Monday, June 25, 2001

J. Lara Ha Tomb Digger

Unless you're shot full of morphine, most of us are able to distinguish between a dream and reality. (Being bright enough to perceive the distance between a vision and a dream is a whole other matter best dealt with another day.) Unfortunately that distinction becomes more and more clear the older you get. I used to spend many a day as a youth dreaming about being the star pitcher on my imaginary baseball team. Even after a rough outing or two it seemed inevitable to me that it was only a matter of time before I would be duplicating my feats in the real major leagues.

There came a sad day when I realized that the reality of making it to the major leagues probably was a tad unrealistic especially since you don't see many five foot five pitchers blowing smoke past big league hitters. This season an even harsher reality settled into my foggy noggin- that for the first time ever every player on the Twins is younger than I am.

There have been equally disheartening moments along the way when similar ambitions fell by the wayside: hosting the Tonight Show; becoming a world-renowned pianist; being dubbed the world's fastest human; becoming a world class butter sculpturer. Yes giving up belief in each took a little out of me and it was a hard lesson unlearning the lesson taught to all young children that if you put your mind to it anything is possible. That's a bunch of bunk.

Your heart does harden a little after every disappointment and though there's no set number carved in stone, the infamous mythical organ can only be broken a certain number of times before thankfully things don't matter as much anymore.

Still it was somehow reassuring how a couple recent items in the news demonstrate, the medical profession continues to work on technology to assist those of us with chronic heart maladies.

A couple of weeks ago the Associated Press reported that doctors have developed a new alternative to open heart bypass surgery where they use a vein to take the place of a blocked artery. The procedure, called percutaneous in-situ coronary venous arterialization (PICVA), requires no anesthesia and can be done in a couple of hours, with the patient released from the hospital the following day. In contrast, traditional bypass surgery and angioplasty require that a patient's chest be opened and the heart temporarily stopped, and blood vessels have to be harvested from another part of the body for use. Another new procedure called a septal ablation or a forced heart attack is used to treat hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, or an overgrowth of the heart muscle that restricts the flow of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta resulting in severe shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness.

Nakinagara aruku, hitoribotchi no yoru.

Speaking of plumbing procedures another of my childhood fantasies came crashing down all around me this past week. I always just assumed that one day I would be married with two children (appropriately dubbed Dave Jr. and Elisabeth Filarski) and would own a house in the suburbs. The picture in my mind wasn't much more specific than that but home ownership with an accompanying family just seemed to be what people do when they grow up.

Well a few years back when I was actually secure (financially and as emotionally as I can get) enough to afford a house I considered it a major achievement to be able to buy my little brick sided two bedroom in the lovely Como Park area. But with home ownership (are you paying attention Ms. LeAnn?) comes the realization that the axiom of there's always something to be worked on, is perhaps the truest thing anyone has ever uttered.

The yard work is difficult enough (and I've been awfully lucky this year to have a Dad who is willing to do a lot of the yard upkeep and a neighbor who doesn't have a problem plowing my sidewalk after a major snow storm) but the inside issues can be a tad overwhelming.

First off I'll be the first to admit when it comes to home decor I'm the ultimate faker. I don't think a visitor has ever uttered my standard phrase when entering someone else's home: "I like what you've done with the place..." My furniture tends to be stuff people have given to me (or unloaded depending on your point of view). None of it matches, none of it is that comfortable but all of it is mostly functional. I don't have much of an ego to worry about but even I tend to be embarrassed enough by my college frat boy decorating skills that I don't invite many people over. When the highlight of your home tour is your pink old ladies bathroom, then it's hard to describe your place as a swinging bachelor's pad.

Being a bad decorator is one thing but being a hapless handy repair guy can make your feel as small as that little boy that thought owning a home was just a natural part of the future picture. Last week my Dad gave me a free energy efficient showerhead Xcel Energy mailed to him. As I went to install the device I noticed that the end of the pipe coming out of my bathroom wall was not the same size as the connecting part of the showerhead. So I moseyed on down to the neighborhood hardware store where the guys are extra surly. Like a lost man in a foreign land I wandered around the store until I found the plumbing aisle. I looked through the rows of pipes and the tools and found what appeared to be what I needed, a showerhead adapter. I wasn't sure the size was right but the package proudly proclaimed it to be the "American Standard." So I plunked my five dollars on the counter and returned home. The adapter fit the showerhead but not my existing plumbing. Seems that my pipes must be from Saudi Arabia or something.

The whole experience brought another pertinent question to mind: how does an energy saving showerhead work? The water pressure is reduced but isn't the same amount of water making its way through my Irish pipes? Hmmmm. Luckily my Dad was able to figure out that my existing pipe already had some type of adapter attached and by removing that piece the showerhead fit snuggly in place.

