to fail on our own terms. Thus his show night in and night out was Letterman at his best, at his crankiest, at his most anarchist. The man who helped create a generation of sarcastic adults that communicate by saying things that mean totally opposite of what they're supposed to mean, was at the top of his game. His best new bit was sending a crewmember to stand behind a local convenience store counter with a hidden camera and as the clerk gave the customer change, say to the unsuspecting (and often times bulky) patron, "Next time bring your sister, you hump." It brilliantly straddled the line between being uncomfortably funny, and dangerously peculiar- Candid Camera gone slightly awry.

6) Due to a lack of funds this past year I bought the fewest CDs of any year since I first started collecting. Thus not being a radio listener I didn't get to hear a lot of new songs. But my favorite was without a doubt, Sugar Ray's Someday. Behind its lovely latin rhythm is a soothing song about the virtues of self-solace. "Some say better things will come our way/No matter what they try to say you were always there for me/Some way, when the sun begins to shine/I hear a song from another time and fade away/And fade away"

5) I was sitting wistfully watching the last day State Fair traffic flow by my house when I put on Tubby Esquire's Return of the Last Castrato! CD for the first time. I had no idea what to expect but I think the last thing I was expecting was polka rock music. My somewhat melancholy mood immediately was changed by the infectious joy of the songs. It is the best CD I heard this year, 13 tracks full of insightful and clever humor.

4) The night before my Mom's funeral my stressed out family had a bit of a disagreement. Tired and sad I drove home, wondering how any of us were going to make it through the next day. As I got to my house I walked to my front door and saw it was slightly ajar. Oh great, I thought, somebody's broken in. But as I got closer I saw it was a plant not allowing the door to close. My friend had sent me a Cyclamen- one of the many small perfectly timed gestures of her supportive friendship. I leaned on her hard often throughout the year and she remained a true friend. Suddenly the dark night became memorable in a different way.

3) The day after my Mom's funeral I had tickets to go down to Shakopee to see a Paul Simon/Bob Dylan concert. Through a bit of a misunderstanding I had no one to go with. Because of the week that was I wasn't much in the mood to make the drive, wasn't much in the mood to stand outside in the drizzling rain at a horse track. Most of the show is now a blur but Mr. Dylan, as he often does, provided a moment of spark- a soft and heartfelt version of Not Dark Yet. "Sometimes my burden is more than I can bare. It's not dark yet but it's getting there."

2) In a year full of personal and professional turmoil it was always nice to come home to the familiar bellow of a hungry Mr. Max. And much as it was desirable not to make any more changes, we added a new wrinkle to his dinnertime. Before I put his dinner dish down, I make him twirl in circles following his supper as it orbits his body. Don't call the Humane Society quite yet- I swear the two of us have the mostest fun.

1) Mom

Monday, December 20, 1999

Whew, This Dream is Over

Happy Holidays! I sincerely hope you and yours are having a good one. If I may interrupt for a second I have a question for all you dream interpreters out there. Friday night I had a doozy and would appreciate someone (anyone) telling me what it meant. I dreamt it was an unbearably hot summer day. My brother and I decided to do the smart thing and go out to the Dairy Queen to get a snack. We hopped into a white convertible (I don't think I've actually ever been in a convertible) and headed out to what I thought was the neighborhood DQ. But my brother drove right by it and I didn't question why, figuring he knew what he was doing. We kept passing DQ after DQ, many of which I never knew existed. I finally asked him where he was going and he told me we were going to the one by his house in Eagan. This seemed a tad peculiar since we had planned to eat the ice cream back at my house in St. Paul.

We got on the freeway and the flowing overhead open air wasn't much of a relief against the stifling heat. We then got underneath a flock of geese. I was worried about being below them with no roof over us. What they might drop turned out not to be our biggest worry however. The huge squawkers kept swooping down closer and closer. Finally a couple of them darted at us, pulling up just before they got within reach. One brave goose however tested the line and he dove down between my brother and myself. Right as he got within arms' reach I flapped my own arms like crazy to drive him away. At this point I woke up and found I had flung the covers of my bed briskly toward the ceiling. Problem was Mr. Max was sleeping soundly, as he often does, on the blankets covering my stomach. He thus had been rudely awaken by being catapulted upwards. He of course pranced into the other room figuring his domestic associate had finally lost it. I had to get up, bring him back all the while both sweating and apologizing profusely. And that, my friends, is how I mistook Mr. Max for a goose.

The Second Greatest Song in the World

Come a rainstorm put your rubbers on your feet,
Comes a snowstorm you can get a little heat;
Comes love nothing can be done

Having listened to literally dozens of songs in my life, I'm often approached by women wearing strange hats who inquire, "What do you think is the second greatest song of all time?" I'm not quite sure how or why the lasses zoom in on me. Maybe I look like a fellow who must just know what it means to be second best. But when asked I do not hesitate in my answer. Even under the pressure of a skunk-eyed glare of one Regis Philbin probing if this is my "final answer" I still would never change my mind. Nope, no way. I've heard this particular song too many times to know that I am right. And every time I hear it my heart and soul coalesce.

Comes a fire then you know just what to do,
Blow a tire you can buy another shoe,
Comes love nothing can be done.

Comes Love was written by Charlie Tobias, Lew Brown and Sam Stept, with the most famous versions being by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. But the quintessential rendition is without a doubt, Billie Holiday's. Like just about every other song that Holiday chose to sing, her cover compared to all the others is like a brick of Gouda set next to aerosol cheese. Her vocals caress the melody and words wrapping itself around the feelings evoked, extracting all the inherent irony and melancholy with great passion.

Don't try hidin 'cause there isn't any use,
You'll start slidin when your heart turns on the juice.

The song uncovers the undeniable truth that all life predicaments we bitch and moan about, no matter their inconvenience have a solution or alternative except one- love. The song's list of human struggles is universal yet creative- from the weather and elements to varmints and ailments. At the end of the list is a declaration that once you fall in love, your doomed future has already been written.

Comes a headache you can lose it in a day,
Comes a toothache see the dentist right away;
Comes love nothing can be done

The subtle deadpan surety of Holiday's delivery is echoed in the bridge by a simmering trumpet solo from Harry "Sweets" Edison, and its accompanying understated guitar solo by Barney Kessel, which combined sound like two wised grizzled men standing in the corner nodding their heads in agreement with the singer. The geometric bass playing of Joe Mondragon and drums by Larry Bunker lay a shifting foundation underneath it all.

Comes a heat wave you can hurry to the shore
Comes a summons you can hide behind the door;
Comes love nothing can be done.
Comes the measles you can quarantine the room,
Comes a mousie you can chase it with a broom;
Comes love nothing can be done

The climax of the song is in closing stanza with the lines, "Comes a nightmare you can always stay awake, Comes depression you may get another break. Comes love nothing can be done." There is something very special about the way Holiday sings these couplets. Her voice doesn't noticeably waver or falter although there is a resigned explicitness distinct from the rest of the song. This is clearly a woman who has lived this song and knows what she is singing about. It is a great performance from our greatest singer, emotional and bare, letting the listener in on a lesson while acknowledging that to be human means knowing first (and second) hand the very essence of the substance being expressed.

That's all brother, if you've ever been in love,
That's all brother, you know what I'm speaking of

Monday, December 13, 1999

Losing My Fragility

The first time I saw Andy Kaufman was on an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Out on stage a sheepish man stood wide eyed as he gently placed the arm of a phonograph on to a scratchy sounding record. It was the "Mighty Mouse" theme and the man remained mostly still as he diligently seemed to be counting the beats of the music in his head. He remained totally silent until the refrain of the song played, "Here I am to save the day. Mighty Mouse is on the way." With this he broadly mouthed the words sweeping his hand in the air with a superhero's confidence. He then returned to silence only "singing" every time the chorus played. At the end of the song he gently removed the arm of the phonograph from the record, bashfully smiled at his audience and said in a tiny little voice, "Dank u veddy much." It was peculiar, it was sweet and it was about the funniest thing I'd ever seen.

I followed Andy through his subsequent appearances on SNL and the Tonight Show. Every time I saw him my admiration grew. There was the time he did imitations in his foreign man voice, each imitation from John Wayne to Richard Nixon sounding exactly alike only with the different phrases associated with the subjects. Then he got to his Elvis impersonation and the transformation was startling. From the twitchy lip to the hiccuping vocals Andy did Elvis better than Elvis did Elvis at that point. Another time Andy was telling silly little jokes without remembering their punchlines. The audience politely played along, laughing nervously. With growing trepidation he finally began to break down accusing the audience of laughing at him and not with him. He began to sob, choking on his own breath. As the sobbing became more rhythmic he began to dance as he turned the cry of his voice into a musical instrument.

When it was announced Andy was to be a regular on the new sitcom Taxi, I made sure I had all my schoolwork done so I could watch the new show. His character, Latka Gravas, immediately became my favorite part of a very well cast ensemble. A popular part of my own minor celebrity in junior high school was my ability to imitate Latka's trademark accented thank you.

With his debut as the first inter-gender wrestling champion Andy's sweetness turned to weirdness. His frequent appearances on Late Night with David Letterman showed him not so much a comedian but as a performance artist- a performer who was looking as much to make his audience squirm as much as laugh. He no longer was always funny but that seemed to be the point. Even his Taxi character, Latka, lost his innocence and became the obnoxious alter ego- Vic Ferrari.

Then there was an unforgettable appearance on Letterman following Andy's first wrestling match with a man. His opponent, Jerry Lawler appeared on the show with Andy. Andy was wearing a neck brace compliment of being the victim of a pile driver by Lawler. The two uncomfortably sat next to each other and exchanged their accounts of the match. More and more Lawler became agitated with Andy's demeanor. Just before Dave was going to a commercial Lawler slapped Andy. At this point, and to this day, I'm not sure how much of this was put on and how much was real. Dave didn't seem to know either. It was the most bizarre, and one of the most seemingly dangerous moments of television I ever saw.

