Monday, March 27, 2000

Skippo! A Glimpse at Life's Sequence

My father gave me a CD player that holds 51 CDs. Talk about meeting my entertainment needs! My house is never lacking for music these days. But like every other of life's gifts comes corresponding dilemmas. The initial inevitable question was what 51 artists to include and what CD of the chosen artist's catalog should I include? Having sorted through my many CDs I finally arrived at 51 that covered most everything I really like to hear in a regular rotation.

But an even more basic question posed itself to me. Should I go with the 51 different artists or should I merely select 51 Bob Dylan CDs to stock the player with? Since I listen to Dylan's music on a total more than the other artists' music combined this seemed a viable option. For awhile against my heart's true wish I went with the 51 different voices. Admittedly it was quite a kick hearing Billie Holiday sing right before L7 following Emmylou Harris. But it wasn't right. So I selected my 51 Dylan CDs and Mr. Max and I have ever since quite enjoyed the result.

Recently a friend of mine disappointed me by telling me she wasn't listening to the Dylan CDs I gave her because they were "too depressing " for her right now. For the first time someone I firmly and faithfully thought "got it" didn't seem to get it anymore. Sure Dylan's music can be sad, can be brooding and introspective but I dare anyone to find a song of his that is depressing. The sheer artistry, the ever unique inscrutable charisma is nothing other than forever uplifting.

Not that I always thought so. The first time Dylan came into my consciousness was when a couple of my friends and I went to a revival showing of George Harrison's Concert for Bangla Desh. It was right in the middle of my best friend's and I Beatle crazy phase where we had to buy every Beatle's related item, go to every Beatle's related show. (He even got tickets to Beatlemania but I drew the line on that one.) Dylan's appearance in the movie was less than impressive to the three of us. One of my friends (the one less than aware of people around him) laughed throughout Bob's songs and made my other friend and I nervous what with some obvious Bob fanatics glaring at us. I knew the man had the greatest respect from critics who called him a poet, and I instinctively knew there was something deeper about "Blowin' In the Wind" than my favorite song at the time, "Mandy," but so what? The man's voice was, as my friend was demonstrating, silly.

The next time I really paid any attention to Dylan was while watching the video of the making to We Are The World. The whole project seemed to me, a naive but cynical high school student, to be about a bunch of rich rock stars trying to relieve their social conscious by doing their part to eradicate the problem of starving African children. Among all the sickening sincerity ("everyone checked their egos at the door...") stood a man who looked very lost. Dylan looked so uncomfortable that my eyes were drawn to him every time they showed him. I said to myself, "That would be me if I was there!" He was so out of place, so awkward that Stevie Wonder even had to coach him on how to sing his one line. Subsequently his appearance at the end of Live Aid which was equally as difficult struck me to be about the only genuine moment of that entire day's event. Standing in between Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Bob was having a difficult time hearing his own voice. The three men performed their three song set so bizarrely it was almost if all three were playing different songs.

I picked up a copy of Infidels and was impressed by the lyrics. The voice was starting to grow on me. When Empire Burlesque was released it quickly became one of my favorite LPs. "You're the one I've been waiting for. You're the one that's got the key. But I can't figure out whether I'm too good for you, or you're too good for me..." With the release of the boxset Biograph I was hooked. I listened to the five LPs over and over and was astounded by the greatness of nearly all the 53 songs. What absolutely stunned me was that two of what I thought were the best songs I had ever heard, "Abandoned Love" and "Caribbean Wind" were songs that up to that point had been unreleased because Dylan hadn't thought them worthy enough in comparison with his released product.

Listening to Dylan I was discovering an entirely different language and thus an entirely different way of viewing life. Some of his greatest writing comes when his lyrics don't convey a crystal clear image. The images change depending on where you are at in your own life. His music is the still voice from the heart, that mystical place that differs for us all yet is at the essence of universal feelings and thoughts. The words by themselves aren't even the best conveyor of his message. The power of the music, Bob's unique ear and style of conveying that "thin mercurial sound" is unlike any other. Even as his voice becomes even more limited with age he continues to prove being a great singer has little to do with having a great voice. It's quite the feat to say something better for millions than they can say for themselves.

Monday, March 20, 2000

The $42,000 Dream

by Max the Cat

"Thank God for every mountain and every stream. Thank God for every flower and each dream. Thank God for giving life to you and me. Wherever you may be, Thank God."

