Monday, February 24, 2003

The All Ill-uminating Pen

Deanna, the never-to-be-forgotten girl next door, jumped as her cell phone rang obscenely deep within her shaved but silky purse. She thought twice, but not long about answering the call. So what if they found cells caused cancer? She had just found out her pet monkey, Precious, hadn't died from cancer as the vet had diagnosed. Nope, Precious died because her dog Skimo had ate her.

The call turned out to be a wrong number.

"Berr. Brrr. Burrr eeeve meant," her dizzy car sputtered. It obviously didn't like the cold any more than she did. Another call on the cell. This one was from the Department of Homeland Security. Ridge called to let her know that they considered her suicidal because she hadn't heed the warnings and hadn't gone out and bought a roll of duct tape. Instead she had chosen masking tape.

"People expect you just to get better and if you don't then there is something wrong with you," Deanna said as her car coughed once last time. Maybe they were right after all. She once considered stabbing herself with a pair of pruning shears. But prunes gave her the runs so she decided against it.

Watching TV had become a mighty depressing exercise for Deanna. All the specials devoted to Michael Jackson. She didn't need to be told he was some sort of freak. His surgically altered nose told her so. Or so she thought. And it wasn't as if the nation was on the brink of war or nothing/something. She like million others watched as Joe Millionaire chose the humanitarian Zora over the bondage queen Sarah. Like millions of others Deanna watched the Survivor babes bathe themselves nude (or was it naked? she never could tell) in front of the tribal men. She like millions of others wondered if she indeed was hot or not. This was reality TV after all. It wasn't as if the state was considering a mean-spirited budget balanced on the backs of the poor. Since when had health care and taking care of the less fortunate been more than a luxury?

Deanna harked back to how her life as a call girl began. Her mother had done some of the same. It was a way to get by. She didn't mind it much. Her first "pimp" promised her the world and delivered Las Vegas. She was proud that she first asserted her independence from him by buying a flowered love seat with hers/his/their money. He wasn't happy and had soiled the sofa with the heads of the kids he fathered through another girlfriend. At the time she wondered if it was more appropriate to call it a couch than a seat? Was the almighty alliteration more important to her than a feeling?

She wrote it all down that very same day with an illuminating pen that her mom had picked out special for her and had given to her on Christmas. Deanna became wistful holding that pen in her chapped hand. It was the thought that counts and she knew her mom had spent just a moment thinking it was the perfect stocking stuffer. A light sleeper like herself, the many thoughts that kept her up at night and wouldn't leave her alone. A pen that lit up would be just the perfect thing to have to jot down all that couldn't be remembered just the very next morning.

The girl next door couldn't get the car started. But she didn't need to see him anyway. She didn't need the cash just that moment. Instead she spent the day alphabetizing her CDs. It was one of those household projects, like hanging paintings and posters and pictures (was there really a difference?) that she now found herself doing that she wouldn't have done with Precious around- knowing it would have bothered her "roommate"- the disruption in routine. Deanna didn't like pounding nails in the walls either. She had never owned her walls before and somehow the holes didn't feel right.

The CD project was harder than she thought it would be. Should she sort them by genre or put them all together? And her classical CDs? Should she sort them by composer or performer? Consistency? It seemed to matter one moment and not the next. What the hell was wrong with her?

Deanna took a break to finish reading Charles Mingus' autobiography. His cursing, despite her occupation was enough to make her blush. She was after all a proper soul- homeland be damned. Or darned.

Monday, February 17, 2003


Last week's episode of TV's seventh best contemporary show, Ed, axed the all important question whether what you or I have done in this life will leave a legacy or be as forgotten as our great grandparents' hard if not exactly memorable work to a less than grateful next couple generations- whether our lives will be a blip in the history of whatever comes next, or whether we will have earned a memorable tombstone. If we are remembered at all what will we be remembered for? Given the limitations of network television the question posed wasn't done so much in a spiritual vein (like Ike being judged on garbage day) but rather in a self examining narcissistic manner.

How we individually ultimately answer that question for ourselves might depend on whether sending candy and cards on one pink and fattening February holiday is more important than another nearby holiday meant to take the time to remember the faces that appear on the penny and quarter that either goes to pay the parking attendant on a cold slippery February day or to the I never thought this is where I'd be but it's only temporary until I figure out what it is I really want to be doing crew at the skyway's Caribou Coffee.

I may be the luckiest living(?) being on the planet now that I have a piece of clay (now among my most prized possessions) to forever remind me that the smallest things can come from the most considerable souls, and those things can make all the difference in this world. I also may be the luckiest living being(?) that I got by this past week intact and with my nerves not shaking beyond repair.