When the news came out that Andy had cancer I was among the many who wondered whether maybe it was another of his stunts. When he died I was truly saddened. His death prompted Letterman to, for one of the only times in the history of his show, drop the sarcasm and speak genuinely from the heart- about how Andy had always been such an entertaining guest that would now be greatly missed.

I wasn't aware of how influential Andy was until he remained a much talked about performer years after his death. My favorite REM song remains their affectionate tribute to Andy, "Man on the Moon." I was excited to hear about the movie project of Andy's life starring Jim Carrey. Although I am now officially retired from movie-going I may have to make a temporary exception and go see the movie. I'm not sure anybody can ever make sense of Andy's skewed vision of life, but I think it's safe to say we will always forever enjoy his unique talent.

Monday, November 29, 1999

Traveling Man

For those of you who have not had the luck to travel with me (sign up now!), one thing that is becoming more and more clear is that the trips I take are never uneventful. I'm not sure if that's because my advancing old age has just naturally led to more "eccentric" moments, or if I truly am a magnet for misadventure.

Last Monday I drove my signed out state car, a shiny silver 1998 Ford Taurus, all the way up to Fergus Falls to hear our constantly moving Governor address the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affair Committee. The auditorium was full of personality gazers ready to let out a whoop on whether or not the state should adopt an unicameral legislature. I won't say much about the hearing itself other than the atmosphere around Mr. Ventura as he entered the Fergus Falls Middle School was akin to that surrounding a rock star. There was a certifiable buzz in the air, as the young crowd members positively oozed excitement from merely being in the same room as their Jesse.

I must say the drive to Fergus Falls is one long mother of a drive. I kinda missed having my beat up little Honda Civic, but didn't exactly want to put any more miles on it than I had to. Plus the damn Taurus (that only seemed as if it was twice as wide as my Civic) didn't have a tape or CD player. I brought with me my boom box but had inadvertently left my "A" collection of tapes in my own car. Thus I was forced to grab a handful of tapes that I had no idea the content. Turned out all right if listening to "Wolverton Mountain," "Afternoon Delight," and "Puff the Magic Dragon" (still makes me cry every time I hear it- it's bad enough Jackie Paper and Puff's friendship ended but Jackie just abandoned the woebegone dragon for Pete's sake) is your idea of all right.

I got to sunny Fergus around three in the afternoon and checked into the Super 8 right off the freeway (you know the one with a potholed plagued parking lot). The check in lady was Super 8 nice and as I found my room the stress of the drive definitely dissipated. I went back to my car to get my stuff, all the while being quite paranoid that I had my room key as to not lock myself out. (The check in lady seemed so impressed by me when I said I worked for the House, "You a member?" she asked... tee hee) I grabbed my suitcase from my car, made sure the vehicle was locked (wouldn't want to be stranded with no wheels in Fergus!) and headed back to my room. Again I made sure I had my room key in my pocket. I continued feeling my pockets (not a habitual quirk of mine trust me) only to notice a distinct absence of my car keys. I quickly wheeled around, looked inside the thoroughly locked car and saw the keys sitting quite serenely on the back seat. Gulp.

Luckily I'm a member of AAA so I called them and they were quite kind (both the person who took my call and the actual tow truck guys that opened up the car in no time flat). They didn't at all make me feel like the fool I actually was. And with that turn of events I figured the rough part of my trip was now behind me. Au contraire mon ami.

After the hearing was over I looked at the gas gauge and saw I would need some gas to make it back to St. Paul. I pulled into the Holiday station (suitably ironically named with the dread this season is bringing) I got out of that silver Taurus that earlier had the audacity of locking me out in the vast middle of nowhere. I turned on the pump and noticed the gas tank was on the other side of the car and the hose didn't reach. Darn the luck. I sheepishly got back in the car and turned it around all the while hoping the clerk didn't wonder what in the hell I was doing. I got back out and noticed for some inexplicable reason the tank was still on the opposite side of the gas pump. I ain't no physics genius but I was too tired to try and figure out how that happened. I got in the car and turned it around once more. Once again the gas pump and the gas tank didn't correspond. I gave it one more effort and this time I was able to fill the tank.

I was due at work the next day for a 9:30 meeting that I knew I'd never make but still I diligently hit the road at precisely 7:00 a.m. I, as I often do while traveling, was measuring time and my progress by the number of tapes I played along the way. As I hit the lovely town of Alexandria I gauged my progress and thought, "Damn, I'm making good time here..." No sooner than I was thinking I could stop and enjoy a rare breakfast when I had to slam on the old brakes. What had been unusually balmy conditions when I left Fergus (no frost on my car windows! None of that dreaded scraping!) quickly turned into swirling snow and quickly icing roads. Right as I hit Albertville things came to a complete standstill. I was right in the middle of the largest parking lot in the state as we awaited a turned over semi to be removed from the traffic grid.

By the time I finally reached my often under appreciated lil' home I was thinking that this end of the world unseasonable weather has ill equipped me to face the inevitable winter (of our discontent?). I don't want to brave the elements no more, and I don't find any of the past comfort of being a hearty midwesterner sufficient. Conditions these days are too slick, too messy and I just want to take it easy for a while.

Monday, November 22, 1999


A friend told me during a phone conversation last Friday, and follow up email, that the day was the last in our life time that would be comprised completely of odd numbered digits (1-1-1-9-1-9-9-9). With that anomaly came a shared whispered promise that it would be the last odd day we would ever have to endure. (I suspect this means there will be no more occurrences of such things like Bob Dylan appearances on Dharma and Greg.) Talk about odd. Recently after spending an afternoon racing around our northwestern suburbs desperately trying to find a church I didn't have the address of or name to, I arrived barely in time for an important service just as we were walking candles down the aisle. Afterward my brother-in-law asked me how my new job was going. I told him it felt so strange to finally have a job where I'm doing what I always wanted to be doing, that actually incorporates what I got my college degree for. It feels completely foreign to have to go into work and do something I actually enjoy doing. What a concept. He smiled and acknowledged that he understood. That an unexpected source showed such appreciation was a small moment that made the difficult but bearable day memorable.

Indeed last week as I stood in the middle of an abandoned Minneapolis flour mill looking at empty beer bottles and walls painted with gang graffiti, staring at the girl with soccer field eyes, I certainly hoped our odd days are finally behind us. Amongst the rubble and ruin I found a shiny nickel. I felt like a blessed man. I have often wished that we could measure how rich we are in life by the amount of nickels we have. I like nickels.

I used my new nickel to go toward some art supplies necessary to begin my second major painting project this year. The first was slapping a fresh coat of taupe on to my reluctantly scraped and primed garage. Besides that home improvement project historically this next stab at painting is my second attempt at actual artwork. My first try came back in 1993 as I attempted an oil paint portrait of Max. This new project is an effort to usurp angelic beauty defined and reconnect a part of me that I hope is still there. One of the subjects of the painting asked if it meant having to come over and model. I told her, no this is an attempt to get what's inside across, not outside down. No small task especially considering my limited artistic ability and my decision to work in a completely new medium- water colors. Heck I may as well try and do this thing left-handed. I'm more Claude Rains than Claude Monet after all. I can't imagine I can possibly get the shapes and images right but at the very least I hope I can capture some of the color that my mind constantly sees and appreciates.

I'm looking forward to this project. It is an attempt to force myself to see, think, and feel in a manner that doesn't come naturally. Each inch of the canvass has to be planned. Each stroke of the brush carefully controlled. The end result isn't as important as the process itself. The project will occupy a lot of my time and hopefully will make the holiday season pass on by quickly. We all need our stress relievers- and I think my usual outlets are in need of some reinforcement. Much as writing, banging away at my piano, and going out to shoot hoops blows away the troubles of the moment, it will be nice to come home and do something different. I don't like to repeat myself but I'm quite proud of my portrait of Max. I was so afraid it would turn out looking cartoonish but I don't think it did. And you can actually tell it's a cat I painted. Pomposity admitted, the lesson I learned from my first painting was the difference between a painting and a photograph. It may seemingly be an obvious difference but to me it was a refreshing lesson that had been somehow overlooked and taken for granted. Facts may be facts (and faxed) but creativity adds needed perspective.

Oddly enough, the last time I found a painted nickel was a somehow connected moment when I was in a similar state of mind. It was when we first opened up our Cheapo in Uptown. It was a big step for our company, coming right after our first name change to "Applause." It was right before the Uptown Art Fair and I had just gotten my head shaved. I looked good, damn good, though I think a tad frightening or out of the ordinary. ("Strike another match go start anew...") My task for the day was to stand outside our store and hand out fliers with a big bold "Applause" title on top notifying the area patrons of our store. Several people took our leaflet, glanced at it and threw it away just feet away from where I stood. Others walked by me refusing to take what I thrust at them. One kindly old lady, forever etched in my mind, smiled at me as she took the piece of paper from me. She quickly glanced at it and said to her companion, "Apple sauce, I like apple sauce." I can't possibly express how much that made me smile on a hot and weary day.

Yes indeed this painting will at the very least show that I see a contrast between windows and mirrors. One you see through and one reflects. Both are made from the same material and are necessary in our lives. Both show you things you sometimes need to know, sometimes don't need to know, sometimes want to see, sometimes don't want to see. Inside out outside looking in. That's what this painting is about.