The next morning I went to turn on the lights so as to not be so much in the dark. I hit the switch, heard a fizzing sound as the light flickered briefly and soon smelled an electrical burning odor. Call me paranoid but all I could picture was the wiring inside my walls ablaze and coming back home to a charcoal pile of rubble. Mr. Max remained asleep however and the walls didn't feel hot so I went to work as I always seem to be doing these days.

All day long I worried about the state of electricity and feline safety and was relieved to see things the same as always went I got home. My brother in law came over, cleaned out the switch, tightened the connections and things now seem to be back to normal.

But the experiences left me feeling rather helpless when it comes to simple house maintenance. It was suddenly very clear what has been make believe and what is remaining, staring me in the face.


It had been three years since the aging softball player had made a true friend. It wasn't so much he was afraid of reaching out and sharing but rather it was more of a case of needing to withdraw and merely function for a while. It was a self inflicted implosion but at the same time he had just recently shared more than ever before and to see a rather indifferent reaction sent him spinning in a rather self defeated way.

It took his 20 year old nephew to get the aging softball player hooked on a less than trendy habit: downloading music off the Internet and rediscovering the music and muse of his youth. When he was a child his proudest possession was a collection of 45's his family had accumulated over the years that he had memorized each label, each scratch, each groove as he replayed the songs taking note of all the words. When he was in grade school his parents gave him his most memorable gift, a pretend radio station that included a turntable, microphone and erasable charts to write down the daily schedule of the Sears produced radio corporation, WQSR. He recorded hours upon hours on his 8-track system using fake voices mimicking the standard- from the spunky morning crew to the mellow midnight spinner.

One of the last meaningful conversation the aging softball player had with his dying mother was her telling him she still had those 8-track tapes and she wished he still had a system to play the nostalgic tapes on. He couldn't forget. Not letting anyone close, bearing down and focusing on his work, remaining the perpetual outsider he would sometimes look up long enough in the winding tunnels under the State Capitol to search others' eyes. And sometimes he'd remember a song or two. "A little bitty tear let me down, spoiled my act as a clown I had it made up not make a frown, but a little bitty tear let me down."

The aging softball player found himself at a real house, an immaculately planned Eagan estate. It was the kind of place that it didn't seem at all out of place to play croquet and bocce ball so the group he was with did. Between shots and rolls they sipped on hard lemonade. He had somehow allowed himself to get close to a couple of the players that had been temporary employees at his workplace. It was a day to say good-bye and celebrate their work, and it all felt like the days of graduation and leaving classmates behind.

He had a mentor like relationship with the green belted kick boxing waltzing Matilda shared survivor that at times reminded him delightfully of his old self. She was aloof and it was somewhat a part of their routine which one would speak to the other first when they arrived in the morning. He thought about all the lunches shared, all the questions asked, all the details shared and he realized he had let her get too close and now she was soon (too soon) to be gone from his day to day vision. After the final shots were played he waved good-bye to her and wondered what could possibly come next. "I said I'd laugh when you left me/Pull a funny as you went out the door/That I'd have another waiting/And I'd wave goodbye as you go."

Monday, June 18, 2001

The Spontaneous Cartwheeler on 9th Avenue

This week we celebrate our ninth anniversary, which makes us older than many of you. 466 consecutive weeks, which makes us crankier than many of you. 2,186 breakfast burritos consumed during production, which makes us heavier than many of you.

Prior to this gig, way back when "they" made me the sports editor of the Mac Weekly I didn't exactly take my position or the publication very seriously. I was more amused than I really ought to have been whenever I'd slip something in that I'm sure no one else would find remotely humorous yet I'd find side splittingly funny. The guy principally responsible for me getting the position was one Eric Vacceralla whom we all lovingly referred to as "Vac" being the clever cretins we were. Vac had a way of wrapping things up every week that became somewhat part of the routine. After getting the copies back from the printer Vac would page through the publication and announce, "another solid issue." Things didn't seem complete until he uttered his never changing weekly evaluation.

Thus it's become somewhat the norm the past nine years that after I finish the newsletter Sunday morning I'll read the final proofs and announce to Mr. Max, "another solid issue." It's hard to believe we've done that for nine freaking years but it's become as routine as a midsummer's meal of bologna and tomatoes.

Yes, 466 issues and not a near miss amongst the batch. We've had several highlights over the years: who could forget our loving tribute to nickels? Or how about the time when we shaped every page like a different drum and then by the end of the issue you could build your own drum kit? Or how about when we did a whole issue in pig latin? Asn'tway hatthay unnierfay hantay allay etgay outay?

To celebrate our anniversary last Sunday I decided I'd go hear David Sedaris read at the Ruminator after my sister mentioned he was coming to her store. The price of the ticket was the purchase of his latest book, Me Talk Pretty One Day. I've read or heard several of the essays in the book before but nonetheless I found myself chuckling throughout. The man is genuinely funny but in an appreciated wicked way.

