Monday, January 29, 2001

I Used to Care...

Last Sunday I picked up the newspaper and began reading an article about Minnesotans who opened their latest energy bills and nearly had a heart attack- bills totaling two and three times as much as last year, $800 heating bills. I immediately walked over to the thermostat and turned it down two notches from 60 degrees. The other occupant of the house didn't seem too pleased with the unilateral decision even though he is fortunate enough to wear a fur coat. He has however taken to sitting on my lap a lot these days.

The next day I picked up my favorite newspaper of the Twin Cities, the Pioneer Press and was surprised to see on page one a prominent box including a picture featuring the news that Minnesotan Bob Dylan had won a "Golden Glove" award. There's a story from a few years back that made the talk show circles about actress Gina Gershon's sparring session with our state's most famous bard. After hitting Bob harder than she intended, Gershon said he looked at her and said something to the effect that he needed a good woman to kick his ass every now and then. So I knew the man boxed but I had no idea he was good enough to pick up an award.

He seemed to be award happy this weekend. Coincidentally the previous night I had watched the television event of the century that Dylan happened to attend. Oh yes it would have been a fine night to be in Beverly Hills, California for the Golden Globe awards. Towards the front of the auditorium sat Sandra Bullock, nominated for "Best Lead Actress in a Motion Picture" (Ms. Congeniality- which tells you all you need to know about an award show based on picks from the Hollywood Foreign Press- guess she wowed them in Botswana). Not far from her sat Sarah Michelle Gellar, nominated for "Best Lead Actress in a Television Program (again how credible is a show that makes that nomination but fails to nominate the best show on the air today, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for an award?).

Bob's terrific song, Things Have Changed, from the motion picture Wonder Boys, was nominated for "Best Song from a Motion Picture." You had to figure he had a good chance of winning since he was actually in attendance. He isn't exactly the type to hang out at award shows hobnobbing with the celebrity crowd. His acceptance speech was short and sweet- and the after he left the stage, the next presenter, Julia Roberts, gushed about how she never thought she'd be following Bob Dylan.

While Bob clears off space on his mantelpiece (condolences to Sandy and Sarah for not winning their categories) I myself was honored with something even more rewarding than some nickel and dime award. I picked up the Star Tribune on Tuesday morning to see that they had "borrowed" from a story of mine. Someone once said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well I'm doggone flattered.

I had an article published in Session Weekly the preceding week about a chapter in our state statutes regulating butter and oleomargarine. I found it amusing that we would have such a statute, so I traced back the history of the law. A few days later the Star Tribune article appeared about obsolete laws still on the books. They mentioned the butter law, and quoted the exact part of the statute I used in my story. Hmmmm. At least someone is reading my stuff.

Now I'm the first to admit that after the events of the past couple of years I have not exactly escaped things unscathed. You might say I'm a tad bit shell shocked and the last bastion of a healthy personality, my self confidence, has taken more than a bit of a nose dive. So this past week played a part in fighting back the flood of broken hearts, promises, fenders and garage doors. With a blossoming new friendship and an ear that is listening, and with the honoring of the work of the artists I admire most, a devil may care attitude welled up inside. The hats are back on top of the head and the words ring a little more sure. And I'd love to tell y'all more but my hands are getting too numb to type.

Monday, January 22, 2001

Missing the 5.5 Woman on Inauguration Day

My friend, the one who works for the SOS but not in the SOB Building, recently asked to borrow my Tubby Esquire disc because a soon to be departing co-worker, the other big fella (who seemed to be among the multitudes with a crush on her), expressed a desire to have polka music played at his going away party. I gladly gave her the disc and she reported back that it wasn't much of a hit at the party. Figures. I also gave a copy of the disc to my Dad, the biggest polka fan I know, for his birthday. He too didn't seem to get into the spirit of a much spirited disc. Does this suggest a) that the band isn't an authentic polka band? or b) that polka music is too hard for the masses to appreciate?

Speaking of appreciation, for Christmas my Dad's gift to Max the Cat was a plastic circle that has a cloth mouse on the inside of the inner ring. At first as I batted the mouse making it circle rapidly around, Max seemed a bit apprehensive at the toy. Soon his apprehension grew to frustration as he tried to get at the mouse but couldn't. Later it became the one and only toy he'll play with me. I rap the mouse around and he stops it with his paw and then swats it around and looks at me to stop the mouse. We have the most fun playing together.

