Monday, August 26, 2002

Why My Hero is Bleeding Gums Murphy

With all the recent kind words being expressed about me both in and out of the newsletter my head is now officially the size of Toledo. So to combat this condition I did what any normal (in the loosest sense of the word) male would do- I scheduled an appointment with the dentist where I could be belittled about my personal hygiene habits.

I don't go to the dentist as often as I should (even though I do have a very real fear about losing my teeth when I'm an elderly gent) because it has always been such a miserably memorable experience. I remember one summer as a youth when I was feeling like way too stale and deflated pancakes when my Mom dragged my brother and I to Dr. Oliver Johnson's office for our annual dental checkup. When we arrived at the clinic (ironically right down the street from my current abode) I showed Mom a blister I had on my finger and she immediately identified it as chicken pox and dragged me back home with my fever and soon to be itchy epidermis. I remember another time when I literally burst into tears at Dr. Johnson's office. I've carried this terrible burden with me into adulthood (or as near as I come- and I simply haven't had time to reveal all this to the battery of shrinks I have visited).

I have a sneaking suspicion that as different as I am from most people, most people really don't like to go to the dentist. Whenever I hear a drilling sound I do notice that I'm not the only one who noticeably cringes. Besides being poked and prodded in a sensitive area, who wants to be disparaged by health care specialists who are none too quick to observe that we aren't taking care of ourselves as well as we should? Is it really a surprise that gums tend to bleed after being jabbed by a sharp metallic object? Does this really necessarily indicate some mode of personal negligence? I can't recall a time when my eye doctor jabbed something in my eye and was surprised to discover that it teared up.

OK so it was my first visit to the dentist in a couple of years (more like three or four). The seed for what is supposed to be a regular event was planted when I sat next to a dental hygienist at the Lucinda Williams' concert at the beginning of summer. She told me that anxious patients now could receive laughing gas at the most simple and routine appointments. I like to laugh yet I ultimately didn't even ask about the gas upon my visit.

So the first difference I noticed this outing from the last time was they asked me who they could contact should something go wrong. That didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in what was to transpire. I jokingly asked the front desk ladies if my contact had to be human or if he could be of a feline species. They laughed and said that a cat probably couldn't pick me up if the need should arise. I then told them about arriving home the other day to the unexpected smell of toast and the sneaking suspicion that my kitty is more talented than is easily seen by the human eye. We all chuckled at that.

Another difference this time around was the behavior of my dental hygienist the extraordinarily chipper Angie, who assigned a number and called out to an assistant the amount of space and sensitivity condition of my gums as she went about cleaning my teeth. Normal, Angie told me was in a one to three range and thus any four or fives she identified in my teeth caused me pain in an area inside my chest rather than inside my mouth.

When the elderly masked Dr. Renelt came in to give me the official state of my mouth I was a bit anxious when he said he saw a cracked filling with some decay behind it. What was even more alarming was the mention of the words "root canal" when he described a potential remedy to my malady. I have always heard that procedure ranks right up there with giving birth in terms of unpleasant human experiences. When the good doctor left the room Angie noticing the look of alarm on my face reassured me by saying my potential root canal probably wouldn't be as severe or as painful as those words usually signify. She proceeded to show me the correct way to floss, genially observing how straight my teeth were ("You didn't have braces? You should have kids- just to pass on your teeth," she cooed. "Oh I guess that really isn't a reason to have children...") She then scheduled a return visit for me and sent me on my merry way with semi-shiny teeth plus visions of (more) pain headed my way and brochures educating me all about gum disease. Oh what a joy it is to be alive.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Big Dipper

We all used to do it as kids. Lying on our beds staring at the ceiling, trying hard to fantasize a certain something in our minds... It's merely part of human nature to wonder about our place in the universe. I remember when I was a kid I used to stay up nights contemplating concepts like eternity and infinity. Is there really no beginning or end to the edge of space? Is there something awaiting us beyond when our final hours on Earth tick down?

