Monday, January 31, 2000

Who Wants to Be Real?

As the newsletter rapidly approaches its 400th issue, it's time to go back and play one of our more popular features over the years, a little game we like to call, "Tell Us What Is Real!" As those of you that have been with us from the very start know, the game is deceptively but splendidly simple. We tell you two stories, one of which is true, and one of which is made up. Your assignment is to guess which is which. First one with the right answer gets a special lil gift from Mr. Max (a fellow who knows a thing or two about how to tell if they're real or not). Actually a bit of clarification here- both stories are true, one really happened and one is a dream I had. Thus there is nothing unreal about either one. Just one happened in my head and the other I have actual witnesses.

STORY #1: I go to my neighborhood Super America store to buy a bag of bubble gum. I'm not looking for any of that new fangled chemically softened fruity flavored Bubble Yum/Bubbleiscious crap. Nope, I'm looking for the good old fashioned Double Bubble hard as a rock but tasty nonetheless pink teeth breaking substance coated with an impenetrable shell of sugar. As I wander to the very back of the store I find my treasured gum. On the way up to the register I notice a rack of jeans. I think to myself it is odd that Super America has clothing but impulsively I say to myself, "Hmmm. I could use a pair of jeans." Unfortunately as I slide hanger upon hanger across the metal rack, making that annoying "swoosh" noise, I notice none of the pants are even close to my waist and inseam size. Then as I get to the very end of the rack, for no rhyme or reason the very last pair is much shorter than the rest. My exact size! My impulses are satisfied... It has to be destiny.

I take my items up front only to notice a rather lengthy line at the register. The clerk is unbearably slow and indifferent to the increasingly impatient line of people including myself. After a long wait I finally get to the treasured second place in line. The clerk and the customer in front of me begin to engage in a long and meaningless conversation. I spend as much time in the bridesmaids' position as I have moving through the turtle paced like line. I think about complaining, I think about putting my merchandise aside and walking out in a huff, but I decide that I've waited this long, I can wait just a little bit longer.

The clerk finally finishes with the person in front of me. I plop my gum and my pants on the counter and the clerk immediately says to me, "I can't sell you these pants." I'm perplexed. I ask him why. He doesn't say anything coherent to explain his actions. I stand there bewildered. It becomes clear neither one of us is going to budge. Finally I lose it. Hollering at the clerk, I reach to the rear and pull down the plastic display standing behind him. He's trapped with his arms flailing about. He manages to reach for the phone and call the cops. The customers behind me are horrified by the turn of events. Seeing the clerk trapped underneath the weight of the display I know that I can simply walk out of the store with or without my pants and gum, but I decide out of principle I will wait and stay for the police to arrive. I'm right and he's wrong. He's discriminating against me. I have no reason to run. They have no right not selling me pants. So I wait for the police to arrive and when they do they don't seem too interested in my explanation of the events.

STORY #2: Ever since I started my new job in September the light fixture above my desk has had a flickering problem. There have been some days I've been in the dark both figuratively and literally. So the other day I arrive at work only to find a post-it note attached to my computer monitor telling me not to turn on my computer until the electricians arrive. I wait for a few minutes and two scruffy looking guys walk in the office who tell me when I'm at my desk, I shouldn't take off my shoes. Seems there are some exposed live copper wires underneath my desk arching electricity with enough voltage to electrocute me if I should happen to touch them. (Instant and perhaps necessary homemade electroshock therapy?) A flashback of a few weeks back pops into my head, when I was down on my hands and knees not saying a prayer but trying to sort through a myriad of wires that seemed unattached. Shockingly my luck was with me that day and I didn't touch anything hair raising.

These two men emphasize the seriousness of the wiring problem around my desk. If someone doesn't zap themselves then there is a high risk of a fire. I assure them my shoes are on quite tightly. I think they think I'm joking but I'm not. They think I think they're joking but I know they're not. I head off to a meeting. When I return two hours later my entire desk is gone! In its place is a pile of tools and wires. My neatly arranged files, my carefully placed pictures and plaques are thoughtlessly tossed into the rubble that was once my cube. The whole mess is bathed in an appropriate darkness because the energy around my area has been shut off. I spend the next two days on taxpayers time sitting at a bare table right in everyone's way, with no access to my computer and nothing I can do but helplessly watch a group of maintenance men and electricians complain about the whole situation.

SO THERE! One of the above stories actually occurred and the other is a dream. Your mission, if you wish to participate, is to determine the actual event. One final word- before you arrive at your guess ask yourself one last thing, "Is that your final answer?"