Meanwhile my Dad's Christmas gift to me was an acoustic guitar. Mr. Max isn't quite so fond of that gift. He bolts from the room as I pull the instrument out of its case and hides underneath the futon covers as I strum my newly self taught versions of "Peace in the Valley," and "Ode to Joy." Oh well at least my SOS friend touched me deeply by telling me she was quite honored that I pulled out my guitar while she was visiting and strummed quietly along as we chatted.

This was among the profound kind of stuff I told my friend Spunky last week when I had dinner with him at Dixie's downtown. He told me about a cash cow of an idea he has about our favorite new web site (better than solitaire). But when I told Spunky I was going to hear Tubby Esquire after we were finished with our dinner (he wasn't brought his gator chowder dammit) he had little enthusiasm to hear what I wanted to hear. I listened to Spunky pleading with me to consider Art Linkletter for this year's woman of the year award as I enjoyed my dinner of coconut chicken and shrimp with my first taste of succotash. Turned out it was only the second most expensive dinner I enjoyed last week.

Prior to my first I had just enough time to stop at home and drop off my brief case and say hello to Mr. Max. He greeted me with big wide eyes as I scurried about checking my mail, my email and my voice mail messages. My acquaintance, the woman who once beat me in a round of thumb wrestling in the Ramsey County Government Center lobby, has many sayings she is fond of using, most of which crack me up in stitches. One of her favorites is a departing "don't do anything I wouldn't do and if you do be sure and take pictures." So as I put on my jacket and was all set to leave Max looked up at me with sad eyes. For no good reason I repeated my acquittance's saying and Mr. Max immediately went over to his toy. He batted the mouse around and looked at me with eyes that clearly said, "I won't do anything you wouldn't do and to prove it I'm playing with OUR toy now..." Made me feel sad to leave but it brought a smile to my face. Dinner with three friends was fine, as we caught up on each others' lives. I just had some appetizers and ended up spending around five bucks for food. My parking in downtown Minneapolis was a mere $12. Not that I kept track or anything.

There was free parking at the Turf Club Saturday night. The blue collar neighborhood clientele of the bar was outnumbered on this night by college aged students. Rest be assured no one in the room probably voted for the newly sworn in President. Tubby Esquire played another solid set to a fairly packed room. Highlights were a Johnny Cash medley including searing versions of "Ring of Fire," and "Folsom Prison Blues," and a medley of two Tubby originals, "Drinking Song," and "Hochsteader Polka." There also was a very nice cover request of what bassist John Schech said was the only polka song to hit number one on the pop music charts, "Just Because."

I sat at a table behind a couple who were getting to know each other quite intimately quite rapidly. The Asian man was asking the woman with a Spock haircut about her many tattoos. She pulled up the back of her blouse to reveal a vine like print and he asked her if it had hurt having it done. She said, "It didn't hurt any worse than taking a razor blade down your arm." Not that I was paying any attention.

The band tried out lead singer Harry Pulver Jr.'s new "Hendrix" accordion plugged directly into Pulver's guitar amp. Schech said it may be an "acquired taste," or the next big thing. The same could be said for the band itself. Still there was something quite invigorating and gratifying about sitting in a bar of full of people enjoying the witty humor of a terrific song like "The One Leg Too Short Polka," featuring lyrics about a man who is pulled over by the cops not because he has had too much booze, but because one of his legs is longer than the other.

Salt Peanuts and Spunky Puckett

I knew there might be something a tad askew my senior year of college when I began seeing fishies swimming in my dorm room air accompanied by the awful looks on the faces of concerned/terrified friends who didn't quite know what to do or say. In the warm spring air I remember a friendship blossoming with one Johnny Baynes, an odd looking now losing his red hair and bouncing bellied gent who carried his stuff in a St. Paul Pioneer Press paperboy's bag and wore a bright red baseball cap with a big "N" on its front. Turned out the "N" stood for his hometown New Richland, Minnesota where Johnny, a soon to be Cheapo employee, was the starting second baseman for the town's American Legion team.

Johnny and I worked together in the front office/lobby of the Macalester College Music Department on work study assignments. It was there we began conversing and discovered a mutual love for baseball, writing, broken hearts, and music (not necessarily I that order). Prior to meeting Johnny my exposure to jazz music mostly consisted of being the star of the Parkview Junior High Jazz Band- circa 1977-1979 (somewhere out there lie recordings of my unintentionally avant garde solos) and owning a few Chuck Mangione LPs, a Billie Holiday LP, and the wonderfully spirited duet between Frank Sinatra and Count Basie (Frank and Splank!) It Might as Well Be Swing!