Well pardon me. I wasn't the one who didn't have time to bring me in to get last year's let alone this year's distemper shot. So can I be blamed if March Madness has hit me a little bit harder than usual? Excuse me. I'm not the one that disrupts our peaceful sleep by selfishly flinging me towards the sky. If he doesn't want me to sleep on his stomach all he has to do is tell me so. Geez I'll move.

Thus tonight after a little bit tension he left here in a huff, off to a basketball game. Told me before he left that if I thought it so easy I should fill this page this week. Told me for once to use some of my boundless energy for creative purposes. I don't know if he was actually serious, I'm never quite sure of that, but I figure I can at least do as well as his dutiful weekly navel gazing. I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a story from my days on the streets. It is a story that crosses my mind (in every sense of that term) sometimes when I gaze intently out my window.

It's a story that was actually shared by a creature I stumbled upon. This hideous poet had a pension for self pity. But he once told me a dark tale that makes me shiver as I ponder its permanence. The story was in the days when the judges ruled, when there was a famine in the land, about a man who went to live for a while in the country. On his last day at work he was approached by a colleague who asked if he was OK. She said he had been walking around with a pained expression on his face.

"I'm just a little weary," he confessed.

He is an arid invisible man. Claude rains his sorrow down upon his shirt like blood. He has a historical hysteria and the opposite- a hysterical history. He desires to be an imaginary broad shouldered man but is nothing but far too sensitive. With an urgent visceral need, he is far gone enough to have come to a foregone conclusion. He knows that what he must turn and run from will be wherever he ends up. He's seen this movie before. It's a vision thing. The resolution is fuzzy so he adjusts the rabbit's ears.

Words are just thoughts that people sometimes say.

His poem sat unused, the burden of a soul abused. A cherubic conversion of caustic majesty, the apex of lace at the fringe of something divine, seductively secular, succulently sublime lay discarded, never to be seen again. More forlorn than provocative, more evocative than sullen it was a passionate representation of jaded joy, morose melancholy, a harrowing exercise, a hollowing exorcise. A transcendent soliloquy, a defiled visceral sly smile the effort was wasted. A repressive eclectic sapphire myth, a discouraged repressive perspective thirst, resigned to an intuitive distress. Archived for all those familiar with such self destruction.

This grief too will pass.

The beauty that once inspired has been defiled by the need(?) to disconnect his mind from his heart. He believed she'd be there. Her indifference was numbing. Anger wells and he actually at times has come so far that he wishes he never had met her. His anger has reached a level as deep as his love was and it wasn't like the two could ever co-exist in the first place. When things were crumbling he worked harder. And not exactly for selfish reasons.

He could give but he cannot receive.

It was hard to stay angry but not so hard to remain mad. There were little things she said and did that made him go back home, glance wearily and steely into the mirror, and wonder where to turn.

He knew in earlier times for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions.

Monday, March 13, 2000

Another Dave's Broken Heart

"Straight up now tell me are you really going to love me forever? When I'm caught in a hit and run."
-Paula Abdul

Last year a weary man with a weary mind drove home late in the evening. As he pulled up to his garage, he got out of his car in the cold bitter air, opened his garage door and proceeded to bang his car into the side of his garage. The ugly crinkling metal sound made him not even want to look at the damage. Part of him felt unlucky that the whole garage had not come down on him.

The blessed girl who found a penny wherever she wandered was frustrated with her attempts to explain the difference between fiction and nonfiction to this daily phone caller. But she knew it was important that she tried. To lose that understanding was to lose one's grip on reality. Insanity is crazy, she thought.

This man was more of a disciple (or is it victim?) of the influences of pop culture than anyone she had ever known (with a lone possible exception of an all star soccer player he had once told her all about). He read the newspaper out of habit, and found himself caring as much about how things are covered as what the events being covered actually meant.

When he first read of David Letterman's heart trouble it was a time to reflect on how much he appreciated and had come to respect Dave's work over the years. To still be consistently entertaining after 18 plus years on the air is quite remarkable and sometimes easy to take for granted. Luckily this Dave's broken heart was fixable, mended by open heart quadruple bypass surgery. Ailments of that organ can be much more painful than being crowned over the head by a hubcap from someone who continues to occupy a soft spot inside. Open heart surgery, the modern miracle it is, brings science into a traditionally romantic area. To open one's heart up remains the most courageous act. To reach out is to risk having another shutting one out sooner or later.