Looking out my window up in the nighttime sky and seeing all those stars and other heavenly bodies it was just mind blowing to think that we know so little about what's really going on out there. So sheepishly I admit that despite the best efforts of my mother and Professor Sherman Shultz the Macalester astronomy professor, I never really saw the Big Dipper until last week when my favorite Beantowner was nice enough to point to the sky and show me the three stars that make up the handle. It was the highlight of an unusually eventful weekend and swell walk.

At the center of things was of course my favorite game (and we're not talking Parcheesi here). With the news of a strike date set by Major League Baseball players, an event that would ruin such a charmed season for our beloved Minnesota Twins, I am of the firm belief that there will be no strike. There has to be a God and God wouldn't let that happen. I was sitting in the Metrodome the other night watching Joe Mays mow down the Red Sox and I thought to myself, "life doesn't get any better than this..." I love the game and I think the most restlessly peaceful moments of my life have all involved baseball (the actual game and the high schoolly metaphoric kind too).

Unlike most other aspects of my life it isn't just about watching from the outside in either. This was the first summer in many a year I wasn't on a softball team. Thankfully I was asked to participate in the state league's tournament last weekend. Being a tad out of shape (McDonalds' Value Meals purchased so that a Corey Koskie mini-bobblehead could be collected can do that to a lil guy) I was a bit worried about blowing out a groin muscle (just my luck, my own). We ended up playing four games in about five straight hours with no break. My legs (my bread and butter in softball) began cramping in game two. We went 2-1-1 due to an accounting error in our first game where our scorekeeper failed to give us credit for a run leading to a loss that was really a tie. Oh well. By the end of the last game my feet ached so much I was praying (to the aforementioned God) that we would lose to put us out of our misery in the double elimination tournament.

We did. Lose that is. As I limped back to my car with my father my friend asked if I wanted to go to the Saints' game that night because she had an extra ticket. For many a year I've boycotted Saints' games as trendy as they are even though their stadium is within walking distance of my house because the focus seems to be on all that between inning pig running around crap, and not on the most beautiful game ever itself. Good baseball doesn't need distractions. But I've known all this time at some point I'd have to attend a Saints' game just to see what all the fuss has been about all these years.

My feet hurt but I suggested to my friend that we walk to the game and avoid any parking fees. I wasn't exactly sure of the best route to Midway Stadium having only been there for a couple of memorable concerts (REM and Dylan). So we scampered off and found ourselves fenced in and having to cross some railroad tracks and very high weeds. We made it in time to see most of the game (a Saints' win) and indeed the most entertaining thing was the stuff going on between innings from pillow Sumo matches to lil go carts driven by kids. There is however, something to be said about outdoor baseball on a beautiful summer night with a witty and perceptive companion.

We decided to take another route home on the way back. Unfortunately it was much longer and we had to walk through some sprinklers in Energy Park. We stopped for a restroom break at the funky Holiday Inn in the old railroad station and though my blistered feet could have probably used a break we ended up saving a couple of bucks in parking costs that can go towards the purchase of the next McDonald's Value Meal for our Torii Hunter mini-bobblehead.

The next day I enjoyed a dim sum lunch with one who probably will never be a baseball fan. Ironically we both had the same colored purple toenails. Hers were of the nail polish variety, mine were a naturally painful hue. I'm always glad when I have something in common with someone. I got home to the smell of toast which seemed rather remarkable since my rather remarkable feline roommate is without thumbs. I wonder what that was about. None of it made any long term sense but it all made me hark back to the days when the universe seemed so big and mindbending. And as my friend Bob once observed, we all need to bend our minds now and again.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Doomed Love or Summer of Rejection

I'm smitten with the girl next door and the only person that knows will be leaving in a week. Think I'm not a wreck? By all indications the girl next door doesn't even know I exist, other than the few polite innocent "hellos" we've exchanged and the other day when she stuck her chest inches from my face (hooya!). It begs the question "how can one survive unrequited smittenness(?) (smittenery?) without having a helping ear to lean on?"

