Monday, April 30, 2001

The Boy Who Couldn't Distinguish the Colors of a Rainbow

Few of these columns indelibly elicit as much response as those that deal with my love life. People enjoy gawking at car wrecks after all. Thus it wasn't much of a surprise that last week's effort (and I use that term loosely) generated more of a murmur than usual. Thanks to all who sent their condolences after reading of my broken engagement with TV newscaster Harris Faulkner.

Not that I've ever been called "skanky" before but if you read between the lines you realized that despite the heartache of another broken relationship I already had another in mind. I wasn't exactly cheating on Harris. Our vows to each other had as much distance as the bandwidth between UHF and VHF stations. And I, like millions of others who are hooked on our nation's number one TV show, have fallen under the wily charms of the most recent one who got the boot out of the Outback, young Elisabeth Filarski.

Not that I'm weak minded, more like weak kneed or weak hearted, but I could hardly help myself. "Bessy" wore a homemade headdress to Tribal Council for Peter's sake. And those who know me know a woman in a hat always catches my eye. Doesn't matter if it's a Copenhagen baseball cap or a fancy French beret, my head tends to turn to those who have enough style sense to wear a middle finger like chapeau atop their noggin.

There were other considerations also. First of all you all must read my novel to understand the romantic symbolic stature Australia has in my dreams (both those long gone by and those that won't quite ever leave me alone and die). I once gave the first person I knew who was on her way to that mysterious land the Australian flag that hung proudly in my college dorm room. She was kind enough to bring back for me a personally selected rock from her last day on the beach that I still cling to as a reminder that there once was another day.

And yes I'm sure millions of geeky men with Internet access are smitten with Elisabeth Filarski because of her appearance (it was almost a blessing she got voted off last week because due to malnutrition her hair was coming off in clumps... ewww). Yet she struck in me something almost Sandra Bullockish. She just seemed like a darn nice gal, and her friendship with the old codger Rodger was truly sweet and genuine in a genre that by its very nature stifles such traits and turns them into something icky all in the name of another buck and rating point.
Elisabeth also played softball in college. You gotta love that. It reminded me of one of my all time favorite moments in life when I convinced the World's Greatest Soccer Player to join my softball team despite the fact that she had never played real ball ever in her young existence. I remember the first day she came out to the ball field with me and I pitched her batting practice and she tried her gosh darn best. She was consistent in making contact though the ball didn't go very far. She laughed and tried harder and we had the bestest most funnest time ever. I know Elisabeth Filarski would be that type of gal too.

Thursday nights of course are the nights we lay out the award winning Session Weekly. For that past twelve weeks the ritual of late night working has been slightly modified. Before I leave in the morning I check and double check with great paranoia to make sure my VCR is set to tape Survivor. As we roll past 7 p.m. and then 8 p.m. I make sure to take no phone calls, make sure not to go online. I don't want anything or anyone to spoil the surprise of who got the boot off the show. I race home as soon as I can making sure not to turn on the radio. I plop myself down on the couch and take in the most anticipated hour of my week. And believe it or not I'm seldom let down.

Many of the most respected TV watchers I know refuse to watch Survivor. Thus sadly they don't quite understand what they out of snobbish foolery have been missing: quite simply one of the most intriguing TV shows that has come along in a long time. Yes it's about a bunch of people sitting and whining about each other for an hour but the show is masterfully put together to tell a familiar story about what it is like to live in this country in the year 2001. A fine soul like Elisabeth Filarski doesn't stand a chance but somehow charms her way far past what could have been expected. Maybe not all hope needs to be snuffed out like that symbolic flame from the commercial Tiki torch.

Monday, April 23, 2001

Now on to Elisabeth "Bessy" Filarski

"If it's her you want, I don't care about that. You can have my girl but don't touch my hat. I grew up lonesome on the open range and that cold north wind can make a man feel strange..."
-Lyle Lovett

Last week I had my heartbroken (yes yet again) as I had to call off my engagement to KSTP-TV newscaster Harris Faulkner. Yes I still dig her work and her authoritative news delivery and yes when I first saw her in person I thought every one in the room had to be able to hear my heart beat as I became very flush. I'm a guy who falls in love as easily an United States apology to China and I'm as lenient in accepting my partner's faults as a judge in a P. Diddy trial but Harris crossed an absolute resolute line in my soul.