Johnny was the kind soul who introduced me to Jazz by playing me John Coltrane's Giant Steps and My Favorite Things. I appreciated those efforts enough to later purchase copies for myself along with Charles Mingus' classic Town Hall Concert, Eric Dolphy's Conversations (probably the coolest Jazz LP I've ever heard), Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, and Johnny's all-time favorite Jazz LP- Charlie Parker's secretary, Sheila Jordan's inspired The Crossing, that got me thinking/feeling in a whole other manner. I also read Miles Davis' and Charles Mingus' hip autobiographies that gave me an idea or two about writing (and life) and made me realize there was a whole world out there that I knew precious little about.

When I first started at Cheapo I tried to play as my in store picks as much jazz as I could to counter balance everyone else's rock/pop picks. It was there I discovered one of my favorite LPs in any musical category - Coleman Hawkins' Hawk Flies High. I played that baby so much that our famous Cheapo alum- Tina Schielske bought her very own copy and thanked me for playing it so often.

All this said I'm far from being a Jazz fan let alone an expert of the genre in any substantial way. Therefore I was greatly looking forward to Ken Burns' latest documentary effort Jazz. I liked what I saw of Burns' definitive Civil War series but thought his Baseball documentary was a tad bit pretentious- though I still appreciated the effort. What has been the most educational lesson learned from Burns' trilogy of documentaries thus far are common themes of racial acceptance coming from unexpected sources. Perhaps it was because those sources were unexpected that no one took them seriously as agents of political change and thus the change was allowed to occur. Baseball was just ahead of the societal curve when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and the innovators'/perpetuators' of Jazz too helped in a small way to blur the lines of the rainbow.

The documentary is a reminder that the most remarkable thing about good Jazz music is its timeless quality. More than any other genre of music Jazz is of the moment and structured meters don't matter so much. Improvisation leads to inspiration. And like the music it pays homage to, Burns' series couldn't have come at a better time especially for those of us who live in the frozen tundra.

As anyone who has been my friend (especially those with vowels in their names) can probably tell you, I'm not one who deals with disappointment very well. For this reason and this reason alone I was personally rooting against the Vikings to lose for the past month and a half. To me it was readily apparent the defense was not Super Bowl quality and to have them somehow stumble their way into the championship game only to lose another "big one" was intolerable. Better have them eliminated early than having to suffer the heartbreak of another Super Bowl loss. So as to the events of last week's game, good going guys. You took care of my concerns with the utmost urgency.

Still there was a tinge of lingering sadness leftover from the whumping. It would have been nice avoiding becoming the butt of David Letterman's monologue jokes. Those feelings quickly were dissipated however with the wonderful news of Kirby Puckett's induction into the baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. It was somehow gratifying that days after the football team let this unfortunate football town down the Twins' most beloved player reminded us how blessed we were to have been privileged to watch him play.

Puckett played baseball like a great Jazz musician. His style was never the pretty by the book standard technique but something entirely unique. The distinctive sound of the ball coming off his bat was like no other. He chugged around the field with a relentlessly aggressive but fluid style. The first time he came into my consciousness was my sophomore year of college. I was in the Macalester library (as my sister liked to point out- not to study like the other students but to read the newspapers) when I checked out the late box score to a Twins game on the West Coast. It was Puckett's debut as the team's center fielder and he got five hits. These were dark days for the team and I had heard about the rising star, Puckett, a former first round draft pick that tore up the Class AA league playing for Visalia. I for whatever reason assumed Kirby Puckett was a big strapping white California kid. Reading accounts of his debut game in the big leagues I was surprised to find the writers (and Reggie Jackson) comparing his build with Jimmy Wynn a.k.a. the Toy Gun. They said Puckett was stocky with a big powerful rear end. From the beginning it was clear the Twins had a star in the making.

Though he led the team to its two world championships (why exactly does this town love the Vikings more than the Twins?) Kirby played on some awfully bad teams. Yet he was always worth the price of a ticket and he gave the team an identity that stood out from the rest. And it wasn't just his play on the field that made him so endearing and special. The Minnesota sports scene has missed his voice- those wonderful playful raps, spoken in the Kirby riff that chided his teammates and himself yet somehow were at times profound. With his charisma Kirby attracted fans to baseball that otherwise would not have paid attention. Hopefully the same will ultimately be said of the Jazz series.