Monday, November 15, 1999

Rainy Day Fatalist 12 & 35 (Fr... ...ers for M-)

It was either Johann Sebastian Bach, composer, or Fred Kueffer, geometry teacher, that taught me all of life is about mathematics. Thus I probably shouldn't have felt as bad as I did last week when I had the temerity of reducing Lou Gehrig to another mere number, killing him in this publication from a disease he did not have (MS vs. ALS) years after he died. There probably is a reason the man has his own disease named after him after all.

I read recently if we could shrink the earth's population to a village of 100 people, with all the human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following: there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western Hemisphere both north and south, and 8 Africans. 52 would be female, 48 would be male, 70 would be non-white, and 30 would be white. 70 would be non-Christian, 30 would be Christian, 89 would be heterosexual, and 11 would be homosexual. Six people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the United States. 80 would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read, 50 would suffer from malnutrition, 1 would be near death, and 1 would be near birth. One would have a college education, 1 would own a computer and 1 would be a short little neurotic Japanese-American who forgot to read his map and stumbled into the scene apart from the rest, more than a little perplexed, the perpetual outsider looking in.

We've become good at measuring our lives by the numbers: through time- whether chronologically or by a more pastoral method (the arc between dreams and memories for example); by money earned or not earned; by the distance traveled geographically as well as professionally and personally; and by the people known and left behind. There are a fortunate few who can step outside statistical constraints and see life in a more cosmic sense, but to do that is a difficult challenge indeed.

Last Wednesday, a day after I turned 35, I was in Rochester on a work assignment revisiting the Mayo Clinic eleven years after I went there on a more personal assignment. Back in 1988 I went on what I now refer to as my "secret government mission" two years before I actually started working for the government. The purpose for that visit had something to do with poetry and the meaning of life. The irony of this most recent visit was bringing with me a business card uncomfortably labeling me the very thing that was at the root of my last visit- a place I couldn't possibly imagine or believe I'd ever get to or return back. By any numeric standard it was a large step nearly impossible to measure.

As I was walking through the halls of St. Mary's Hospital, I passed an ATM machine. I remembered withdrawing cash from that machine during my first visit on my second to the last day there. I needed the cash to get a haircut from the hospital barber. The haircut was more symbolic than cosmetic- as if cutting my hair would give me a fresh start.

After surviving a tenacious downpour complete with being pelted by small chunks of hail, I found myself at the Mayo Clinic this second time around early in the morning, a witness to open heart surgery. Again there was something ethereal about the moment, about my last visit also being about an open heart that needed mending. The sight of the purple blood leaving the body and returning in its more recognizable red form didn't bother me as I expected it might, but rather was a reminder of how we shouldn't take for granted our next heart beat. To see the essence of life in the palm of somebody's hand was rather humbling.

On the morning of my birthday I opened my refrigerator and in the upper right hand corner, as it has for the past couple of years, sat a circular thermometer that my Mom loaned to me. She had read an article about how health officials were concerned that many refrigerators weren't storing food at safe temperatures. After I determined mine was fine I meant to give the thermometer back to Mom. I never got around to it, one of the simple life tasks that just never got done. The little metallic device made me feel sad inside. It was one of the many numerous things my Mom had given to me over the years- with love and concern. Now somehow it was a monument of all the scars my 35th year left behind. It was a difficult birthday. Even my friend with a song and dance got the number wrong and gave me a stroke instead of a stork. My father cooked my favorite meal, shrimp (I remain what I eat), and I went out to the cemetery to spend a moment with Mom. I made it through the day by reading some sacred books a friend loaned to me that were originally meant for her own children.

The days (daze?) surrounding the birthday were a little brighter. Sister number three, who was born nine years to the very day before we took our first steps on the moon, took my Dad and I out the night before for a sushi dinner. Three days later my favorite mother of two and I went out to lunch and shopping. I actually ended up getting my first Christmas gift of the season, with a mere 44 days before that particular holiday.

More numbers: About three months ago when I got the oil changed in my car I noticed on the reminder sticker that my car would turn over 100,000 miles before my next visit. Despite better made cars, turning from five to six digits on the odometer remains a milestone for any automobile. Now I've never been one to be too impressed by the cars people drive. I think the only one that ever really impressed me, impressed me for as an accomplishment, not as a status symbol. Back before she became the urban planning superstar, my friend Alex once was a tried and true Minnesotan. Though she passed on through much too quickly I forever and greatly will admire her for many a thing. One is working and paying her entire way diligently to a Masters Degree. Another is being perhaps the most determined person I've ever had the luck to know. When she was here it was always clear to me bigger and brighter moments were awaiting her. Perhaps an early clue that she wasn't long for this state was her first car, one of those fancy little Toyota MR-5 sports cars. I remember Mr. Max and I looking out the window of my tiny efficiency off Grand Avenue impatiently awaiting for her to pull up. Alex and I spent a few nights under the downtown stars, on our library nights that inevitably ended up at a coffee shop. That MR-5, one of her first tangible possessions of success, was stolen and later found wrapped around a tree. And still she took that all in stride.

My current Honda is the first car I bought all by myself. Last winter the front fender received a rather nasty looking dent due to its owner suffering a careless lapse. I thought about getting it fixed immediately because it was rather disheartening to look at but this all happened in the midst of my Mom's illness. Somehow I didn't have the heart, or it didn't seem that important to worry about the outward appearance of my car. Then as the old saving's account took a hit, there wasn't enough money to justify fixing something that didn't need immediate repair rather than for more pressing needs.

Still dented with the milestone closing in, I kept one eye peeled on the road and the other on the odometer in anticipation of letting out a holler, and short toot on the horn when the big moment arrived. On the evening I was to make a rare visit to my new wardrobe manager, the one who taught me how to blouse a shirt, turning a pumpkin into a jack o lantern- proceeded by a dozen roses because she knows the value of a nickel back, I patiently made my way through the madness of 35E during rush hour. As I arrived at the restaurant I glanced down and my mileage read 100,019. There was a palatable disappointment in the air- both from the car itself ("you ruin my fender, now you miss MY moment you lunkhead!") and from myself. We've traveled many roads together, always gotten safely to our destinations when that seriously seemed to be in doubt. I took a little comfort knowing the milestone was reached while going to see the person who is so effective in reminding me about the necessity of taking small steps to reach a more distant goal, and not writing a future that is not mine to write.

Recently a man shared with me a saying he used to help him through the difficult time of the death of his wife. "I keep what I have by giving it away," he said. As he relayed the saying I nodded although I had no idea what it meant. But it stuck inside and I now think I get the gist. At the end of the road when it's time to count up all the beans you've accumulated, the ones that carry the most weight aren't the ones in your possession but the ones you have shared with others. And if you've done your math right that number hopefully ends up to be too large to count.

Monday, November 8, 1999

Parting is Sweet Sorrow

Last month when I heard Catfish Hunter had died from Multiple Sclerosis I was surprised how unmoved I felt. Hunter had long been one of my favorite baseball players and he literally was one of the first people to break my heart. He was a member of those wonderful Oakland Athletic teams from the 70's that were the dominant champion during my first years of being a baseball fan. The team was as good as it was colorful with such marvelous players/characters as Bert Campanaris, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers along with their ever irascible owner, Charlie Finley. For a while it looked as if the A's might challenge the Yankee teams from the '20's as baseball's all time dynasty and I felt so fortunate for having found a love during such a special time.

Then the game changed. Free agency took hold and Hunter was one of the first to take advantage of the situation and depart for greener pastures (and pinstripes). Although I understood his leaving (how could anyone turn down a five year contract for that then obscene but now ordinary amount of $3.5 million?) I was angry that he wasn't more loyal to the rest of the team. This wasn't supposed to be a game about dollars it was supposed to be about the competition and being the best. Hunter's defection caused the world of baseball to seem a bit less idyllic in the eyes of a twelve-year-old.

It is always shocking when an athlete dies at an early age. One of the most intoxicating qualities about sports is their ability to produce individuals who carry an air of invincibility, of being able to overcome anything. Thus it is a painful reminder whenever a sports hero dies that no matter how much we want to deny it, at some point each of us must accept that this is a world we are merely passing through. Hunter's death was a shock but it is an indication I've grown a tad weary and jaded that I didn't even take the time to read the memorial stories about a once upon a time hero.

Calvin Griffith's death struck a bit deeper chord inside. For all the frustrations his stubbornness and lack of money caused a young Twins fan- and all the bad baseball I endured growing up that I directly related to Calvin, I still grew to greatly admire the man. He said what was on his mind and there has been no more astute mind about baseball than his. With the slow and sad withering of the Twins, and the defeat of their last hope of survival in this state- the stadium- Calvin's passing seemed like another closed chapter in an increasingly difficult to read book.

More than any other recent "celebrity" deaths- Walter Payton's had a deep impact on me. That his death got the tears flowing uncontrollably truly surprised me. I hardly consider myself a football fan anymore- and though I greatly admired Payton's skills and determination and I loved to watch him play- the man frustratingly destroyed the Vikings in many games. "We" simply couldn't stop him no matter how bad a team he played on. I read the many obituaries from around the country, and for one of the many times in recent months felt the sadness that has become such a familiar part of me.

Not that there is any value in making such a comparison but I've heard there supposedly is a small blessing in the manner Payton died: he had the opportunity to set his life in order and say any necessary good-byes since he knew for some time that unless he received a liver transplant he was going to die. This it has been said has to be (as if we would truly know) less difficult than the "sudden" deaths of Wilt Chamberlain or Payne Stewart. Yet one man's blessing is another man's heart break. To watch this ever proud man break down in tears at his news conference announcing his condition was as sad as the saddest moment in sports history- watching Lou Gerhig say his immortal farewell by declaring he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" right before he, like Hunter, succumbed to Multiple Sclerosis.