Wednesday I was crossing over the Hennepin Avenue Bridge when I felt the back tires of my car start to slide in a direction beyond my control. I didn't blink, didn't breathe as the entire vehicle began to move in a Dale Earnhardt direction not mapped out by transportation planners and experts. I thought for sure I'd hit someone or something in the busy four lanes next to me but somehow I avoided all contact save for a snow bank. I'm sure everyone else on that bridge thought for a moment what a poor sap I was and was glad they weren't me for a moment or two (or for all eternity) perpetually facing the wrong direction.

As my car was spinning seemingly in slow motion and my life (held together by mere duct tape) was flashing in front of my eyes in Technicolor, the notion of whether my life has legs or whether it is a blip, crossed my mind. What, if anything, will be my legacy? The 600 or so newsletter columns? The blue-eyed intern was astute enough to realize that what I write here is but a sliver of my true self (and for that she was the only one who received a valentine from me this year). My softball career? I'm afraid if I'm remembered at all for that it will be for my Denny Hocking journeyman type skills rather than as a young Hideki Matsui.

Perhaps I'll be remembered for my personally hand-crafted collection of ceramic monkeys. Nope, anyone can do those. Or maybe it will be the only stupid pet trick Max and I learned- that we sound exactly the same when we ate corn chips. Wouldn't that be nice?

Having pulled myself out of the skid with nary a dent I walked through the cold to work. Later that very same day my luck continued. I needed a task done at Kinkos (those professional copycats so to speak) and was told there was one nearby me only in a destination beyond my immediate comprehension. So without much direction I headed out on a these days criticized avoid at all costs spontaneous adventure to an unknown destination. My plan was to keep an eye out on one of the only buildings I could recognize under oath and to follow the crowd to what I assumed might be a popular place to be. My assumption, flawed as it really probably was, turned out to be great because I somehow ended up in the place I meant to be in a record time. Blessed am I.

The music that played in my mind? Two songs- the Pretenders "Sense of Purpose" and Ringo Starr's "Photograph." "Give me a sense of purpose a real sense of purpose now..." "I can't get used to living here,/While my heart is broke, my tears I cry for you/I want you here to have and hold/As the years go by, and we grow old and gray/Now you're expecting me to live without you/But that's not something that I'm looking forward to..." Go figure.

So what will be on my own tombstone? "She Saved the World Lots"? Nope. "He Sometimes Tried as Hard as He Could and Other Times Not So Much"? Perhaps. "He Came to Understand that Life is All About Contradictions... How as You Grow Older Everything Has an Eerie Familiarity at the Same Time You Find Yourself Woefully Unprepared to Deal with Things You Never Dealt with Before." Only if the stone is the size of a promised to never again be broken heart.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Painting Clay

When I was a kid my hero wasn't Bob Dylan or F. Scott Fitzgerald. My hero wasn't feline nor a vampire slayer. Nope my hero was Harry Peter "Bud" Grant. Bud was my hero and not so much for being such a fine and successful coach. Nope Bud was my hero because he didn't believe in the cold. It may have been 30 degrees below zero but Bud wouldn't let his players have heaters on the sidelines. His philosophy was if the players were thinking about staying warm then they weren't concentrating on the task at hand- winning a football game. Don't think about being cold and you won't be.

My devotion to Bud and his philosophy were put to a severe test this past week as I walked from the hard concrete parking lots on Washington Avenue to my job in the Hennepin County Government Center. To say it was brisk doesn't do justice to the frigid temperatures combined with some nasty winds. I was doing my best not to think about it but darn it bud, I was cold. Then my favorite pregnant reporter told me that I should buy some silk long underwear and I gotta admit after she said that I did allow myself to feel the cold and admit maybe Bud wasn't quite the heroic philosopher I gave him credit for being.

At least on my way to work I looked sorta stylish. I was wearing my Floyd R. Turbo hat- the one with furry ear flaps. It isn't so much a hunter's cap like Johnny's Floyd used to wear while giving his editorials on the Tonight Show but it's more an ice fisherman's hat not that I know what that means or what I'm talking about. All I know is that in my hat I must look like quite the sight as the people I pass tend to give me a glance or two. But it keeps the noggin toasty warm and if it makes me fit in even less with the pretty downtown people in their stylish clothes well I don't mind.

I'll be the first to admit (and I often have) that if there was a way to tap the energy from my personal problems we could probably heat a city the size of Pittsburgh. I wouldn't give my troubles to a monkey on a rock but after watching the Michael Jackson interview/documentary on ABC this past week I gotta say that I look down right mentally stable compared to Mr. Michael. Holy crap what is up with him?

Put aside his rather freakish and less than human appearance the fact that the man's hero remains Peter Pan and that he lives in the middle of an amusement park tends to suggest something creepy in itself. That he shares his bed with children that aren't his own and that he makes his own children wear masks in public has gotta raise an eyebrow or two. And that he goes to ritzy stores and drops a million or two a visit suggests this one time child star has achieved his goal of never quite growing up and facing reality.