Before his reading Sedaris was mingling throughout the crowd signing his book. I had left my copy in my car because quite frankly I'm not that much into getting peoples' autographs nor did I find myself especially wanting to exchange awkward words with the author. I remember reading an interview somewhere where he mentions he thinks it is odd when people have a hard time approaching him. When he came my way I made sure to first glare and then stare humbly at my shoes. The woman behind me thrust her book his way and as he was signing she said, "I just had to tell you... I was stuck at the Detroit airport last winter and I read your book and you made a six hour wait not at all horrible. Thank you."

Sedaris wasn't quite sure what to say but after a moment of silence he thanked her and moved on to the next book to sign. I myself thought it was a pretty darn good compliment. I heard several others in the audience tell him they were writers when he asked them what they did. The declarations were inevitably followed by disclaimers, "someday I'll be published..." "I'm working on something now but I don't have the time to get it done..."

I probably don't share much with the humorous, talented and prolific Mr. Sedaris but I do think I learned a lesson that he and other writers have demonstrated time and time again: there's nothing at all admirable about the act of writing. What is to be cherished is the talented few who can consistently jot down the words we can relate to and take to heart; who can reveal themselves and make us still care warts and all.

After the reading I decided to take a walk around my old stomping grounds of Grand Avenue. I wandered down to #71 Cheapo and purchased a copy of Lucinda Williams' new CD, Essence. I chatted for a minute with Liz at the checkout and was pleased that she said she read the newsletter every week and wasn't annoyed by all the Buffy musings that have appeared in these pages recently.

I got home and plopped the CD in my player and was blown away. While not as wordy or immediately as impressive as her last effort the universally acclaimed Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, the new CD is a searing step down a bluesy path. Sparse and primal Williams' voice is as sexy and sultry as it is full of pain and anguish. The words are simple and the crackle in her voice emotes the last ounce of passion in each lyric. It's an inspiring tour de force a thousand times more powerful than 466 columns and is maybe a sign there still is a lot left to get done.

Monday, June 11, 2001

The Boat that Wouldn't Float

I'm nothing if not a planner. I may not have my Masters Degree in the subject like some of my favorite San Diegoans I know but I'm always thinking ahead, always trying to figure out my next move. One step ahead would probably be my middle name if it wasn't Edguardo. That's why during this time of a potential state government shutdown I've devoted many of my hours thinking about how I would continue to pay my mortgage and other bills and afford my addiction to cannoli if I were to suddenly have no income coming in.

My first thought of course was the easiest thought- imitating everyone's favorite, Roxanne, and selling my body to the night. The problem being I'm encased in a rapidly aging shell, with a numb, bum left shoulder. People aren't exactly standing in line to get a piece of me (which very well could have something to do with all the extra cannolis).

My next thought was a life long ambition- busking. Since I haven't been disciplined enough to learn how to play the guitar my father gave me for Christmas this would entail wheeling my 100 year old piano from bus stop to bus stop. Not exactly conducive to the necessary artistic inspiration such an undertaking would require. Sure I can play every Beatles' song on the piano but could I do so convincingly after lugging around a thousand pound instrument?

I put my thoughts on hold temporarily when a bolt of lightening struck- why not combine my true love with some money making affair? Last year I was among the rare privileged to be able to collect all four bobblehead dolls the Twins gave away during an otherwise dreary season. I wasn't sure whether or not I would fight the masses and try again this year during a season that has been slightly more energetic. But when I saw what the dolls were fetching on Ebay I thought this may be my fall back option. Anyone want my Harmon Killebrew for $5,000?

So there I was on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon (the perfect new stadium weather) arriving five hours before the gates would open, hoping to get my Bert "Be Home By Eleven" bobblehead doll. The day didn't start so promising as those bastards at the Star Tribune just had to run a front page story about bobblehead mania, alerting those who weren't much aware of the special day ahead to get their little Mama Cass booties down to the Metrodome to compete with ME! for MY doll.

When we arrived, thankfully the gate we were at only had around 30 people sitting restfully and just as thankfully they were sitting behind a metal barrier that would hopefully prevent some of the tension seen last year as people tried to better their place in line. Buttin' I believe some call it. The five hours flew by as fast as five hours sitting on hard concrete with a bunch of comatose ceramic collectors can fly by. And when the gates finally opened I was more anxious to devour a brat then I was to get my Blyleven doll. But I got both so I went home a semi-happy, if not rather weary Twins' fan. And by the way, they actually won the game.

The whole ordeal got me rethinking my latest income related strategy. I couldn't part with my doll for all the cannoli in the world. And then I got to thinking I'm not the only one in this household why couldn't the other contribute a little towards the cause? My furry lil feline friend after all is pretty irresistible to all who know him and that ought to be worth a quick buck or two shouldn't it?

