Monday, May 29, 2000

Touched by an Angel

There were two glorious moments of television as the network's 1999 season came to an end. One came in the second to the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Willow and Buffy were sliding down the elevator shaft and each apologized for the lack of attention to their friendship. It was a touching moment. Then on the season finale of Angel Wesley and Cordelia discover Angel's sad plight. Because he can't look forward to anything, and because he is destined to be forever separate from those around him, Angel truly has no reason to go on. Yet by the end of the show there is a twist to the prophecy mapping out Angel's future. He will eventually become human if he keeps fighting the evil forces for the down and out. I guess perseverance pays off.

"Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me. Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me. Glory, glory, glory, somebody touched me, must have been the hands of the Lord."

When I first started at Cheapo back in the late 50's, I was a dude with an impossible personal code. Among my many rules that drew the ire of my colleagues was/is my "no touching" rule. I think I may have offended a few when they would brush up against me and I would instinctively but quite sternly mutter, "don't touch me." I think I may have bruised a few feelings with my absolute strict expectation to the adherence of my rule.

There was (I thought) a very good reason why this rule existed. No need to get into a full explanation here but suffice it to say it had something to do with not allowing anyone to get too close to me. It had nothing to do with germs and everything to do with trust. Over the years there has been one waiver to this rule, and though it was seldom abused, it certainly was a deliberate attempt to make some personal concessions and attempt to change myself even at this late stage of the game. Now that waiver is coming back to bite me in the arse as it was, and I really regret making the exception. Another brilliant mistake.

You might gather that with all these personal rules I haven't exactly been the easiest guy to live with. Indeed in a former living situation where I was about to move into a duplex with two other guys, a list of my rules- of what not to do to set me off, was given to the one roommate who didn't know me very well. Yes, perhaps the allegation that I'm a bit too demanding has a ring of truth to it. Even Max the Cat and I have had our moments as we both have learned there are certain buttons that are bound to set the other off.

There are times when Mr. Max will be lying next to me and I'll brush the back of his leg with my hand. He'll immediately have a spasm and lick the exact spot I touched. Early on this quite offended me. It's as if my touch is the single most disgusting thing that exists and he can't clean up the spot I have defiled quick enough. I imagine he's none too pleased that over the years I have come to quite deliberately try to set off this reflex reaction of his, and see if I can't get my hand to the spot again before his tongue attempts to lick himself clean.

Somehow we have worked out enough understanding of each other to learn to tolerate what drives the other nuts. I have learned to accept that there will be times I will have to clean up regurgitated cat food on my otherwise pristine rug. Max has learned that there are nights that I just have to get out of bed, go to the piano and bang out a song while singing at the top of my lungs. We certainly don't truly understand each other's point of view; we can't see things through the other's eyes. Yet still there is an ability to sympathize with each other whenever one of us is having a difficult time. To grow together has been rewarding as has the times we decide to take on a mutual project together.

This past week I was watching a Roseville cable access program and learned that next February there is going to be an international cat show at one of the city's old junior high school buildings. Now admittedly I have a biased point of view but I think Mr. Max is one beautiful looking cat. Even his veterinarian said so. Max's light gray and black outer coating gives way to a soft white color underneath. Of course I'm sure not many show cats have an Kirby Puckett underbelly like Max does. Still it gives him a distinct charm.

So our goal this summer is to enhance Max's most quirky qualities and teach him to hide some of his traits that will get points marked off (such as his habit of drooling like a St. Bernard when he is in a deep purr). Max may not appreciate being poked and prodded by the judges and he more than likely will have a severe problem of being in the same room as all those other cats, but it's worth a shot. We're gonna enter that show and we're going to win that show.

"It was on a Sunday, somebody touched me. It was on a Sunday, somebody touched me. It was on a Sunday somebody touched me. Must have been the hands of the Lord."

Monday, May 22, 2000

The Love Virus

In his message upon vetoing a bill that would have provided reduced marriage license fees for couples who attended premarital counseling, Gov. Jesse Ventura wrote that he did not believe government should intervene in such personal decisions.

The bill was one of two well-publicized measures considered this year attempting to address Minnesota's increasing divorce rate. The other bill, which stalled in committee, would establish a covenant marriage option in the state, making it more difficult to obtain a divorce for couples who enter such a marriage.

This is certainly not the first time legislators have tried to make young couples think about their decision to marry or prepare for married life. In 1913, when divorce rates had not even climbed to 1 percent, Rep. Claude Southwick, a Republican from Wells, introduced a bill that would have required people to wait five days after a marriage license was issued before the wedding ceremony could be performed.