The other night when she was doing her dutiful anchor banter with sportscaster Joe Schmidt he mentioned the Twins and Royals were involved in a scoreless tie. Harris said it was a "boring 0-0 game." Those that don't know any better now but are sure to jump on the Twins' bandwagon when the team is games ahead in July, are the ones who think that finely pitched games are boring and any inning that doesn't feature a home run is an inning where nothing happens. In other words they don't know squat. They can't appreciate the game and they probably only like poetry that rhymes too.
A fellow just can't marry a gal like that.

It is nice to see some enthusiasm in this town for the Twins again. There's a noticeable buzz in the Metrodome this season that has been missing for quite some time. At work people are actually sometimes talking about the previous night's game. Though our local thinning newspapers still run meaningless Timberwolves West Coast basketball games and irritating pre-Viking draft stories more prominently on page one of their sports sections, the Twins nonetheless aren't being relegated to the inside pages quite so often so early this year.

And rightfully so. Back in the early 1980's when the decision was made to go with young players like Hrbek, Gaetti, Viola, and Puckett, the team suffered through some God awful seasons record-wise. But that was always a team worth watching because the players were good and they were developing and when they won they won because they played the game right and it was all very fun to watch. The same can be said for this year's team.

In an era when most teams are stacking their lineups with softball bellied sluggers who just want to cream every pitch out of the ballpark, and thanks to some awful pitching often do so, the Twins have decided to build a team based on pitching, defense, speed, and doing the little things that are supposed to be done to win games.

The team features a tremendous double play combo in Guzman and Rivas who are sublimely a delight to watch. Mientkiewicz is a terrific fielding first baseman. Jones and Hunter are among the best at running down fly balls and making more than their share of highlight plays.

Few teams can feature four starters better than Radke, Milton, Redman and Mays. The question about the team is whether or not they can manufacture enough runs to beat the other teams who launch their tightly wound baseball mammoth smashed home runs. But Koskie and Lawton are steady hitters and Ortiz has shown enough promise to think that this team might just keep on doing what they have done at the beginning of this season.

Yes baseball is back and like the budding flowers in front of my house it is an annual yet always appreciated ritualistic feeling. Yet wistfully as my Dad has pointed out a couple of times already my Mom would have been rightfully excited about this team. One of her many missed qualities was the ability to appreciate beauty when she saw it, and console one who has made the decision that another just isn't the right person after all.

Monday, April 16, 2001

Aging Kitty Burned Out Bureaucrat

"A faithful heart makes wishes come true..."
-Michelle Yeeowww!

News Flash: Love may be able to save your heart and soul but it can't save your life or colon.

On Good Friday the 13th I had a rare day off where I had no obligations, no responsibilities, no places to be, no faces to see, other than doing my taxes. Have any of you tried eFiling? Man I would highly recommend it! Filling out forms online and getting your return done in a matter of an hour of your precious life and getting funds sent electronically, what could be sweeter? Even the oh so attractive Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, my mentor and former boss Jenny Engh did it this year!

So for dinner on my day off I microwaved the previous day's lunch, the tasty Pad Thai from Ruam Mit, and as I was pulling my steaming dish from my oven I noticed an ant walking along the peripheral edge of the stove. It had survived three minutes of non-explosive nuking and I wondered if soon there would be a mutant insect a foot long wandering the hallways of my home. This wasn't some nuclear surviving cockroach after all.

On my day off I paid extra special attention to my roommate the rapidly aging Mr. Max. I've noticed the past few months he isn't so sure nor confident in his jumps. Years back I set up his cat tree in front of his favorite viewing window. It's a three foot jump up for him that has never been a question. But I've noticed more and more a bellow before the jump (often in the wee small hours of the morning) and a hesitancy to leap before crashing into the closed window. So I finally had the chance to really watch him and sure enough he hesitated before taking the plunge. So I thought I would do him a favor and move an object (searched for and considered about)- his carrier that he can only associate to my leaving or his trips to the veterinarian next to the cat tree to enable him to leap a less distance. Max of course got somewhat worked up at this unexpected change. He clung to me like a pair of alleged inappropriate birthday underwear as we watched the Twins win and thought about Mom as the trivia question answer had to do with poor hitting Dean Chance.