Monday, January 24, 2000

L'Amour for Lamarr

"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."
- Hedy Lamarr

It was an unsavory week, much of which was spent amid the alien corn, invariably at the verge of tears (often giving in to the urge to go beyond the verge). Just as it appeared events had reached an apex of discombobulation the devastating news of actress Hedy Lamarr's death hit the front page. I don't think I'm talking out of school here, and now that she's gone she certainly won't mind but I have a burden to finally unload. Back in late 90's Hedy and I had a torrid love affair.

We met in a Chanhassen restaurant. I was minding my own business, working on my all you can eat, peel your own $11.99 shrimp dinner when out the corner of my eye I saw something that made me sit up and take notice. It was a movement and a color that caught my attention. Like a gazelle, she strode into the room ever so gracefully, an airy saunter like none I've ever seen before. She wore a plum colored blouse and jet-black pants and I couldn't get her image out of my mind's eye. She was seated at a table in front of mine and throughout the evening she would not only glance over but stare intently at me. But it wasn't so much she was looking into my eyes but through my very soul. Her steely look made me uncomfortable. At one point I nearly said, "What the hell ya looking at?" But I sensed she was the type who could take my feet out from under me with a cutting comment just as easily as she had taken my breath away.

Now she's gone and I'm left alone in the wilderness to pick up the pieces. Hedy and I had a falling out a while back. Due to its timing what we shared can't exactly be replaced. She broadened my horizons and challenged my intellect. To let go of the friendship was quite hard on me. I missed several days of work. Didn't sleep much. I wanted to call her. But I think we both knew it best not to let it linger, and to leave it well alone.

Newspapers once billed her as the "world's most beautiful woman," but I called her "Pixley." She was as exotic as she was alluring. One look into those sultry simmering eyes and I was a goner. Whenever I was with her I wondered how I had gotten so lucky to be with the most special person in the room. I learned something in nearly every conversation we ever had. She made me smile and she inspired an incredible energy inside. The last thing she ever said to me was a self-revelation. "My problem is I'm a hell of a nice dame," she confessed as she hung up the phone. I was heart broken at how easy it had been for her to walk away.

The finality of this week's news was difficult to fathom. Grief stricken I looked for a way to express my heart hoping that it would allow me to purge the sadness. I was soon to be reminded that the best way to do so was via some form of artistic endeavor. She once told me she did her best thinking early in the morning but her best acting late at night. This was, she said, because her mind was clear in the morning and her acting was her release of all the things she had absorbed during the day. She taught me many things but perhaps the most important was how to take a punch without exhaling. Standing under the brick red moon during a rare lunar eclipse, a day after an eight inch snowfall, I thought back to how Pixley was one of the few that could enjoy the beauty of a sunset, of a clear full moon, of a fresh blanket of undisturbed snow. The whole moment was so picturesque and I so wanted to share it with her.

But instead I headed to Linwood Elementary School to attend the inspiring premier public performance of The Hair, The Jail, and the Contest, a brilliant opera written and performed by the school's fourth grade students. The kids not only came up with a wholly original story, but they also wrote a series of wonderful songs to bring out every possible nuance of the broad emotions the intricate plot was wrought with. The show had everything that makes good opera- high energy, impressive sets and costumes, and an evil villainous.

The story was set in a hair salon operated by Damaneesha played to perfection by the spunky lil' Lyric Rafn-Stoffer. Damaneesha was to judge a contest of the best superhero around thus each of the contestants came to her salon in hopes of looking their best. There was Mr. Metal (Alex Murphy) who wanted to be as shiny as he could because as his song explained, "he wanted to look good not like wood." Mr. Balloon (Ian Hedburg) who wore a green chapeau with an orange balloon on top fought crime by bouncing the criminals straight into jail. The ultimate contest winner of course was Mollie, who with her huge platform shoes stomped out the bad guys.

The opera was greatly enhanced by the wonderful character acting of Eben Trygg. Eben not only portrayed a jail bar with stunning accuracy, but showed his versatility by also nailing the role of a boom mike operator. Hedy would have been most impressed.

Monday, January 17, 2000

By George

I remember the summer of 1982 as being perhaps the hottest summer ever. It was the year before my senior year of high school. The intensity of my mixed emotions couldn't have been stored in a cow-sized caldron. Part of me was rightfully looking upon the upcoming year as reaching the pinnacle of my Roseville public education experience. No longer the clumsy underclassman, I now was a senior, and thus all those youngsters below had better heed all the wisdom from my grizzled experience, all my omnipotent creeds. Another part of me was absolutely paralyzed with terror. Within the next year I was going to have to decide what came next, where I would be heading in a mere year's time. Shock my vargas Henry, it's time to pull up the old boot straps.