Actually I've developed a nice little friendship with the only one I've shared my smitten secret with. I've probably talked with my confidante more than I've talked with anyone (that isn't feline or that I haven't paid to listen) in say the past decade or so. We've worked on a secret plan to arrange "chance" encounters with the girl next door but my friend now wants nothing to do with the scheme since she thinks the girl I'm smitten with is bad news and will only end up breaking my heart (further).

My friend has endured an uneventful summer before her senior year at that prestigious school, Duke University home of the fightin' Blue Devils and preppy rich kids. Doesn't sound like it's been much of a summer for her (she's dubbed it "the summer of rejection" a reflection of missed connections with various friends) and on top of being slightly bored she has had to put up with sitting next to me day after day. One thing we do have in common is a love of movies and loads and loads of free time on our hands.

Personally I've detected a certain unintentionally persistent theme running in the movies I have chosen to watch this summer and it hasn't been a deliberate decision. Many of the movies have a mentor type relationship involved between a lost young person and an embittered older person. There was Ghost World, Scent of a Woman (hooya!!), and Celebrity (great my life, wildly careening out of control as it is, has somehow become a Woody Allen film). The last movie to fall into this pattern is the mostly entertaining Tadpole that the 21-year-old Duke senior and I chose to see as we went out on our first "date."

The movie is about precocious and passionate 15-year-old Oscar (Aaron Sanford) who speaks fluent French, thinks Voltaire is a stitch, and who is terribly smitten with the person who would probably top the list of the people you shouldn't be smitten with- his stepmother Eve (Sigourney Weaver) because she has great hands. Oscar ends up sorta accidentally sleeping with Eve's best friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) and then all hell breaks loose. But not really. One of the oddest things about an odd movie is that no one (particularly Oscar's father played by John Ritter) seems all that alarmed that a 40 year-old-woman has had sex with a minor. Reverse the genders involved and the Christian Coalition (are they still around or are they simply mainstream America these days?) would have been calling for heads.

My "date" said she thought the underlying theme of the movie had to do with "doomed love." Sometimes we're simply attracted to disaster. We fall in love literally with the last person on earth that would be good for us or that there is a smidgen of a chance for a successful relationship. That's why there are so many broken hearts (or broken livers as Oscar and Eve would say) in this world. Can't say I disagree.

"Doesn't try to please me, doesn't even tease me/And she never sees me glance her way/And I though I'm heart sore, the girl next door/Affection for me won't display/I just adore her so I can't ignore her, the girl next door"

Tadpole harkens back to the ultimate coming of age film The Graduate not only with its story of a serious young man being seduced by an older woman he doesn't especially like- but also with the use of Simon and Garfunkel songs- this time a cover of perhaps my favorite S & G tune- "The Only Living Boy in New York." The fact that the filmmakers used that song rather than better known Simon efforts created an immediate fondness for me with the movie. The song is about leaving friends behind (it chronicles Simon's reading of his breakup with Artie) and I played it over and over my freshman year of college as feelings of homesickness intermingled with feelings of a lack of replacements for old friendships.

Nearly 20 years later I've enjoyed a summer getting to know the youth of America, having a long lost sense of fun restored while reflecting upon how far I have come (and not come) from all those years ago. I was a wee lad when I discovered that I was a hopeless romantic. Back then that meant thinking with my heart and idealizing the unattainable; now it means that there is no hope that I'll ever grow up to be anything different. The soon to be Duke grad will set the world afire. She's much brighter than I'am (she got a 1300 on her SAT; I almost broke triple digits.) I'm glad I got to know her and I'm sure if pressed she'd say the feeling was mutual. Hooya!!! The girl next door likely will never know what she missed.

Monday, August 5, 2002

Almost Famous Dave

"I truly like happy music," #46 declares- something that's been verified by a fact checking blue eyed intern. "So many people I know listen to all that sad stuff but it doesn't do much for me. Just depresses me I guess."

