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!"