So we set up a photography session to be able to send out images of the real star of the house to all those lucrative cat food advertising deals that are as plentiful as wild catnip (part of the mint family, recognizable by its square stem, and no it's not a weed, it's a legitimate plant because we all know that man gave name to all the plants and to be a weed is to be just as worthwhile as you or I).

The photographer was a bit late in the appointment having had holes poked in her to deal with a habit that is as unnecessary as it understandable. She sounded a tad groggy as she told me she was soon to be on her way over. She brought with her said wild catnip that Mr. Max went gaga over like it was ganja. The end result were some rather startling photos of the star. She really captured for posterity some of the essence I will dearly miss when the little guy decides it's time to move on to another place. I was rather glad I asked her over and rather pleased by the end result.

So now I just have to find someone willing to hire the most personable and picturesque pot- bellied kitty I know. But I remain hopeful, the paychecks may stop rolling in very soon but somehow I've become reconciled that things tend to find a way to work themselves out in the end.

Monday, June 4, 2001

Rocky Flies No More

Welcome back to dead animals corner. This week's tale begins the other early morning as I meandered out to my car off to another fiery day in the increasingly obstinate halls of the State Capitol. At the edge of my driveway lie a squirrel belly side up, paws facing up to the sky with his privates fully exposed (believe me- I knew the feeling). I was hopeful but rather doubtful that the little guy was just comfortably taking a nap. I left him be hoping that by the time I got home later that evening either he would have miraculously have recovered and scampered away, or a neighborhood cat would carry him to another resting place.

But lo and behold when I got back home he was still there looking quite the same. I doubt your average healthy 36 year old male or construction related worker would feel tears well in his eyes at the sight of a dead rodent. One of my favorite among many favorite Bob Dylan lyrics is from "If You See Her Say Hello" a bittersweet remembrance that he wrote when he was 36, about one who will never leave the singer's heart hard as he tries, "I see a lot of people as I make the rounds/And I hear her name here and there as I go from town to town/And I've never gotten used to it, I've just learned to turn it off/Either I'm too sensitive or else I'm gettin' soft." Granted it probably isn't what Dylan was singing about and it may be the result of unbearably long hours of work but seeing the dead squirrel made me very sad. Somehow just tossing him into the garbage didn't seem appropriate. So I grabbed my shovel and dug a little grave next to the flourishing rhubarb plant in my otherwise barren garden.

Another problem endured that day was a newly discovered (and heard) hole in my muffler that was just fixed a year ago for the very same problem. When I was a kid I used to have a perpetual problem with holes in my pants' pockets where it became unreliable to store anything of value on my person. Now days I don't have the problem of pocket holes but rather I've developed an inclination of poppin a hole in the part of my car that allows me to thankfully go for awhile just a little unnoticed. My car now sounds like a burly motorcycle and I'm just sure my neighbors are cursing at my late arrivals back home just begging the question what is worse, losing the ideal place to store your most valuables or losing the ability to think above the day to day din.

So I scooped the little squirrel up and tossed him down into the freshly dug hole. He was rather stiff and went in face first with tail pointing towards the sky. I maneuvered him so that he lie a little more horizontally. I tossed the dirt back on top and covered up the heretofore unforeseen grave. I said a little prayer and went back inside.

Having endured just having to sit through hours of the tax conference committee it occurred to me that my little diversion at the very least had to do with life and death and although it's easy to forget while sitting amongst a bunch of smug and self righteous lobbyists and lawmakers nothing that occurs at the Capitol really matters that much in the end.

That point was further driven home by a book I read during the many dead and dreaded hours of the committee hearings, Carl Hiassen's delightfully wicked Sick Puppy. The book was recommended to me by my dear pal Spunky, who probably would never shed a tear for a dead squirrel but knows good writing when he reads it.

The story centers around Twilly Spree, a rather edgy young idealist who goes to extremes to punish those that violate his values. Twilly freely admits that he has no self conscious, therefore he has never had a dream. That is until a wacky series of events unfolds and he kidnaps the dog and the wife of his nemesis. He ends up falling in love with the wife, Desie Stout, who has a lovely neck. His love for Desie leads to his first ever dream as she eventually (of course) saves his life.

Desie's husband Palmer Stout is a high powered and sleazy lobbyist (is there any other kind?) who initially catches Twilly's attention by throwing out McDonald's wrappers from his polluting Range Rover window. Twilly decides it is his mission in life to teach Palmer not to pollute.

The politicians are portrayed as selling out for their own self interests (gee, do you think there might be a shred of truth in that observation of human nature?). As the events unravel and the characters connect and disconnect Hiassen's story is truly one to be savored. The man has a way with words and an observational wit that goes far beyond his most famous story, Striptease. Sick Puppy is well appreciated by one who has now seen how power and greed and corruptible seed matters more than those who only worry about the well being of their nuts.