I watched Payton's February news conference while seated on the couch across from my Mom. The drugs that she was taking to ease her own pain from the cancer eating away her insides had made her mind less focused than it used to be. She lie there silent, though seemingly absorbing what the news was about. I wondered if she was thinking about being at a place further down the line from the frightening place Mr. Payton found himself in. Had she been her normal healthy self she no doubt would have said something to me about how sad it was to see this once triumphant athlete now scrambling for his life.

Last week's news that Payton died caused a lot of feelings to tumble inside. There isn't anything particularly heroic or meaningful in his death. It is sad and it is tragic. From all accounts he was a most intriguing man who earned as much admiration from those who knew him off the field as from those who knew him on. There are those with the rare ability to touch our lives so deeply that their passing truly makes this world a lesser place. Absence doesn't necessarily make the heart grow fonder nor does time heal all wounds. With another loss of a certain sweetness comes a few more bitter tears.

Monday, November 1, 1999

Piggie in the Middle (Do a Pooh Pooh)

Back in the days I used to work for that big faceless corporation, Kmart, I worked with a affable young chap named Ernie Gonzalez. Ernie was wise beyond his years, especially when it came to his knowledge of fishing lures, and though not college educated his media savvy taught him enough to use sayings that many years later have stuck with me. One of the things Ernie was fond of uttering was, "Son, it's a hog." I often found for a man of so few words, Ernie sure had a lot to say.

Last Tuesday I woke up at five o'clock in the blessed morning, forced myself out the door and drove for two hours down to Albert Lea only to learn that there are too many pigs in this state. Now I'm just as big a fan of humanity as the next person, indeed some of my best friends are people, but to hear such a blunt stating of the obvious was more than a tad disconcerting. The lesson learned actually had nothing to do with a study released the same day showing one out five Americans is obese. Oink! Oink! (And don't get me started about the supposed coincidence that the number just happens to match the number of dentists who prefer sugarless gum for their patients that chew gum. Obviously to me at least, there is an uncomfortable correlation.)

Contrasting the crankiness that inevitably results from dragging yourself from beneath the warmth of your covers, driving in the dark to some God forsaken spot, fighting the traffic at such an unnatural hour, was a sign just outside Albert Lea that read, "Hope- One Mile." How many weary travelers do you figure have driven by that sign, and at the spur of a moment took the exit to find out if the sign lived up to its unassuming promise? I was tempted to turn off but there was somewhere that I was supposed to be, pork related news waiting for me.

At a hearing of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Finance Committee, representatives from Hormel said the supply of pigs in the state outweighs the demand. Unfortunately so long as that situation exists (and it appears to be a rather problematic and complex issue to address- with no easy apparent answers) the difficulties pork producers are facing will inevitably continue.

Pork consumption in the state has been on a steady increase in the 1990's due in part to the industry's successful "The Other White Meat" advertising campaign. The increase followed a decade long decline related to a general lessening in the amount of meat people ate- a movement based on cholesterol conscious Americans trying to eat more healthy meals, and also due in part to the rapid increase in the amount of chicken consumed. And as the results of last week's obesity study show our ever changing collective diet most certainly seems to be working (looked at one way I guess we should all be happy that as a nation four out of five of us are not obese). Yet the amount of pork consumed appears to be leveling off, the increase at this point appears to be from our population growth- not so much that people are eating more and more of the meat.

So where does this leave Porky? The answer isn't very pretty. It leaves him a much maligned uncloved hoofed over populated piece of meat who we're merely interested in for his chops. We certainly aren't interested in his well being. Hogwash you say? Well, as an example just look at last year's pseudorabies scare- the basis for action was based almost entirely on the economic impact, not overriding concern over the health of the foaming of the mouth pigs. Years of negative imagery in our literature, in our media portrayals tend to bias our view toward the animal. Go ahead, call up someone tonight and call them a "swine," see if they ever go to dinner with you again. Is there any more damning symbolism than that innocent little piggie bank we all had as children? We are taught at the earliest of ages that what is inside the pig is where the money is at.

To learn this lesson doesn't come without extracting a price. Believe me I am not what is known in the utmost inner circles as a "sow lover" because I'm certainly known as a guy who enjoys his bacon. Fix me a pork chop Susie and I'm almost in hog heaven. And what about the now fairly old study that shows that 67% of pigs, particularly those that build their homes out of straw and sticks are now homeless? Only those that have homes made out of bricks remain properly sheltered.

Similarly there's that ever-puzzling analogy of the pig that went to the market, and another that stayed home. The third pig, the story goes, had roast beef, while the fourth had none. The last piggy, this party piggy, went "wee wee wee wee" all the way home. I'm never been quite sure what to make of that tale. But as I arrived back from my day in Albert Lea somehow the meaning of it all seemed just a little bit closer.

Monday, October 25, 1999

Hollow Missing

To be booed takes on a whole other meaning during Halloween. Self inflicted jeering turns to deeper reflection with thoughts and feeling that are intense enough to scare even yourself. It is the time of year of being haunted, of remembering a ghost that escorted the boy with a pith helmet down Summit Avenue through the gigantic neatly manicured lawns up to the big wooden doors at the end of impressive porches, attached to substantial houses. The ghost who was never to leave the boy couldn't quite make it back home with all her candy in tact. There was a desperation in her actions. "What tastes sweet now turns so sour," she said. Although she had eaten too much already and was suffering from an all too frequent sugar overload she had to sample each and every treat they were handed by weary homeowners who thought they looked a little too old for the annual custom.

Many years later, now a homeowner, the boy had his own annual tradition come October 31. He would pick up his usually affable but semi-neurotic if not usually comatose cat, Mr. Max, under the cat's ample belly and take him to the kitchen where a vat of black shoe polish awaited. Gently dipping Mr. Max into the vat the gray striped short haired kitty with a butterscotch underside took on a brand new look- the fearful feline whose path one wasn't supposed to cross, especially on this particular day. The tradition had begun the first year the two moved into the brick house on a busy St. Paul street where every trick or treater's ring of the door bell had Mr. Max at his wit's end. The boy found the change of appearance, the shiny costume was enough to distract Mr. Max's mind and scare the kiddies at the door all at the same time. A costume, a slight change of appearance was enough to get Max's mind thinking not of soul's lost but of a potential brand new beginning.

But this year was different. It had been a year where events dictated a certain draining of the spirit, where as much as possible one wanted to hold on to things relied upon in the past as much as the need to change the routine so as to start anew and somehow, some way move forward again. It was exactly a year ago to this time when the boy left Mr. Max alone for a night and through the gentle encouragement of one who always seemed to know when that gentle encouragement was most needed found himself driving north past the fallen leaves (having just missed their wondrous colors) to see a performer perform in his Iron Range hometown city. The night was special as the boy roamed the barren downtown streets on a brisk afternoon eventually ending up at the edge of Lake Superior where a couple of ghosts accompanied him with an endless marathon stinging.

On his drive home the boy felt an undying temptation to just keep on driving- somewhere- anywhere and leave his trivial troubles behind. But there was a responsibility if not a job, and there was a cat that needed his presence. This year thus marked an anniversary of sorts and the boy and Mr. Max had to do something a little different from the norm. So fighting the ever creeping agoraphobia the two decided rather than stay at home and hand out bags of Reeses Peanut Butter cups to the never ending stream of elf like mitts, they too would join the crowd and venture through the streets.

It had been awhile since the two had taken a walk together. Back in days when taking small steps was a constant meaningful reminder of how far the two had come from nearby days, they would venture outside the small efficiency that housed all that was left, and stroll through the neighborhood with the boy puffing on his long forgotten pipe. While patiently allowing the strapping on of the thin black harness attached to the leash, Mr. Max's anticipation was visible. After the securing procedure was complete Mr. Max headed immediately to the door and stood with his nose pressed against the wood until the boy finally was ready to open it. Once outside he occasionally would forget he was attached to the leash and as he caught whiff of an odor carried by the wind, he would take off full speed only to be yanked back unmercifully by the leash. The boy would try to keep up with the speedy Mr. Max but inevitably the cat would tumble backwards.

So as the evening lights settled the two headed out one last time. The last door they came across was opened by a girl that seemed to have been waiting for their arrival. The boy took off his mask. The girl, who knew how to fix up broken homes, offered her hand, unafraid, unobtrusively, and with a sincerity that was equally as comforting as it was unexpected. "I've forgotten more than you ever knew," she said with a snort. "And that wasn't all that much to begin with." Though he knew it wasn't always going to be there and that he didn't dare hold on too long, the boy was grateful for the assistance. He was glad that he was still able to smile. As they left her door there was a palatable renewal of spirit. Still more than a tad unsteady the boy nonetheless felt glad for having met her. To survive the fall that was could only make him stronger.

Monday, October 11, 1999

Holey Man

Just how do you go about writing about the most significant loss of your life? There aren't any words that can possibly even begin to express the sadness, the hole left inside. For someone used to using writing not only as an outlet of expression but also as a method of sorting out the stuff inside- it must be more than a tad frustrating to not really be able to write about the pain of the loss which is only equaled by the pointlessness of the words that are left inside. There aren't adequate words to even begin to do justice to what you feel but at the same time you almost feel overly obligated to try.

Paul McCartney is perhaps the most talented writer ever that rarely reveals his emotions. His songs are as skillful at concealing his heart as they are at revealing it on rare occasions. Paul is more often effective at using his music as craftsmanlike entertainment rather than for any lofty artistic ambition. That skill fits his personality perfectly as the utmost populist. Yet the forever sunny soul has shown cracks during his most difficult public moments. The days following John Lennon's murder Paul did the only thing he could do- he went to the recording studio to work. When a reporter shoved a microphone in his face to get a comment on John's death Paul muttered the immortal words, "It's a drag." As sentimental as the man appears to be, he has never been one to lay himself out emotionally as well as say, Mr. Lennon did.

