Monday, March 31, 2003


I'm not sure why anyone voluntarily chooses to live in this god forsaken place. After enduring another winter of trudging to my car in a thousand below zero weather; worrying every moment while I'm behind the wheel whether or not I'll continue to be facing in the right direction; somehow getting home safely only to face a $5,000 heating bill; trying to dress for 70 degree weather one day and eight feet of snow the next day- wouldn't life be a lot easier in say sunny San Diego?

But as spring slowly unfurls, the whole rebirth thing around here has to get to you. And for us baseball fans this is the time of year full of hope and joy (well, full of something...). And for Minnesota Twins' fans this season has the promise of something extree special. Not that I exactly have an unbiased opinion here but the Twins have one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Watching them play defense is just about worth the price of admission itself.

It's hard to believe it was merely a year ago that the threat of contraction loomed over the franchise. Twins' owner Carl Pohlad was willing to turn his Mr. Burns like back to the fans and accept a big fat check from business partner/commissioner Bud Selig to fold the team. That baseball was using the threat of contraction to hold over a threatening to strike players union with the possible loss of 80 jobs (two teams) and was willing to offer Pohlad more money to fold the team than he could possibly get selling it, of course left some Twins fans feeling a bit cold even as spring sprung.

Having survived Pohlad, Selig, and the rest of the corporate owners plan, the Twins went on to have a great season complete with a successful first round of the playoffs beating a highly favored Oakland Athletics team. In doing so they actually proved that not only should they never have been poster children for contraction but they actually are a franchise others should model themselves after. Building themselves from the draft and through shrewd trades and developing a nucleus of talent that focuses on playing the game the right way and not like slugging softball players the Twins are one of the most fundamentally sound teams around (and we can probably thank Tom Kelly for that). Sure it took awhile to find the right mixture (failing miserably through the Scott Stahoviak, Rich Becker, and Frankie Rodriguez era) but the most promising thing of all is that the talent in the minors appears to be even better than the current major league team. That the Twins can afford to keep Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Restovich in the minors shows just how far the team has come in the last ten years.

On the other hand if you were to objectively examine all the teams and look for a logical candidate for contraction the Milwaukee Brewers would have to be on the short list of teams. The team was as bad (if not worse) than the Twins throughout the 90's and shows no signs of turning it around anytime in the future. The current team is so bad the only thing their fans have to root for is a foot race after the six inning between four people dressed up in sausage costumes.

What separated the two teams in the contraction scheme was that Milwaukee was able to finagle its way into getting a new stadium built and the Twins have failed miserably in their efforts. If you have a revenue generating facility (even though the fans are avoiding it in mass) means more than if your fans are willing to sit and watch an exciting team in one of the worst places ever built to play baseball (for Pete's sake most of the seats are facing the wrong way!).

Over the course of my life baseball has probably taught me just about as much as anything and that could explain why people get a dull ache in the side of their head after they walk away from a conversation with me. Arguably one of the better (and thus most dangerous) lessons the sport has ingrained in me is a sense of loyalty and regionalism. Yeah the Twins aren't really Minnesotan but I've lived and died with their plight for the past thirty years. You can insult me, you can insult my friends but you best not insult the Minnesota Twins. I could be wandering the mountains of Tibet one day and I'll still be looking for a place to look at a box score.

This weekend Laura, Julie, Gary and I drove to Milwaukee (where they play tie All Star games!) to see the Twins play the Brewers in a two game exhibition series. It was a chance for me to see my first games in one of the new "retro" stadiums. We had great seats right behind the first base dugout with a terrific view. When manager Ron Gardenhire called in Carlos Pulido to pitch an inning I was probably the only one in the place whose jaw dropped in total amazement. Pulido started a few games in 1994 apparently because he was left-handed, not because he seemed to have much talent, and then dropped out of sight. To see him nine years later (same uniform, different universe) was a nice reminder of how far the team has come. Miller Park didn't wow me in the way I expected it to but it certainly was a much better place to watch a game than the antiseptic Metrodome. The teams split the series but we'll see where they both are at the end of the year.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Tick Tick Boom or Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

"It's mighty funny, the end of time has just begun/Oh honey, after all these years you're still the one..."
A certain intriguing Victoria's Secret Salesman

It wasn't exactly Fitzgerald and Hemingway getting wasted over wine (and more) in Paris discussing the meaning of life and talking about their dreams and destinies but one of the fondest memories I have in my Cheapo career is the time former Cheapo employee Christina Schielske (from Tina and the B-Sides) and I were sitting around talking about our lives. Tina was frustrated with her lack of progress in her musical career and I was in the middle (with no way out) of writing a pretentious little novel wondering what the end would be. Somewhere in the middle of our conversation Tina looked over at me and smiled and said it would be just our luck as one of us, or both of us were hitting it big we'd be hit by a bus.