I have spent the past few weeks rediscovering my Jazz collection. My favorite at the moment is Sonny Rollins' stupendous Freedom Suite. Writing about a specific piece of music is akin to trying to say Puckett didn't deserve a place in the Hall because he didn't have 3,000 hits, or didn't play long enough to establish excellence over a lengthy period of time- there's just something intangible beyond words. So I can't say why Rollins' CD has really gotten under my skin. To me his saxophone sound isn't as distinctive as say Dolphy, Coltrane, David Murray or even Charlie Parker.

The suite consists of six songs (one, "Till There Was You," didn't appear on the original LP but is included on the CD). The heart and soul is undoubtedly the title track, a nineteen minute piece that explores the many feelings "freedom" conjures up inside. There's pure joy and urgent expectancy as Rollins first establishes the melody and then dances around it as the song progresses. Accompanied by Oscar Pettiford on bass and Max Roach on drums, the trio quickly hits a groove and perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that despite its length the song never becomes repetitive. Like the concept it offers deference to, the song is full of liberty and independence and the skillful mixing of sound gives structure to the abstract.

The performance is quintessentially the genre at its best but I have a feeling that if I were to play it to a room full of people whose opinions I treasure most, I'd get a room full of people further shaking their heads at me. I've gotten that reaction a lot lately as I have given my highest recommendation to Burns' documentary, imploring people to watch and listen (so far few takers) and to my gleeful confession that I broke out in tears upon hearing Kirby's news. Almost makes me wanna ring up Johnny Baynes one more time.

Monday, January 15, 2001

The Mishima in Me

The drippy percolator strides decisively into the room even though he knows not where he will end up. Surely enough he begins to walk more and more gingerly as if the ground is either hotter than the floor of Hades or too cold to comprehend.

On the TV screen is the seventh hour of the all day "Iron Chef" marathon on the Food Network. The challenger is trying to be more creative with his slab of Mishima beef than the Iron Chef. The drippy percolator parks himself on the sighing man's chest as the sighing man begins to drift off. Little did he know that just a few days later he would be watching the People's Choice Awards and was outraged by the nominees in a new category- "Best Reality Based TV Show." The nominees were "Survivor," "The Real World," and "Cops." He wondered how they could possibly snub the "Iron Chef"?

He fell into a dream. His childhood next door neighbor, Danny Foley, the little boy with a squeaky red tricycle had now become a robot. Danny had an iron hammer that he hammered the sighing man's left hand with. "Ouch," the man said knowing the whole thing was being filmed. Of course because Danny was a robot and he had committed such a hideous crime, the sighing man now had the option to elect to have Danny's on/off switch turned to the off position and he had the film to prove it. Despite Danny's protests he chose to shut him down.

His hand didn't hurt that badly so you might want to know why he was being so severe on young Danny who after all merely wanted to be a friend to the sighing man and his brother. And that I'm afraid he could not answer. He just wanted to show young Danny that he shouldn't have done what he did.

The sighing man then arrived at his new job as a lifeguard and took a nervous look around. Soon his new coworker arrived, former Chief Justice Warren Burger, who proclaimed, "This is an important job even at $4.00 an hour." The sighing man thought it was a rather obnoxious thing to say on their first day on the job.

Burger opened the door to the pool itself, as steam engulfed the sighing man's face. As the former chief justice watched he assuredly dove into the water and with the speed of a dolphin swam the length of the pool underwater on his back without surfacing for air. Burger didn't seem too impressed.

The sighing man heard a voice that said, "Even when I'm gone you can always talk to me." Then he woke up with a jolt. The drippy percolator jumped down from his chest. He tried his best to get his bearings back even though an important part of him seemed about 2,270 miles away.

It had been five years since the sighing man had taken the plunge and had ended years of rent obligated existence by purchasing his very own house. HIS VERY OWN HOUSE. It was somehow more than a status symbol- it was a marker at his remarkable recovery from a long hard fall. He remembered the week before the closing process he was allowed by the seller to work on the house floors that had staples in them remaining from the old carpet that had been pulled up. The hardwood floors needed a sanding. With a single pair of needle nose pliers he went about pulling up hundreds of pointed staples. And he dreamed. This house was HIS and he could do with it as he pleased.

One of the last things he packed from his last apartment was the cappuccino maker his parents had given to him. He had come to not only love his homemade coffee drinks but he loved the process of making them. The careful timing of steaming the milk, the elaborate process of getting all the ingredients together- he could have been a happy Starbucks lifer. Yet his house was located directly across the street from a coffee house and he found it much easier just going there rather than making his own brew. Now for some reason he had dusted off the cappuccino maker and had rediscovered his love for something long since left behind.