One day I meandered down to my local record store and plopped down my hard-earned allowance (I was in charge of providing entertainment for the family) on George Harrison's new LP, Gone Troppo. Harrison's solo career at that point was rapidly reaching a point of irrelevance. Merely being an ex-Beatle was no longer good enough to guarantee that tons of people would automatically buy his albums. Which was too bad really because most of his late-70's work is much more rewarding than his huge selling successes from earlier in the decade. His more popular early 70's LPs like All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World are dogged by an oppressive solemn dogma as if George felt it was his duty to preach to the unconverted.

By the end of the decade Harrison finally was beginning to demonstrate the serenity and comfort his religion had given to him through blissful melodies peppered with his distinct slide guitar work and more confident vocals. 33 1/3 and the aptly titled George Harrison contain far and away the best music George ever wrote. Two of the finest songs from these two albums, "Beautiful Girl" (a gorgeous melody accompanied by some of his best lyrics) and "Blow Away" (ditto) should be required listening for anyone who has a heart. Those two songs along with "My Dark Sweet Lady," "Your Love is Forever," and "True Love" (the Cole Porter song George delightfully makes into his own) are in the short rotation of songs in my own piano repertoire that I bang out whenever I feel frustrated.

Harrison unfortunately followed those two efforts with the disappointing Somewhere in England which is full of bitter diatribesagainst things ranging from radio executives who no longer played his type of music, to John Lennon's murderer, to all those destroying the planet. When the album was unsuccessful he could have become even more bitter but thankfully that wasn't the route he chose. Gone Troppo is George letting his long hair down and having fun with the music. The cover art and inner sleeve are done mostly in bright colors. The liner notes are full of inside jokes and good humor (there even is a recipe for how to make cement). There is something about the artwork that combines with the bright music that conjures up a Greek summer day. The album simply oozes sunny skies. And it was his poorest selling LP to date, almost immediately relegated to the cut-out bins, receiving little media attention (at least most of his previous albums had received negative reviews rather than nothing at all). Still it remains one of my favorite summertime LPs, perhaps the happiest music I've ever heard.

The churning guitar/synthesizer notes on the opening track "Wake Up My Love," suggest a burning urgency as if this music has something to say. The song masterfully leaves it ambiguous to whom it is directed at. Is it a woman? Is it God? Is it George's heart itself? Whoever it is, George has the right answer, all he has to do is let the love into his heart. "Too much darkness gets me crazed."

There are several other superlative tracks from the wise "Unknown Delight" "Sweetest innocence and free/God has given you the key/To the hearts of everyone/that comes in sight of you;"to the delightful "Dream Away" (which was used in Terry Gilliam's terrific movie Time Bandits). The LP also contains George's ultimate masterpiece, the seductively sublime "Mystical One." This is the song that helped me endure my disappointing senior year of high school. It to this day speaks volumes to my heart. It expresses a certain inspiration that flashes through occasionally expressing a sense of awareness that can't quite be conveyed by words. "I know something so dear to me/Beyond words beautiful feeling in my soul/Sounds I've heard like humming birds in a dream." Whenever I feel sad I listen to the song and it uplifts me to another place, another time.

Gone Troppo is the most heavenly Mediterranean viva voce music ever written by an inspired soul who is expressing his heart for art, not for commerce. And to this day it remains an LP I can't quite get out of my system.

Monday, January 10, 2000

How the Little Red Headed Girl Left Me So Sad

Linus asks Charlie Brown, "What would you say you want most out of life, to be happy?" Charlie Brown thinks for a second and says, " Oh no. I don't expect that, I really don't". PAUSE "I just don't want to be unhappy."

One of the loves my Mom passed on to me was her love for newspaper comics or as I like to call them, "funnies." Actually one of the first comics Mom pointed me to was Roy Crane's Buzz Sawyer which wasn't funny at all. As memory serves me well, Buzz was sort of the Lassie of comic strips. It was a daily serial chronicling the exploits of an average guy who liked to help people in distress. Reading Buzz was my introduction to newspapers, which I began to precociously and quite religiously read when I was in the fourth grade.