As the bombs are dropping across the planet I decided I would immerse myself in something this country doesn't have to be ashamed about (who'd thunk the day would ever come where I'd find myself muttering the following in public: "I wholeheartedly agree with a Dixie Chick.")- our culture and inspiring art.

Thursday night I made my way through the Minneapolis skyway watching the peace protests on the street below as I headed over to the Pantages Theatre to see Jonathan Larson's tick, tick... BOOM! with my still inspiring boss. Larson of course is better known for his play Rent and TTB was actually put together after his death at the age of 35 (the night before Rent opened on Broadway). The play's story revolves around Jonathan (Christian Campbell) a struggling playwright who is about to turn 30. In his mind it is a landmark birthday as he wonders if it is time to give up on his dream and get a practical (and paying) job. His roommate Michael (Wilson Cruz) has made the move from the theatre to a successful career in marketing. Michael is doing well enough to buy a BMW (complete with seat warmers!) and think about moving to a better apartment (where you don't have to step over anyone on your way in!). Jonathan's girlfriend (Nicole Ruth Snelson) is pushing for another alternative- moving out of New York to Cape Cod to raise a family.

The performances of all three actors carried the sometimes predictable script (and I wasn't all that impressed by the songs) and the play raised a number of the kind of questions that keep you up at night. Having just made a career move partially for security reasons I must admit one of the hardest things about walking away from my last job was the fact that right there on my business card was the title "writer." More than once I wondered what Tina would have thought if she saw that. At some point in your life you really do need to either realize what you've always wanted to do or accept that your dreams might just be fantasies and it's time to become more practical.

One wonders if that day might soon be arriving for Ike Reilly. Just why isn't this guy the biggest thing going in the music biz? The night after seeing the thought-provoking TTB I once again headed further downtown to First Ave to meet up with my friend, the blue-eyed intern, to see Ike perform as part of a benefit show for Multiple Scerosis. The blue-eyed intern was the one who introduced me to Ike's music last summer and after having seen him at the Turf Club last month I told her she just had to fly up from North Carolina to see him live.

We met up before the show and had a quick dinner at TGI Friday's. As always I enjoyed our conversation as we talked about love and life and I couldn't help but hark back to that certain talk with Tina and how having just gotten out of college everything seemed possible if not just beyond my grasp. The blue-eyed intern graduates from Duke this spring and though I have no doubt she'll go far I'm not sure she quite knows what to do next. I had called her earlier in the week and she seemed more than a tad stressed out so seeing Ike, I thought, might just be a much needed escape.

After his Turf Club show I felt so inspired- he gave such an intense performance. This time around it wasn't quite the same. For one thing he and his band were clearly drunk. There were times he nearly fell over, as he was stumbling all over the stage. The performances of his terrific songs certainly wasn't noticeably sloppy and seeing an inebriated Ike was certainly better than seeing just about any other performer yet there was something a bit off in the show. He opened with the appropriate "Duty Free" with its sing along refrain- "Gotta get out of the U.S.A." I also loved a raucous version of "I Don't Want What You Got Goin' On" where despite the events of the week Ike convinced me that "cars and girls and drinks and songs" really are what makes this world go around.

Yup my heart may have hardened to the point where it can't feel love as deeply anymore but turning to art (and friends) still inspires me in a way that nothing else can.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Stone Cold Sober

I'm nothing if not scientific so the other day as I was eating my pancake breakfast and listening to the tunes I decided I'd stick a flapjack inside my CD player just to see what would happen. I was stunned at the result: I got to hear Aunt Jemimah sing!

But not every day is filled with such excitement and entertainment. I must admit I'm still adjusting to the empty hallways and rooms of a house that used to occupy an important little feline companion. It's hard to be nearing 40 and heartbroken at the loss of a kitty. Try explaining that to your average Italian gigolo/lover.

So I was pleased, and somewhat looking forward to finally having the time to visit my good buddy and favorite Hugonian, Stu, who recently bought, along with his girlfriend Susan, a house in the northern most regions of our metropolitan area. It was indeed good catching up with ol Stu and hearing all about his trip last year to China.

