Monday, July 28, 2003

The Resort Life

Dust rolled down a country road at the same time as a crew of florescently adorned workmen and workwomen painted a fresh white left turn emblem onto a newly paved suburban street. It wasn't so much that they were sweaty, it was that they were weary and wet, a difference as slim as the line separating a weed from a wild plant.

Jake Foote sat in an air conditioned metallic maroon SUV next to a flower garden loving, bicycle race enthusiast as they anxiously awaited the light in front of them to turn from red to green. The two had been made late by Jake's perpetual ability to get lost even if he thought he knew where he was going. The road ahead stretched out expansively like the bugs that covered the vehicle's windshield. Both occupants were lost in their own thoughts and their occasional conversation was suspended by a new rule they had agreed upon. Since Jake was wont to interrupt the driver's thoughts she told him he was to state, "Bookmark," as she would finish what she was saying and they would go back to whatever scattered theorem had meandered into his mind.

The car pinged for unidentifiable reasons (must be the octane Jake mused though he really didn't know what he was talking about). The driver wondered if it was more of a vibration than an agitation and it kind of sounded like the smoothie maker she had recently purchased from QVC, the cable shopping channel.

She didn't like anyone to think for her or to presume to do that much. She generally wasn't truly vain yet the scar on her accident prone leg caused her to rub Vitamin A and other ointments to hide the scar from a fall, a fall that led to a long, long and winding road much different from the one that they were now on (less metaphorically than realistically).

Over the years Jake had come to suspect that there was a whole other life out there that he knew nothing about. Of course it was more than a little futile to try to describe this suspicion due to its inherent nature but he sensed that some day he would stumble across this other place and his heart would palpitate (or vibrate or agitate) and his eyes would widen and still none of it would even then make much sense.

The SUV's CD player softly played the new Liz Phair CD, aptly named Liz Phair and the for the driver it was the first time hearing the new music. Jake had brought it along because he said he "needed" to hear it, that he couldn't stop listening no matter what the press said. The driver noted that it sounded synthetic yet she kind of liked it. Jake bopped to "H.W.C."

They finally arrived at the resort they were staying at, a mere hop, skip, and jump, down the country road from a larger resort that housed the county conference they were paid to attend. Further down another road lie an Indian owned casino next to an Indian history museum that told a story of sap gathering and wild rice jigging and of somehow surviving to the extent one desperately wanted to pass on the story to the next generation in hopes that it would somehow live on at the same time as its life was being drained like coins pouring into a slot machine's giveaway crevice.

The night after they arrived Jake and the flower loving, bicycle enthusiast, in-line skating disciple, arrived at the county conference they again hit the road in search of a lake house bought by someone that used to work in the same place they were employed. Their directions told them to turn off on the second dirt road off the highway, and look for the house two in from the left. In fact they ended up turning on a paved street in-between a couple gravel roads five houses to the right, the spiffy looking one with a semi-circle driveway.

They met their colleagues (most of whom Jake had never before met) on an incoming pontoon that splashed waves from a small for its size lake. The wife of the retired cabin recently retired employee asked Jake who was seated on the floor of the cruising pontoon if he was married, if he had kids, if he had a girlfriend. He wasn't sure of any of the answers to the questions but his mind raced back to his two recently adopted cats at home. Two cats with seven limbs between them he told any who would sometimes listen (or hear- he didn't like to talk much) even though the response raised more questions than it answered. Meanwhile back at the ranch the kitties were busy knocking over paper bags of plastic newspaper bags and spreading them all over a damp but cool basement thinking he'd never come back.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Dan(a) and Casey

When the world went from LP to CD I was just starting at Cheapo (Yes! I'm that old!). I never imagined in my wildest dreams (and believe you me I've had some pretty wild dreams!) that things could change so quickly. I was under the impression, and I don't think I was all that alone (though I often am!) that we'd all keep our fine record collections and supplement them with the new technology. Yet when I bought my first CD player the first discs I got were replacements- Mahler's Ninth Symphony and the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Like many others I wasn't buying new stuff I was already buying stuff to supplant some of my favorite LPs.

Remember I was a Betamax owner who reluctantly had to come to the realization that this was a VHS world. When I bought my second home computer a few years ago it came with a DVD player. It was my first exposure to yet another emerging technology. I think I was one of the first to sign up for Netflix, the internet movie rental service that mails out DVDs that you can keep for as long as you want. Still it was mighty difficult for me to watch full length motion pictures seated at my desk in front of a computer monitor. Thus last Christmas when my Dad bought me a DVD player that I could hook up to my living room TV it made watching movies on that format a whole lot easier.