Indeed this was at the age where most of my philosophical faith was formed, and it came from that wonderful daily messy ink of newsprint. Far from being a Biblical scholar or a student of Buddha, if I could point to one solitary influence over my life's beliefs it would have to be Charles Schultz's Peanuts. Perhaps the moodiest comic strip ever penned, Peanuts could quickly (and quite skillfully) move from cute to melancholy, from wistful to witty. The strip was full of characters who were schooled in life's lessons.

There's the constantly crabby Lucy (who had an anger management problem long before that was a trendy term) who thinks the world would be a better place if only people would listen to her and her alone. Lucy's advice to others, often offered via her fast food like psychiatric stand (only five cents) usually makes logical sense if not always arrived at logically; though her advice is often not followed because of its abrupt honesty. There was a wonderful series when she decided to "cure" her brother Linus' dependence on his security blanket by grabbing it from him and secretly burying it. In her heart she is doing the right thing, and in actuality she probably is- Linus is too old to be sucking his thumb and hanging on to a blanket. But her lack of understanding of Linus' identification with his blanket makes her technique wholly inappropriate. In the series of strips it is up to Charlie Brown to try and convince her that she is being too harsh, and to stay up with Linus through his first night without his blanket. Ultimately Snoopy saves the day finding the blanket as Lucy gives up her attempt- "From now on I'm through trying to help people. They never appreciate it anyway," she says although it is inherently part of her makeup to keep on trying whether asked to or not.

Perhaps my favorite character is Linus, the sensitive soul of the group. Linus shows a premature creative intelligence yet is terribly naive to the world. He constantly seeks knowledge from others but blindly believes whatever they tell him. Linus despite his usual well grounded nature has his one eccentric quirk: his absolute conviction in the existence of the Great Pumpkin. Every Halloween he sits in a pumpkin patch, often alone, sometimes dragging with him an unsuspecting partner in hopes that it will be the year the Great Pumpkin finally bestows upon him gifts and treasures. My favorite Linus moment was a short story he wrote in which the main character is a boy who has a constant headache. Despite seeing the doctor there appears to be no cure until his brother comes along and loosens his ears making the headache disappear. I still refer to that story whenever I have trouble writing.

Snoopy of course was the breakout character of the strip becoming the marketing focal point as well as the central focus of the TV specials and movies. His overly active imagination makes him while not the smartest character, certainly the most erudite. While the average beagle probably doesn't spend much time pretending he's a World War I ace pilot or sleeping atop his dog house, Snoopy's actions are at their core rooted in being a dog. He likes to lie in the sun, likes to have his head scratched and is forever waiting for that funny looking bald kid to bring him his supper dish.

Charlie Brown symbolizes all of us who follow our dreams to their sadly inevitable unsatisfying conclusions. Just once Charlie Brown would like to win a baseball game, get his kite aloft, or talk to the little redheaded girl. His desire to kick the football before Lucy pulls it away from him (WHUMMP!!!) is perhaps the most familiar example of his boundless faith. His life indeed is so representative of the futility of life- there is a thin line between hope and hopeless that often is difficult to discern, yet it is the undying belief that the next time will be different that time after time keeps us trying.

The strip grew a tad stale over the years although that can easily be forgiven since Schultz began writing it in the late 1940's. There still was an occasional spark however, usually associated with the arrival of a new character (Frieda the girl with naturally curly hair; Marcie, Peppermint Patty's spectacled friend who, to Patty's chagrin, keeps calling her "Sir"). Until the end, the characters' plight remained interesting. Much of the life of the strip was rooted in the saddest feeling of all, unrequited love (Lucy's for Schroeder, Sally's for Linus, Linus' for Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's for the little red-headed girl). That the characters were able to maintain a dignified hopeful skepticism in the face of all the disappointments was inspiring in itself. There was a little bit of all of them in all of us, and a little bit all of us in all of them and the world won't quite be the same without these dear wise friends.

Monday, January 3, 2000

And Now a Word from Mayor Tommy Shanks

Hi, how are you doing? I'm doing pretty good myself. Well, looks like we survived the turn of the New Year. There were no 'xplosions out here. 'Cept for my souffle which blowed up. Blowed up real good. Ha ha.

But seriously, we actually did a bit of year two thousand preparin' just in case. Never know what might happen. Filled all our empty jugs with water. Didn't drain the bathwater. Bought some extra canned foods and candles down at the market. Then during the evening Mr. Max and I went down to the basement with our tequila, catnip, and rifle and waited for them looters to show up. Thank the heavens they never did.

Yup, the furnace, the water heater, and the refrigerator all seem to be workin' just fine. The only thing that doesn't seem compliant with the year change is my old desk calendar/appointment book. Looks like we might have to buy a new one because all the days are off by one. Max seems like he is compliant though. Remained real regular.