Stu seems to think the world of my opinions on things God knows why. Thus he may have been a bit disappointed that these days I'm just too tired to do much more than whimper. It's not exactly a good time, some may say it's even a scary time, and yet in a telling way I think I'm just too weary to even let much seep in (or out).

A couple of years ago when Stu and Susan hooked up (as the kids say) Stu was having a hard time with his allergies around Susan's cat Seymour. This was around the time when Mr. Max was first showing signs of deteriorating health and so they asked me if I might be willing to take Seymour. I was seriously tempted. I was spending little time at home and I knew Max was having a hard time being home alone so much of the time. But ultimately I realized even thinking about getting another cat was more for my sake (knowing the day I wouldn't have Max was hard to even fathom) than his.

Friday night visiting Stu and Susan I finally got to meet Seymour. He's a sweet Siamese cat with a calm temperament. He, like Max, loves having his stomach rubbed. Seymour goes so far as to stretch out on his back, paws curled up close to his face just tempting someone (anyone) to rub his belly. Stu and Susan also recently brought home a kitten named Sophia. A mere ten weeks old Sophia is a bundle of energy. She's just about the smallest kitten I've ever seen and she loves to test Seymour's patience. She's also extremely vocal calling out as if to reaffirm her presence and assert herself.

It was the first time I've been around a cat since Max's death. At first it made me sad, made me feel what I've been trying to avoid feeling- how much I truly do miss Max. Well intentioned people keep asking me when I'm going to get another cat but at this point the question for me is not when but if. Max was the first pet I had (Louie, the turtle I had as a kid really doesn't count) and I'm just not used to the notion of lose one get another to take its place. Plus I really don't think it would be fair to another cat to be constantly compared to Max in any significant way.

But late in the evening as Stu was showing me his video of the trip to China Sophia crawled up in the chair next to me and let out a loud squeal. I grabbed her and held her and she cuddled in the small of the space between my hand and my wrist. She spent quite an amount of time cleaning herself and then went to sleep cuddling next to my warmth. I wondered if she could smell Max on me still and marveled at how she staked out her place in this huge and unrelenting (and increasing hard and cold) world.

I'm still not ready yet. I'm still not sure what to do next. I'm still not sure what to share and what to think as I feel Max's presence still and his absence so much. Can I tell anyone without them thinking I'm the sniveling overly sensitive sort how I still can't bear to put away his food and water dishes anymore than I can look away from the kitty hammock he spent so much time in?

Monday, March 10, 2003

In a W_rd T_is Dr_ad_ul M__ie Tr_ly S__ks

My affection for actress Sandra Bullock somehow has become well known enough that kind folks like our own Moorhead's John Trainor take the time to give me Bullock related stuff when they come across it. JT was kind enough to send down a DVD of the 1987 movie Hangmen that features Bullock's cinematic debut.

Over the years I've become a big enough Bullock aficionado that I've seen her early acting efforts in the TV pilot Working Girl (playing the Melanie Griffith role), and the made for TV movie Bionic Showdown (playing the bionic girl). Let's just say that those performances point out that Sandra is not a natural born actress. She's actually gotten better (albeit seemingly playing herself most of the time) over the years. But her performances in being the working girl and the bionic girl seem positively Shakespearean compared to her role in Hangmen.

Bullock plays Lucy Edwards, the college girlfriend of Danny Greene (Keith Bogart). Danny has the unfortunate fortune of being the son of former Green Beret Rob Greene (Rick Washburn) who happens to have knowledge of a secret splinter group within the CIA. Because his father's knowledge Danny is being pursued by members or that secret group who wish to remain secret.
The movie is embarrassingly low-budget. The camera work is amateurish and the dialog and direction is painful to watch. With its production values Hangmen looks like a bad porno movie (or how I've been told a bad porno movie might look). Its overall budget must have been around $10,000 with $9,000 of that going towards the purchase of weaponry. Much of the movie is shoot 'em up scenes with blood splurting this way and that. In retrospect the director's decision to include so much wall to wall and graphic violence probably was not so prudent. The content means the movie could probably never be shown on TV (it would be about five minutes long with the editing that would be needed) even though the movie obviously made it on to DVD for containing Bullock's first movie role.