The avuncular lead singer of the group Don't Touch Me Dave is drinking a double latte, an indulgence he only partakes in on the weekends. He has his routines, a near neurotic discipline of patterns that almost seems to want to wipe away any notion of spontaneity. His shaved head gives him the appearance of a cross between Michael Stipe and Pat Morita.

"I can play all of Paul McCartney's songs on the piano. That's why I plopped down my seventy bucks to see him," #46 says looking pensive. "Well almost. I'm learning the stuff from his last CD. I can play a version of 'Your Loving Flame' that will knock your knickers off."

It's hours before the ensemble's first public appearance as a semi-official group. There is some dispute how long they have been together and whether or not a previous public appearance actually technically was the debut of Don't Touch Me Dave, who some are dubbing "the biggest thing since Wilco."

But a day before the scheduled performance July 28, 2002, at the Coffee Grounds' (1579 Hamline Ave N, Falcon Heights, MN) first ever "open mike night" Don't Touch Me Dave struggles through a set of Madonna songs. #46 croons his way through "Crazy for You" (which he later almost sheepishly admits is his all time favorite Madonna song), tinkling on his keyboard as if he is an overheated kitty. The others in the group, none of them exactly the kind you would call the following type, seem off in their own worlds. EmmyLou, who #46 calls his "favorite magnet giver, a kind kind soul" is responsible for the band's cryptic name; Need a Rose who serves as the go-go dancer, provides a shifting foundation; Spunky doubles as the group's accountant, counting up the money; the young cool Katrina (who walks on sunshine but is not the one formerly with the Waves) appears to be not all natural.

But there is a persistence to the performance that grows on you. After run throughs of "Vogue," "Secret," and "'Til Death Do Us Part," #46 wanders off to the side and says to an unknown someone that he is pleased. Yet he looks a little befuddled and more than a little tired.

Hours before their scheduled performance Emmylou helps #46 wheel his piano down a wooden platform placed precariously on his cement steps from his home across the street to the all too close venue. For those who believe in signs the ominous clouds above lend an eerie vibe to the struggle of getting the 102-year-old instrument to its anointed spot. But just as they all get inside the rain clouds finally let go, almost mockingly, setting the tone for what is to follow.

It's a dark and stormy night. Some say that there may have even been spottings of sparring flying Asian Carp and snakehead fish swimming on the otherwise sedate St. Paul street.

The group opens with a startling version of "Papa Don't Preach." The banging of the keyboard doesn't quite mesh with the percussive stomping of the rest of the group but #46's most earnest (if not slightly quiet and hoarse) reading of the lyrics refreshingly reassures that this isn't a joke. This is heartfelt and all involved truly mean it. "I'm in trouble deep... I'm in trouble deep... but I've made up my mind... I'm keeping my baby..." The percussive melody segues neatly into a surprise reggae tinged cover of McCartney's most insipid "Pipes of Peace." It's at this point that #46 allows a glimpse of what is behind the facade. "Help me to learn songs of joy instead of burn baby burn..."

Next up is an admirable medley of two Dylan songs, "Never Say Goodbye" and "Shooting Star" that doesn't quite work as #46 can't quite hit the higher notes. Yet the lyrics ring truthfully in the ears of the caffeine jacked audience. "You're beautiful beyond words. More beautiful to me. You could make me cry, never say goodbye..." and "Seen a shooting star tonight, slip away. Tomorrow will be, another day. Guess it's too late to say the things to you that you needed to hear me say..."

The disputed debut of Don't Touch Me Dave comes allegedly from a high school performance provided by #46 while his high school band was visiting an outstate town and as they had arrived too early for the other student body. #46 is said to have walked up to a piano at the center of the stage of the high school auditorium and led the entire ensemble in a lilting version of "Let it Be." "That was haunting," someone apparently told him.

Thus the performance bug had bitten. Don't Touch Me Dave closed with a not to be forgotten version of Brian Wilson's (that other shattered soul) "Caroline No." "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow?" And just like the second side of the Mekons' Fear and Whiskey, recorded in a one off performance, the sum of it all makes some sense in the end.