Didja hear I spent Christmas out in Los Angeles? Yup sure did. Didn't feel much like the Yuletide season what with the warm weather and all. On my way out I got to hear the life story of a St. Paul cab driver. That sure was fun. Uh-huh. At Santa Monica beach a young woman fondled a part of herself in front of me in a way you usually don't see out in public here in Minnesota. That sure was interesting. Merry Christmas.

Spent Christmas Day yelling "HAM?" at homeless people in a Pasadena park. Volunteering to serve them food was a nice way to try and get in the spirit of things. Yup.

It reminded me of another holiday tradition I sorta missed this year. As you know we usually spend our New Year's Eve with our volunteer firemen friends. Get really loopy on champagne and end the evening trying to flush a canned ham down the toilet.

Visited the Richard Nixon Presidential Museum. Got to read one of his love letters to wife Pat when they were still courting. Yes indeed, he was the President of love. Well that's all I have to say. Have a nice day.

1999 Woman of the Year

Previous Winners:
1992: H. Ross Perot
1993: St. Francis of Assisi
1994: Newt Gingrich
1995: Cal Ripken Jr.
1996: The Bob Dole Campaign
1997: Dolly the Sheep
1998: El Nino

When the newsletter's woman of the year committee convened early in the month to select our eighth annual award winner, there was a general consensus that the selection process would wrap up rapidly. There seemed to be a clear-cut choice among committee members. But as the process proceeded, it was anything but quick and easy. Another candidate emerged and soon the standoff between members became intense. Tumultuous was how one member described the debate. Fastidious (or perhaps "fascist" it was difficult to tell) muttered another.

When the balloting was all finished there were still hard feelings leftover. Though the confidentiality clause in the bylaws prohibits us from disclosing what exactly caused the rift and hard feelings let us just say it had nothing to do with the two different flavors of Altoids and what the symbolism of wearing a hat meant to different committee members or who ended up sprinkling what over whom.

Suffice it to say one of the strong candidates that emerged this year was the U.S. women's soccer team that thrilled the country with their 0-0 World Cup shootout victory over hated China. It was one of the rare sporting events that captured the imagination of the entire nation. Some of our favorite people are after all, women soccer players. At least they used to be. Had it not been for Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after scoring the deciding goal at the end of the shootout, the team might have gathered enough committee votes to be declared the prestigious award winner. But Chastain's action left a sour look on several of the committee member's faces. Sure she has the nicest pair of biceps this side of Oscar De la Hoya, but we didn't need the calculated advertisement for Nike OK?

Thus having eliminated Ms. Hamm, Ms. Scurry, Ms. Overbeck, et al from consideration discussion began over the other obvious choice. This was a year that you literally couldn't go a day without hearing it brought up. Depending on your religious and/or technical background Y2K either meant absolutely nothing would change, or conversly there would be a catastrophic end to the world. For all its hype, at the root of the issue few people really seemed to understand what it was about. Why the concern that computers couldn't tell the difference between 1900 and 2000? So what if they all shut down and people couldn't surf the super information highway for a while? What was all this paranoia about embedded chips?

In the end it all seemed to be about the biggest fear of all: the unknown. The more people didn't know, the more people began to think that maybe Y2K was something they should be worried about. It was this unknown, this complete blind going along with society's trendy gossip that made Y2K immensely qualified for the newsletter committee's consideration. Or so one side argued. The other side said enough with the hype already, the award should be given to somebody with sense enough to have a little more subtlety.

That's when things got testy. How could we even consider giving the award to a trumped up computer phenomenon over those patriotic young athletes that led our nation a step closer to accepting that bizzarely boring world sport? And wasn't it time after all these years to give the damn award to an actual human female?

Oh yeah! Stick this up your ear! How could we justify awarding the honor to something related to athletics when the number one issue in our area seems to be a determination to stop the building of public sports stadiums with public money at all cost? Athletes are just spoiled, overpaid, out of touch bums anyway. And the soccer team was no exception, boycotting a tournament over the issue of how much they are to be paid. Deadlocked, the committee was fast approaching its deadline. Finally one of the prominent members stood up and said enough was enough. "Just choose a compromise candidate and let's all get the hell out of here!" said member said. So the remaining committee members put their heads together and came up with the sole person everyone seemed to like.

Thus this year's newsletter woman of the year? KARE-11's ever lovely, likable, and pleasing meteorologist, Belinda Jensen.

A commerative VHS video is available at our web site.