Sandra gets the thankless job of cooing over Danny and becoming frantic when he disappears. Later she too is captured by the bad guys so she also gets to play the hapless victim who Danny saves. The scene in which she is captured by being shot in the neck with a tranquilizer dart would have made excellent fodder for a great SCTV takeoff on bad movies. She stumbles around as the camera shot becomes blurry. We see her eyes glaze over as the camera begins spinning. The whole scene seems to last for about twenty minutes.

Of course for those who know the whole story, my admiration for all things Bullock mostly has to do with how much she reminds me of a long lost friend who still after all these years haunts my soul on occasion (and particularly while watching any Bullock movie). Even this minor role, for her eyebrows alone, Ms. Bullock reflects someone who a novel could be written about (and probably has).

The only other interesting thing about Hangmen is that towards the end Jake Lamotta, the raging bull himself, makes an appearance as an eccentric arms dealer. How he was talked into participating in this crap is beyond comprehension. Maybe boxers in those days didn't have the dignity they do now- biting off ears and getting their faces tattooed. Lamotta's performance actually is kinda of amusing and it stands out from all the rest of the movie like a Vienna Teng lyric on a snowy weekend.

If there is but one ray of light from the time I wasted watching Hangmen it's seeing how far Sandra has indeed come over the years. Just because things may seem small time now and your effort reflects that, doesn't mean that some day you won't hit the big time. Lesson painfully learned.

Monday, March 3, 2003

Soon, She'll Save the World (and Me) No More

The best thing about the massive snowstorm that bombarded the East Coast last week (besides it not hitting here instead) was that it forced Beck to be stranded in New York City and thus appear an extra night on The Late Show with David Letterman (pre-puffy eyed Dave(s)).

Beck was originally scheduled to appear on Monday night and on that night he did a stellar, heartbreaking performance of "Lost Cause." Tuesday night he returned and performed an ethereal "Sunday Sun." To say that both performances topped everything on the Grammies held days later is the understatement of the millennium (though I must admit I liked the Springsteen, Costello, Grohl, and Van Zandt version of "London Calling" in tribute to Joe Strummer).

I've never been a huge Beck fan in the past. He's always sort of reminded me of the guys I hated most in high school: smug, hipper than thou, and unjustly talented. His lyrics and his music can often times (to these ears at least) sound just too darn clever.

It was during the great Cheapo summit last fall in rainy Los Angeles when visiting one of the multitude of CD stores where I found a used promo copy of Beck's recently released Sea Change. I was anxious to hear the new disc for a couple of reasons. One being as I made my way to the checkout counter manned by a most attractive if inattentive young lass, where Uptown Sam my motel roommate told me what a great CD I held in my hands. Sam seemed a knowledgeable sort so I was more than happy to slap my money on the counter.

The other reason I was happy to have found a disc by an aforementioned artist who hasn't been one who gets played a lot in my modest abode is that earlier in the fall the blue eyed intern was kind enough to thankfully make me a compilation of songs and she included on her disc the then new Beck song an aptly named "Guess I'm Doing Fine." On a disc of great music (it remains one of the most played discs in my collection) that was my immediate favorite song. So weary. So sad. So expressive. Fine fine stuff.

Sitting next to Uptown Sam on our plane ride home I popped Sea Change into my portable CD player. Beneath the rumble of the jet engines I knew that this disc, not immediately seeping into my soul, one day soon would. There is such a jarring and apparent purpose behind the songwriting and singing. It's an artist who is in pain and needs his art to sort things in his heart out. In other words it's exactly the same type crap I've long been accused of favoring.

"Lost Cause" is my favorite track and probably was my favorite song from last year. It's like a great Dylan kiss off song- dismissing a former lover at the same time revealing that you're not quite over her. Beck's Nick Drake-like baritone caresses the sometimes mean-spirited but always heartfelt words masterfully. The performance of the song on Letterman made such compelling viewing. Beck hardly blinked as he sang the first verse. The he closed his eyes, lost in the melody, lost in the original inspiration of the song, and it was as if it wasn't merely a song anymore. This was blood- the barest element of life- and he was as defiant as he was wistful.

It would take roofer like effort to top that performance but the next night that was exactly what Beck did. The opening dissonant chords of "Sunday Sun," strummed with aching authority by the scarf-draped diminutive figure promised something special. And it was delivered. "Looking for a satellite/in the rays of heaven again/there's no other ending..." The song exploded with the drummer banging his kit with such force and Beck matching the percussion with painful yelps and oohs and aahs. The somewhat cryptic lyrics were peeled away layer by layer like an eclipse. And all the walls thus melted.