The time following the death of his wife Linda, Paul once again headed back to the studio to finish up the album of her songs that the couple was working on. Since Linda never had the comparable talent of say, Yoko Ono, the Wild Prairie project was seemingly more therapeutic for Paul than being of any creative value.

So for McCartney fans there has been interest to see what his own next album would be. How would he touch on the death of his wife from the same cancer that took his mother from his life at a young age? Would he write heartfelt spiritual tomes pondering the question of life? In "Here Today" his moving tribute to Lennon, he took the approach of writing about personal memories singing them directly to John. Would he take a similar approach with the loss of Linda and finally lay open feelings about what made that marriage work so well? Last week with the release of the retrospective rather than introspective Run Devil Run, we sorta got an answer. As he has done in the past, Paul gets back to yesterday to move himself forward. The CD, recorded a year after Linda's death during a three month period, is Paul's second album to feature covers of '50's rock and roll songs that influenced him as a writer/musician. The goal seems to be to capture the magic of Elvis' unmatched Sun Session recordings. The song selection itself is inspired from Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Bop" to Ricky Nelson's "Lonesome Town" to Carl Perkins' wonderfully jaunty "Movie Magg."

So what does Run Devil Run reveal? It shows a masterful musician singing and playing his heart out. Unlike most McCartney solo efforts the songs go for feeling rather than the ever futile attempt to remain an "artist" of significance. This is a man who is doing what he does best- to deal with his loss- he's singing the songs that touched him as a youth in hope that they can take him back to another time if only for a moment. It isn't a man singing openly about his grief but rather trying to deal with a heavy heart by singing the songs that brought him joy early on in life. And as a result the meaning of the songs to him comes clearly flowing through. Paul lovingly uses others' songs to express what he himself can't quite put into words.

The faithfulness of the arrangements and styles pay homage to '50's rock and roll while putting the ever polished McCartney signature on each track. He once again forcefully refutes his reputation as a sappy balladeer by rocking out through the CD's 15 tracks as soulfully as John ever did. Yet it is in the quieter moments when the effort of it all is McCartney at his breathtaking best. During Nelson's forever classic "Lonesome Town" the way Paul cries out at the upper range of his vocal register, "In the town of broken dreams, the streets are filled with regrets/Maybe down in lonesome town I can learn to forget..." shows emotion so nakedly rare for him. This is the voice of a man that will go on as he always has yet with the acknowledgment that he will never quite be the same again. Nostalgia gives way to timelessness. The spirit whose memory will always be there gives way to the voice you can't ever forget.

Monday, October 4, 1999

The Great Potato Famine of 1999

Cross my heart and hope to die I swear they must have lived happily ever after. Ruly just would never know. While a globe of people were working on avoiding the millennium bug, Ruly was the one when asked what he thought of the Y2K problem would inevitably and invariably say with only a slight hint of snicker in his most deadpan voice, "The question isn't Y2K, it's Y2B?"

One day he found himself sitting at the desk of the person who was driving him to a not so instant ulcer. Maybe it wasn't a mere coincidence her name rhymed with Hades. The sympathetic power of beauty whirled by and revealed that she had discovered the meaning of life the previous night. "It's to always remain curious. As soon as you lose your curiosity, your desire to learn, you die," she said as she scurried away. It was one of the repeated times Ruly mistook intimacy for love. He never forgot her unmatchable skill for making each and every one of the people who worked for her feel special somehow.

Sure enough he was eventually sent away, mostly voluntarily for being a hopeless romantic. He was on the fringe of a desperate edge where breaking down was no different than breaking up; where as good as he felt for two years (and in a way he'd never felt better) he now knew those warm inspired feelings were all wrong. His self imposed exodus behind the colorless but graying metal bars was spent trying to write his way out. Ruly didn't write to the warden, and he didn't write to the governor. He wrote to the dishwasher who washed her marbles in the kitchen sink not minding much if she lost one or two.

He called the mother to find out she wasn't home. He said he didn't want to leave a message because, "Your daughter is sorta mad at me right now." "My daughter doesn't get mad," the slightly polite but stern British voice said through the crackle of the airport pay phone. Ruly remembered it was at another airport pay phone not that long before where he talked to her daughter who was stark naked just out of the shower the day her uncle fell off the top of a bus meaning they couldn't get together while he was in town. He wanted to tell the mother he wasn't angry, he was mad. Or at the very least on the verge of madness. Even with his Latin roots he often wondered why certain words like stress and depressed rhymed so effortlessly. Some of us are on-line while others of us in-line, Ruly concluded many years later.

He finally got out when he revealed to those who mattered that if he were to be reincarnated as a fabric, he would come back as Velcro so he could hold things together. He then went on to write a fictional biography of a former President who didn't so much go mad as he did senile. A rather sad tale in the end where the writer's life was far more endemic to the story than the biographic subject.

At the checkout desk a cohort in his crafts class told Ruly she had been in after each and every one of her children's births. It was a common malady she was told, kind of like clockwork if not too entirely routine. She wished him well with a kindness to offset the harsh experience he would never be able to forget. It was like during an eclipse with darkness descending how the experts always warned people not to look directly at the intensely lessening light but the self destructive part always was so tempted to just take a peek- just to see why you shouldn't look. Ruly did manage to amuse another mother who demonstrated a keen awareness, by relating he cracked a tooth eating a donut filled with raspberry filling. She smiled knowing only he could manage such a feat. It was another total eclipse of the heart.

They sat on a park bench holding two dogs at the end of their leashes. He told her the last remaining piece not so much out of desperate understanding but more so out of need. She didn't move, didn't look phased. It was significant but his attention was more on the frolicking mocha colored young Labrador short haired German Shepherd puppy who teased the usually unmatchable in the frisky category, Rat Terrier. It was a day he would try to forget but would never live down. She said the most upsetting thing that he could almost bare but would forever keep to himself, even though she had shown she understood the spiritual sadness that consumed him. It wasn't the same game anymore. She simply didn't have further time for his shenanigans.

Ruly had endured a stressful grocery trip where he saw a foursome embrace. One of the couples' children screamed in ecstasy. The child continued screaming during Ruly's entire visit, rolling spastically on the grocery store tile. Under the maddening din he bought two bags of groceries for her. As she picked them up he forgot to give her her bag of potatoes (pronounced POH TAHH TOES). She promised an undelivered taste of her chocolate tort. The next day as he opened his mostly empty vegetable drawer he saw the sack of spuds. It was the last straw. He started weeping. It wasn't exactly spilt milk but it was the next closest thing. Once upon a time.

Monday, September 27, 1999

Win Place Show

It's the place where for over a month you've been on the verge of tears every minute of every day- where you're trying to hold them back but nothing comes out when you're ready but flow uncontrollably at the most inopportune times. It's the place where you feel you have to sneeze but it just never happens. It's the place where the perpetually indigent and jobless not only get a job but get a dream opportunity (that doesn't even entail delivering phone books door to door).

It's the place where you hit the softball to lead off the game in the right place (right field) where it rolls and rolls and allows you to race around the bases with cramping ankles and for a moment you feel not so much like the wind but like you might collapse but still you end up with a home run of the sheepish kind. It's the place where an overlooked friend comments that it must have felt good to get the home run and you tell her just once you wish you could hit a home run like her boyfriend can. It's the place where you're playing third base and take a grounder and proceed to make a throw about ten feet above the bewildered first basewoman's head.

It's the place where you experiment whether or not a cat can get dizzy by making your domestic associate spin around in circles following his supper dish as he anxiously awaits for you to put his dinner down. It's the place where your favorite mother of two tells you of Ginger (the cat formerly known as Jam) who was let go in a park rather than the Humane Society where she would have been put to sleep- because she couldn't control her bladder in the house six years ago. It's the same place where your favorite mother of two's husband sees Ginger again in the same park, six years later wandering around with that unmistakable Ginger look.

It's the place where you say a prayer for a special cat who sat with you during a desperate time and who you made a pledge to hold on as long as he did- now as he is slowly shutting down you are stunned by the timing.

It's the place where on a cool but sunny Saturday morning you meander reluctantly over to a skating oval to watch the first annual "Roseville Meals on Wheels 10K In-Line Skating Race." Your attention is specifically on the graceful gait of a particular determined skater who continually inspires like no other. She is joined by her father as are you. And you leave quite impressed and glad you went out to cheer and finally share.

It's the place where you finally after much procrastination get your garage painted. The lone summer project now delayed into the fall essentially took three weeks- a week to rent a power cleaner to remove the peeling paint (which was remindful of a redheaded tourist visiting Mexico under the blazing unforgiving sun, with no sun screen); the second week with the assistance of two playful nephews and your father as you scrape and prime; and finally on this perfect afternoon you apply the selected color, taupe, taking only one small break to snarf up some fish and chips, and end up with a nifty looking garage thanks to the loyal and necessary help of your dad. It's the place where you see how a fresh coat of paint can make all the difference in perception.

It's the place where you find yourself forcing yourself to go to despite just wanting to lie down to hear yet another of many bands. You sit in the dark bar being ignored by the waitress and wondering whether or not you are enjoying yourself or leaving your senses. It's the place where you are sitting in her car facing the wrong way feeling more and more like it may be the final time. It's the place where you finally write something you are rather proud of where only 80,000 people can ignore it.

It's the place where a neutral observer asks the person whose opinion you respect like no other if you are as nice as you seem. "Don't make men like him anymore." It's meant as a compliment not as the unrelenting feeling you get listening to Brian Wilson's "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." A tad too sensitive to get by?

It's the place where you lie staring at the ceiling listening to your own breathing and remembering the last gasps of the one who taught you more than you know.