Southwick, who was single, was the city attorney of Albert Lea prior to his six-year stint as a member of the House. He had the further distinction of being one of three students who composed the first graduating class of Wells High School in 1890.

The intent behind his bill was to prevent people entering into "hasty" and "ill-considered" marriages. But not everyone agreed his bill was the solution.

C.J. Buell, who wrote several books chronicling the Minnesota Legislature in the early 1900s, said Southwick's bill was "a very good example of ill-advised attempts to remedy evil." Buell agreed with Southwick that the legislation would prevent some hasty marriages. But he argued that other ramifications would occur if the bill were to become law.

"It certainly would open the door to any evil-minded man who wanted to take advantage of an ignorant girl," Buell wrote. "To first get a license and persuade the girl that all legal requirements had been met; live with the girl five days, as his wife, and then leave her to the tender mercies of society perhaps with a child to rear, and the scorn of good people to endure."

But even more pervasive, Buell wrote, was the bill's provision proposing to abolish common law marriages in the state. That type of marriage, which was common in Europe during the Middle Ages, was a marriage undertaken without either a civil or religious ceremony. In a common law marriage, both partners for legal purposes are considered "married" after a period of living together as a couple.

Recognizing common law marriages as legal marriages allowed wives and children to inherit property from the father and husband. Southwick said that such an arrangement led to situations where "bad women" used a common law marriage to "get part of the property of some old rounder who had died and left more money than character."

But Buell argued for the state to abolish common law marriages would have placed an undue burden on those "honest, faithful, and pure" couples who would then have to go before a minister or magistrate to have their marriage legally recognized. Buell said Southwick's bill would have denied wives the right to property and left women and children to face their remaining years in poverty and destitution.

Further, he said, that to place more requirements on becoming married would simply mean more people would ignore those requirements.

Southwick's bill failed in the House, but his efforts weren't entirely in vain. In 1941, the Legislature finally banned common law marriages in the state. That type of marriage is now recognized in only 14 states. In addition, since 1931 couples have to wait five days after applying for a marriage license before they can pick it up and walk down the aisle.

As lawmakers continue to examine government's role in marriage, perhaps Buell's words provide a common starting point.

"Marriage - the real true love union of a man and a woman - is the purest and most sacred relation in all the world," he wrote. "And what we really need is to be educated to look upon that relation in its true light, as the one most cherished hope and grandest consummation of life."

Monday, May 8, 2000

Letters We Get Letters

Editor's Note: A regular feature, "letters to the editor," that hasn't appeared in these pages since our second issue back in 1992 appears here because we actually got two letters this week. We encourage more letters in the future... A further note: Back in my junior year of high school at Frank B. Kellogg in Roseville, I was made the editor of the school newspaper, "The Statesman." This wasn't due to any precociousness on my part but rather a sad lack of senior involvement. Of course I became the last editor of the Statesman, running that publication into the ground. The next year due to budget constraints the school newspaper was discontinued. I'd like to think it had nothing to do with my hiring of an advice columnist, the prestigious Dr. E.D. Adeam. I personally liked the fellow but I know some of my fellow classmates couldn't stand the guy. So it may be risky but we have brought the good doctor to this publication to answer any mail we receive...

Dear Mr. Editor,

It's driving me crazy! I can't watch Buffy without obsessing about how much I hate Riley. He disgusts me. I can't even pay attention to the story line because this idiot is such an idiot! He's ruining everything. Buffy isn't cool, not even slightly hardcore because of this dingbat. She's going all soft core on us. What am I gonna do? I can't take anymore. Did you see that trip she pulled on ol' Angel? What's up with that? When she's been seeing idiot face for so long, where does she get the nerve?
-Unnerved in Uptown

Dear Unnerved,

Let me begin by saying you have slayed my heart. Anyone who obviously understands the appeal of Buffy the way you do cannot be cherished enough. You truly demonstrate that you are among the few that "get it." That said I have another thing I must say: Get over it girlfriend. I think the focus of your frustration is all wrong here. I agree Riley is a dork but that's kinda the point. He's rebound boy for that dark and brooding hunk Angel. I hope you watched this past week's Buffy episode that I think was among the best of the series (which by the way is saying quite a lot... or shall we say "slaying" quite a lot... tee hee). They addressed the whole women being inevitably attracted to the "bad boy" types (and other genders) over the nice guy types. And by the end of an emotional rollercoaster of an episode, Riley actually had added a few grains to his white bread personae. I think you 'd be better off focusing your frustration at Ms. Buffy who continues to be the weak link of the show. Wouldn't it be so much cooler if they changed the show to Faith the Vampire Slayer? A bad girl slayer would be much more intriguing than Buffy who was positively cruel to Angel. Shame on her. Shame shame.