Last week as I was trying to forget my current woes, drowning my sorrows and having my head blown off at Ike Reilly's show I stood there anonymously in a crowd of youngsters thinking to myself how one constant in my life is feeling a perpetual outsider. So watching Michael I couldn't help but feel a little sympathy and sadness. Given that he never was allowed to be a kid when he was one and now that is all that he wants to be, damn he has made some entertaining music. He loses himself when he dances and sings and who can blame him if his art is his only true link to others?

The vets' office called to tell me that Mr. Max's ashes were ready for me to pick up. Entering the hospital I felt numb (and cold). This now a familiar place- we had been there so many times these past few months but this was the first time I was there without Max. I went to the billing window where they had his remains in a small box. They surprised me by also giving me a piece of clay with the imprints of his paws forever memorialized. As the clerk and I squared off my bill she told me what a special kitty Max was. And I lost it. Crying over kitty and all I have going for me is a non freakish looking Kubo nose.

Monday, February 3, 2003


They're not booing. They're chanting "lewd... lewd..."

To continue the morbidity of last week this week I found myself craving a certain CD I hadn't listened to in years- Lou Reed's Magic and Loss. The CD is Reed's 1992 tome about contemplating the process and meaning of death. I found it then and I still find it now, difficult to make it through the entire painful disc (with song titles like "Gassed and Stoked," "Cremation," and "No Chance") but the second song, "What's Good" has long been one of my favorite Lou songs.

"Life's like Sanskrit read to a pony/I see you in my mind's eye strangling on your tongue/What good is knowing such devotion/I've been around- I know what makes things run..."

The song if full of probing nonsensical questions and answers ("What good's a disease that won't hurt you? Why no good, I guess, no good at all") that show that for the singer a death of a loved one has transformed his life into a whirlwind of feeling not only a loss but also feeling completely lost.

At the end of the song the whimsy turns to bitterness and resignation. Death isn't choosy who it picks next and often time that choice doesn't seem reasonable. "What good is life without living/What good's this lion that barks/You loved a life others throw away nightly/It's not fair, not fair at all." What I like most about the song however is that Lou ends it with an affirmation (albeit a qualified one)- "What's good? Life's good- but not fair at all."

So the song becomes the theme of the week but one must move on and if one must, one moves on alphabetically (nothing else would make much sense to do). From Reed to Reilly, there was a second disc I spent the week immersing myself in- Ike Reilly's Salesmen and Racists.

Like Reed's song "What's Good" Reilly's songs are full of lines that I'm not sure make much sense but tend to linger on so long that they pop in one's head at the weirdest times. I remember last summer when the blue-eyed intern introduced me to Reilly's disc I popped it into my car stereo, cranked it and found myself singing one line over and over in the middle of a snarly traffic jam: "Hey mother fucker kiss the ground..." I was pleased that when I told this to the blue-eyed intern she confessed that she too often found herself singing that line out loud.

Bar none Salesmen and Racists is the all time great hit the road, crank up the tunes, disc. I'm not sure I can ever relate to Reilly's party hard until you drop (or drop out) lyrics but his words can be like shrapnel drifting in and out of everything you'll ever see again after you heard his songs.

Other singer/songwriters like Jack Johnson and Ryan Adams have gotten more attention and acclaim but I like Ike. I'm sure if we had gone to high school together he is the type of guy that would have hated me as a wussy bleeding heart intellectual. And I probably would have been afraid of him.

They found the Winter Carnival medallion within spitting distance of my house and days later Ike Reilly played not too much farther away at the Turf Club. When I arrived the line was shockingly long. Good thing I had my ticket in my coat pocket because I eavesdropped on the conversations around me and heard that others didn't have a ticket. Sure enough a guy came along and told those of us on the guest list or with a ticket to step into another line. When I got inside I situated myself behind a girl in a chair near the stage. It turned out to be an incredibly wise move because by the end of the night that chair was the only thing separating me from the moshers. At one point I ended up with a young blonde in my arms and before I dropped her she smiled and tapped my wrist.

Ike was great. Hidden by his shades he was kind of like the inscrutable guy I aspire to sometimes be. His new songs particularly stood out and blew the roof off of the dump. If I had to pick a theme to my life, as it is now (can I say all I want to do these days is stay home but coming home to an empty house is not only a new experience but a sad one), it would be Ike's song "Garbage Day." "Hey everyone I meet makes me think of you and I get so lonely/Well I believe you when you say that I'll be judged on garbage day/Baby you've been on my mind..."

He closed with a rocking cover of Dylan's "From a Buick 6" that I must admit matched the writer's version. The next song alerted us all that it was "all right to die." Made me think of the Lou song stuck in my head. Made me think of so much more.