Afterwards I slid in my American rare DVD copy of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon into my computer. I've been meaning to re-watch it after having acquired such a unique treasure last month from somewhere in Asia but just haven't had the time for a second viewing of a movie that touched me the first time around like few others. The second time reminded me strongly of my desire to want to like the Academy Award winner of the early 1960's West Side Story all the more. That movie had such great music, such a universal story message (the value of romantic love over one's unaccepting upbringing) that I ended up liking it despite it's melodramatic shortcomings.

I realize having seen none of the other nominees for this year's Best Picture that I'm not qualified to make a judgment of how the Oscars turned out. I know that Traffic had a more pressing and important message to deliver; Gladiator was more epic and had a more accessible appeal (no subtitles for Pete's sake!); and Erin Brockovich had spunk and cleavage; but I do know no film from last year had greater artistic integrity than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When we reach that apocalyptic day and all things have to be gauged on their individual merits, I know deep in my heart that none of those other movies can even begin to measure up to Ang Lee's masterpiece.

The movie delivers an important moral memoradum in a profoundly perfect technological and cinematic way. The fight scenes are heavenly ballet and poetry in motion, and though you know there are wires and hidden editing trickery involved nonetheless you sit there with your mouth agape totally able to put aside any inherent and ever creeping cynicism that may exist. It's a magical movie that has a timeless saga.

I used to have this dream as a kid when I was running full speed (away/toward something) where I would be able to achieve such a speed that I was able to take flight. I remember that feeling of floating tempered with my logical disbelieving side that lamentably kept reminding me this was only a dream that I couldn't really fly. But the dream was so real and Crouching Tiger recaptured that same spirit in such an effective way that I was transferred thankfully back to another place, another time.

The three main leads, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Zi Yi, are perfect for what they are expected to do. Zi Yi's character Jen, the emotional centerpiece of the movie is exquisitely beautiful in conveying the conflict of loyalty for a friendship against the discord of doing what one is expected to do by tradition. It's a nakedly ostentatious distinctive performance, courageously true to the heart.

The movie begins so serenely and so quietly that when the first fight scene arrives 15 minutes into things it truly leaves one totally stunned. As Yeoh and Zi Yi race and romp across the rooftops the effect is one of total brilliance. The viewer lets go and can only sit back and watch the cinematic wonder of all that is to follow.

Thursday, April 12, 2001

If I Live to Be the Pungent Age of 37

Mona who fishes on his desk with a chipped ear and meaningful demeanor is a constant reminder of the ONE he has truly loved over the passing years. He won't forget that as much as he has refused and taken for granted his blessing.

He used to wake up after another restless and fruitless and listless and pointless night of sleep wondering if this was the day he was finally going to stand up and lie down and say, "NO MORE!" (Extra Exclamation POINT added for emphasis.) He would drive to the parking lot behind the Lutheran version of the Catholic green soon to be sold out gold cathedral and not risk his life by crossing University but rather travel the haunted tunnels which brought to his feeble mind the memories of a previous session (an ironic use of the word) when he would rush home to his Mom knowing the days were dwindling.

The halls echoed with a bustle of those who thought they were making a difference. Truth be told, if such a cliche appeals, is that the self importance was a justification for a severe lack of self esteem that for once he didn't share. He was the one who shared too much too often and it had taken its toll. The chair of the all powerful tax committee took a swing. Though it hit it didn't hurt so much as caught him off guard. His favorite Timberwolve was an off guard named the late great Malik.

Nip it in the bud for a dress code. Replace the sleep with a jolt of caffeine. A process of brewing homemade lattes every morning past seven. Masses who read innocuously and who understood better than he ever could. The green belted kick boxing Jezebel who tried to judge the merits of pending legislation amused him with her desire to do such a good job. Where did that part of him once exist?