Dear Mr. Editor,

I've been seriously pondering your take on Hope Floats (a horrible movie starring Sandra Bullock) and Forces of Nature also starring Sandra alongside Ben Affleck who I feel is painfully predictable.

I really enjoyed both Practical Magic and While You Were Sleeping and it truly sickens me when I find Sandra starring in such awful flicks. Especially when she exudes so much talent. Sometimes I wish I was her mother so I could tell her how disappointed I am in her. Please respond with sensitivity.
-Dilemma in Dinkytown

Dear Dilemma,

First off it concerns me that you seriously ponder anything dear David writes. Perhaps a dose of Prozac wouldn't be outta line here. (Is that sensitive enuf?) I do suggest you give Hope Floats another chance. Granted dear Sandy has made some rather disappointing movies but this isn't one of them. No it doesn't have any wacky moments. Nope it doesn't exactly delve deeply into human psyche. But it is a quiet reflective movie with a hopeful message: as long as our spirits maintain some semblance of hope that things can indeed get better- we will never be defeated. Like each and every one of her better performances, Sandra's effort in this movie is quite subtle. It's a skunk eyed look, the slight upper turn of the corner of her mouth that gives away what she is truly feeling inside. And that is what this movie delivers: a warm true feeling inside.

As for your views on Mr. Affleck I couldn't agree more which is why he was perfect for that particular role. His character was about being predictable and trying to for at once break out of what was expected of him. What I suggest you do is sit and watch all of Ms. Bullock's movies back to back to back. You'll be a much better person that you did so. Trust me, I've done the very same thing many a day. And look how enlightened I am!

Babylon Revisited

The first time I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was for my 12th grade American Literature class at Frank B. Kellogg High School. By that time I had been accepted at Macalester College so my attitude was even more "I don't give a damn I just want out of here" than it had been at the start of the shattered soul year.

I chose Gatsby because I had heard it was a classic- described by some as the greatest American novel ever. I was looking forward to reading the book having not read any Fitzgerald before. His poetic prose impressed me immediately. But the book did not. In my book report (which I believe got a B+) I called it the most overrated piece of writing/crap that had ever seen the light of day. I knew I was sticking my neck on the line by not joining in on all the literary praise for the book but I truly didn't give a damn. To me the unwavering weakness of the book was that Fitzgerald seemed to be celebrating the very lifestyle he was attempting to scorn.

The shallow and empty existence of the upper class elite characters was offset by the writer's obvious affection for the partying and high times he was writing about. The story seemed to be about self pity and Gatsby was anything but great. To be a prisoner to one's past meant very little especially to one who just wanted to graduate and start all over again somewhere (anywhere) else. My teacher, the weary Mr. Houts, wrote few comments on my paper. He did suggest that I may want to re-read the book at a later date and give it another chance. Fat chance.

Lo and behold come my sophomore semester at good old f%$king Mac, I took an English class and one of the books on our reading list was The Great Gatsby. Being one who has always been more than willing to admit he is wrong from time to time I cheerfully gave the book another chance. And it changed my life.

This time the story was oddly moving. Gatsby's stubborn obduracy in his pursuit of a dream long since gone by did seem uniquely heroic. To not give up on one's dream even after it has defeated you inexplicably seemed most noble. At the time I read the book I had just gotten an internship with my hometown local newspaper which I calculatingly applied for in hopes that the young lass from my high school who I thought had stopped believing in me would see my work and have second thoughts about my abilities.

Given another chance I wrote a glowing review of the novel. Fitzgerald's life has to be taken into account when reading the book. His was a meteoric rise bolstered by an undying love for his eccentric wife Zelda, followed by a breakdown of both the couple and both partners of the couple, leading to a premature death of the artist both in his career and his life. The shadows of his own impolitic personal tragedy echo strongly within the foreshadowing words of The Great Gatsby.

I re-read the book again the year following my graduation from Macalester. This time it worked its way into my heart as my all time favorite piece of writing. It really knocked me out how effective Fitzgerald the writer could capture what Fitzgerald the person was feeling personally and universally at the same time. The book is about following one's dreams/demons to their fulfilling/inevitable conclusion. It convinced me there is no more noble path we can walk upon.