The caller was standing in front of a vending machine digging change out of his pockets so he could purchase his daily Snackwells cookies (which out of fond remembrance to the one who introduced him to the delectable treat, he referred to as his rabbit food). He dropped a coin onto the floor and the sound of it clinking against the unforgiving cement was barely audible amongst the clamor of legislators and lobbyists. "Let's see, that was a dime," a voice behind him said. The gentleman responsible for keeping the vending machine stocked (who happened to be blind) was standing behind the caller. The blind man was correct. The caller was quite impressed. He asked the man what year the dime was from. The blind man chuckled and guessed a date that in the grand scheme of the moment was close enough.

As the caller was driving home late that night he approached a red light about a mile from his house. He noticed a car with its right turn signal blinking to his left. He thought something was amiss since the other driver had a green light and was stopped. The caller pulled up to his red light. The car perpendicular to his finally began its turn. But it clearly wasn't much of a turn. Headed at the helpless driver's side door as the headlights blared in the caller's eyes he desperately hit his horn. The other driver apparently was alerted enough to narrow his/her wide turn and "only" clipped the caller's rear left bumper. The caller expected the driver to stop but they continued on. He was going the opposite direction so there was little the caller could do but sit in bewilderment. He drove home, looked at the damage and called the police.

The caller tried his best not to look at the incident as a metaphor. Tried hard not to make it mean more than it actually did. Tried not to be too dramatic. But he failed. There are those in life who will hit you and disappear. Often others don't want to know the impact they have on you. Things can come at you from all sides at any moment.

The dispatcher asked the caller what he wanted to do. She asked him for a description of the other vehicle. "It was a white car, that's all I saw. You think you can find it?"

"Sure there aren't that many white cars out there," the dispatcher said with a chuckle. She asked him for a further description of the accident.

He struggled to figure out which way he was facing and which way the other driver was going.

"You sure you didn't hit your head?" the dispatcher asked.

She sent out a squad car, and the officer was much kinder than the caller expected him to be (he didn't test the officer by pulling out his wallet). The officer apologized for not being able to do much. "This is a nice area," the officer said. "Don't get out this way much." Somehow it comforted the caller making him feel just a little bit steadier.

400 Roses By Any Other Name

This is the 400th issue of the Cheapo newsletter, which is about 150 more than I thought I'd be involved with. When I was hired to create and edit the newsletter in 1992, my goal (which seemed pretty insurmountable at the time) was to do the weekly assignment for five years. I figured after that time the publication would be well established and an important enough part of the company that I could step aside and let someone else with a fresh voice and perspective takeover.

When we flew by that five year anniversary a few years ago I indeed took a step back and thought about whether or not to follow through with my original plan and resign. The newsletter has been a lot of work to do. It takes up much of my weekends. I've only had one real vacation in eight years. But in the end my decision came down to the assignment still remains quite enjoyable to do, and it remains a challenge to try and be an important part of making this company work a little better.

Back in 1992 one of the reasons I was interested in this job was I had a desire to be a writer and being frustrated by not feeling I was getting anywhere close to that. With my new job as the editor of this publication came a valuable lesson: to be a writer all one needs to do is write. (To be a good writer, or an effective writer is a whole other story of course.) And with the challenge of this publication came a similar lesson. Recently I reread the early issues of the newsletter and it was refreshing and enlightening because I was surprised at how many contributors we used to have company-wide. The newsletter is at its best when we hear from different voices. But with a dogged determination I have plowed through the weeks when I arrive at the warehouse only to find a half a page worth of material. To keep this publication afloat because I think it can be a valuable employee resource over time means consistently putting something out every week.

The reward of the work is sometimes unexpected. Last Sunday at our anniversary/ holiday celebration, my self proclaimed "arch nemesis" came over and told me she reads (and presumably enjoys) my article every week. Her words really meant a great deal to me more than I can even begin to express (it was the second year in a row she made quite the impression on me). And as always I enjoyed catching up with Al (who came up with my favorite quote of the afternoon: "If I wanted to watch millionaires play sports, I'd watch polo."), and with Jennifer and LeAnn (who made me think there might be a correlation between hanging out at Brookdale as a youth and the enlightenment that comes with being able to see the brilliance of Buffy). It was fun too chatting with Pat and Pete, and playing three cutthroat games of pool with a thankfully evenly matched in skill Mary. All and all it was a reminder of how I still greatly enjoy being a part of this company.