He watched everyone's favorite pencil thinned mustache Oscar winner sing the most important song of the millennium about reaching a point in LIFE when one wants to care but can't seem to find any reason TO. TWO? Worried man vs. I'm a worried man with a worried mind. Makes a difference or two. TOO? Also? But if you have a worried mind doesn't that inherently mean you care on some subterranean level? You tell me? I'm of a generous heart despite the antagonism.

He dragged himself to, or stepped himself up to the signed out room and heard another measure that wasn't measured by its merits but rather by its chances (a big kickboxing discord). He didn't understand not that he ever did. Transit levy, lost in the flood. Sandbagging, reliance to an extent no one else has in mind.

A continuation of a hearing (he once had a ringing in his ear that his Mom brought him in for tests and medicinal drops and a lack of balance that made him curl up and wanna die on the high school boy's room floor) that he knew his neutrality might be questioned. Not that it should because he was one whose dispassionateness wasn't an issue; it wasn't so much he didn't have strong opinions as much as it was he had fetid sentiments about just about everything. It wasn't as if he was living in an undecided gray sea area but rather he was constantly oscillating between black and white. Carry and conceal or coral? Why not holster up and Wyatt Earp one's visually potential danger? Let's be up front and honest and nothing else one might argue to those who see it as a public "safety" issue.

So on the day when they tabled things and prevented an emotional albeit misunderstood diversion of starving school kids he was glad he didn't have to work past his involuntary metiers. Instead he hustled himself down to the bubble where he was joined by a professional outcast and the divine carrying one and her weary domestic partner to watch the local lads crush the opposition as powerfully as those that view a new workplace as obscene as those who gave up long ago and couldn't fall any less (or more).

Monday, April 9, 2001

Three Blazers in a Row

Growing up every neighborhood had one. For us it was television's Van Patten family that lived kitty-corner behind our house. As far as I knew they never did anything exactly illegal (with the exception of the time Bobby threw rocks at me) but there were far too many undisciplined, unruly children in the clan (far too many for even the observant compassionate conservative child to count) for the parents to keep an eye on.

For some reason the family just annoyed me. And it wasn't just the kids- Mr. Van Patten had a ham radio and there would be the lazy summer evenings when I was trying to do some serious TV watching where his muddled baritone voice would come booming out of our television speakers. Bobby Brady didn't need the competition as far as I was concerned.

When the suburb began expanding and the city decided to build a house across the street tearing down the tree we used to hang out under, and destroying the best snow sledding hill in the neighborhood, all of us kids watched in fascination the process of a house being built. There was a big ditch that we played in and one day young Jimmy Van Patten put a wood plank elevated by a big rock next to the hole and told us all he was going to make the leap across. This was in the hey day of Evil Knievel so all of us kids cheerfully told Jimmy we didn't think he do something so brave/foolish.

The memorable afternoon arrived and I remember anyone who was somebody in the neighborhood was on hand to watch. Jimmy circled the hole several times on his little one- speed bike and I secretly thought there was no way he would actually attempt the jump, but rather would come up with some excuse to save face and leave us all muttering about what might have been.

The sun was beginning to set and the crowd was growing impatient with the unique suspense that hung heavy in the air. Finally Jimmy declared he was good to go. He lined himself 20 feet up from the ditch. He had the most serious look on his face and I almost blurted out that he shouldn't do it. There was no way he could possibly clear the hole and land safely on the other side. No way.

He began to pedal his bike as fast as it could go across the worn out dirt pathway leading up to the ultimate challenge. I had the choice spectator spot of being on the side edge of the ditch. Jimmy's front tires hit the front of the improvised launching ramp and I remember letting out an involuntary squeal, part delight, part warning, as he lifted the front wheel towards the darkening sky. It was one of those life altering slow motion moments when things seemed to exist in a photograph.
The bike cleared the requisite distance all except the back wheel which clipped the slope of the ledge sending the rider off to the side. There was a sigh of relief that he landed safely outside the ditch but there was a noticeable lack of applause or appreciation for his attempt. It today far surpasses any example of personal courage that I can possibly muster.