It's the place where memories overlap imagination, where time seems both omnipresent and inescapable and forever beyond your last grasp. It's the place where the popularity of cheerleading ends and society takes a step.

It's the place where you finally have the chance to show them what you can do.

Monday, September 20, 1999

Allow This

God has a plan. This is a certainty. Last week it was my turn to drive in my current car pooling arrangement. I drove Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Coming home on Wednesday my car pooling partner said that she needed to drive on Thursday because she was going to run home at lunch and give her father a hairs cut. Okely Dokely. When she dropped me off at my house on Thursday I quickly ate dinner and got ready for my softball game. I went out to my garage, backed out the car, got out to close the garage, and noticed the back left tire was nearly flat. I drove to the nearby Super America and filled it up with air. The tire hissed the air back at me. I looked and saw a big nail. Good thing I didn't have to drive to work that morning. Bad thing I had to get to my softball game on my puny lil spare...

Back when I was a kid I used to get a dollar a week for an allowance (which coincidentally is actually is about what I'm making in wages these days). I didn't particularly deserve this money because I didn't really have any specific chores to perform. My brother was given the lawn mowing and snow shoveling duties (and he now has a painfully bad back); my sisters took care of the dishes. I made my bed, kept my room picked up, and provided endless entertainment for the family.

I found the dollar allowance to be just what I needed to buy five packs of baseball cards every week. My parents used to grocery shop at Har Mar every Friday and my brother and I would go along and wander the mall looking for stuff to buy but inevitably I would end up with my baseball cards (ten to a pack and that delectable but unchewable slab of pink bubble gum).

As I grew a little older my world expanded a wee bit and I started buying 45's with my allowance. Each Sunday I would listen to Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown and whenever the number one song would change I would go out the following Friday and buy that particular 45.

All this comes to mind because I am realizing the more things change the more things stay the same, just like that proverbial lil dog chasing his own tail. These days when all my bills are paid and I make my decisions on entertainment purchases, the two regular spending items have been my partial season tickets to the Twins (damn fine seats), and my slowing down, but still rather expanding CD collection.

Back in 1977 when I was learning the value of saving my allowance to allow me to buy something more substantial than I could buy weekly, I decided to save for my very first, mine alone purchased LP. Instead of making a weekly buy of baseball cards or a 45 I saved for a little over a month (LP's cost $5.98 back then I believe). I wandered into what was then a Musicland in Har Mar Mall and slapped down my not so hard earned money for... Barry Manilow's This One's For You. A record I am still damn proud to say was my first. (In fact it's playing on my stereo at this very moment!)

Back in 1977 the Twins were having a pretty wonderful season. Sir Rodney Carew was chasing the historic .400 batting mark (he finished at .388). Larry Hisle and Lymon Bostock gave the Twins a trio of potent bats. The pitching led by Dave Goltz and Paul Thormodsgaard wasn't all that good but the Twins stayed in the pennant race for most of the year. Fans weren't exactly flocking to Met Stadium and there were constant rumors in the paper that the team would be sold and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Last Monday night I attended my final game of the season. The home team lost to the Anaheim Angels. It wasn't pretty. The St. Paul stadium referendum which is most certainly going to fail in November almost represents the last gasp of air (the tire is flat) this wonderful franchise has left in Minnesota. And that to me is a shame since the decision this year to go with youth (better to lose young where there is a chance to get better rather than old where you know what you have) in retrospect was the right thing to do. This club can be good in two or three years. Radke and Milton can be a terrific duo. Mays and Ryan have shown some promise. Jones, Guzman and Koskie are keepers. Walker and Lawton are solid everyday players. Hocking is the best utility player in the game. Hunter and Allen are good complimentary players. Valentin and Mientikiewicz might be OK in the long run.. This franchise bought time by moving to the Dome in 1982. It was built for the Vikings with the Twins a considerable after thought. It has never been an acceptable baseball stadium and never will be one. Unfortunately the citizens of this state have again and again shown they are much more interested in a game of frightening violence rather than one with such esoteric and aesthetic beauty.

The baseball stadium isn't about economic development or giving taxpayer money to millionaires. It's about appreciating our most beautiful game in an appropriate setting. It's a game that gives substance to the dreams of kids who get one dollar allowances a week and grow up never losing their love of what it means.

Monday, September 13, 1999

Move Me

On the front cover of the Cranberries latest CD, Bury the Hatchet, there's a picture of a naked man cowering from a big eyeball in the sky. On the back of the CD is a picture of the same man now standing, defiantly challenging the eyeball. I think I'm finally beginning to understand the significance of these pictures after having seen the group perform last Tuesday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

The Cranberries' performance was a mixture of energetic vulnerability and elliptical emotional release. At the center stage was the group's slight singer/songwriter Dolores O'Riordan who is the type of performer that makes it difficult to take your eyes off of. Her beauty lies not only in her wonderfully expressive voice but also in the unique way she moves (though she takes a back seat to a certain theorist I know who has the most appealing saunter of anyone on this planet...) And move O'Riordan does, constantly pacing, marching back and forth. Her dancing is sort of a hunched up pelican/karate type thing.

Yes indeed I fell in love again Tuesday night but it will take an army of doctors to figure out with who. The show opened with the first three songs off Bury the Hatchet, and the dynamic vocals from O'Riordan were positively goose bump quality. With a burning version of "Animal Instinct" the strength of the group, their raw emotion was crystal clear. Their lyrics are seldom subtle and the ones that make poetic sense lack sophistication. But their songs prove music can be about the feelings the songs evoke in both the singer and the listener and not necessarily the words literal meaning. When they performed "Ode To My Family" with my own personal situation weighing heavy on my mind, the tears began to flow. "My mother, my mother/she held me/did she hold me/when I was out there." Through four CDs of highly uneven material yet always listenable music, it is clear that the Cranberries can, if nothing else, reaffirm that it is OK to be a deep feeler rather than a deep thinker.

The group has been around long enough now to be a truly taut, original, and cohesive unit. Noel Hogan's guitar work, Mike Hogan's bass playing and Fergal Lawler's steady drumming are almost always workmanlike and often times quite stunning. But it is O'Riordon's voice that gives the group its own voice, and her stage presence is what is uniquely charismatic. Watching her was remindful of the documentary, Slow No Chaser, about Thelonious Monk a few years back, a film that showed him mysteriously moving, constantly walking in small circles. With O'Riordan there were times you had to wonder if she even was aware of the crowd as she closed her eyes into her own little world. At the same time she played to her audience, the consummate pro, well aware it is her voice that has made the group as popular as it is. Given another forty years of whiskey drinking and hard living she may achieve a standing a tad below Mr. Sinatra for being our all time greatest crooner. Every sound emanating from her expresses either a deep pain or a cathartic joy. Ethereal and subterranean...

As the group poured through its now rather impressive catalog of material ("Free to Decide," "Zombie," "Just My Imagination," "Salvation," to name some highlights of the show), what became clear was just how much O'Riordan gives of herself in her music. It is understandable why the group's last tour was cut short- she doesn't hold back, doesn't leave anything behind. Every night, a different town, a different show, yet her heart surges out there for the all to see. Hopefully her constant movement makes her a little less vulnerable target. And she expresses more through nonsensical sounds than the greatest writers do using the most masterful word combinations.

The songs are deeply heartfelt, personal and autobiographical- the group so good at getting to the root of the emotions that was the inspiration in the first place. In each and every one O'Riordan lets all her defenses down, reliving all the feelings again. Her writing is painfully direct and her singing is an exorcism of inner demons. She figuratively stands naked in front of all those eyeballs and the only defense is to aggressively sing out to the sea of adoring faces. Do they truly get it? Do they understand and appreciate the courage being shown? Are they just uncomfortable? Why do it? Why put yourself through it over and over? Perhaps it has to do with the rare occasion when the most wonderful feeling (and one of the scariest and draining) is to share your heart with (an)others but it is an even more wonderful feeling when they show the capability to connect and feel the same.

The concert ended with a powerful performance of the group's biggest hit, "Dreams" which had the crowd bobbing and singing along in pure delight. I turned for a moment and observed the look on my seatmate's face and saw that her smile, was wider than even my own. Never have I been more glad to be in the company of her presence. The lyrics of the song, got through as never before. "I never felt this way before/But I'm feeling it even more/Because it came from you..." "I tell you openly/you have my heart so don't hurt me." The power of this dreamy moment- the voice, the movement, (a silent internal scream) blew me beautifully away.

Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Old Yeller, My Lil Cap'n

Sammie the dog is a bit past her prime. Her eyesight is failing, causing her to bump into things occasionally. (This of course to those of you in the know, doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as having a vision problem.) Her eating and getting rid of what she eats patterns aren't always regular or controlled. She has really bad breath even for a dog. But every time I see her she puts a familiar smile on my face. She has the spirit of a survivor, a beautiful soul, and must have been quite the heartbreaker during her day.

Sammie is a Schipperke, with a dark black coat on most of her body, with a golden brown upper chest. She comes from a proud tradition. Schipperkes were bred by a canal boat captain named Renssens. Thought to be descended from the same sheep-herding stock as the black Belgian Sheepdog, Schipperkes were bred smaller and smaller and eventually became a different breed entirely. It became a favorite choice to guard canal barges in Belgium, hence the name, which in Flemish means "little captain." The breed became very popular in Belgian households by the late 1800's. From that point on it was exported throughout the world. The Schipperke do very well on boats and people often get this breed to come along with them on boating and fishing trips. It makes a great guard dog when the boat anchors for the night, alerting of anything out of the ordinary and the dog thoroughly enjoys its trip.

