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.