I'm afraid the most bold thing I can say I've ever tried was completely revealing my heart to another and falling head over heals in love in the process. And though that may not be Jimmy Van Patten/Evil Knievel heart stopping stuff, I think a lot of people would find it hard to dig deep enough inside and come up with a similar nerve.

Life presents a lot of holes to jump over. Often times it makes it all worthwhile just being able to share the challenges and the frustration with a willing and listening ear. Sometimes it's not. But as the unique alum from Sebeka High (home of the fightin' Trojans) thankfully pointed out, that no matter how dark this society can sometimes appear, we live in a place where even a 17-year-old niece living in rural Minnesota can discover the wonders of Tom Waits. How freakin cool is that?

Sunday, April 1, 2001

Strained Muscle or Broken Heart?

"It's Tuscaloosa, Birmingham or Baton Rouge/Hell I don't know just where I'm at to tell the truth/But the good Lord up in heaven knows what you've been going through/And he's whispering to me that he'll take care of you/My angel in distress you look OK to me/I'll send you my address when I know what it will be/I could easily stay with you on your side of heaven's door/'Cause I don't love you any less but I can't love you anymore."
-Lyle Lovett

For a while there my friend Stephanie Jane, the Aussie limper and I for budgetary purposes enjoyed an exclusive diet of potatoes, the most versatile food found on this planet. Somehow Idaho's finest represented our relationship well. You can mash them, fry them, bake them, boil them, hash brown them, any way you choose you just can't lose. I thought of old Steph the other day, as I am sometimes wistfully wont to do, when somebody mentioned to me that I had been spotted walking Mr. Max around the neighborhood.

Stephanie was the original cat walker, taking her cat Jazz out on a leash. It's an image that has never left my mind and I hope never will. I know she would have appreciated the other evening when I had a rare sudden burst of energy (that truly alarmed Mr. Max) and whipped up a stir fry featuring potatoes.

Having been inspired by my newest favorite show, The Iron Chef, I scampered off to my unfriendly neighborhood Rainbow and spontaneously picked out items for my culinary experiment: asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, pea pods, garlic, ginger, salmon (it was the cheapest non-frozen fish they had!), and of course my friend, a sack of spuds.

Mr. Max was very watchful of all the unusual action in the kitchen. I helped him by carrying on a running commentary, ala the Iron Chef commentators. "Fukai-san, (go) it appears the challenger is slicing up asparagus... Oooh..." The end result was rather tasty and true to the show actually kind of looked cool with its mixture of pink and green though I don't think I would have won the competition. And even though I had to burn several sticks of incense to cover the fishy smell leftover in the house, it was well worth the effort.

Of course Max assumed all the hubbub and abnormal aroma was being done on his account and he anxiously awaited the end result. So his usual special treat of a piece of broccoli didn't seem quite what he had in mind. Still he munched it right down as I finished my own dinner. I decided that the two of us needed to work off the extra special meal so I set about proving that felines are capable of something that their canine counterparts are not. It was time to teach my lil buddy a new trick- how to do jumping jacks.

I grabbed him under his belly (the part of him that is most definitely difficult to miss) and raised him up as he clapped his front paws together. We did this a few times as he purred away.

The next night our routine returned to the abysmal. I was heartened to see that a jury of her peers didn't vote my new beloved off the continent. It was a message that sometimes it pays to be nice. It may even be worth $300. It took me a while to figure out who my new sweetheart reminded me of and then it struck me she sort of reminds me of Sandra Bullock who reminded me of Stephanie Jane who brought back a rock from the shores of Australia just for me. She was indeed a survivor.

None of this is as transparent as J. Lo's Oscar attire but did you all see Mr. Bob grimace his way through his fine song? Pencil thin mustache, no pussyfooting' around, "Oh good God this is so exciting," the dapper Dylan said. Turns out it wasn't my favorite musical moment of the evening. Nope, not by a long shot. Instead I was pleasantly pleased to see the return of Susanna Hoffs singing a duet with Randy Newman. Her wispy vocals and skunk eyed come hither look reminded me of a painting on my wall and a poster that is hidden somewhere nearby.