Sammie's sad brown eyes betray an inner struggle- a restlessness mixed in with a protective quality of the place she now calls home. She has been staying quite a while with her aunt and her aunt's dog- Kurbie, the perky, playful, yet sensitive rat terrier who gets into trouble now and again. She and Kurbie get a long well- not quite companions but better than friends. She even tolerates Kurbie's friskiness as he often "mounts" her. She never gets angry, but seems a little weary of his boundless energy. She is a big dog in a small dog's body.

She watches Kurbie, who is quite the talented dog, do his tricks for a treat. The look in her eyes is one of curiosity and excitement- wondering what he and her aunt are up to- at times almost wanting to join the fun but always off to the side seemingly not knowing quite what to do. When handed a doggie biscuit reward she brings it to a spot in the living room and puts it down, like she knows that is the place for it to be even if no one else is quite sure why.

This weekend she's returning to her home. A decision will be made in the near future because of her ever failing health, whether or not to put dear Sammie to sleep- a more than difficult choice in trying to determine just when suffering is too much. Where does the struggle for even the basic qualities of life cross the line and it is time to let go? Just when do you give up hope of turning things around? Her return home probably means I will never see Sammie again. And without trying to sound melodramatic- that thought saddens me terribly. She is a reminder of a time not too long ago when things seemed a tad sunnier than they are now. I remember vividly the day I met Sammie- it was a Pebbles and Bam Bam afternoon, a warm cloudless day- and though she has admittedly been a peripheral part of my consciousness since, she still has affected me deeply enough to have her picture be included on my web site. Sometimes you bump into, run across someone that for whatever fateful reason touches your life. Sometimes it even happens for the better. Maybe it is mere timing. It's not as if she changed anything for me yet I know I'm different for having known her. There are times when connections with those of the human kind seem few and far between but at the same time the look, the devotion of a cheerful pet can do wonders.

Her aunt recently reminded me that life's happiness isn't so much the big moments- it's the small moments in between that end up being what we treasure. It's a philosophy I have been good at absorbing at times and have failed miserably with other times. Yes it often is so much about the little moments but at the same time it's important to keep the bigger picture- the dream in mind too. The smaller steps get us there but the big picture ultimately is the goal.

For a treat Sammie is often given an ice cube. She always perks up when given a treat- a small reward for a long term return of love. Her best days are past but they are not forgotten. Though I didn't know her in her prime I somehow think I can understand where she has been. And by the look in her eye I think she too can understand more about me than she appears to know. Good-bye and God bless sweet Sammie. Here's one soul you deeply touched.

Monday, August 30, 1999

Positively Divine

Last week I was lucky enough to finally get to see my favorite reporter and her husband's newly purchased house in the Summit area in St. Paul. I'm afraid my mouth was agape during my entire visit. I've never seen such a beautiful house in my life. They freaking have five bathrooms and I lost count how many bedrooms. The house is immaculate in layout and design- three floors with a Romeo and Juliet balcony outside their main bedroom looking down to the first floor living room and out to the scenic park next to their lot. I'll now just respectfully refer to it as the mansion on the hill.

Anyhoo- said reporter/friend was perceptive enough awhile back to recommend I watch the newish ABC show, Sports Night (Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.). She said it truly was a unique and wonderful TV show. I finally got around to taking her up on her recommendation. I was duly impressed. Last week I borrowed a tape from her full of the first season's episodes. It only proved that I should at the very least continue to at the pay attention to this person's opinions (despite the boycott our Governor recently announced of her fine newspaper). The half hour sitcom!? is unlike anything I've ever seen before- which is a rather remarkable feat seeing how much of television is so dependent on formulas and all that has come before.

Sports Night is definitely quirky. It is a slickly produced program about an ESPN like sports cable program. But the show isn't exactly about sports, nor is it about the medium. Rather like most of the best shows television has produced, it is about the lives of its rather interesting cast. The writing is crisp and clever- reminding me of a Dashiell Hammett novel- not exactly how people exactly speak yet so skillful in the mere use of colorful language that it does indeed manage to convey the most basic of human emotions. (A good example of this was when Sally, an amazon tall woman who has provoked feelings of lust and jealousy among various characters of the show said to Dan, one of the two witty co-anchors- "Am I making you feel diminutive?" To which Dan replies, "No, not at all though I have to look that word up now...") If you are a fan of snappy writing- you will appreciate this show. The writers obviously have a fondness for how words provoke at the same time they can obscure. (If you haven't noticed we have sort of a theme to this week's newsletter- how people use language to communicate and not communicate. I've always been intrigued by people who think about the meaning of words and take exception when others are lazy about their use of words. Like a certain individual was quick to point out to me the mistake of using "roller blading" interchangeably with "in line skating." Roller Blades are a brand name while in line skating is the activity. I'm glad that it matters to her to be so accurate.)

The show is filmed in a very glossy, skillful and fast paced style with quick camera cuts and a very good looking cast. Each week's episode has a chaotic, improvised feeling, yet wonderfully works to an emotional, cathartic conclusion. I haven't seen anything quite as stylish on TV since the heyday of that most groundbreaking show, Hill Street Blues. It is a show that breaks outside the established frames that dominate the network schedules- obviously owing some debt to the much more popular FOX show, Ally McBeal.

I have been so impressed with Sports Night that I spent some of last week recommending the show to any and all my friends that would listen. Yet it is the type of show you can't really describe what it is about- or how well it is done- without sounding like a blubbering TV head. It is an entirely unique vision and after each episode there are equal parts scratching of the head and genuine appreciation for the effort that was made.

Monday, August 23, 1999


A lone, lonely figure, the inspiring and essential epitome of survival, of taking chances time and time again after being stung a time or two by failure upon failure, mixed with more than occasional moments of pure blinding brilliance, strolled across the stage wearing an elegant tux to celebrate a gala event for two brothers, one of whom had a woman's name. The shadowy figure did what was asked for in his entirely unique mesmerizing style, presence unmistakable and as his want, left his observers wanting more while not quite knowing how to react to what they had just seen.

Two of the eyes watching and soaking it all in belonged to another solitary figure- one who now lay day after day in his room, stirring from his futon only to shake some of the grogginess from his noggin and to try and understand what the bright sunlight that shone through his two bedroom windows and illuminated his room made him feel. Hot? Uncomfortable? Blinded? Warmth? Hard, haunted, reckless, forlorn, and desperate? He played a tape of the performance over and over and figured out the reason he couldn't stop watching was it was about enduring and finding a way to push on even when all seemed meaningless and was drifting ever so dangerously into pointlessness. This fragile soul was yet to meet a woman who in a very white lunchroom under the din of blowing air, told him she hated her name as a child because it was a boy's name. And it was even before she appeared first in his predictable novel written with great heartache. Still more amazing it was before he had met his mirror image who upon further reflection confessed she had always lacked her map maker, thus was not only lost but more than a bit adrift.

"Our good luck will be suspended. I found the happiness I've waited for. The only girl I was waiting for. Soon, little cabin that will find us safe. All our cares so far behind us. When you are mine this world will be in tune. Let's make that day come soon..."

She walked away briskly and quietly and when she got into her car the days of marshmallow leers and obscene bikini bottoms were over. He just couldn't quite comprehend (or was it a lack of acceptance?) how over it really was and soon the end came. He would increasingly become a parenthetical thinker, mind jumping from one relative thought while his heart tugged in a whole other direction. Tight and erect. What he was to remember and thus miss most was her desire to be great in whatever endeavor she undertook. She didn't want to be less than the best in anything. It was a desire that had long been missing from his own heart. He had pressed forward only now to realize at this late hour how he had been walking around in circles.

"It's a never ending battle for a peace that's always torn..."

The tongue stung from the diabetic abuse of a poisonous sugar breakdown. She invited him over for a taco salad and a curing game of backgammon. She commented on his court coverage. But his hare like reflexes were a bit shaky and his nerves seemed raw to the bone. The senses were leaving one by one: his ability to see past yesterday; his ability to listen to any voice let alone his own; the way she smelled; his appetite; allowing anyone to touch him; his often praised, sometimes mimicked and more seldom than not now mocking sense of humor.

In his hospital room the door was left a little ajar. The florescent light that shined at the head of his bed made things seem so sterile. Night after night he heard a figure shuffling in the hallway. How had things reached this point? It was at the campus copy center where she screamed upon seeing him. She started sobbing hysterically. He left the room quite shaken only to run into his mentor, the first of many he would disappoint. The juxtaposition of encounters was more than a little unsettling. He tried to remain calm. Tried to not let on the storm he had just witnessed and was winded by. But he knew he couldn't hide the horrible look on his face. (It was a similar horrible look which was left on the face of the walker who brought him back to this place ten years later, who got him to accept some of the past only to leave in such an eerily similar manner.) His mentor definitely noticed something was amiss or perhaps he just needed to smoke a cigarette.

This boy was in trouble. Deep trouble. The cross he received after his last day of performing his duties as an acolyte (where he learned the invaluable and eternal lesson of first lighting the candle by the window and putting that candle out last) was lost somewhere in his childhood bedroom. He soon had to return to clean it out.

Monday, August 2, 1999

Freeze Your Grapes

Sweltering and sultry. No Pedro, not my love life, I'm talking about the weather. In this spell of uncomfortable heat and humidity, it is important to find ways to keep your cool. For those of us with no air conditioner (or more accurately, for those of us with air conditioners who are too damn cheap to have them repaired), it is a tricky challenge to beat the heat. One particular fourteen pound fellow I know and have grown quite fond of, is really struggling with the temperature and additionally is further burdened by a fur coat. Between hacking up hair balls nearly every day, he spends most of the time sprawled on the floor looking a tad overheated.