One thing I have learned however is that technology isn't always about bringing us into a Matrix like future. It can also be about bringing back into your life something you never thought you'd see again. I have found one of the greatest things about the advent of the DVD is that many of my favorite less than popular TV series are out there for the having. I've already bought the first four seasons of Buffy, have ordered a collection of Red Dwarf episodes, have thought about getting all the Yes Minister series, and have just received my collection of Sports Night a great great show.

I'll admit I was a reluctant fan. One of my favorite mother's of two early on in the show's existence recommended I watch it. I unfortunately didn't pay attention (it was on ABC for God's sake!) until summer repeats and then became forever hooked. The show is unlike any half hour sitcom I'd ever seen (with the possible exception of Slap Maxwell) where it wasn't about creating interesting characters and putting them in wacky situations. It was more about quirky writing and creating engrossing half hour mini-dramas that were chockfull of rich humor and insight.

Written by The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, Sports Night is far superior to that later more popular series. While TheWest Wing suffers from the inherent pretentiousness of its setting Sports Night only used its fictional cable sports network as a place of employment for all its three dimensional complex characters.

So as I'm making way through the all too short two seasons of the series I'm reminded of my original amazement at the originality and creativity of the show. I fell in love again with Dana (Felicity Huffman) the sport show's fiery red headed neurotic producer. I love the dignity of Isaac (Robert Guillame who sadly suffered a stroke during the first season) and the quiet sadness of co-anchor Dan (Josh Charles). It was fun in this past season of The West Wing that Sorkin replaced Rob Lowe with Joshua Malina who played Sport Night's Jeremy the nerdy idealistic sensitive researcher. And that on Ed (the show that precedes The West Wing Wednesday night on NBC's must see TV schedule) Jeremy's girlfriend Natalie (Sabrina Lloyd) played Ed's girlfriend, Frankie, the one who drove him back to Carol.

For those out there who believe that by its very nature commercial television can be dismissed because of the inherent limitations of the medium I would suggest watching an episode or two of Sports Night. In its all too short run it was never far from being the ultimate accomplishment- a note perfect TV series. It was rich and clever and thankfully now eternally lives on burned onto little discs of aluminum for anyone to collect and see.

Monday, July 14, 2003

An Open Letter to Al

Dear Al,

What's the haps? As you well know I recently celebrated my 11th anniversary as the newsletter editor. I've decided that instead of accepting my annual raise I decided I would make you a unique offer. Nope, I don't want further monetary compensation. What I want makes some sense since it has become part of the newsletter production routine. Every Sunday for at least the past couple of weeks (not counting the holidays) when I have put the finishing touches on the newsletter I have headed down to downtown St. Paul near the Farmer's Market to the only Japanese noodle restaurant that I know of in the Twin Cities, Tanpopo. In the beautiful and spacious decor of an old warehouse across from the Gillette building I enjoy what has become my favorite meal in this world- Bukkake Udon.

It's a delectable treat- a cold bowl of carefully prepared Japanese noodles served with just the right portions of cucumber, chicken, mushrooms, scrambled eggs, fried tofu, and just a dab of the tear enducing wasabi. After pouring the tasty bonito based sauce over the top of it all one can't help but be inspired to woof the whole thing down. The last time I was at Tanpopo the pleasant lil' waitress came over to ask how I was enjoying the meal. Seeing that it was nearly all gone minutes after she had brought it to my table she smiled and said, "Well I guess you don't like it." The meal is so good it might inspire Liz Phair if she were somehow to be exposed to it, to write a ditty called "White Hot Bukkake."

Yup embarrassingly so (but not enough to motivate me to change my ways) the meal immediately makes me relate to the parents in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away who literally turn into pigs after snacking/snarfing on a feast that magically appears before them.

With the news this past week that Mr. Dylan may have plagiarized in his own work the work of Japanese author, Junichi Saga I find myself unintentionally immersed in all things Japanese. Almost makes me wish I was Japanese.

Last week I was having dinner with Lisa Annemarie before we headed on over to the Target Center to watch our Lynx play, and we were at Copeland's a nice Cajun restaurant. I was enjoying my plate of blackened chicken when Lisa said she had a confession. She told me that if she is ever on death row the meal she would order is Copeland's Zydeco chicken dinner. It reminded me that another friend, the concertina playin' Amy Lou once told me a similar tale- that if she is ever on death row her last meal would have to be Katsu Sushi's #9. Thus I've decided that if I were ever to find myself joining my friends on murderer's row with my final fate firmly decided I would ask for my last meal, a dish of Bukkake udon from Tanpopo. If that is the last thing I ever taste in this world, I think I can live with that so to speak.

So what I'm saying here Al is I don't want a bigger paycheck. Nope what I'd prefer is that you pay for my weekly newsletter related seven dollar meal of udon. I honestly think that's a fair trade-off for my weekly work. I also know that you and Jeanette are well aware of the delights found at Tanpopo having been regular diners. What do you say? Is it a deal?