Soon the sighing man was driving to work in the dark cold air. His sister had made him a tape in an admirable attempt to broaden his musical horizons- including songs from Wyclef Jean, Bob Marley, and Outkast. His head was boppin' back and forth when he approached a railroad track being used by a long, long train. His sister-made compilation came to the end of a side. He reached into his glove compartment and pulled out an unlabeled tape. Soon the strains from Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noise" blared from his car's speakers. The obligatory heavy metal guitar solo after the bridge reminded him of his freshman year of college when the song first came out. He remembered sitting in his dorm room with his drunken roommate's friends all air guitaring and singing along with the song. Dave Drake played the air drums. Without reform life ends.

Next on the tape was the Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight" which moved him a few years forward on the memory spectrum. The one that he never was able to quite forget loved the song. It became their anthem. "Thinking of you's working up an appetite looking forward to a little afternoon delight..." The sighing man was never quite sure what any of it meant but he did know one thing: no one he knew would understand either.

Monday, January 8, 2001

Love Sidney

"There's some folks, that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."
-Louis Armstrong

I was telling my co-workers that the most memorable part of my holidays was seeing a two-year-old child get bit by a rat. Our office manager, recently a first time mother, said she couldn't get the image out of her head. "You don't say very much but what you do say is usually pretty interesting," she later came by to tell me. While I'm sure she meant it as a compliment, those words unfortunately have followed me around like a scarlet letter. Having a quiet and observant reputation has dogged me unfairly over the years, because I'm not quite either; I've just learned that often the more you say, the less you usually have to say. Better leaving them wanting more than less.

Some people throw their words away like there's no running out, that there are infinite things to say and it's only a matter of finding those who will listen. Others think about each and every word that tumbles from their lips, as if everything they say might just be their last words. For me, I've always admired those curious about the meaning of words, who are always on the lookout for deeper multiple meanings behind what seems inherently simple. At the same time I've always admired those who let their actions do the speaking, who don't need words to convey who they deep down really are.

If you think about all the movies you've ever seen, and think about the characters that actually seemed to have jobs, you would think the majority would be employed as cops, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, roofers, or administrators. Those are the people who actually have visually captivating things to do. Thus it seems odd that a disproportionate amount of movie characters are employed as writers. There can be nothing more boring, more cliched than watching a person at a typewriter or computer trying to find the inspiration to put words down on paper.

What can possibly account for this travesty? It's probably attributable to one of writing's golden rules- write about what you know. Therefore since most movies are apparently scripted, the writers tend to make their characters reflections of themselves and hence we get movie after movie about struggling writers. What makes the latest, Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester stand out from the rest is that the movie really isn't about two writers. It's about two friends who happen to share a love of using the craft of writing to sort their way through their worlds.

The film is reminiscent of Van Sant's last original film, Good Will Hunting. The two movies share a story of a misunderstood and under appreciated talented young man who comes under the tutelage of a wise, but somewhat broken mentor. Matt Damon's Will Hunting uses manipulative cockiness to hide his insecurities. He of course was a bricklayer/janitor/mathematical genius. In Finding Forrester Rob Browne's Jamal Wallace is a kid from the ghetto who does just enough to get by in school yet whose SAT test scores are off the map thus getting the attention of a local prep school (who also wouldn't mind if Jamal uses his immense basketball skills to help their school's hoops team). The difference between the two is that Jamal isn't using his silence to mask his inherent talent. He's using the anonymity of written word to mask his heart because that's what is expected.

Browne's performance is stunning. It's his first acting role and he doesn't hit a wrong note. There's a episode where Jamal and his buddies are playing basketball and see a fidgety white guy hit the security button on his BMW. Jamal goes over to talk to him, letting him know the car's security system will do little good in that particular neighborhood. The man condescendingly assumes Jamal isn't aware of the value of his car. Jamal then gives a brief history lesson of how the German company originally began by making airplane engines but was prohibited from doing so after the war and thus turned their attention to cars. It is a wonderful scene.

Sean Connery plays the J.D. Salinger like author, William Forrester, who wrote a masterpiece novel in the 1950's and then proceeded to drop out of sight. Through a series of events Jamal enters Forrester's secluded existence and the two immediately share a love of their gift, writing. Unfortunately where the movie fails is in convincing us that either man is a great writer. We don't get to hear much of their work and what we do hear doesn't live up to the reverence other characters in the movie impart. The plot hinges on the F. Murray Abraham character's belief that Jamal couldn't have written what he has called his own. For Abraham it is a reprisal of his wonderful Salieri role in Amadeus yet because the words we hear are so trite, we aren't convinced he is wrong in his assumption.