There are those out there who are blessed enough to be able to make the best out of the most pressing situations. Conversely there are those of us who are good at doing quite the opposite- turning any situation into a disaster. I thought then this would be an opportune time to address some summertime issues. Over the years I have managed to pick up a trick or two to handle the dog days of July and August. For example one year I slept naked in my backyard. That was fine until the night a deer came up and bit me on the forehead causing me to undergo a series of painful lyme disease shots. Another year I decided to crank up the heat in my house so that when I went outside it would actually feel cooler. Mr. Max did not buy into the benefits of that brief little experiment.

Many people like to head out to the malls (or better yet to Cheapo) to find a place that does have air conditioning. The problem with that is the heat cranks people's natural crankiness up a notch or two. I was in a grocery store the other night and the usual annoyances of people parking their carts or their carcasses right in the middle of the aisle was more than I could handle. Nothing like going to a central location amongst a bunch of other short tempered, distracted, sweaty souls with an attitude, just to find some relief. It's not so much the heat, it's the humanity!

I also went to a different public place this past week, one that you may not immediately think of to cool down but it worked for me. After a having a bit of an anxiety attack, I went to HealthPartners where they had me take off my shirt for an EKG and a chest x-ray. It was plenty cool in the room and the sweat I broke into was more of the cold variety. The doctor said he saw nothing in the tests confirming what has long been an internal suspicion- I have no heart.

For those looking for a cold public place without a lot of people, there is no better place to go this summer than the Metrodome during a Twins' game. You can be seriously alone there. Also I've heard some have taken to dancing up a storm in the rain conveniently taking advantage of the many ominous thunderstorms that have rolled through our area in recent days. If this is an option you wish to choose it is not recommended that you get into your air conditioned car immediately afterward. People might begin to think you have an illness and you might actually come down with one physically.

Last week too would have been the opportune time to be selected for jury duty. That is unless you are seeking affirmation about the fairness or the inherent goodness of our justice system or human nature in general. Rather it was good timing to be indoors, and either better timing to spend a lunch hour or two calling your local neighborhood neurotic to remind him what he has found so valuable in what is now an all time important nine year friendship. A particular conversation held say, on the afternoon of Friday the 30th of July, cut right through to his heart and showed that despite what was going on in the courtroom itself, there still is much to be said about the beauty of significant human relationships.

Finally, a friend passed on a helpful Martha Stewart like tip that also might be of some help to chill out (did I actually just write "chill out?"). Buy a ton of grapes and freeze them. They make a delectable summertime treat I am told. I have yet to try this, but it sounds intriguing enough that I think I will give it a whirl. It's a good thing.


ADDENDUM: Next week we will focus on how to stay warm when the temperature drops over twenty degrees in one night and the humidity lowers so much that your toilet bowl even stops sweating and it's so cool that when you wake up the next morning you are actually shivering.

Also a special newsletter contest! Winner most closely guesses the context that led up to the following sentence actually being muttered this week to my cat Max: "Because I have to go to work with my pants on!"

Monday, July 26, 1999

Cold Hard Truth

"Happy songs sell records. Sad songs sell beer."

I'm not one to dismiss an entire genre of music. I sincerely believe there are worthwhile artists in any category from children's music to opera from rock to Gregorian Chants. The medium isn't nearly as important as the voice and the heart of a courageous soul who certainly can utilize any canvass to express that voice. I do have my prejudices. For me the most difficult music to open up to has been rap. So much of that particular type music seems to be rooted in anger. While that is an entirely legitimate emotion on which to base a song, I've never been one to see the value in ranting and raving without a hint of salvation or a solution at the end of the tunnel. I think to many of my more "sophisticated" friends rap is just as difficult to appreciate as country music. Most people I associate with seem to have a loathing for country music.

I must admit most of modern country music leaves me cold. I can no more tell a Garth song from a Clint song from an Alan song to a Tim song. Same goes for Patty and Shania, and Deanna, Wynonna and Trisha. Still it is my opinion that for the all time great (an all too important category) whiskey drinking music it is a close call between Mr. Sinatra and George Jones. Is there a better drinking song that Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today? Good golly what a sad and at the same time cold hearted song. Jones is also to be admired because he is without a doubt authentically the "real thing." Listen to any song on our multitude of country stations and tell me that the artist singing doesn't owe some debt to Jones, the ultimate voice in the ultimate Americana genre.

News of Jones' near fatal accident recently meant that any new release from the man was a must hear. His newest CD, Cold Hard Truth doesn't disappoint. The liner notes depict the CD as a major comeback from an artist that surely has never gone away. Completed before the accident the ten songs are a sobering look at the man's life. The packaging of the CD is quite impressive with flattering liner notes from the president of Jones' newest label, Asylum Records, along with some terrific photographs of Jones at various stages of his life along with the many people he has touched and inspired over the years.

Cold Hard Truth opens with the ultimate Jones song, a song that would have paid fitting tribute as an obituary to a man who has lived a long hard life. Choices is as confessional as it is redeeming. The man clearly needed to sing this. The song is remarkable as it is a song only Jones could possibly do justice to and yet he wasn't the one who wrote it. "I was tempted. By an early age I found I liked drinking and I never turned it down. There were loved ones. But I turned them all away. Now I'm living and dying with the choices I made." The song asks for forgiveness with true regret.

The remaining tracks are country music at its best. There are songs about broken hearts, broken dreams, broken promises, and lives gone wrong yet somehow have managed to endure. The voice wavers but still is as effective as ever. This is a man who has lived these songs. It is a voice of a man who has scoffed at 'de debbil' and now is facing the consequences and fear of his life's decisions. In the title track Jones reveals what he has learned. "The way you run away from love. The way you try to play it cool. I'm gonna say this one time. 'Time is running out on you.' You best remember me my friend. I'm the cold hard truth." Egads!

Yes there is a bit of twang and a whole lot of country cliché. Still this is a man who helped invent those clichés so he must be given some credit and latitude. It is an emotional expression from a singer who has time and time again exorcised his demons in music while providing inspiration to all that will put away their pretenses for a moment and just listen. That this turns out not the man's epitaph is reason enough to celebrate.

Monday, July 19, 1999

Fire Bad, Tree Pretty

My name is Dave and I'm a Buffaholic. It's been six days since I last saw an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I admit I really enjoyed the final episode of yet another fine season more than I probably should have and I truly realize I need some help. In a defining moment in another lifetime a person whose opinion still carries a great deal of weight told me that I often say things that I don't mean. Thus I know when I tell family and friends my fondness for Buffy the Vampire Slayer they more often than not roll their eyes and probably think to themselves, "Just David being David." Little do they realize that I haven't felt such an emotional attachment to television since Hill Street Blues (my all time favorite TV show) left the air all those years ago.

Buffy of course has little in common with Hill Street other than the rather extraordinary writing in a medium that more often than not relies on formula and commerce over artistry and soul. That is understandable since the name of the game is to attract not only the largest audience possible, but to also appeal to the demographic that advertisers feel spend the most money on their products. Creativity while a worthy goal thus gives way to trying to be everything to everybody. Kind of sounds a bit like what enduring high school is all about. And of course there has been no better show than Buffy to demonstrate the pain that is the undercurrent of high school life. In that icky setting one either realizes or doesn't that the demons one must fight are as likely to come from within as they are from the insensitive ghouls that exist in every high school in the country.

The best part of the show is how the kids of Sunnydale week after week are attacked by demons and vampires and yet even as classmates disappear left and right they are still more worried about being popular, about finding love, about the prom. Even the vampires themselves often have self esteem issues. The show's dialogue is constantly witty, the best television has to offer.

One thing that Hill Street and Buffy do share in common is a rather black sense of humor. Both shows strive on showing that the best defense from confusion and chaos is a resilient sense of humor. In the center of the storm of the Hill Street police precinct that at its best tried to hold together an impossible situation, was its unflappable captain, Frank Furillo. The glue that holds together the ever skeptical group at Sunnydale High is Buffy, the wannabe California girl who after a night of vampire slaying jokes her way through the horror of her involuntary status as the "chosen" one.

The season finale of Buffy of course got some unwarranted attention because the WB network decided at the last moment to pull it after the tragic events of the shooting at Columbine High. The episode dealt the with "ascension" of the city's mayor into an indestructible, all powerful, serpent like creature due to take place at Sunnydale High's graduation. (Symbolism? Graduating from high school is to turn into something that thinks it is all important but to others looks rather demonic?) That the mayor/serpent is to be stopped by students armed with weapons made WB officials feel that the episode too closely mirrored issues involved with the killings in Colorado. Back in May when the episode was originally scheduled to air, I had a lot on my mind. I programmed my VCR to tape my weekly fix of Buffy only to find when I got home that I hadn't set the button to record the show. It was late after midnight when I discovered my error, and I felt insufferably sad that I had seemingly missed the finale (part two of two). The next day I read that the episode had been pulled. Whew. I applauded the WB not for the integrity of its decision but because I hadn't missed something I truly did not want to miss.

Last week when the episode finally aired my anticipation was great. I remembered how my friend's grandmother has a saying about how anticipation is so much more powerful than actual events. In this case grandma's words did and did not ring true. There wasn't anything the show could possibly do to live up to expectations. But it nearly did. The heart of the show- the doomed relationship between slayer and bad vampire gone good, Angel, who is being eternally punished by being given back his soul so he can understand the consequences of his past actions- is heart wrenching. Buffy may be the one with the tears but Angel no doubt suffers from knowing that he must forsake the great love of his life simply because he knows what happens tomorrow will be more difficult than whatever happiness today may bring. The scene where Buffy saves Angel was about as sensual as TV can get.

At the end of the finale Buffy's group of friends take the time to reflect on their accomplishment; not so much the slaying of the mayor/serpent but rather that they have somehow managed to survive the struggles of high school. Something else is now around the corner and while it is important to understand that, they realize that at the very least they must acknowledge the events they have already seen will forever mark all the difficulty that tomorrow inevitably brings.