Yours truly,
-Lance Motogawa


I don't consider myself too much of a snob in most areas of life. I realize my fancy Macalester education exposed me to things not everyone has had the privilege of being exposed to. But I still have come to consider myself a man of the common people. That said I must admit that I am most certainly a cinema snob. I find myself judging people by the quality of movies they tend to watch. Upon the news of the recent deaths of Gregory Peck, Katharine Hepburn and Buddy Hackett I was forced to come to a harsh realization: I'm as common as common can be. As much as I enjoy the old classics, and as much as I firmly believe that movie stars of today can't hold a candle to the stars of yesteryear I must admit in my life I have seen more Buddy Hackett movies than either Peck or Hepburn movies. I'm not particularly proud of this fact but there was something about Buddy Hackett that accurately reflects the true tastes of my life. I remember a most memorable night at Macalester when my roommate Spunky and I were bored out of our skulls and got it in our heads that what we needed was to rent a Buddy Hackett movie. We rented one of his concert videos and I can't say I have since laughed as hard as I did that night. God Bless you Buddy.

Monday, July 7, 2003

When the Circus Comes to Town

A couple weeks back I revealed to the world (or as much of it as the Cheapo newsletter covers) that I've had the pleasure of adopting a piano playin' kitty. In an effort to dissuade Diego-San, the black four legged one, from swatting things off the top of my piano I decided to leave the keyboard cover in the upright position. I figured once he plunked himself on the keys and noise rang out he would run. But he didn't. He calmly kept strolling back and forth sounding a bit like the way Cecil Taylor plays.

So instead of giving the young feline lad a stern lecture I instead showed my increasing throw my hands up in the air method of training cats and decided I would encourage Diego's musicianship. I even considered putting some catnip on top of the piano to entice him to hop on up more often than he has but decided against that.

Some day the two of us may hone our act enough to hit the club scene but until then our only audience is Thompson (the grey tabby three-legged one). From the darting concerned look in Thompson's expressive eyes I know we haven't completely won him over. Go figure- Diego already plays piano much better than I do guitar.

All this is a long introduction to the fact I just got back from Los Lobos' performance at the Minnesota Zoo. And if the caged animals weren't exactly bouncing around from the swell music, then certainly it must be reported that the crowd was.

Los Lobos should be known as America's band because of their incredible versatility displayed in their sound, in their songs, in their songwriting, and in their ability to play in a variety of styles and colors. After opening the show with one of their traditional Mexican songs sung in Spanish they ripped into a most impressive, and speedy version of "Good Morning Aztlan." To say they nailed it would be an understatement. The guitars soared in a goose bump raising, air guitar inspiring, fashion. They jammed and they jammed hard.

Another early highlight was a concert staple, "Will the Wolf Survive?" As they were for most of the night, David Hidalgo's lead vocals were focused and right on the mark. I kept thinking about a certain someone, an inspired and inspirational Asthmatic skater who loves to spend as much time in Mexico as she can, who has learned as much Spanish as she can, who has confessed to wanting, dreaming, and picturing a day where she can live on the beaches of our neighbors to the south. In recent days I shared with her as much of Los Lobos' music as I have in my tiny little CD collection and it has left and etched picture in my mind- the combination of her and the beauty of the music. Go figure.

The highlight of the concert (for me at least although the increased activity of the crowd of dancers might have suggested I wasn't entirely alone) was an extended "That Train Don't Stop Here" from the group's must have CD, Kiko. Delayed for a time as the group discussed something, the opening was far too sloppy as Hidalgo was clearly unhappy with his guitar- the sound, the feel, the amplification- something. Cesar Rosas, behind his trademark shades and black T-shirt, sang the first verse fine and dandy "Looking out my window/I see my world has changed/The sun won't rise this mornin'/'Cause my baby's gone away..." But the expected Hidalgo guitar riffed answer was hesitant at best. That's when all things thankfully broke loose.

The band hit a groove that ran the gamut of rhythm and blues to straight (and painful) blues, from jazz to hard rock, from whatever it is that can be defined as a Mexican-American sound to near silence. It seemed like it was going to come apart at the seams and maybe it did, as the insides of a most terrific song oozed out and drifted out over the zoo. It was a great performance and one I felt lucky to hear (along with the wolves and monkeys and cats and such).

Closing out their one encore with the Who's "My Generation" seemed apt for the evening. After starting to get used(?) to going to shows where many in the crowd are younger than I this was definitely an older looking bunch. The cover was wonderful and the sentiment of hoping to die before one gets old played well amongst those who have grown up with that idea. Again it was yet another sign that this band by its very roots understands quite deeply the state of where this country 's thoughts are these days.