The movie succeeds however in depicting the unconventional friendship between Connery and Browne. They make a rather odd pairing and yet they demonstrate that true friendship isn't restricted by boundaries. Both characters appreciate the value of words, and choose their own carefully like a never to be taken for granted spiritual chess match. The film is wonderful at showing those rare moments in life when you stumble across someone at just the right moment who makes all the current blues and all the painful past history disappear while indelibly leaving a mark on the future. One of Forrester's lessons for Jamal is that writer's don't write for others they write for themselves. It's a truism that's hard for an inspired reader to accept and yet applied to an in the garden friendship it becomes perfectly apparent. Words are important but lasting friendship is transcendental.

Monday, January 1, 2001

A Very Marilyn Xmas

"I'm walking through the summer nights, jukebox playing low. Yesterday everything was moving too fast, today everything's moving too slow. I've got nowhere left to turn. I've got nothing left to burn."

Leo says to Josh, "There's a man who falls into a hole too steep to climb out. A doctor passes by and the man in the hole calls out, 'Excuse me sir, could you please give me a hand?' And the doctor writes out a prescription and throws it down. A few moments later a priest walk by and the man in the hole calls out, 'Father, could you please help?' And the priest writes down a prayer and throws it down. Later a friend of the man in the hole walks by. 'Hey Joe can you give me a hand?' And the friend jumps down into the hole. The first man says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both stuck.' The second man says, 'Yeah but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

I used to supervise the angriest state employee, the ever ulcer inducing Nancy Jean, who every year suffered through the most severe case of the holiday blues. Every year on the last workday before a holiday, particularly Christmas and New Years I would pass Nancy Jean's desk and stop by to chat. Nancy Jean was the division's receptionist so she would see others scurrying off to do holiday shopping or get an early start off to long distance relatives. She used to tell me how miserable it made her feel that she in essence had no family to go home to. Her mother passed away just as Nancy Jean was becoming a teenager. Her father was abusive, her brother in trouble with the law, and her sister saddled with a drug problem. I used to say I understood, and I really believed I did. But more and more I see it was presumptuous to say I understood, and for that I wish to take this moment to make a public apology to Nancy Jean.

"The light in this place is so bad it's making me sick in the head. All the laughter is just making me sad. The stars have turned cherry red."

My sister recently told me of a brand new malady that is afflicting those young "dot-com" execs that have made millions and millions in an insanely short period of time. Not used to having that much money they are now suffering from what is being called "Sudden Wealth Syndrome." Excuse me if I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for those people, not when there are others, myself included, who have a heavy dose of the more traditional Nancy Jean like holiday blues.

I'm not exactly sure why but thoughts of shopping and putting up decorations and following through on the many traditions caused absolute dread this year. Thus I put it all off until the last possible moment which only added to the stress. I found myself on Christmas Eve day at the Roseville Toys 'R' Us, looking for that final holiday present. Expecting a Jingle All the Way like frenzy I pulled into the parking lot which was half empty and wondered if the store was even open. Once inside I was shocked to find that the majority of the people inside were Asian. Is there something in my genes that causes procrastination? Hmmmm....

"Last night I danced with a stranger but she just reminded me you were the one. You left me standing in the doorway crying, in the dark land of the sun."

I did find one cure for the holiday blues, a wonderful live version of Bob Dylan's "Standing in the Doorway," from a June 15, 2000 concert in Portland Oregon. The song was one of the last Time Out of Mind songs to get a live treatment (only "Dirt Road Blues" which would make a terrific opener, has yet to be performed live). Listening to the song I'm reminded (of course) of Dylan's Target Center performance two years ago. I attended with a person not all that familiar with his work and my apprehension over whether or not she'd enjoy the concert was thankfully relieved when she turned to me and said, "I love his voice!" Leaving the concert she asked me what Dylan song contains the line, "Don't know if I saw you if I'd kiss you or kill you, it probably wouldn't matter to you anyhow." The song is "Standing in the Doorway."

A couple of my closest closet confidants have expressed the belief that when one has the blues one shouldn't listen to the blues. But this particular version of "Standing in the Doorway" proves them wrong. Have you ever been lucky enough to be at a place where everything is as it should be? Where everything for a single solitary moments feels just exactly right? The song is intensely sad, being about a person who has been abandoned by an important other, just as that abandonment could hurt the worst.