As the changes of C2K play themselves out over time hopefully you will find the information on these pages useful. Hopefully too, we can get more and more of you contributing to the newsletter. This is your newsletter, and your opinions and viewpoints aren't only welcome, they are necessary. We hope to continue to improve this publication and are open to any and all feedback on how we can do that.

Monday, March 6, 2000

You Can't Go Back If You've Never Been There Before

Two years ago when Al and I ventured off to Japan I knew it would be a trip of much significance for me. I wouldn't say it was exactly like going home since I'm admittedly perhaps one of the most Americanized people around, but it uprooted a lot of feelings from deep inside.

There was a feeling on the trip that I needed to open up the sponge qualities of my memory so every nuance, every image would become embedded inside of me. And it worked because there are times it almost feels like I'm still there. For the first time I blended in with the people around me. Yet at the same time I was as foreign as ever. A former friend once accused me of wearing a mask that prevented most from getting a glimpse of what exists behind. I never thought that criticism was exactly fair, yet I won't deny that I have been misread a time or two. The feeling of projecting something I'm really not was at its most extreme during my time in Japan. That self exploration alone was fascinating enough to make me know that some day I have to go back.

But it wasn't like I didn't have a lot to come home to. I remember every night as I lie in my tiny little motel room my thoughts would inevitably drift back to wondering how that little 13 pound ball of neurotic fur I left at my parent's home was doing. I hoped Mr. Max was behaving himself for his grandparents and at the same time I hoped they were enjoying his spunky companionship.

Among the many fine feelings, moments and memories Max has inspired he is one of the few constants of the journey I'm on. He is one of the best markers of time I have, allowing me to see how far I've come over the years and how much further is left to go no matter what my heart says.

Years before I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Max I came across a rare soul who the more I got to know, the deeper I appreciated who she was. One of the stories this walker, the lucky rock giver told me was that she used to have a cat that she would take for walks on a leash. I had never heard of such a thing and it was one of the qualities that has etched that person forever deep in my mind. She said Jazz the cat wore a bell around her neck and she was determined to try and walk without making a sound.

I got Max shortly after I moved into my first solo living arrangement. It was a tiny efficiency on Goodrich Avenue. I asked another highly significant soul whether or not she thought there was enough space for a cat and I to co-exist. She didn't think so. Yet my sister had informed me that one of her friends was looking to get rid of a cat that had been left with her.

I'll never forget the day I went and picked Mr. Max up at a home off Hiawatha Avenue. His most recent owner gave me his brown food and water dishes and called out his name. Into her kitchen a large dog moseyed in followed by an anxious gray short haired kitty. He didn't seem to mind when I put him in the traveling cage I had just picked up but he let out several meows on our way home.

That night as Mr. Max lie on my chest purring away I noticed my T-shirt was becoming wet. I wondered which end the moisture was coming from. I grabbed underneath his ample belly and held him high above me. He looked down at me lazily, drool dripping from his slightly opened lips. I had a cat that drooled!

Mr. Max was declawed so he has to be an indoor cat. Each day as I got home I cracked my window open for him and he would immediately bolt up onto the sill sniffing the many smells from the outdoors. One day I bought a leash for him, with memories of my lost friend coloring my heart. I truly wish she had met Max. She would have appreciated the special soul that he is.

Every day Max and I would go for a walk. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the leash. Sometimes the wind would blow and the smells would swirl and he would forget he was harnessed as he bolted as fast as he could only to be rudely jerked backwards. I smoked a pipe back then so the two of us must have made quite the sight.

This has been perhaps the most difficult year of my life. Max was sick when my mom found out she was terminally ill. I'll never forget that after learning the news of her own condition Mom asked me how Max was doing. It was a continuing lesson in living unselfishly, of putting others above our own concerns. This past week as I got home late at night, stressed out from work and missing my mom, I for the first time in years took Mr. Max out for a walk. In the darkness he excitedly scampered in the world re-opened to him. It is a world he normally sees behind the impenetrable window glass akin to my experiences of Japan. It is a world he inherently knows yet remains foreign and out of reach. More than ever I appreciated how much Max has meant and at the same time I could feel my mom's smile rain down.