I have read The Great Gatsby every year since. Each time I read the book I learn a little more about myself. It is the rare piece of artisanship that somehow changes depending on where you are in your own life. Fitzgerald's splendid guile of walking the thin line that separates feeling from thought is without peer. Consider the exquisite final words of the novel: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It's perfect writing in a perfect book.

This week an early version of The Great Gatsby with a working title of the book, Trimlachio was released. Like CDs that contain extra tracks and earlier versions of songs than their LP counterparts, this book promises to give fans of the now 75 year old work a fresh perspective of what the author was thinking about when he sat down with pen in hand. It is a most wondrous opportunity to get a glimpse of the artistic process at work. The book delineates the galley proofs of what became the finished novel. Fitzgerald made several changes that didn't change the plot but changed the perception of the characters- in some cases adding to what we know, and in other instances subtracting. Though the changes are purportedly minor it does give us the rare chance to see an artist's love in action. Just when does one let go of one's work and let other people in?

First impressions can be so misleading. I'm glad I gave the novel another chance before I dismissed it out of sight. It is a stimulating piece of literature that reminds us the rapture in trying to strive to fulfill our own dreams while at the same time the danger in believing in them to their bitter end. The great Gatsby is great no matter the title.

Monday, May 1, 2000

Cookie Cutter Column

My profession now pays me to pick my words carefully. That may be why my bank account has never been lower.

One of my earliest and therefore strongest beliefs is that the most effective way to change the world is through words. This particular personal belief unlike most of my others, is based on some semblance of rationality- my own world has most often been changed when I've read/experienced a powerful piece of art.

Of course changing the world is a matter of perspective. As I've learned this past year, events such as having your heart broken like never before, losing a job, losing a loved one, can turn one's world involuntarily upside down. But just as powerful a earth shattering catalyst are perceptions. And those particular insights are often altered by words, either spoken, sung or read.

A friend has made clear she doesn't believe, or at the very least doesn't think it should be important a goal of mine, that the purpose of my work should be to ultimately change the world. But it ain't exactly as if I'm trying for some lofty and out of reach ambition but more just trying to emulate those whose work has so inspired me.

Thus this past week there was some rather good news. Last fall a group I profiled for Pulse of the Twin Cities, rather impressed me with their witty and rather entertaining music. On Monday, this group, Tubby Esquire was awarded twice at the Minnesota Music Awards- once for "Best Polka Band," and once for "Best Polka Recording"- for their wonderful CD, Return of the Last Castrato! I sincerely thought the CD was one of the best I heard last year, and it was a rare CD that changed my life if only for a moment. The music is infectious, the writing inspired. It's the type of music that once I heard it I wanted everyone that matters to me to hear it- the joy in the music is something to be shared.

So impressed and enthusiastic was I toward this band's music that I wrote a gushing review- I identified the CD as a must hear. My friends and family were so taken by my words that all of one person actually heeded my advice and bought the CD. Oh well. That the band was properly honored last Monday truly meant a lot to me. What meant even more was that Harry Pulver- the accordion player/lead singer emailed me and thanked me for my review which he said "got the ball rolling." I may not have changed that large part of the world but at least some of what I wrote expanded and exposed this worthwhile band's music to a greater fan base.

Even more self patting on the back: My only other chance of changing the world is through my softball skills. Last Thursday my team had its first practice/scrimmage of the year. Going in I was dreadfully afraid that I would have a heart attack running out a ground ball. I didn't exactly stay in shape this past winter with a regimen of a lot of couch potato TV watching. I've noticed my pants feel a bit tighter this year than ever before. But surprise of surprise! I did pretty damn well at practice. My first at bat I stung a hard liner to left. My next at bat I burned the center fielder and ended up with a home run. In the field I made one of the better catches of my life. The batter hit a liner that was over my head. I raced back as quickly as my Mama Cass legs could carry me. At the last instant I stuck my glove out and snared the ball. One of my teammates called it a Jacque Jones like catch- the most complimentary thing he has ever said to me. I guess I'm just a natural born player- the type like Kent Hrbek that can roll out of bed and play the game.

All this aside my favorite moment of the week was while I was dutifully attending a press conference on the Capitol steps held by Rep. Steve Sviggum, the Speaker of the House. I was diligently taking notes when suddenly I was body checked from behind. Visions of flying into the second most powerful person in the state flashed through my mind. I swore there was a look of fear in his eyes. My reporter friend hit me harder than I think she intended.

And with my fertilized lawn looking as good as any in the immediate neighborhood I must say I'm rolling nothing but snake eyes these days. Oh yes I'm on quite the roll. Once I churn out that best selling novel deep inside I will be set for life. Who needs faith after all? Not this lil' guy.