The song uses the perfect metaphor to convey its mood. The singer is placed in the exact spot where he can't be with the one in his heart and also in the spot where he can't leave. He's waiting for something that is long past gone. And when Dylan croaks out the final verse of the song, the way he sings "blues wrapped around my head" hurts and hurts deeply. Yet there is the empathetic voice of one who understands, one who has been there many times before and has survived and will continue on.

"It always means so much. Even the softest touch. I see nothing to be gained by any explanation. There's no words that need to be said. You left me standing in the doorway crying, blues wrapped around my head."

For Christmas my Dad (who it turns out might have been Santa Claus all these years) gave me a guitar. It's my goal this year to learn how to play it. Thus far I been able to learn enough to pluck out an excruciating mistake laden ten minute version of "Ode to Joy." But the desire is there as I envision myself across the street at the coffee house one day pouring my heart out in the most amazing cover of "Standing in the Doorway."

2000 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, 1999: Belinda Jensen

There has been growing rancor and dissent among members of the Newsletter's Woman of the Year Selection Committee (NWOTYSC). The conservative faction has long held that members should stick strictly to the committee's charter. The more liberal members argue that the charter is a living and breathing document and the committee should try harder to divine the intent of the founding mothers. This growing rift loomed ominously over the NWOTYSC as it began to meet in late November.

There of course was one name on everybody's lips at the beginning of the selection process. Gangly Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina seemed all but destined to claim the Woman of the Year award after having served her dutiful time in the background. But when she stubbed her toe on the committee room rug and stumbled her chances quickly diminished. Romanian gymnast Andrea Raducan hence won committee members' hearts with her out of the blue, gutty and spunky performance. However Raducan failed our drug test (administered by the fine folks over at Medtox in Shoreview). Raducan admitted to have taken some cough syrup given to her by a team physician a few weeks prior to her official interview with the committee. That may or may not have explained why she tested positive for artificial cherry flavor in her urine.

So with no clear-cut favorites left the nomination process was thrown wide open. Members began throwing out names with reckless abandon. The chaos overwhelmed the committee stenographer, a kindly old gent, who scrambled to record the official proceedings. When, as in every other year since the award was established, one unnamed nitwit stood up and nominated "Sandra Bullock" (apparently for her performance in Miss Congeniality) the straw was cast that finally broke the camel's back. The general consensus of the room seemed to be that enough was enough, things had gone far enough and it was time to rein in the proceedings before they fell into self-parody.

With trepidation the initial vote was tallied and the following names appeared:
Angela Perez Baraquio, Miss America- The first Asian American to garner the prestigious award, Perez Baraquio proved worthy of her crown by displaying an unpretentious charm that showed what a true beauty queen should be. This year's true Miss Congeniality.

Reese Witherspoon- Those that want to cleanse themselves of the Presidential election mess should go immediately to the neighborhood video store and rent the movie Election. Witherspoon's divine prophetic portrayal of the know it all annoying Tracy Flick showed how things would have been had Al Gore won the election. It was the best performance seen at the cinema this year.

Kareena Gore- If she had been the Gore to run would she not have won? Smart, personable (Becky Connor/Lecy Goranson-like), charming, and above all else actually displaying human-like qualities. All traits her father never once showed on the campaign trail begging the question who would have been the best Gore to run.

Katherine Harris- The media took cheap shots at her caked on makeup look when it had a legitimate issue to target. She demonstrated that election officials can quickly forget and disregard their job of protecting those they are sworn to represent. Putting self(ish) interests above all else and dissing those who helped get them to where they wanted to be.

Jeb Bush- One has to feel a little bit sorry for little brother. He sacrificed a far more promising political career to get George W. elected. He comes across as the brighter of the two yet seeing what he gave up for what was ungraciously returned, maybe he's not.

Hillary Clinton- Talk about cheeky. She chooses her "home state" of New York to run for Senate. She buys a home in the state in time to qualify for the election. Weeks after winning the seat she sells the New York home. I guess being a true New Yorker means living a transient existence.

John Ashcroft- Just how bad a Senate incumbent do you have to be to lose your seat to a dead guy?
The Great Kate Berry (or Catherine the Great): The girl I had a crush on in seventh grade grew up to become the Vice President of the Red Cross. How impressive is that? Even a compromised blood supply can't taint that accomplishment.

Marge Simpson- A gal who after all she has put up with deservedly loves her Long Island Iced Teas.

Al Brown- In a bit of perfect poetic irony the man landed in Japan on Pearl Harbor day.

With such a list of well-qualified names it would have seemed apparent the committee was close to finding a winner. But as the sniping got more and more heated the discussion turned instead to the selection process itself. And to find the best way forward two different outside systems were closely studied: the year's most popular jury, the gang from the TV show Survivor, and the most staid of all justice serving bodies, the U.S. Supreme Court. Comparing the two would hopefully shed a light on the judicial process. What works and what is to be avoided in making such an important decision?

On Survivor two competing "tribes" eliminated members until they reached a point where they had to come together and work as a single unit. Then one of the tribes, Tagi, formed the dreaded "alliance" that week after week picked off members of the other tribe, Pagong. Before the Pagongis knew what hit them they were at the mercy of the alliance. Soon sweet Colleen with her mite bitten legs was the only non-Tagi to remain as she just waited her turn to be voted off by the others. But the irony was that the four most manipulative remaining Tagi were to be judged by the ones they had dispatched off the island.

Three of the survivors banded together against the fourth. But the fourth, the aptly named Kelly Wigglesworth, kept winning the immunity challenges thus could not be kicked off the island by the others. Because of her ability to hold on to a pole longer than the former Navy Seal Rudy, Kelly was able to pick the one person who she would have to compete with for the million dollar prize. In a moment of poor strategy she choose the fat naked gay guy Rich (who was the only one from the start that had a clear strategy to win). When Sue, the Wisconsin truck driver/former Wigglesworth friend lit into Kelly the dynamic of things took an intriguing turn. Some (Gervase) voted for Kelly to spite Sue. Others (the clueless alphabetically inclined Dr. Sean) voted for the naked fat guy nonetheless. And thus the one person the country most wanted to lose ended up the winner of the entire sordid affair.

Contrast this with the unique view of the Supreme Court that was afforded following the Presidential election. The prestige of the court meant that no live television was allowed because of the sacred nature of the lordly institution. They did throw us a morsel allowing for the first time ever a live radio feed of the proceeding. We were led to believe that the nation's highest court was above the fray and would come out with a fair and equitable solution because that is what they do. Those with faith that the court could ever possibly rule to not count legitimate votes were merely fooling themselves with a naive belief that this country's justice system is above politics.

The examination of these two judicial bodies revealed more similarities than differences. The main difference was that one body was upfront with the truism that all things are political and the other body was not. The difference between Richard and the majority opinion on the court? One reveled in his naked self interest while the other hid behind a bunch of legal jargon hoping it would articulate an allegedly non-political purpose. The court cited the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because there were no standards in place to count the disputed punch card ballots. The majority opinion didn't seem all that concerned about the more grievous problem of the equal protection concerns caused by the wide variety of results caused by the quality of equipment used. And the decision to stop the count (just long enough until a phony deadline passed) because it might taint one of the candidates irregardless of voter rights, was a tad peculiar.

The NWOTYSC thus took the lessons learned from those two processes and took another vote. And with the means justifying the ends philosophy fresh in mind, two candidates came out ahead of the pack. Richard, the naked fat guy, and Antonin W. Scalia (or as Mr. Bush likes to call him, "Anthony Scalia"). After the ballots were counted (the networks called the race for the justice) it fittingly ended in a dead heat. Recount after recount produced the same results. Thus committee members decided to look for a compromise candidate, one who would properly recognize both men and also the theme of the year- where self interest meant more than honoring one's obligations. Fortunately one such candidate arose from the ashes.

We are proud therefore to announce the Woman of the Year for 2000: The Taco Bell Chihuahua- Our long lost friend who we still admire and miss. His comforting voice and one in a million snort still rings inside and brings warm feelings. He had an amazing ability for always knowing what to say at just the right moment. He brought a million smiles and even the bitterness of the way he left can't taint that. His rat like appearance is remindful of Richard and the entire Survivor saga and his overall personality is remindful of Justice Scalia's favorite candidate. Those that are concerned about the next four years can take comfort in our pseudo-south of the border wannabe friend. It almost seems he shares the George W. genome- the same smirk, the same kinda blank look on his face. What Taco Bell lost our nation thankfully remembers: that startled deer in the headlights look, a being programmed to say just what he is told to say at the right moment so that we can all go about our business with a smile.

The tribe has indeed spoken.